On Seeds, Literal and Metaphorical

Mat moving the first two varieties of garlic.

Some of my seed garlic hanging in the corncrib.

Last week brought one of my favorite tasks on the farm - the garlic harvest! Though garlic is only one of many crops that grows underground, for some reason it always seems so magical to me when you pull them out and see the nice big heads. I think this must have something to do with the fact that they’ve been in the ground since last October - they were planted a whole NINE months ago. They were in the ground when the windchill reached 26 below in January, and they still managed to poke their little green shoots through the straw mulch this spring. Anyways, last fall I amassed a small amount of sixteen more varieties of garlic apart from the four the Boersons grow. I started a spreadsheet to keep everything straight, and then I planted a whole 200-foot row in addition to the other six that made up the main garlic crop. So the afternoon before a whole crew was due to assemble to harvest the garlic, I grabbed a notebook, baling twine, tape, and a marker and set about pulling up my test plot. Making my way through the varieties, I counted how many germinated, how many were seed-worthy specimens, estimated the average number of cloves per head, etc. When they’ve hung in the corn crib long enough to have dried out, I’ll cut them down, weigh them, label them, and taste them. I’ve already decided that one variety didn’t perform well enough to grow again next year, and I’m on the fence about another. In October, I’ll take out my bagged and labeled seed garlic, pop all the cloves off the stem, then plant, mulch, and label my beds. A year from now, I’ll start the process again, and no doubt I’ll still find myself amazed to pull a fully formed head of garlic where last fall I left just a small clove. 

The as-yet-unnamed Mulefoot gilt.

Young Two-Spot in profile.

My seed garlic is not the only “seed” I’ve begun to stockpile in anticipation of my move to Hazel Hill Farm this fall. This other seed stock, however, is of the four-legged variety. Besides my vegetables, another component of next year’s farm landscape will be three sows and a boar. One of these sows is already a full-grown, proven mother who’ll be coming with me from the Boersons’ as part of my salary. She’s a Large Black Hog (LBH), a rare heritage breed that originated in England and is recognizable by its long body and big floppy ears. My second sow is still a gilt - the name for a female pig that has yet to farrow, or have a litter of pigs. She’s a Mulefoot hog, an even rarer breed, this one notable for its distinctive uncleft hooves. My third sow is TBD, but will be a Tamworth, because my boar is a Tamworth. When you say boar, a huge, fearsome pig with big tusks comes to mind, but mine is a newly-weaned pig pushing 50 lbs. He’s the stoutest fellow from a healthy litter of twelve, and has been named Two-Spot by young Shep, an imaginative but very literal namer, because of the two black spots on his rear end. With three different breeds of sow, this means that by replacing the boar every year or two, I’ll always have two different crosses and one purebred pair. So-called “hybrid vigor” means that the crossed pigs will be a bit stouter and grow a little faster than their pure counterparts, and having a pure line will mean I can grow my own replacement stock. Rotating boars between breeds means that I can constantly be improving my stock, a process aided by the fact that a pig has a relatively short gestation period (under 4 months) and can be safely bred at a relatively young age (around 8 or 9 months). 

My plan with the pigs is to sell both feeder pigs and a few whole and half hogs in the first few years as I rotate them through the overgrown pasture and scrubby forest. As I improve my infrastructure, my plan is to breed selectively for traits I want, improving my herd as I start to grow out more and more pigs to full size, offering pork shares perhaps as early as the second year. In the long term, my goal is permaculture prosciutto and other dry-cured meats, in which the pigs I have bred specific to my farm with eat only food grown on the farm, and will be cured on-farm, resulting in a hyper-local artisanal product with potential for shipping and sales to high-end meat and cheese counters across the midwest (Zingerman’s, we will meet again!). This is many years in the future, however, and in the meantime, my breeding stock is growing in leaps and bounds. 

Freshly plowed fields at Hazel Hill.

