Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On Writing and Making Space

Well now, I swore to myself I would write more here this summer and ah well, you see how that is going. But I do "write" every day, in my head....long narratives, funny anecdotes, explanations, justifications, and How-Tos. I "write" all day, every day really because there is no one but goats and dogs to talk to most days. I do most of this "writing" while my hands are doing other things.

It is rare for my hands to ever be idle as the chores of the farm are myriad----milking, cleaning, feeding, watering, harvesting, hauling, chopping, slicing, stirring, folding...you get it, or maybe you don't. It is impossible to be idle on the a farm because there is always something to be done.

Writing requires quiet and space and permission to ignore everything else for a sustained period of time. I rarely find that quiet and space and as for the permission...well, I can't give myself a day off. I just can't. I'm driven to work until I drop, because the list is so very long and behind that list in another list and another and another. The work is relentless and I feel a heavy sense of responsibility to the animals and land that I care for. Every day is some version of Overwhelmed for me. Somedays I buzz through the list, others I stress and fret and beat myself up for not being Enough, for not being fast, nor efficient.

But yesterday as I began writing this post (longhand on little paper while "grazing out" with the goats), I had lost sight of the ways in which the Universe intervenes sometimes. As I took the goats back to the barnyard and the secure pasture, I nabbed the naughty Midnight swinging him up into my arms and heard an ugly crackle-pop-snap in my back.

I spent the afternoon on the couch in a funk, a stupor, and bored out of my fucking mind. I don't like to be MADE to lie down, but our bodies tell us what they need. Today, I'm nursing my back....my husband lectured me about taking it easy and asking for help and followed it all with, "I don't know why I'm telling you any of this. You aren't going to do it. You're just going to do what you want. You're stubborn" and he was mostly right, but it really isn't about being stubborn, it is about feeling Purposeful and strong. So, although I get overwhelmed at the daily chores sometimes, I need that Purpose to keep me moving,

Today, I am taking it easy and I keep thinking the word "shirk" and reminding myself that I am not actually shirking my responsibilities, but re-prioritizing to put myself first at least for today. I did my morning chores diligently and well, but I can in and cleaned up and fed myself and had a second cup of tea today. I started in on making cheese, which is sometimes a chore, but was today, a joy to create, To take our (mine and Ruby's) hard work and make mozzarella and ricotta for this week's dinners was a celebration.

I've had my lunch and I've given myself this little bit of time to write and now I'm off to my sewing room to create something...but I don't have an agenda, just the Space I need for myself for today at least.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Looking for Hope

Birdhouse Gourd.
In the interest of being totally and truly authentic I must confess that I have some serious Depression issues. Although I am most plagued in the Winter months when days are short and can be gray and dreary too, I struggle with it year round. Most of the time it is just my own malfunctioning neurons, but sometimes it is the world around me that weighs me down.

Generally in the Spring I am full of Hope. The garden is full of promise, there are goats kidding, trees budding, bees buzzing, birds nesting and I can't help but feel hopeful, but this year...well, this year has been different.

The last weeks of February turned to Spring, warm days and warm nights too and oddly enough I suspect that this early Spring is what started all of this downward sliding that I've been doing. The weirdly warm weather caused problems in the greenhouse and I lost most of my seedlings and I'm feeling now like this may have been the beginning of my funk...we have committed to growing our own food because we simply don't trust anyone to meet our very high standards for organic/chemical free. 

 I know, I know. This is the part where I would tell you, "You should know your farmer," and you should, but here's the thing. I am my own farmer and my standards are HIGH. I only know one person who adheres to standards as high as my own and she, like me, just farms for herself and her family. I'm also not always comfortable asking the hard questions (because really, I already know the answers). 

So, we decided that if my seedlings don't make it, then I just won't grow those plants. I say I'm okay with that, but really I can hardly imagine my summer without a garden. Some part of me is like, "Whew, a summer off!" but I know that in reality I will feel like something is missing. Growing my own food is so important to me. Of course, it doesn't help that this is registering as a Failure and there is no fixing it at this late date.

The warm weather has also brought out the neighbors with their mowers and pump sprayers full of glysophate a little early this year. For a couple of weeks now I've listened to the drone of mowers as people mowed every square inch of their property, acres and acres mowed flat. After mowing they head out with the sprayers to nuke the fence lines and kill the "weeds." During this same time, I have been crawling around our property looking for wildflower seedlings, watching the bees sip nectar and collect pollen, looking for "weeds" that goats like to eat and daydreaming about how much more growing I can do and how much LESS mowing. 

