Saturday, December 19, 2009

Headed towards Solstice

Brrrr.....winter is here! I hope you are all keeping warm. We are burning lots of wood these days. The sheep and pigs are staying warm in their nests of hay, inside the old sugarhouse.
We had a great time at the Brandon Farmers Market Christmas Fair last Saturday, meeting other vendors and new customers! I mentioned to some of you that, with enough interest, we would consider a drop-off point in your area. This would require someone to volunteer as coordinator, but it can be done. Please drop me a line if you are interested and we can discuss for the coming season.
This Friday, December 18th, is the Bellows Falls Winter Farmers Market, being held at Boccelli's on the Canal in downtown Bellows Falls (see for directions). We'll be there, and hope to see you! Here's a note from market manager Abi Miller:

This market is a great chance to reconnect with the regular vendors and farmers from the Bellows Falls Farmers Market, as well as a few new vendors, to purchase holiday gifts and foods for your holiday table, to stock your pantry with hardy root vegetables and canned goods, and to have an enjoyable evening at Boccelli's with live music by the Red Fox Band starting at 6:00.

Here is our list of vendors, along with the products they will be selling.

Basin Farm: bread & produce
Deep Meadow Farm: produce
East Hill Farm: pastured meat & pickles
Ewetopia Farm: maple syrup
Grace & Miss Mouse Soaps: soap, body products, gift baskets
Harlow Farm: produce, eggs & meat
Jersey Girls Dairy: cheese, eggs, veal
Maya Zelkin Pottery: pottery
Sherwin Art Glass: hand-crafted glassware & art
Salt Jewelry: jewelry
Sunshine Cottage: hats (crocheted), scone mixes, an assortment of teas, and pre-packaged cookies
Zoe Scott: jewelry, chair massage
We are nearly sold out of smoked hams and bacon, and at a couple of requests, I am taking reservations for fresh hams for next season. We'll probably have some available in mid-May. We do have plenty of sausage, chops, and ribs left, so contact me if you'd like me to set some aside for you. I'm happy to pack an order for pick-up at the Bellows Falls market, as well.
Broiler chickens are dwindling in our freezer. We are still offering them for sale and expect to sell out in the next month, so please let me know if you want a few for the winter still.
Now that we're dealing with some major changes in temperature, we should all be taking good care of ourselves, eating lots of immune-supporting foods. One staple we recommend is meat stock. This is something I make year-round, whenever we cook a chicken, and then put in the freezer in quart-sized yogurt containers. If you have a pressure-canner, you can store it in jars. Meat stock (or broth) is highly nutritious, containing minerals from bone, cartilage, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate. Adding an acidic vinegar during cooking helps to draw those minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and potassium, into the broth. The gelatin from bones that is released during cooking is equally nutritious, aiding in digestion and allowing the body to more fully utilize complete proteins. Including soups made with gelatin-rich stock helps us make use of meat eaten in other meals during the week. This is good news for your checkbook as well as your body -- by buying fewer cuts of quality meat, bone-in, you can still eat many nutritious meals which complement each other.
Sally Fallon's wonderful cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, is a source of more information about the benefits of using the whole animal when cooking.
See below for a recipe for chicken stock. Note the simmering time -- I often let the stock sit on the wood stove for a day or two. It reduces quite a bit, but is rich and delicious. I can also provide recipes for other bone-based stocks -- they're basically the same, but usually call for roasting the bones first. Email me if you're interested.
Peace to all as the New Year approaches.

Chicken Stock

1 whole chicken,

or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts,

such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings

or 1 leftover carcass and pan drippings

chicken feet (optional)

4 quarts cold filtered water, or enough to cover chicken

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, scraped and cut into large pieces

3 celery sticks, coarsely chopped

1 bay leaf

several whole peppercorns

If you are using a whole chicken, cut it into several pieces. If you can find them, use the chicken feet – they are full of gelatin. (Jewish folklore considers the addition of chicken feet the secret to successful broth.) Farm-raised, pastured chickens give the best results. Many battery-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.

Place chicken in a large stainless steel pot, cover with water, add vinegar, vegetables, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Let stand, with the heat off, for 30 minutes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and simmer for 6 to 24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be.

Strain the liquid, discarding the vegetables but reserving the chicken carcass. Let cool, then pick any meat off the carcass and save for other uses, such as chicken salads, sandwiches, or potpies. To store the stock with its fat, simply portion out into quart-sized containers or freezer bags, and place in your refrigerator or freezer. To remove fat, place stock in a large container or bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate. When it is chilled, you can skim the fat off the surface.

Adapted from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions

Monday, November 2, 2009

Buttercup Squash Soup

I make soup all the time, no matter what the season, but this feels like the first true Fall Soup. For the stock, I used a rooster we killed back in April, then froze it in quart-sized yogurt containers. The best stock: deep flavor, lots of fat. If you're like me, you'll forget the squash is roasting and leave it 1/2 hr longer, until it has burnt slightly. This adds nothing but sweetness to the final product.

