Year in Review

It’s April, folks! That magical time of year devoted almost entirely to getting your shit together. For starters, it’s tax day today, the cornerstone of April togetherness. April is also for spring cleaning, to which I’ve devoted myself for these two weeks at my parents’ house. On the farm, April brings hours and hours in the greenhouse hunched over seed trays, and in the northern climes, a never-ending game of cat and mouse with the weather (case in point: yesterday’s snow showers). Anyways, as we all prepare for the real coming of spring, and gear up for the start of the farming season, I’d like to do a quick year in review here on the blog. Leaving aside the weekly “Farm Week” posts, here’s a look back at some of the things I’ve blabbed on about over the past year:

Farm-related musings:

Food-related musings:

Books I read, then wrote about:

Things other people wrote and I liked:

Random things I wrote:

  • A dramatic rendering of conversations with Argentine family about farming 
  • A special Farm Week post, consisting of a poem inspired by the soggy season 

Conferences I went to:

Other fun things I did:

Farm Week: November 11-15, 2013

This was the last week of the season here at Chubby Bunny, which was certainly a bit bittersweet. On the one hand, I can't imagine another week of frozen hoses and frosty harvests. On the other hand, I'll really miss the people here and living and working in such a beautiful place. This week, besides dealing with the aforementioned frozen hoses during frosty harvests, we mulched the garlic and did some general clean-up around the farm. Besides that, there were many people to spend a last few hours with, and lots of general "last times." The other three apprentices will all be back next season, so the goodbyes for them are only temporary. I'm sure I'll be back to visit soon, but it's not the same as knowing I'll be back in April.

Leaving is certainly hard, but I'm looking forward to so much this winter that the car is already packed and I'm ready for a thousand-odd mile marathon home. Next weekend, I'll be meeting up with two of my favorite people in my favorite city, Chicago. Then I'll get some quality time with family in another of my favorite places for my favorite holiday - I can't imagine a better place to spend Thanksgiving than southwestern Wisconsin. December brings a very exciting farming conference at Stone Barns, followed by almost three weeks with my grandmother and many many cousins down in Argentina. I'm definitely not the biggest fan of extreme heat or beaches, but after these last few weeks of cold feet and hands a palm tree Christmas doesn't sound all that bad. All in all, the next six weeks bring so much to look forward to that I won't have too much time to spend missing this place - yet.

Thinking about: transitions, efficient packing, westward ho!

Reading: nothing!!

Eating: goodbye dinners, cowboy steak and corn pudding, shepherd's pie, sweetest spinach, the last of the eggs


Farm Week: November 4-8, 2013

The season continues to wind down here on the farm, and though it will be hard to leave here after next week, the cold cold mornings are making it that much easier to say goodbye to trailer life and
frozen fingers and toes. We've gotten a fair number of frosts already, so we're just harvesting the very heartiest of roots and greens still. We've gotten all of our cover crop seed in the ground, tilling under crop residue and broadcasting a mix of rye and vetch. We did our last chicken slaughter on Friday, and it started snowing midway through the process! Thankfully, we were able to move the evisceration station into the half-emptied tomato greenhouse, which was warmer and protected from the very gusty wind.

This weekend also brought some last-minute visitors to the neighborhood. Four of my six blockmates (roommates) from Eliot came up to spend what amounted to about 24 hours at Katherine's parents' house in Canaan. We had a great visit, catching up on over three years of adventures since graduation. I was able to do my favorite thing, which is cook food for people I love, made even more special by the fact that I also helped grow the very food I was cooking. I sent them all home Sunday afternoon with bags of leftovers, jars of stock, and bellies full of chicken noodle soup. Sunday morning, they came to the farm to see what I've been doing for the past seven months, and to try their hands at milking Patches. Zach, Nina, and Allison both had a ball milking and giving Patches some love, and Katherine was entertained enough just watching and snapping photos. We all decided that three years is much too long to wait for another reunion!

Thinking about: long drives, soup weather, old and new friends

Reading: Mostly NYT Monday Crossword puzzles, but also Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture, John Cheever's Oh What a Paradise it Seems

Eating: roast chicken with carrot and radish salad, roasted delicata squash, sauteed kale and garlic, and roasted beets and celeriac, chicken noodle soup

Farm(s) Week: October 28 - November 1, 2013

I started off the week with another two days at Essex before driving back down to Chubby Bunny to continue business as usual. I won't be working at Essex next season, but I definitely enjoyed my week there, met some awesome people, enjoyed the beautiful surroundings, and learned a ton.