I try very hard to live by the motto "live and let live," so I keep my mouth shut as long as the neighbors stay off our property with their poisons (trespassing with their glysophate has been an issue in the past). What generally happens when I witness them spraying is A. paranoia that they are spraying my fence lines (see above), and B. anger that everyone around me is using chemicals. This year has been different. Oh, I got out the binoculars to make sure everyone was staying on their side of the road and yep, I was angry, but then I just got sad. The crippling melancholy of Winter descended on me and I dropped into a major funk that I'm having trouble shaking. I don't want to leave the farm; I feel like I'm surrounded by the enemy. I haven't been eating. I feel like I could begin sobbing every time I think of all those chemicals, all that we are expected to eat, and breath, and spread on our skin without ever questioning it and I can't even escape it at my home because it is all around me. 

I walk each day past the bee hives and encourage our girls to stay close. I caution them that they can't trust the neighbors with their sprayers and GMO corn. I can envision toxic clouds of overspray coming over my fences, settling on my goats' backs, coating the grass, the leaves, the food they eat. My heart is breaking and there seems like nothing I say or do makes a difference. I'm an educator and some part of me believes that if I talk long enough and loud enough someone will hear, but a bigger part of me believes that people are greedy and lazy and selfish and they want their weed-free, green lawns and sweet corn at whatever the cost. The cost for me is too steep.

I think part of my funk is due to the fact that I just can't fit in to this mentality. I have no tribe. I want to live and let live, but yet, I can't help but feel like I need to speak up. When I don't speak up (because I'm living and letting live) I feel guilty. There are all these conflicting emotions and I feel so very strongly about this that I am making myself crazy (literally) because I don't feel like there is any hope at all that people will be convinced to forego chemicals because they want the green lawn, less work, or that fucking GMO sweet corn.

Today, I saw the pump sprayer come back out across the road and something snapped in me....No, no, no y'all, I did not strap on my holster...I went up there and I roped off a buffer zone to keep my girls out of harms way and then I decided that every time some moron brought out the chemicals I would do something pro-active and positive. After I moved the electric fence, I then went all around the property and hung six birdhouses made from gourds I grew on this land, with seeds I've saved over years and years. Seeds that came with me, and will out last me too. I walked the woods slowly and carefully; I let the earth cradle me and give me gifts. I talked to trees; I stood still; I listened. I heard.

The pond was full of ducks who flew, quacking when I crested the hill. In the woods behind me a woodpecker tapped. High above the hawks called, mating. When I reached to pick up a piece of trash, leftovers from previous owners, I found a cardinal feather, red against the brown leaves. Wild plums are blooming and trees are budding and I found peace and calm out there. This farm is truly an oasis from the chaos and stupidity.

The next time I hear mowers droning all day and I see the sprayers out, I'll find another way to lift myself up. This land is the only affirmation I need that my way, our way is THE way. I suspect I'll keep my mouth shut, it is after all their land (but I share the water and air and I can't say that I'll ever stop feeling uneasy). Maybe this post can serve as a call to action too...or a permission slip...to stop mowing, stop spraying, leave things be...

PS. Y'all, I just want to say that if you are reading this blog I appreciate it. Despite the fact that I teach writing and harp on the whole Writing Process, blah, blah, blah...everything I write here is a rough draft, straight from my heart with little to no editing or revising.


Friday, February 12, 2016

February in the Garden and the "Second Life"

February is a strange month for weather here in Texas. Most years it is cold and dreary (at least in my memory) with the occasional warm day fluke. This year has been so very mild that I've got some serious gardening fever, but I know better. So, what do you do in the February garden?

In the greenhouse you can start: Basil, Swiss Chard, Cucumbers, Melons, and Squash. Of course you need to tend to the little seedlings you've already sprouted. Oddly enough I've been more concerned with avoiding cooking the little babies than keeping them warm (which is what you would expect from February). 

Outside, you better have your potato and onion beds prepped and ready, because they go in the ground on Valentine's Day....that is unless it is pouring rain or we are getting some deep freeze that day. With that said, I don't know that I've ever missed my Valentine's Day planting. That is just when you do it. 

The other thing you can do in February (especially when you are having fabulous weather) is to build new beds which brings me to the idea of the "Second Life." Now our farm is pretty productive and we tend to have plenty of milk, cheese, and yogurt. We also have plenty of veggies and even some fruits, but the thing we produce the most of...."waste" and compost. 