Buttercup Squash Soup

2 quarts chicken stock.
3 buttercup squash, quartered and de-seeded
3 yellow onions
good salt
4 T butter

1) Prepare squash: distribute evenly on baking sheet or roasting pan, rub some butter or oil underneath each piece, and roast at 350 for 1 hr.
2) Thinly slice onions. Melt butter in a deep soup pot, add onions, toss until evenly coated. Cover and let cook on lowest heat for up to 1/2 hr, until onions are carmelized and smell sweet.
3) Scoop squash flesh from skin and add to soup pot. Cook and stir for 10 minutes.
4) Add stock to soup, stir, add salt. Simmer 1/2 hr or longer.
5) Blend. If too thin, add some pureed potatoes. If too thick, add milk or cream.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Time Flies when You're Having Summer

Whoa...after a long hiatus...we are back.

We've finally hit summer, or it's hitting us, all of a sudden! These few days are upper 80's/lower 90's sort of weather. Hazy, with heavy air and crickets signalling the heat soon after sunup. Up on the hill, we have a nice constant breeze, whereas down in Chester it's hot as the dickens. A doozy, as my father used to say.

In the news here:
We've harvested our last bunch of chickens for the year. Monte and Rupert came on Saturday to process our Cornish rock cross meat birds. It went much more smoothly this second time around; Oliver and I worked out some of the kinks in our routine, and we got all 102 birds chilled, bagged, labelled, and put in the freezer. Oliver made a great compost heap out of the offal. After a late lunch (more like early dinner), we set about burning our tomatoes. What?

Yes! We got The Blight. Late blight, that is...afflicting nightshade crops up and down the East Coast. Thanks to the unusually cool and wet summer we'd been having up until last week, the blight has spread to most growers we know. Farmers are plowing under their crops of tomatoes and, in some cases, eggplant, and cutting back potato foliage to save the tubers underground. It originated in Alabama, I heard, at a commercial nursery that then sold thousands of plants to large distributors like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart, and then all the home gardeners who purchased their starts at those stores brought it home. I've been reading ag reports from up the East Coast, and by their dates of publication, you can watch the northward spread of the disease. Maryland in May. Vermont warned of it in late June and July. It's a sad affair. We had put in 35 plants, which were prepared to take off in this heat stretch and bless us with a year's worth of fruit. We are grateful for the potatoes, which will probably survive underground, growing thicker skins until we move them to a root cellar.

I mailed my cutters and combs in to have them sharpened, so hopefully soon I can take care of poor Sari and Ella, who are wayyyyy wooly and in need of some shearing!

This Saturday, we are hosting some bicyclers who are doing a bike tour of farms. I believe their name, the 350 Group, is in reference to 350 parts-per-million, which is the recommended "safe" level for carbon in our atmosphere. This number is being promoted by, an organization headed by Bill McKibbon (of Deep Economy fame), in an effort to raise awareness of carbon levels and what we all can do to minimize global warming. So these bikers are powering around to different farms, staying over, emitting lots of goodwill as they go! They are also working with farmers to make and eat meals of local bounty: meats, eggs, fresh veggies, berries. Jon, whose family land this is, is one of the cyclers, and together with his family, we are hosting a dinner here Saturday night. You bet we'll be having chicken. & greens & carrots, red cabbage, zuchinni, and other veggies. Our garden is doing great, thanks to Oliver's attentive eyes, hands, back, mind. He is transforming it, starting from the soil up, working the compost and adding to the beds. And it's flourishing.

Farmer's markets are so slow right now. Is everyone on a vacation? End-of-summer, last hurrah? I believe the kids are going back to school soon. We have friends moving across the country to begin a new school year in a new town. Other friends are letting out their pants in pregnancy. All sorts of new life continues to appear. We are preserving it, also, in the form of dilly beans, pickled beets, sauerkraut, freezer chickens, liver pate, and all the myriad daily interactions that happen between two people trying to make a go at farming & just keeping a home together.