On the farm, too, things are shaping up. I’ve been making the 2-hour commute pretty often this summer, and the late summer and early fall will see more and more frequent visits as I continue to break sod, get my barns ready for animals, and try to complete as many building projects as possible before the ground freezes for good. Things are coming along nicely, and I’ve even gotten the paperwork ball rolling on things like organic certification and a low-interest microloan from the FSA (Farm Service Agency). These things too feel almost like seed stock for the new farm - a little piece of paper now that will enable big things later. Besides the Boersons and my own family, there have also been a few notable contributions to my “seed stock” that have bolstered both my confidence that I’m trying to do something worthwhile and that there are amazing people out there who believe I am onto something. A few weeks ago, an incredible family I know in the area called and asked if I would consider house-sitting during their vacation in exchange for a young Jersey heifer calf. Having already decided to keep her older sister, they couldn’t see into keeping a third cow, and was hoping she might be useful in my growing menagerie. It was a great call to get, and I would have fed their animals and watered their garden for much less! 

In a similar vein, a longtime family friend emailed a few months ago with another extraordinary gesture. She had been following my farming journey through the blog and had decided that she would like to contribute what was left of a memorial fund for her son to the farm. He would have really appreciated what I’m trying to do, she told me, and she thought it would be a fitting use of the funds. I was blown away by the gesture, and knew I had to come up with a fitting way to use the money so that it didn’t just disappear into the stream of cash it takes to start up a business. I decided to deem it the “Perennial Fund,” and use it to establish the perennial crops on the farm that would have taken a backseat to other faster-bearing investments. This way, an important facet of the farm would get a jump-start, and there would be a lasting and tangible way to honor this amazing young man on the farm. The rhubarb, asparagus, berries, and nut and fruit trees will yield for years to come, and might otherwise have been postponed or done halfway. If you’d like to contribute a few dollars to the Perennial Fund for Hazel Hill Farm, you can click the button below.


Acorn, bean, sunflower seed, popcorn kernel, apple seed.

Seed garlic, breeding stock, seed money. The imagery and symbolism of seeds has always captivated me - the sheer potential encapsulated in such a tiny package, the resilience, the stored energy, the connection with the past and the future, the portability and prerogative to exchange information. In these dog days of summer, when the sun bears down hard and the plants are bearing heavily, the emergence of the garlic makes me feel supported by the earth itself and  gestures like these make me feel supported by the community of people I have around me, near and far. I am working harder than I have ever worked before, and will only work harder still as Hazel Hill springs into being, but I go to sleep happy and exhausted and wake up energized and ready to do it all over again. Gathering my seeds, saving them, sowing them, giving thanks. 

On Science, Progress, and Pigs

Tuesday’s episode of Fresh Air starts with the caveat “You probably don’t think about pigs a lot, but …” Au contraire, Dave Davies. I am constantly thinking about pigs. I realize this does not put me in the majority of people, or of NPR listeners, so I will echo Mr. Davies and say that even if you don’t think about pigs that much, you’ll be interested in his interview with Barry Estabrook. Estabrook speaks eloquently from an outsiders perspective on all aspects of the pork industry, and his new book, Pig Tales: an Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat, has been added to my never-ending book queue. Though I can’t yet speak on the merits of the book, the interview is a nice overview on what’s wrong with the pork industry for the uninitiated. I was glad to hear the interview especially because it seemed like timely counter-programming to something that’s been eating at me for a few weeks.

Photo: J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

At the end of April, I (bravely, some might say) decided to take my kids on a weekend trip down to Chicago (I’m at the tail end of a strange saga house-mothering five high schoolers from five different countries. You can ask me about this when I’ve had some time to recover.). The school bought us CityPasses, and we made the rounds of the various world-class museums in the city. On Sunday morning, we checked out of our hotel and piled back in the mini-van for a trip down Lake Shore Drive to the Museum of Science and Industry. For those who haven’t been, the MSI is, according to its website, the biggest science museum in the western hemisphere, boasting 1.4 million visitors in 2014, 340,000 of them kids on school field trips. Their stated mission: “to inspire the inventive genius in everyone by presenting captivating and compelling experiences that are real and educational.” For some reason, they also have a “vision,” which is: “to inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering.” Basically, they design most of their exhibits to appeal to school-aged children, with plenty of interactive displays and activities to engage kids with SCIENCE! Though there are some historic exhibits, like the history of transportation or the German U-boat, most of the museum is very much pointed towards Progress and The Future. The MSI has a long legacy in this regard: it was built in the crumbling Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, an event that showcased such innovations as the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jacks, PBR, spray painting, and the automatic dishwasher. When the MSI opened in 1933 during Chicago’s next World’s Far: the Century of Progress, its was the first interactive museum in the country, and was founded by the chairman of Sears, Roebuck, & Co. and funded by some of the city’s biggest industrialists. This is all to say that the Museum of Science and Industry is aptly named, and has always been a way for some of the richest men in the country to educate the masses (and their children) on the amazing technological developments in science and industry, all in the name of Progress. 