Let's just start with that lovely milk I just mentioned....to get milk we feed bagged feed (from the lovely folks at Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill). The feed comes in 50 lb. bags that are made entirely of paper (Yay, Coyote Creek!). We go through around 80 bags of feed a year...that's 80 empty bags. This time of year we hoard some to use as clean pads for obey-gooey just-borned kids, but that still leaves a lot of bags. We don't like waste around here so we've found a second life for those bags.

Coyote Creek Feed Bags heading to the garden.
 We do most of our gardening in raised beds and every year we have to grow a little. We use those paper feed sacks to line the bottoms of the raised bed frames. This serves to kill the grass underneath without adding anything nasty to our growing space.
We also find ourselves with lots of little piles of deadfall in the winter. Some of that makes its way into the house for kindling, some gets left in a pile awaiting the yearly renting of the chipper which turns it into mulch, but some of it goes into the bottoms of the raised beds for drainage and for slow composting. (Look up Hugelkultur).

Pecan Tree Deadfall
For whatever reason, I find the using of all the "waste" materials very gratifying. I love it that I am using something that would otherwise have to be disposed of. I'm not one of those Zero Waste Fanatics and although I just called them fanatics I do respect them...It cannot be easy to live that lifestyle. I'm a little more realistic, because I'm pretty sure I can't run this farm without creating some waste...okay, a LOT of waste. My job then is to use it up, turn something into nothing, redefine my waste and I'm getting pretty good at it.

Raised bed lined with cardboard boxes.
Rather than cart our "waste" to the recycling center (which is a pain in the ass) we try to use as much of it as we can. The above bed is lined with plain cardboard with all the labels and tape pulled off. Remember it's job is just to kill the grass below and this works great too.
Hugelkultur style: feed sacks on bottom, sticks next.
Once the sticks are in the bottom I clean the stalls in the barn and bring out load after load after load of "waste"...both hay and poop. That lovely milk comes from some very messy and subsequently wasteful goats. They drop half of every mouthful of hay on the floor and then (thank goodness) they don't eat it off the floor. Sometimes folks with animals complain about the wasted hay or the volume of poop, but I would never complain about either of those....it's just mulch and compost to me. Those whiners just need to start gardening and give their "waste" a Second Life.
Sacks, Sticks, Hay and Poop

Once I've filled all the beds, I then begin spreading the hay/poop from the barn in beds that are not raised using what I now know is the Ruth Stout Method. For me, "it was the holy shit (no pun intended) there is too much of this...what do I do now?" method. You might say this method is for lazy people, but I'm definitely not lazy. Mostly I'm desperate...desperate to clean the barn and not just make piles of composting materials that will have to be moved again and again. I figured out this deep mulch method after a couple of years of moving the same compost two, three, maybe even four times. Now, I dump it where I would eventually like to plant. It is a slow process, but it yields beautiful results.
Jen's Lazy Method
The picture above was mulched last year. In the picture, I'm just beginning to add another layer of mulch because what you see mid-photo is soil, weedless, lovely soil ready for planting and I. DID. NOTHING. Nothing at all except dump my "waste" and spread it out a bit.

A couple of days ago I cleaned the milkers' barn and moved about 25 loads of beautiful future compost, thus giving their "waste" a Second Life. It helps me to define it as a Second Life. It reminds me that we and the gardens and the animals are connected in inextricable ways. I care for the goats, whose milk nourishes me, whose "waste" nourishes our gardens and feeds us and them. This farm is one big lovely circle and we try to keep all the elements in the loop. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Keeping all the Balls in the Air: January 2016

With a new year upon us I decided to try a few things to stay more organized, waste less (time and food and energy), and keep better records. It almost sounds like I made a Resolution to get organized, waste less, and keep better records, but really I'm not making any resolutions this year. Really, I swear; resolutions never stick. 

Instead, I did the whole "choose a word" thing for this year....one for me (Authentic) and one for the farm (Simplify). Last year's farm motto was "Work Smarter, Not Harder" so I feel like I'm just continuing 2016 on the foundation I laid last year with my attempts to simplify (and organize) things further. 

If you have more than one job and wear many hats like I do, then you know that keeping all the balls in the air is crazy-hard sometimes. Seriously, it is NOT easy. I only work two days away from the farm, but even on those days I have to do the farm chores too. Some days I juggle like a Master Level Ninja Clown....some days I am just a clown. I have to have routines to get it all done.