Eat well, be well.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brand New Last Century

On the morning of my first batch of hand-made hay, I stopped to see a friend, retired dairyman Quentin. We settled up an old trade. His rhubarb and composted manure for our jam and chicken. Then Quentin gave me some valuable encouragement and resources at just the right time. He kindly pointed out that it was quite possible to make hay by hand and had been done thus for a thousand years before machinery. What's more, he happened to have, and was willing to part with the most basic tools I would need, IF I could find them amongst the dusty accumulation. For the tools we made another trade. One crooked old hay fork for a pint of our pickled beets. He pointed toward his coveted bull rake, an antique wooden hand tool with some broken tines, but still operational. Quentin couldn't part with this family heirloom, but he did loan it to me for the day. We agreed that I would bring it back and he would show me how to fix it properly. Good enough.
My friend Sean and I went about raking the hay into piles. Just as we began loading up to go home, it began to rain. As the rain steadily intensified, we realized that this loose hay does not need to be as perfectly dry as a modern compacted bale. Being loose, hot air could easily dry the hay if we flip it later. So we worked quickly and quietly, marveling at how good we have it at this place in the land of the free. Noting that the laborers of yesteryear wouldn't have thought this nearly as great as we do. None the less, picture books show old farms with loose hay stacks great and small everywhere. A century ago, haying was less restricted by wet weather, and thus made more regularly, in small batches. The hay was piled as needed in a barn, or on the field using a thatched pattern to shed water aside. On this day we took the hay to Sean's barn and made an inviting pile to jump in.
When we were done, we agreed on a trip to the gorge at Brockways Mills for a swim, a gutsy choice as the rapids were full. This was a super-scenic adventure full of waterfall massages well worth the slippery rock climbing.
At home I was welcomed by the earthy tang of pickled beets, Lucy and her friend were hard at work in the kitchen.
In the evening, Sean came over and with more friends we did feast. There was brand new produce: roast carrots, potatoes, and a simple salad. Lentil soup, our own chicken liver pate and finally, red and black rasberries in cream.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Wet weather eventually clears up. So then what? Caught off guard and with no sunglasses, I found myself frantically grasping for projects I've been saving for the sun, but couldn't help but wonder what other summer bounty might be passing me by. From the road I could see that the local haymakers were hard at work rambling through their fields. I got a phone call from my friend. Like us, he's got a few sheep and no hay in the barn or money to speak of. A hay shortage, with varying degrees of expensive, poor quality hay will cause desperation. He suggests that we seek to make hay by hand. A novel idea. For us little guys have got big arms so it's doable, ha ha. But, in a perfect world we would partner up, buy the essenstial, modest equipment; tractor(s) mower, tedder, rake, baler, wagon, and make a good hay business because it is possible and we like it. Unfortunately the initial startup cost is at least $10,000 (angel investors inquire here). Meanwhile, he says he cut a swath of grass with his weed wacker, hand flipped it with a fork to dry, and raked into bundles which he then just stuffed into his volvo. I'm intrigued. At my friend's house we picked ripe rasberries for jam and talked about our haying potential. He would cut the hay, we'd both dry it, roll it, and load it with forks. Then I would transport it home in our truck. But the question is, how do we get it safely into a loft? Whew! I just don't know if it's worth the trouble. The old school fellas would've used a dump rake, wagon, block and tackle. We haven't got any of that either, but the feeling that we should be reasonably able to make enough hay by hand to feed ourselves persists. As one farmer we worked for used to say, "there is a solution, we just have to find it." So we're going to get on the field with no equipment and make some hay. This could be the wave of the future.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hay Fever

When mother nature gives us lemons, we're supposed to make lemonade right? Sounds nice, but here on East Hill and elsewhere around New England, too many lemons are causing the pale complexions of farmers to pucker. I'm talking about RAIN. Too much of this good thing makes stockpiling dry hay impossible. Of course, farms with livestock need a certain amount of hay in the barn to carry them through the following spring. Here in Vermont, that means we need to put at least 7 months worth of hay in the barn in 4 months time. Seasonal mood swings during our precious few warm months can put tractor operators on the hot seat, wondering what it will take to make lemonade this year. If the days aren't hot enough, dry enough, or long enough, they've got to find another way. Prayer? No...err...maybe. More like drastic diversify. For example, if the weather won't cooperate with farmer John, maybe he'll make more firewood to make up the difference it will cost him to buy hay from elsewhere. Or, maybe he can wrap the wet grass in air tight plastic to make a fermented hay. Legend has it that a crafty hay witch will sweep up hay while it snows in November given half a chance. The more creative potions he/she can cook up the better. Seasonal quarks are dangerous to crops and with a global climate in flux, there may be no such thing as normal anymore. Let there be no doubt, that where there is perseverance in agricultural pursuit, wry humor and stubborn creativity make the difference from year to year.Which way should we diversify next, rice or watermelon? Leave your idea in the comment box below.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

Greetings! Our first chicken processing day came and went without a hitch. We are pleased with our first crop: 81 birds are safely in the freezer. Thanks to the many people who picked up their chickens fresh and got an idea of how this exciting process works. Also, thanks to Lucy's dad Ron for his photography and moral support.

As of this morning, our new crop of chickens are 2 weeks old and have hit the pasture running. We are on track to raise a higher percentage of birds to market weight this time. We hope our learning will continue and that results will improve with every trade secret we collect.