Families check out a John Deere tractor

Back to my visit: I’d released my charges into the museum for a few hours with instructions on where and when to meet me again, and started looking at the map wondering what I should look at in the meantime. I’d been to the MSI a few times as a child, and once as a college student for a traveling Harry Potter exhibit (don’t judge), but it had been at least 15 years since I last explored the MSI. Looking over the map, one thing was the first to catch my eye: “Farm Tech.” Fresh from realizing that an exhibit about bugs and other underground plant and animal life at the Field Museum was funded by Monsanto, I did not exactly have high expectations for a farming exhibit at the MSI. After all, at a museum with “industry” right in the name, one can expect the focus of such an exhibit to be on the technology and promise of industrial agriculture. Indeed, as I rounded the corner toward the exhibit, the first thing to greet me was the shiny green and yellow of a John Deere tractor and combine. I’m not going to dwell on the details of every facet of the MSI’s very modern farm, but there’s an emphasis on corn and soy, high-tech farming practices like GPS-guided tractors and robotic milking, and a whole section that non-ironically informs you that “even when you don’t think you’re eating soy, you could be!” Given the top sponsorships by John Deere and Archer Daniels Midland (one of the country’s largest corn and soy processors, headquartered in Chicago), the focus of the exhibit was not surprising in the least. But I’m constantly thinking about pigs, so of course my attention was quickly drawn to the porcine portion of the display. 

It’s almost impossible for me to convey the combination of righteous indignation and resigned helplessness that cycled through my mind as I took in this part of the exhibit. It’s not so hard to follow the logic that leads to lionization of large machinery and conventional corn and soy in a context like the MSI. It was a little harder to stomach the spin that turned modern confinement pork into a wonder of technology and engineering. Here are some excerpts from the signage in the exhibit:

A young visitor looks at a fake sow in a farrowing stall.

  • “Pork farming today is experiencing phenomenal growth as it continues to meet worldwide consumer demand for one of the most popular meat products… U.S. pork producers are increasingly taking advantage of new state-of-the-art innovations designed to provide an environmentally efficient operation that ensures safe, high quality food for consumers."
  • Hog Heaven: Pork producers keep their breeding pigs in specially designed barns that protect the animals from illness, injuries and extreme weather conditions, while allowing fresh air and sunlight in. Sows receive nutritious diets of corn, soybeans and vitamins, have free access to fresh water and are cared for under the close supervision of veterinarians. The animals are kept safe from predators and protected from the aggression that often exists among sows housed in group pens. They are also spared from the competition for food that occurs when animals are kept in groups. Housed in individual stalls, sows are able to move back and forth, lie on their sides and fully extend their limbs."
  • “Today’s pigs aren’t porky anymore. Instead, they’re as lanky as marathon runners. Today’s pork farmer is delivering leaner, healthier pork: 16% leaner and 31% lower in fat than in 1980. The pig’s makeover is an impressive tale of farmers meeting demands for leaner, more healthful meat.”
  • Farrowing Stall: When a sow is ready to give birth it’s called farrowing. The only problem is, a sow weighs over 200 pounds and her newborn piglets only weigh about three pounds. How do you keep mommy from rolling over and making piglet pancakes? Modern hog farmers put sows in farrowing stalls: specially built enclosures that keep mamma hog snug in one place, but lets her little piglets poke their heads in for nursing. The stalls even have heat lamps to keep the baby hogs warm. It’s like a hog maternity room and nursery all rolled into one.”

The sow in the bottom right picture is not a model of porcine contentment.

If you’ve watched any number of popular documentaries about the modern food system, listened to that Fresh Air interview, or even just driven through Iowa, you know that these are rather generous characterizations of practices that are unpleasant at best and barbaric at worst. I’m not going to bother refuting these claims line by line - I’m going to assume you’re educated enough to pick up on at least some of the deep ironies in these descriptions. Included in the exhibit is a fake sow in a farrowing stall, which in itself may not be jarring for the casual visitor. Upon a closer look at the poster describing farrowing stalls, you will see that for some reason, they didn’t even look hard enough to find a picture of a confinement sow appearing comfortable in her stall! And though you might not be able to tell from the slant and the graphics, the exhibit was drastically updated relatively recently, in 2007!