The barn command center.

Some time last year I added the chalkboard to the barn. Occasionally someone else does the chores without me there to boss them around, but all the feeding info was in my head. It occurred to me that if I ever got knocked on the head and couldn't do the chores or boss someone around we might find ourselves in trouble. The board immediately came in handy, until we realized that I never updated it when I changed rations. Oops! I rectified that problem and the board is now current and correct and anyone could come in and feed my girls. So a couple of weeks ago I went one step further and I added the dry erase board. This assigns chores to specific days to remind me, or point someone else in the right direction if I'm not there to give orders. So far, things are going pretty smoothly using this system.

One page of the bullet journal.
 Someone (hrmm, hrmm) pointed out that I had not done a very good job of keeping my farm records this year and I almost always screw up the monthly budget by forgetting to add something, so I needed a better way to manage all the papers, receipts, info, and numbers that bombard me all day long.

I googled around and happened upon the idea of a bullet journal and I started immediately. OH MY, you are going to laugh at me when I say this, but this freakin' thing has changed my life! I actually think this Bullet Journal thing might be a cult, but I DO. NOT. CARE. This is awesome. Since today is February 1st I can go on record as saying that this works for me. I've made a few adjustments, but WOW...I kept records for a full 31 days. Accurate, complete records. That's never happened before. NEVER.

So, true to form I'm not doing it exactly like the traditional bullet journal, but this way is working for me. Pictured to the left is the daily column system I'm using. I decided up front what I wanted to keep track of....some is business and some is just fun.

Each day I fill in my "template" which includes: What I'm reading; what I'm watching; what's going on on the farm; how many eggs, how much milk; who milked; what's happening in the garden/greenhouse; the weather; what I'm doing that day; What we are eating that day; money spent; blog post ideas. That might seems like a cumbersome list; however, it is so NOT.

The column prompts are all abbreviated and look like this: R. W. F. Eggs. Milk. Garden. WX. Do. Food, $$, Blog. Same thing every day and so much easier keeping everything in one place.

Each day (or couple of days) I stick in a post-it list of things to do on those days. I mark them off, then record them under the Do category. Instant record keeping and my counters and desk are no longer littered with To Do Lists that we lost or abandoned. One list. I used to feel like nothing was ever getting done because I had 3 or 4 or 5 lists running at once. Now, I feel like I've gotten better at juggling all the things that have to happen in a week. Of course, I've employed a few other sneaky tricks to keep myself on track that didn't come from the bullet journal. Each week I label each of the seven days as either: Work (2), Farm/Garden (2), Sew (2), or Housekeeping/Laundry (1). I use a post-it note to make these days mobile and flexible....so, if the weather is nice I might switch a farm/garden day for the sewing day. Or if something pops up that needs priority I just swap the post-its. I haven't felt like I was giving all my time to one thing...ahhhh, balance.

 Under the $$ category, I put all the receipts, rounded up, but I also added a page for recording farm receipts and mileage. Again, ALL IN ONE PLACE. I've been a little bit of a Spendy Sue lately and I've been tracking the days that I don't spend anything. Alas, I could do better, but I coded each expenditure as household, personal, crafts, books, or farm. So, sometimes when I'm spending money I'm not actually being naughty and I can tell at a glance what my habits are; which brings me to the Habit Tracker.

Habit tracker.
The Habit Tracker includes quite a bit of legit info, but it also serves as an accountability partner. For example, I would really like to get back to a daily yoga practice...sadly, I only marked three days this month....but next month I can do better. Visually motivating, huh?

I'm tracking a lot of very different things here, and it is cool to see the whole month at a glance. Besides yoga, I am trying to get a walk in each day...this month: 13. I milked 22 days (but was in the barn all 31 days of the month for morning chores). I worked 32 hours at my teaching job. The chickens laid 67 eggs. I did 23 loads of laundry, but only hung 4 on the line. See? Cool, huh?

Besides the daily bullet list and the habit tracker. I included a page at the beginning with goals for that month with little check off boxes to tick off when I accomplish something. I divided my monthly goals into several categories: Garden; Farm; Creative Business; Personal; and Blog. I didn't accomplish every item on the list, but I'm happy with what I did accomplish. I got every thing done that had a specific date, i.e. all the seed starting for this year's garden was done on time (probably for the first time ever).