Save the date of August 15, the next processing day. However we do have freshly frozen chickens for sale at any time from now on.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Raw Milk Class

With the recent passing of the new raw milk bill, dairy classes are popping up all over the state. Many of them are hosted by Rural Vermont, and some by NOFA. Helena Wu, a locally-based midwife and herbalist, is coordinating a series of "DIY" classes to be held at Anjali Farms this summer. I am teaching a class on the health benefits of raw milk, and yogurt-making using such. We'll get to touch on the health-giving effects of fermentation, too. I have been experimenting with different methods of making yogurt, and can share my experiences with you.

Cool fact: Oliver has long been a sufferer of severe allergies, every year since he was a boy. In fact, his mother used to take him for weekly shots! Since this winter, he regularly has been eating generous amounts of raw, unfiltered honey and raw milk. So far this summer, he has not experienced any allergies. He even cuddled a cat without effect! We believe it is the natural immune-strengthening milk and honey that have made this possible.

Saturday, July 25 from 10-12
$15 per person
Participants will learn about raw milk, and get to taste it, too. Learn how to make yogurt, a naturally-fermented food. Leave with 1 quart of started yogurt, brochures on raw milk.

Please bring a cooler or wool blanket for incubating your yogurt when you leave.

Anyone interested, please contact me at 875-1218.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Control of Nature

The weather people are calling for more rain, as if they've already forgotten how wet it has been through June and now the middle of July! What short memories! It's difficult to understate the importance of heat when growing food in a place with such a short built-in growing season. Rain, in excess, will dilute plant nutrition. In turn, grazing animals eat less nutritious food and thus grow slower. If Lucy and I were settlers, in the covered wagon sense, cast away from civilization, fending for our lives. We would depend on the food we could raise and store up for the long, hard winter. Were that not enough, our health would suffer. Plant and animal "performance" is linked, a chain reaction in response to environmental conditions. Food preparation can only take us as far as our experience permits, then uncontrollable forces take over. Forces of nature; weather, predators, disease... Whatever the disaster, the sooner we can get on with enjoying the present the better. I have come to do chores and found piles of bloody feathers on the ground. Now, when I walk down the path to check on our animals, I worry about what terror I might find. However, as participants in the business of life, death, and chicken in a bag, we all benefit from preparation and efficiency. On the other hand it's important to remember to be flexible and have fun. Our awareness of potential problems should not overwhelm the joy and privilege we could otherwise enjoy. Trying to find a balance between the actual and the imagined is of paramount importance because life should not be a reaction to dread. It should reflect the conditions at present, with equal regard to potential pitfalls and possibilities. There is no more effective way to learn these humane lessons than by coaxing food from the ground.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Grounds

The sheep got out following a stormy night. This is the second time I was out early rushing through static fog looking for them. A wire, the source of electricity to their fence was broken and far flung down to the ground as if a deer or moose had run through it. No fence posts were disturbed, nor were there any definitive tracks to follow. So without a trace of evidence to suggest which way they might have gone, I cruised around some nearby fields on foot with no luck. Too foggy to see a fluffy white sheep anyway. So I asked my neighbor, a hunter, for help with tracking the sheep. We studied the fence perimeter for signs. Nada. Last time they got out they traveled a whole mile up through woods. With that capability for wanderlust fresh in mind, we decided to search the closest fields of our neighbors farm and the forest between. We agreed to meet up after an hour and so we set out through the woods.

East Hill Farm sits on a dome-shaped pile of rock at one end of East Hill. Fields were carved down and all around out of the beech tree forest to grow corn for dairy cows, back when the price of milk was good in the 50s. The house we live in was built with milk money in those days. With so many possible places, finding sheep on any given day would conjure the old needle in a haystack saying. Add fog and we've got 360 degrees of nothing.

The sheep left no trace. From home I notified the town clerk, the police, and all the neighbors I could think of, just in case. Lucy came home on lunch from milking cows after I had just finished my egg and toast. Though concerned, we tried to relax and wait, helpless in the blinding fog . We plotted our next search with a topographic map at the kitchen table. Suddenly, Lucy looked up from her coffee and said calmly, "there they are..." And there they were chewing cud outside our window. The fog was so thick you could hardly spy them. A sight for sore eyes! They came and got us!

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Real Work

by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pests... Meat Product

One morning I was fencing in some fresh pasture for the sheep when our neighbor found me. She said that while the sheep were pastured near her house, she'd woken up before dawn to the rustling of angry, growling cats nearby. A man with experience in the forest, who also heard the growling says with certainty that they were Bobcats. Apparently, the bobcats came to where the woods border the sheep paddock, but their meal was frustrated by our electric fencing. Getting zapped would account for the angry growling. When Chris Bernier, a wildlife biologist, came by with some food scraps for our pigs, he confirmed that there are indeed Bobcats in this area, but Fisher cats are common too. He explained that one way to improve the odds for our animal's survival in general, is to keep them out in the open where would-be predators are afraid to risk being seen.