Back at Chubby Bunny, I hopped back behind the wheel of the trusty veggie van down to White Plains, which means that I drove almost the entire length of the Hudson River between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning! The rest of the week was pretty laid-back. Our harvests have gotten progressively easier as we start to harvest our bulk root crops - for half of our crops we just have to count and wash crops we've already harvested. Dan took the crew out for lunch on Friday, and it was a novel experience to time together sitting down and actually facing each other.

The season is really winding down, and there will only be two more weeks of work here on the farm. My November is quickly filling up, and my winter is taking shape. I'm looking forward to making a dent in my tall (and getting taller) pile of books this winter, and this blog will be taking a different form over the off-season, replacing regular weekly updates with more essays, book reviews, poems, etc.

Thinking about: social engagements, friend reunions, windchill

Reading: Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture, Jacqueline Winspear's Leaving Everything Most Loved, John Cheever's Oh What a Paradise it Seems

Eating: oatmeal with fresh raw milk, apples, cranberries, and maple syrup; spicy pork-shoulder cooked in onions, garlic, and homebrewed IPA

Farm Week: October 14-18, 2013

Another beautiful week in the valley here at Chubby Bunny. When we weren't harvesting, we planted garlic, tended to the winter greens in the hoophouse, and were all-around social butterflies. Because we're still putting off the first hard frost, we're getting a great pepper harvest still. Between peppers and the two stuffed meat freezers, I had an urge to make stuffed peppers. Rather than eat stuffed peppers all week, I made a bunch to share with my fellow apprentices on Tuesday night. I did have to cut them a little short to fit in my toaster oven, but they were delicious nonetheless. On Wednesday, we went to eat with the apprentices at the other farm in Falls Village. Thursday, we and the Hayhurst clan went to eat with Kay and Bill, the neighbors who went looking for young farmers ten years ago and found Dan and Tracy. Another lovely night in lovely company with delicious food.

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one week, we had a double dose of farm fun on Saturday. First, we had a little party for the members - apple cider press, hay rides, fresh cider doughnuts, jams and charcuterie Tracy made with the odd bits - beef tongue, country pate, and chicken liver pate. We had members come up from our delivery sites in White Plains and southern Connecticut, and lots of people visited the farm for the first time. We made a bit of a dent in the over-full meat freezers, and kids and adults alike had a fun day on the farm. Afterwards, we had friends and family over to trailer-town for a bonfire "after-party." I brined a brisket this week for corned beef, which I slow-cooked all day in some homebrewed IPA with onions, garlic, turnips, and carrots. We had a great fire, complete with guitars, a fiddle, and a banjo. A little rain didn't dampen the party much, and the music continued with everyone crowded under my little trailer awning. Unfortunately, the full moon was a bit obscured by the rain-bearing clouds, but the night was certainly one to remember.

Thinking about: conference plans, road trip stamina, brine

Reading: Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness, another mystery novel, Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture

Eating: veggie dinners, salmon cakes, charcuterie, corned beef, stuffed peppers

Farm Week: October 7-11, 2013

Things are winding down a bit here at Chubby Bunny. We still have a few weeks left of CSA deliveries and pickups, but other than our normal harvests and deliveries we are starting to get to those "when we have time" types of jobs. This week we seeded a rye and vetch mix on the open parts of the field, around the crops we're still harvesting and even over some of the crops that will be in place through the winter. We hand broadcasted the seed, then used a shallow chisel plough to incorporate the seed on the empty fields. The mornings have been cold and foggy, but there have been a few days of beautiful weather, and the fall colors are hanging on for a little longer. We had our penultimate CRAFT visit this week, to a 400-acre farm further south in Connecticut that sells pick-your-own berries, pumpkins, Christmas trees, and wine. It was a lovely farm, and the pumpkin season was in full swing. You can tell that they really know what their customers are looking for in a farm experience. The current farmers are the fifth and sixth generation on the land, and they've really done quite a bit to keep the farm relevant and financially successful. Even when you don't go into one of these visits very interested in that particular farm's specialties, you still end up being able to learn quite a bit.    

The big news this week was a visit from Maija, a good friend since high school. She's the first person from the "outside world" to come see me on the farm, and it was really fun to bring her around to see some of our local haunts. She worked with us on the farm for a few days, and her friend John, who has been farming up in Maine for the last few months, came down to join in the fun. Besides the show and tell aspect of having visitors, it was also nice to have an appreciative audience to cook for. As much as I enjoy cooking for myself and the occasional potluck, I really love cooking for other people, and it was nice to have hungry mouths to feed. Maija is leaving shortly for a yearlong stint in Melbourne, Australia, so it was nice to be able to spend some time together in person before she moves halfway around the world with two other of our friends from high school. I can't wait to hear all about their adventures!