Some of the many sponsors that made the Farm Tech exhibit possible.

Considering how tied the rest of the exhibit was to its major sponsors, I decided to try to uncover who might be responsible for the pig propaganda. I didn’t have to dig very far. Though the donor list in the museum itself is very long, the MSI’s website includes this message under the description of the Farm Tech exhibit: “We are pleased to acknowledge and to extend sincere appreciation to the many generous donors to the Farm Tech exhibit including ADM, Deere & Company, and Fair Oaks.” Some cursory internet sleuthing turned up Fair Oak Farms, a northwest Indiana educational tourist attraction where you can learn about where your food comes from. Fair Oak Farms is a monument to Modern farming, and it’s “Pig Adventure” is its newest experience designed to introduce families to how a modern pig is raised. They have 2,800 sows in a breed-to-weaning situation, meaning that the pigs are sold to other farms around the midwest to be raised for meat. When you think about large confinement pig operations, the first word that comes to mind is definitely not transparency, so this operation caught my attention.

Upon further internet investigation, I found a fewvirtual tours” of the Pig Adventure on a website called PigProgress.net. As you might be able to tell from the familiar use of the capital P “Progress,” this is a site devoted to fully modern pork producers. Again, this is a report filtered through that particular lens, and it shows. The lede? “In the US, awareness is growing that successful welfarist campaigns are related to people being poorly informed about pig farming.” If this whole things piques your own interest, I encourage you to click through the links above to read about the operation and look through a slideshow of the exhibit. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from these sources and the farm’s own website: visitors get in a bus at the main visitor center and are driven two miles to the pig operation, where they enter straight through a garage from the van (not stepping foot outdoors around the pig barn). They are then in an upper section of the barn, where they can look through windows down into the facility, divided into gilts (young unbred pigs), gestating sows, farrowing sows, and young piglets. They use modern feeding technology, in which a microchipped tag on the sow’s ear communicates with computers regulating feed, so each pig is fed an appropriate amount for their stage of development. When they are ready to be bred, they are artificially inseminated and held for 5-7 days to make sure they they’re pregnant. Three months, three weeks later, they are put in farrowing stalls, where they give birth and nurse their piglets for three weeks, at which point the pigs are weaned and sold and the sows (depending on their performance) are returned to the beginning of the cycle. Both the sows and the genetic material used in the insemination have been bred and selected for quick-growing, lean meat and very large litter sizes. Because of the scale of the operation, visitors are almost sure to see a litter being born, and staff regularly bring newborn pigs up to a window for a closer look. Virtually the whole process, except for castration, cutting eyeteeth, and docking tails, happens in full view of the public, in an attempt to provide a counter-example to the growing awareness of inhumane conditions documented in various surreptitiously-obtained videos. 

In some ways, I think this kind of model farm is great - it does provide a closer approximation of where your food comes from than nursery rhymes and picture books. The pigs on display are not subject to the acute cruelties that many animals across the country experience everyday, and visitors are protected from the environmental realities involved with pork production on this scale (see: the bus entering the facility before disembarking, thereby avoiding the majority of the stench emanating from such an operation). However, no amount of Science! Technology! Progress! can paper over the fact that these animals are being denied an animal existence. These sows will never set foot outside! They will never explore their environs for varied food sources, build a nest, protect their piglets. They can’t! If we released these very pigs tomorrow, they would be ill-prepared to survive out on pasture, designed as they are through generations of breeding and lifetimes of sub-therapeutic antibiotic use. The pig-ness has been bred out of these pigs, in the name of Progress. 

This isn’t supposed to be my own submission to the pig propaganda wars - I’m just taking you down the rabbit-hole I’ve been burrowing around in the last two weeks. It has led me to reflect on the disingenuous ways we invoke Progress! in this country, the information being fed to schoolchildren about our Modern! food industry, and the underlying inhumanity at even the most modern of farms. I’m not telling you how to eat or buy, but I can tell you about my current relationship with my own omnivorousness. After a high school and college stint of vegetarianism and a few years of near-indiscriminate omnivory, I’ve settled into the following pattern: I eat the meat and eggs I raise myself, I try to be careful about the dairy products I buy, and I try to avoid eating meat in restaurants unless I know where it comes from. Since the combination of the raw ingredients and restaurants available to me on a daily basis mean that cooking for myself is usually the best bet, I don’t see myself as making any kind of grand sacrifice. All I can ask of others is to educate themselves to the degree necessary to make their own decisions about what kind of food they want to eat and from where it should come. Listening to that Fresh Air interview is a start. Rest assured that though it may appear a bit disheartening at first, there are only going to be more alternative food sources in the coming years. Here’s an antidote to whatever rabbit-hole you’re about to enter, should you choose to go down that path:

Happy sows eat outdoors earlier this spring with their litters. 