Lucy and I hatched this farm plan based on our willingness, our resources, and our abilities. Encounters with large predators entered into our awareness only so far. We knew that with rotational grazing we could do right by the land, livestock, and consumer. But we only had a cursory understanding that the flexible electric fences we use also protect our investments. What we didn't know was that we would be learning much more about the intersection of wildlife and farming. Vegetable growers deal with predators, or pests, all the time, but on a different scale. Either way, the pests meet the product at eye level.

Thanks for your interest, Oliver

Monday, June 22, 2009

In a new window

This foggy morning our little sheep flock ran away through the woods, down a valley side, across Potash Brook, and up the other side. They managed to stick together and made it to the top of the ridge. At 5 a.m. they arrived at the remote homestead of our neighbors the Bernier/Minehan clan. Chris Bernier recalls hearing their first "ba-a-a-a!" from bed. His wife Meg woke up too. She said threateningly, "they BETTER NOT be in my garden." So they went to the window and saw our ewes and lambs standing at the edge of their garden looking forlorn. Meg let them off the crook with a reprimand for trespassing. And Chris, a wildlife biologist and farm enthusiast was kind enough to herd our flock home with his Honda. He said they followed the road pretty good except at a round-about, which they went round 3 times. "Ba-a-a-a! Chris knocked on our door at 5:30. Lucy was long gone to work for milking and chores. So barefoot and sleepy, I speculated with Chris that to travel so far would suggest that they fled for their lives. Chris left, I finished getting dressed and made my way through the thick fog toward where he saw them last. However grateful I was that our sheep were home safe, I worried that maybe I would find a bloody mess made of our other animals by coyotes on this suspiciously still morning. My vision was very poor but I came up on those sheep in the fog and it was... well, imagine a cloud in a dream and you're watching a flock of white geese drift in formation, except they're sheep and they're walking in slow motion, and the only sound is the soft chewing of the lush green grass on the lawn.

There was no loss of life that day. No trace of coyotes. No wild animals did that. We had only ourselves to blame for two minor oversights that would've cost us our sheep. Thank heavens they didn't eat Meg's garden!.. or any garden for that matter. Chris called that evening to check in, as a wildlife expert he had some good advice for protecting our chickens, and we may have determined that the hawk who was caught poaching was probably not a peregrine falcon. More likely it could be a cooper's hawk, athough we have a friend who thinks it's an immature bald eagle.

Whatever it is has moved on from here and we're on schedule to process chickens July 11.
If anyone wants to come that day, they should bring a cooler! We're not sure what time yet. More later.


Thursday, June 11, 2009



NAME: Peregrine Falcon a.k.a. Falco peregrinus

DESCRIPTION: Large falcon, approximately 1-1.5 ft in height, wingspan stretches 3-3.5 ft. Wings are a bluish grey and underparts are barred colored white, brown, and black. Feet are large and yellow.

Peregrine falcons are the fastest of all birds. They can swoop down from high above at speeds of up to 200 mph to prey on vermin, or skillfully swipe a medium sized bird out of mid-air…plump, tender, delicious, unsuspecting chickens beware.

Peregrine populations on the East coast have rebounded dramatically since the use of DDT as an insecticide was banned in the 1970s. Supposedly, these hawks are still considered an endangered species due to their sensitivity to human presence. At our farm they seem quite fit, an attack helicopter of the wild, emboldened by chicken brains.

LAST KNOWN WHEREABOUTS: Spotted by Lucy, perched atop a chicken tractor.


The mystery predator responsible for the massacre on East Hill revealed him/herself to me yesterday. I spent much of my day beefing up the chicken tractors, following a series of attacks which left several chicks dead and/or missing. During routine afternoon chores, I had the wheels on a chicken tractors, moving the “machine” forward onto fresh grass. As usual, a couple of chickens snuck underneath where the pigs before them had dug themselves a big hole. So I stopped pulling, dropped my rope, and headed to the backside of the tractor to retrieve and replace the missing chickens. Out of nowhere, a large bird swiftly swooped in front of me and snatched up a chicken. Wow! What a surprise! It all happened quite fast but for a moment this hawk and I inspected each other at close range. My eyes bugged out of my face, my mouth hung open. I’m stunned at the audacity of this bird! At first I thought it was a barred owl, they’ve roughly the same size and color pattern. Besides everyone here knows that the local barred owls covet those chickens dearly. Brook says they hold owl conventions here at night, and chicken is the focus topic. Still, in the moment I realized what we were dealing with was not an owl but something far more bold and powerful. Our predator hovered at chest height facing me for a moment. The long, pointed wings reached wide and I could hear the wind it made as those wings flapped slowly up and down, all the while keeping the body levitated and I suppose it was thinking about what it ought to do. My poor wayward chicken chirped regretfully. Then I realized, it’s a Paragrine Falcon. Oh crap! The surprise factor wore off for me and I acted to defend. We both hesitated, the paragrine and I didn’t know what I would do. Whack at it? I was within range but with nothing to whack with. It must’ve been my hollering and crazy talking that finally convinced the falcon to drop the chicken and fly away. My poor little chicken was badly torn up between the wings from the talon’s grip. So I brought the bird to the brooder where it could sort out his issues with life and death in peace. I had little hope that it would make it through the night, but it did! Our patient has not touched his food or water that I know of yet, but the fact that he’s still alive is a very good sign of recovery.
Lucy and I are considering our options for defending chicks against this sort of airborne assault. One option put forth by John Bliss is to hang a radio inside the tractor and tune it to Rush Limbaugh. Wildlife would find the thought of eating a Republican chicken so offensive that it would turn away in disgust.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Splendid Table