Thinking about: old friends, new paths, holey wool socks

Reading: Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, another mystery novel, Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness

Eating: beet tzatziki with homemade yogurt and mint; roasted garam masala delicata squash, carmelized fennel with kale and cumin pork patties; spinach, pepper, onion and cheddar fritatta; the first delicious taste of our milk- and grass-fed Jersey bull

Farm Week: September 16-20, 2013

This week back from my mimi-vacation was half vacation continuation and half return to the hard work of farming. On the one hand, the days were beautiful, sunny and mild; the leaves have started changing, and I took a break from my pile of "serious" reading with three perfectly diverting mystery novels. On the other hand, we harvested a miraculously bountiful (and heavy) crop of winter squash, loaded up a delivery of hay into the loft, and slaughtered the bull in addition to our usual harvest and delivery schedule. Not to mention a pair of frosty nights! We brought the space heaters out of storage in the barn, and I dusted off my teapot and travel mug. I also dusted off the old resume, and I've been gearing up to start planning my winter and subsequent farming season in earnest. A few farm visits last weekend spurred me to start the process, and I've been doing some thinking about what I want my winter to look like. It seems like I've been finding myself in this place on a regular basis, where I know almost nothing about what my immediate future holds. I guess that in some ways I've grown used to the annual fielding of the "what next?" question, the packing of the boxes or the backpack or the truck, the journey to the new place filled with new people. In another way, I'll be glad if I can find that place that can meet most of my agricultural-educational needs and stay there for a few years. There are not many places that would fit the bill, and if they won't have me I'll have to continue my patchwork, migratory lifestyle for awhile. Either way, adventure awaits!

Thinking about: lengthening shadows, good friends, big moons

Reading: Martin Walker's Bruno Chief of Police, Jacqueline Winspear's Birds of a Feather

Eating: fried potatoes, beets and onions with wilted chard and eggs over easy; pork tacos with bell peppers, serranos, sweet corn, onions, tomatoes and avocado

Farm Week: September 2-6, 2013

Big week here on the farm, in some ways, and a very normal week in others. After a rainy start to the weeks, we had all the sunshine and breezes breezes you could want. It made for a nice week on the farm, and it was a week in which the inmates, so to speak, ran the asylum. Dan and Tracy took the kids on their annual trip to the Rhode Island shore, leaving us in charge of making sure everyone gets their vegetables. We had heard stories in which former groups of apprentices had spent the week throwing harvest bins at each other, so we were interested to see how the week was going to go. As it turned out, we weathered the week rather well. We finished the list of tasks that Dan left for us early in the week, and so we undertook a large project of our own accord: cleaning out and organizing the feed barn. It took us about a day, but the result was worth it. Three dump runs, a family of skunks, and a few sore backs later, we have a clean, tidy barn. Dan was certainly surprised upon his return, but now that we've proven ourselves capable and willing, there might be a few more barns to clean in our future.

Far from just refraining from bin-throwing, we shared a few delicious meals, even after spending all this time together. During the week, Lisa cooked us all pork chops from our dearly departed piggies, which was accompanied by some very buttery mashed potatoes (ours) and a bright salad (also ours). Besides condiments, it was a delicious dinner made entirely from Chubby Bunny bounty! It was also the very first time I've enjoyed a pork chop. I guess I've probably eaten a few pork chops in my life (before and after vegetarianism), but my tastes in meat have always run more towards the peasant end of the animal: cuts meant to add to stew, braised, pulled, jerked, or otherwise cooked low and slow (see last week's buried pork shoulder).

As if that wasn't enough deliciousness and excitement for one week, I also celebrated a birthday yesterday. While I spent the majority of the day knee-deep in chicken feathers (see picture below), I capped off a very full day with a delicious peach pie from Tracy, followed by a trip to the Falls Village Inn with the apprentices. In a stroke of birthday luck, the special was a duck dish, tied with prosciutto with my very favorite meatstuffs! Along with a few local beers, we all shared some delicious fried pickles, the duck, and a delicious beet and goat cheese salad. Between last weekend's ridiculous bonfire, the mid-week chops, and the birthday duck, it was really a culinary week to remember.

Coming up: I use some vacation days to take a long weekend in Burlington, VT and the Adirondacks!

Thinking about: timelines, personal motivation, vacation days

Reading: Michael Pollan's Second Nature, Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows

Eating: most delicious pork chops, duck with redcurrant sauce, fried onions and potatoes with freshest chicken liver, perfect eggs over easy