Farm Week: October 13, 2014

This was a great rebound week on the farm. The weather held, and we peeled away a few more layers. We sent out the second to last boxes of the season, and we harvested lots of late fall goodies for a local festival this weekend. From the Land is a folk arts, crafts, and agricultural festival held on a nearby farm that draws a loyal crowd from central Wisconsin and beyond. Just as at Harvest Fest, the big hit this weekend were the Brussels sprouts. At least a few dozen people commented that they had no idea sprouts grew on a stalk like that, and even more people were tickled that we were charging by the foot instead of by the pound or by the stalk. On Saturday, we sold so many stalks of Brussels sprouts that our customers were walking billboards walking around the festival. It just goes to show that novelty sometimes does pay off. Even if that novelty is just a desire not to have to take all those sprouts off all those stalks. Sometimes marketing isn’t just about online buzz - a good old-fashioned word of mouth ground-swell does the trick just as well.

Thinking about: branding, clean slates, the “better next year” list

Eating: more arugula salads, more homemade pasta dishes, that thing they do at the fair where they shave a potato into one big pile of ribbons and fry it into a giant pile of chips

Reading: John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, MOSES’s Guidebook for Organic Certification

Farm Week: October 6, 2014

The light is different. I’m no longer turning away from the sun. It’s lower in the sky, and I’m turning my face up to meet it. This week was further along the countdown to the end of the season. We have two boxes left, and Friday was the last outdoor market in the park in Green Lake. We are slowly peeling off layers just as we’re starting to put them back on. We did the first round of our chicken harvest, and seeing even thirty fewer chickens in the field is a good feeling. Our last pregnant sow of the year (Dot), has been big as a house for weeks. Every day I would go out and do chores and she was bigger and lower and fuller than ever. Every day, it was with disbelief that I reported that no, there was no little pile of pigs out there. Along with the creeping frost and the falling leaves, the ever-ballooning sow contributed to a strange week where time simultaneously sped by and stood still. This week more than most, we had to stop to think about what day it was. Thursday brought the annual organic certification inspection, a five hour process that also contributed to the smearing of the time-space continuum on the farm. The peppers and the tomatoes in the field are wilted and dead. The greenhouse is half empty, planted with some lettuce and awaiting the winter spinach. The sow finally farrowed on Sunday (pictures to come), large enough to feed all eight pigs for years. Time passes. Frost falls, and the sun comes to save us. One of these days, the sun will be too low and the frost will stay. Until then, we’ve got some more harvesting to do. 

Thinking about: paperwork, processes, socks

Eating: homemade Indian eggplant and potatoes and cauliflower with rice; arugula with grated carrot, daikon radish, and apples tossed in a creamy lime sriracha dressing; lentil soup with homemade wheat oregano breadsticks

Reading: Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, MOSES’s Guidebook for Organic Certification

Farm Week: August 18, 2014 & Farm Feast

This week’s post is another tale of survival, which I expect must be getting old by now. We had our Farm Feast this weekend, which meant that added to our weekly mix of markets, harvest, weeding, and general chaos was a special mix of anxiety, preparation, and finally, adrenaline. We started cooking on Thursday, chopping and dicing and slicing. All day Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent preparing for the event, and when people actually started to arrive, I was almost too tired to enjoy the night as much as I should have. All of the hard stuff was over, and all I had to do was smile and make sure everything was running smoothly. Mostly, it did just that. Dinner started a little later than planned because everyone seemed to be having a good time on the hayrides and in conversation over drinks and appetizers, so by the time the last few tables were finishing up it was getting quite dark. But we had enough food and enough seats for everybody, nobody was stung by our bees, the horses cooperated, the children (mostly) cooperated, the weather cooperated, and everyone seemed to have a great time and really enjoy the food. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I think people would have paid double for the experience. Maybe with a similar amount of work, we could make it an actual fundraiser in the future, if that’s something Mat and Danielle are considering.