For all you who live within listening distance to VPR, you must check out The Splendid Table, a wonderful radio show on Saturdays at noon. Hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, it's a show "for people who love to eat." I love it. She has interesting guests, good recipes, and the second half of each show is devoted to calls from listeners. You can learn all sorts of useful tips.

On their website, you can listen to archived shows, available for download as well.

Massacre on East Hill

Okay, it was really only a couple birds. That probably doesn't qualify as a massacre. But still, we were disappointed. Some friendly folks picking up hay from Jonny visited our chickens and noticed a small pile of feathers and guts behind one of the chicken tractors. We can't figure out if it was a hawk or a varmint, but it could have been either. We mended a couple of holes and tomorrow will fortify the structure. It's bound to happen with such delectable morsels. We hope it won't happen again.

Today Oliver and I went to look at Mimi's sheep. She has too many for her space and offered to sell us three yearlings. We're going to take them. They are so affectionate. And wooly! I'll have to shear two of them and then decide what to do with the fleeces. It was great hanging out with Mimi, her friend Jim, and son Rip. Their family has been in the Londonderry area for ages it seems and they have deep roots. I loved visiting Haven Hill for the first time. What kind people they all are.

Sounds like we're not getting a cow for the hill just now. Sniff. But someday we surely will. The menagerie wouldn't be complete without one.

Tonight for dinner we are having stir-fry with Doug Adams' beefalo steak, young turnips from Deep Meadow (a trade for cream), and parsnips, plus a salad of our greens. I have to freeze some of that spinach or it's all going to get away from me!

Happy eating to all,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Grazy Days

We are into it now! The grass is green, the clover is blooming, and the hum of tractors can be heard across the land as farmers make some of the season's first hay. Out on the Allen Field, we have four Tamworth/Gloucestershire Old Spot boars and 130 or so meat birds. Most of the birds are Cornish Rock crosses and a small number are Rhode Island Reds -- sent to us by the hatchery as a surprise! The difference is amazing. RI Reds are considered dual purpose birds, but most people I know raise them for eggs. They should provide delicious meat, though, and are arguably a more distinguished meat breed, having slightly less brawn and way more brains than the Cornish Rocks. They went out on pasture just yesterday (at 2 weeks old) and it's fun to watch them pecking around, discovering grass, seeds, and bugs. The pigs are a riot. Three now will let us rub their bellies. In fact, one practically lay in my lap the other day as he rolled over for a belly rub. The fourth is still a little standoffish and will protest if you touch him. He is, however, slowly letting himself enjoy a little back scratch now and then. The sheep are busy mowing through the pasture.

Our goal with all this pasturing stuff is to feed these animals well and give them a high quality of life while putting some fertility (in the form of their manure) back on the land, which hasn't seen much animal action in years. We hope to see an increase in favorable pasture grasses and legumes, which would in turn be capable of feeding more livestock and result in better hay. Jonny has started mowing the fields and seemed pretty satisfied with the progress today! And in recent news, there's talk of a cow entering the East Hill scene. But I won't write about that now, because it's still all up in the air.

First batch of broilers is ready Saturday, July 11, and we would love to take your order! The birds will be processed right here in the yard by Monte Winship and they will be ready for pick-up by noon that day.

Come visit us and let a lamb nibble your finger.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

One thing I love about winter is snow, and another thing is being in barns. Of course it is always better to have your animals out on the green pasture in the bright sunny air. But also, of course, we live in northern New England, and so our animals grow extra hair in the winter and get cozy in the barns and ruminate on hay. And in the barn, life moves at a different pace than outside. Outside, the sky may be grey and the snow building up all day against the doors and windows. But inside, the heifers nose through their hay for the choice bits, then lie against each other later, chewing. The bull calves sleep, full of milk, and suck the latch chains and your sweater when you come in to refill their bucket. The cows eat, and poop. I love the sight of a contented cow or sheep, lying down, nose slightly lifted, eyes half-shut, chewing, chewing, chewing her cud. The inside of a barn is predictable, and cozy with the warmth of all those 102 degree bodies. No matter how much snow piles up outside, covering the tracks you just made coming to the barn, each heifer still does her individual dance at the thought of grain.

Last year, working at Lydia's farm, I used to finish the long morning of chores in the sheep shed. In late January, the sheep are two months away from lambing, long in wool and starting to look a little fuller. They eat their hay peacefully and then all go find a spot in the bedding for a good rest. On snowy days, the back door of the sheep shed framed nicely their pasture, which was a picture of white. I liked to sit on some hay and watch the sheep. With that quiet snow, I heard little but their chewing, the occasional shift in the hay.

Today, I am away from any barns. Too bad, because it is snowing steadily. I hoped to go have lunch at Taylor Farm with Oliver, to eat with him but also to bring some peaches for everybody. I was inspired by listening to Greg Brown's song about "taste a little of the summer, Grandma put it all in jars." I don't know when that song was written, but it wasn't recently. He wrote, "What with the snow and the economy and everything, I think I'll just stay down here and eat 'till spring." I love that! It goes to show how this economy stuff can only touch you so deep. If you've got all your food put up, it doesn't matter as much. And you can eat peaches at the dairy at noon on a January snow day! Providing the little Honda can stomach the trip.

We'll see.

Here is a poem that Garrison Keillor read on The Writer's Almanac last week. Thank you to Krista for printing this out and slipping it under the door when I was sick! It's by Susie Patlove.

First Cutting

What is the hayfield in late afternoon
that it can fly in the face of time,

and light can be centuries old, and even
the rusted black truck I am driving

can seem to be an implement born
of some ancient harvest,

and the rhythmic baler, which spits out
massive bricks tied up in twine,

can seem part of a time before now
because light glitters on the hay dust,

because the sun is sinking and we sweat
under the high arc of mid-summer,

because our bodies cast such long shadows --
Rebecca, with the baby strapped to her back,

the men who throw impossible weight
to the top of the truck, the black and white

dog that races after mice or moles
whose lives have been suddenly exposed.

How does the taste of my sweat take me
down through the gate of childhood,

spinning backwards to land in a field
painted by Bruegel, where the taste of salt

is the same, and the same heat
rises in waves off a newly flattened field.

In the duskiness of slanted light, we laugh
just as we laughed then, because there is

joy in what the earth gives, allowing
our bodies to mingle with it, our voices

small on the field, our working assuring the goats
can give milk, the sheep can grow wool,

and we will have in our bones the taste
of something so old it travels in light.

In peace,

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feelin' It (the vision)

I am such a nerd, loving homework again. This time it's homework we created for ourselves: to come up with separate goals, and then meet tonight to talk about them and unify statements into one joint goal. Goal, you say? Say it like the World Cup. GOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! Not just any goal, mind you. We're talking Holistic Goal. Thank you, Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield. These smart folks, whose work it is to help people figure out "what they want to do," wrote a book all about holistic management. Fortunately for us, they focus on issues of ecology and agriculture. I have been told many times that the first step to creating a business plan is to establish my vision, and create some goals out of that. Up until now, that has all seemed so convoluted. I mean, my vision has changed so much in the past five years. How could it help me go forward? This book is really helping us, because it reminds us to stay general at first, to dream a lot. It tells us that what we want is attainable, only more so if we write it down.

The Holistic Goal happens in three parts: a quality of life statement, forms of production, and future resource base. You can also write a Statement of Purpose, which is supposed to be short and sweet. I feel pretty sure about all of them. My rough copy of quality of life is as follows:

To be engaged in meaningful work, to be secure financially, physically, and emotionally. To maintain good health, to feel spiritually safe and secure. To raise a happy, healthy family in a natural environment that fosters creativity, learning, and love. To engage with plants and animals in a way that is mutually beneficial. To be respectful of life around me, and to be respected and liked for my work ethic and compassion. To work and reside in peaceful, beautiful environs. To enjoy what I do every day.

Do I detect a little cynicism? It was there, in me, but then I failed to find a single reason why I should NOT enjoy what I do every day. It's not that I believe I am entitled, privileged. I intend to work for all of it.

I'll include the "forms of production" and "future resource base" at a later date.

My statement of purpose came to me as "to nourish my family and community." It came to me so quickly that I'm having trouble trusting it, but it could possibly be the one. Anyhow, am leaving it for now.

I've been walking a lot more lately, around the little triangle here at East Hill Farm, and then out onto the stretch that opens up at the Ponds' pastures. Looking southeast, I can see hill after hill, a rolling, bumpy landscape tucked in between two closer hills. On a clear day like today, Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire is visible. The road between these pastures is so exposed, and when there's wind, it's wicked. It once blew the buttons off Mary Callanan's coat! They are some beautiful pastures, and I am having heavy dreams these days of pasturing cattle out there. I have always been a dreamer, but lately I've been doing it without guilt, without reserve. It seems to keep my spirits up. I am also more practical than I have ever been before, so that boosts the spirits, too.