So with the successful completion of the farm feast, I only have one week left in the crazy whirlwind month that has been August. Judging by my Facebook feed, this seems to be a very popular time to move. I helped two friends with some very heavy hobbies move up some stairs today, and I’m also moving this Tuesday, though my continued vagabond existence means that I don’t have more than a carload of stuff to cart over. My international charges arrive on Saturday, which just happens to also be the day that a very good friend and former roommate is getting married in the Twin Cities, so I won’t be around for their first day in the States. But in the meantime, I have to get myself moved, the house prepared, the kitchen stocked, meet the teachers, see off a friend, and get myself to and from Minneapolis. I still have all of my farm duties this week, but after a few crazy weeks I’ve earned a bit of leeway, and I should be able to work around it. Even though I’ll be starting a new job and be pulling double duty, I think September might be a little easier than August has been. (Also, maybe the ragweed with stop blooming at some point.)

Thinking about: lifting with the legs, time management, accumulation

Eating: see farm feast menu picture

Reading: Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

Farm Week: August 11, 2014

Well, I survived my five days in charge of the farm. The animals were fed, watered, moved, and milked as necessary, the veg was weeded, watered, harvested, delivered, and sold, and I came out the other end relatively unscathed, if with a bit of a summer cold. I can’t blame the farm for that, but I have two small suspects in the hunt for patient zero. It was actually quite nice to be on the farm all day - I’m up early no matter how hard I try to sleep past 6, and I’m usually asleep by 10, but that leaves a quite a bit of time outside my usual “business hours.” I went out early to start the morning chores, attempting to finish them by the time the vegetable helpers arrived at 8:30 or 9. Most days, I was mostly successful. It was also nice to be able to work in the evenings, when the sun wasn’t so strong. I picked tomatoes in the greenhouse, weeded the celeriac and the carrots, added another super to the beehives, all under a much gentler sun. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I kept remembering that while I could keep the farm running, it was on a very basic level, pared down, well-prepared, and well-assisted. I didn’t have to keep track of two young boys or do any caretaking work for the landlord. As smoothly as it went, it actually deepened my respect for how hard and how long Mat and Danielle work on a daily basis. I certainly hope they actually relaxed on their trip, though I doubt they are capable of complete relaxation.

In other news, August continues racing by at a record-breaking clip. I can’t really tell whether we’re still in the throes of summer or whether fall has come early. Our field tomatoes are stalwartly green, and we’re hoping that the weather cooperates enough to give us a pretty good yield. After last year’s near crop failure, I’m looking forward to stocking up on tomato sauces for the winter. We have a few varieties of paste tomato out in the field, and I’m looking forward to canning as much as possible when they finally start ripening (knock on wood). Though I have no basis for this hunch, I have a feeling we’re in for a bit of an Indian Summer. It’s been a bit of an odd year, weather-wise, and I’m just hoping it cooperates long enough for at least a good portion of the ton of green fruit to turn red (and yellow and orange and stripedy). I’m trying not to think about how busy the next two weeks are going to be, and spent a good portion of the morning (dis)engaged in some classic nothing-doing while I have the chance. The next two weeks bring a big event on the farm, a parental visit, a going away party, helping friends move, moving myself, starting a second job, and a trip to the twin cities for a wedding. Oh yeah, and I’m really hoping for some ripening tomatoes, as if I needed something else to fill my time!

Thinking about: coordination, cooperation, condensation

Eating: broccoli-based stir-fries, tomatoes and basil, garlicky eggs, locally (in)famous spaghetti and meatball pizza

Reading: Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story, Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States

Farm Week: August 4, 2014

August just seems to be speeding by, and this week was also a blur of activity and decisions. We had the usual amount of harvest, CSA delivery, and farmers market activity. Adding to the flurry were the preparations for the Boersons to leave for their annual family camping trip up to Superior, leaving me in charge of the farm for a couple days. So this weekend and the beginning of next week finds me feeding, watering, harvesting, and delegating. We'll be harvesting for and delivering our CSA boxes as usual, so I'll have our usual stream of weekly helpers, plus a few extra hands on deck to help with the steady stream of chores. So far, so good (knock on wood for me, would you?).

Also lots of life decisions happening this week. One of my good friends here just got a really awesome job that will take her to Seattle before the end of the month. It's an awesome opportunity, and I think she'll love living in Seattle, but I'll certainly miss having her around here. At the same time, I applied for and then quickly accepted a job that will keep me here for another year. The local high school hosts about half a dozen international students from all over the world who come for the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. They're usually coming as a stepping stone to attending college in the States, so they're a very responsible, driven bunch. Anyways, the school is renting a house in downtown Green Lake for the school year, and they needed an RA/house mother. Luckily for them, there happens to be a well-traveled, multi-lingual, over-educated itinerant living just down the street. So I'll also be moving by the end of the month, to a cute little house in town. Though they're working with me to make sure I'll be able to fulfill my obligations at the farm through September, after that I'll be free to come to the farm during the school day, when I don't have any obligations to the program. Next summer, school will end just when the market and CSA season starts to ramp up, and I'll work another season here at the farm. Over the school year, I'll have one weekend off every month, and in the summer I'm going to make it a priority to go out to the Future Farm at least once a month. I'm planning on moving out there full time next fall, so right now I'm about 14 months from Startup. Lots of things just fell into place this month, and I'm excited to see what the next year will bring. Watch this space!

Thinking about: transitions, timelines, tinkerers

Eating: salads, tomatoes, broccoli, variations on zucchini and eggs, another pulled pork crop mob lunch, celebratory crispy pork belly and fondue

Reading: Michael Perry's Truck: A Love Story

Farm Week: July 28, 2014

This week on the farm found me dragging a bit. You know how sometimes you have so much fun activity on a weekend that you need another weekend right afterwards? Well, that was this week, but instead of another weekend, I had a very taxing week. Monday was filled with garlic, cleaning, bunching, and hanging the garlic that we harvested last week. Knowing how full the rest of the week was going to be, I pushed Danielle to finish the job with me before I left after an eleven hour day. Tuesday brought a film crew to the farm - Inga Witscher’s show Around the Farm Table filmed an episode that will be airing this fall on Wisconsin public television. Inga is a dairy farmer that goes around the state learning about other family farms and local food businesses, and she came across the Boersons at a library panel over the winter. Though the filming didn’t take overly long, it did take time to prepare and was maybe more mentally exhausting than anything. Wednesday is CSA day as always, and we had quite a busy morning harvesting, packing boxes, and preparing for the Princeton market. Last week’s market was very very underwhelming, with record poor sales due to low customer attendance and a new vendor with piles of cheap conventional vegetables. Apparently, they didn’t think the market was worth it, because they weren’t back this week and I had a great market. Thursday brought some extra livestock chores, followed by some welcome weeding and cultivation time. We rubbed down the sows with some lice soap, and then castrated the four male pigs out of the eight that were born a few weeks ago. Friday is another market and harvest day, and this week there were some complications that made the harvest a bit more harried than usual. Phoebe, Danielle’s 14-year-old dog, has had bone cancer for the past few months, and it became clear that her quality of life had rapidly deteriorated over the past two days. So Danielle spent the morning going back and forth to the vet and burying her. That left harvest to me and our three usual Friday helpers. I must have really kicked it into high gear, because by the time Danielle joined us just before lunch, we were bagging, quart-ing, and bunching the last few things for market. On the lighter side, we had another new little fuzzball arrive first thing in the morning. It’s another little heifer calf, almost identical to little Tootsie. We’re thinking they’re both half Highland half Devon, but we’ll see just how fuzzy they get as they get a bit older. So that was my week. It flew by, and boy was it exhausting. This weekend, I’m going to try to start a big batch of fermented pickles with the bumper crop of cucumbers we’ve been blessed/cursed with, read a bunch, and basically relax. Next weekend, the Boersons leave for a few days vacation up in the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. That leaves me to hold down the fort, with the help of the small army of hardworking volunteers and loyal friends. So this will be my only chance to relax for awhile. 

Thinking about: farm dogs past and future, speed, motivation

Eating: heirloom tomatoes and crunchy dukes in creamy pesto, homemade pizza, deliciously tart lemon bars, various zucchini and egg combinations, Official Once Annual Hand-Dipped and Fresh Fried County Fair Corn Dog

Reading: Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard, Michael Perry’s Truck: A Love Story, Business Planning for Dummies