At Lisa's the first five dry cows went out today to their own paddock to eat first-cut hay and mope. Babies in March! Oliver is outside, bucking up firewood. Tonight we are going to eat the last of Brigham's buttercup, sausage, and coconut tapioca pudding. They are predicting 8-14 inches of snow in our area for tomorrow, but Nate Pond said he thinks we'll only get six.

In peace,

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fancy Cows

Let me just say something about Lisa's cows.

They are so spoiled.

Nobody claims otherwise. Yesterday, I was standing in the hay mow which looks out onto the bedding pack. All the cows were in, patiently waiting for milking. Wait -- they weren't "patiently waiting." They were lounging. They don't give a good goddamn what happens as long as they are comfortable. Bird's eye view is a funny perspective for looking at cows: their bodies look even wider than usual, spread out on the ground as they lay. You could say they are lazy. Why else would one remain lying down while pooping? But no, not lazy, just secure in their knowledge that soon some poor fool human will come running along, apologizing for being late, manure fork in hand. Sometimes I'm picking the pack while they're standing around, and I'll see a tail lift, and over I go with my fork, to put it down on the ground behind the cow. I say, "Here, let me get that for you." Who else has someone to catch their crap before it hits the ground? I tell you.

I bet they wish I were Hindu. According to Mohandas Gandhi, "the central fact of Hinduism is cow protection."

Look: "At festivals commemorating Krishna's role as protector of cattle, priests mold the god's likeness out of cattle dung, pour milk over the navel, and crawl around it on the floor....the priests say that to take care of a cow is in itself a form of worship, and that no household should deny itself the spiritual enjoyment which comes from raising one."

That's a little education from The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig, by Marvin Harris.

I haven't tried the deity-making yet, but I do connect with the spirit when working with these animals (and all animals). If I didn't receive milk at work, I would want a family cow. Peter the cheesemaker didn't quite laugh at me the other day when I told him how I want a Randall Lineback cow. Randall Lineback! The original Vermont cow. Think that could be a marketing plug? They are so pretty with their black noses and brindle. And they don't give too much milk. I told Peter they were dual purpose and he said, "you mean, beef." Ha-ha, Peter. I don't know if we'll actually get one, but I'm still going to go visit the ones that were brought to Taylor Farm.

Well, time to drink more tea and bring in wood. Why does the sickie get the wood chores today? Because she's at home and we need wood. Oh well. I love being at home so much that even being sick isn't so bad.

In peace,

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I just noticed that Oliver labelled one of the file slots "Farm." It makes me feel good to see evidence of our dream coming to life, however slowly. I have been incubating this idea since I was little. Today, while scratching the sick calf's neck, I had a memory of wanting to be a vet when I was young ("what do you want to be when you grow up?"), and then alongside that memory was a little voice that said, "no, THIS is what I wanted." The calf belongs to Lisa, an excellent farmer who I work for and learn from. The little guy is designated for the freezer in about 2 months, but right now is very sick and we're not quite sure of the cause. It has been severely cold out lately, which compounds any illness, so it could be just an upset stomach -- which, in ruminants, isn't so minor. At least he is not grinding his teeth like he was (a sign of pain). We brought him a couple of friends. The freemartin heifer (meaning she's sterile -- the frequent consequence of being a twin in cattle) and the other bull calf joined him, after much protest and a little rodeo, and he put his ears up a little.

I work at Lisa's farm, and then I come home and work on our own farm. Farm to me encompasses so many things: us, animals, plants, neighbors and visitors, steady work. I have always liked hard work. Sometimes, especially during early morning milkings, I am whiney and wish to go nap for the rest of the afternoon. But I don't really want that. I feel better when I am productive. I feel productive when I am producing something! A farm is where things are growing, where my life is dependent on the lives of the animals and plants, and vice versa. We cultivate, and mind, and strive for health. I suppose, with that general definition, you could say that Oliver and I already have our own farm. But I can't really call it a farm until we have some animals. We are in the beginning stages of planning out how the year will go. We know we want to raise chickens and pigs this year, and are debating lambs. We will have a full garden and grow a lot of produce to eat fresh, freeze, can, and store in Ann's root cellar (Thank You, Ann!). So now it is the business end of things. Wouldn't we rather be outside? But the "boring" stuff is not actually so boring: pricing out equipment, researching where to buy piglets. I'd like to get a tutorial in Excel so I can make spreadsheets to lay out some financials before we make any big purchases. What else are you going to do in the winter? It does seem each season keeps the next in mind.

I just put the yogurt to set and need to go hang laundry by the stove before I head back to work. We're unloading 300 bales of hay this afternoon...and then I milk.

In peace,