The beautiful thing about the bullet journal (at least for me) is the idea of "migration". This means that things that don't get checked off this month, just migrate to the next month. I love that....no pressure. I have also been applying the migration technique to the daily To Do list...it sure does make the list less daunting.

Since my bullet journal has a Food category, I'll tell you too that labeling the outside of the freezer is the BEST thing I ever did to help us avoid food waste and stay organized.
Freezer Inventory.
Mom and I have discussed more than once the shared perception we have of our preserved food. 
There is this window of time when you don't allow your to dip into the reserves because it is "for winter," but then winter comes and you're still running to the store each week.

So, after we talked about this a couple of times I challenged myself to cook from the pantry, freezer, and garden. Without this nerdy organizing method I would have NO idea what was in the freezer and it is working really well. Part of the information I included in my bullet journal is the recipes I'm using during this time and perhaps I'll share that in another post.

Well, that's the January recap though it appears to be a major plug for bullet journaling and maybe it is. I'm gushing over this technique. I feel calm and balanced and in control. I know what has to get done: I have time to do it, but if I don't it can just "migrate" to the next page. There is freedom in that and sanity and less call for juggling and more time for Me and Us.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January Garden Report 2016

 Well now, it is that time of year again...time for retrospection and resolutions. I'm good at the retrospection, but the resolutions? Not so much. Yeah, Yeah I resolved to write more on this blog LAST YEAR and you can see how that turned out. I resolved to write a garden post every month last year and I managed January, but I'm nothing if I'm not hard headed so I'm going to try this again.

So, it's January and here is my Garden Report. So far it has been pretty mild (probably just threw out a major jinxy by saying that), but we are still swampy from a 10 inch rain we got just at the end of the year. The garden is almost 100% prepped for the new season except for a few minors things. I'm still waiting for my compost pile to dry out!!

Last year's garden was a really abundant one (of course, you would know that if I ever blogged about it!). My hopes this year are to produce as much as or more than last year. I still feel like I'm on the steep part of the learning curve even though I'm organized and on time. I keep doubting myself and my decisions....do I turn the heater on? do I plug in the heat mats? do I need to water? Soak from the bottom or sprinkle from the top? and on and on and on....I wake up thinking about (okay, obsessing about) these things.

Despite it being only 25 degrees when I went out to milk this morning, I went out the greenhouse and puttered about. It was about 40 degrees in there with the heater on and the skies overcast. I had to execute a "do-over" on the cabbage planting because I had dropped the whole flat and blasted the soil (and sadly, 4 tiny babies) out in the stones. UGH! I also started eggplants and tomatillos. Last week I had (with the cabbage seed) also planted 5 types of peppers and parsley. I was sad to see that nothing was germinating....I felt bad; I beat myself up; I got angry and frustrated and then....well, then I read the seed packets...Oops, nothing to worry about. Parsley needs three weeks and peppers need consistent soil temps of around 80 degrees.

I vacillate between being a total nerd (see garden plan diagram from 2015 above and at right) or being totally willy-nilly about the garden and I'm trying to find the middle ground this year.

If you are starting a garden in North Texas yourself here's the run-down (from the nerdy part of me).

In January you can start these seeds indoors:
Broccoli. Cabbage. Cauliflower. Eggplant. Kale. Parsley. Peppers. Tomatoes, and Tomatillos. 

The Bullet List:

  • I use a 50-50 mix of peat moss and perlite (or vermiculite) for starting seeds.
  • I use any container that will hold soil (just remember to punch holes in the bottoms.
  • I use plastic wrap (you know the kind people use to cover food) stretched over the tops of the containers (until they germinate.)
  • I have heat mats, but I'm not sure they are necessary/effective.
  • I am using a greenhouse and a space heater on really cold nights, but no extra lights.
  • I try to keep the pots damp, like a rung-out sponge.
If anyone is following along (and why would you be, since this poor old blog is pretty hit or miss) I hope this helps you get going....and PLEASE please please use ORGANIC seeds for the bees and your health!

EDITED: I thought it might be helpful to add the two major references I use this time of year beside just reading the seed packets (from which you can glean much info).
I use THIS Seed Starting Plan Sheet from Growin' Crazy Acres
I use Maximizing Your Mini-Farm by Brett L. Markham (right now I use it for my notes that I've added the last couple of years, but when it comes to planting time I use this for spacing and such).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What do you do all day?

“What do you do all day?”

“Do you mean to tell me you can’t find one free hour this week to ______?”

“You only/just work two days a week.”

“I bet you have tons of time for sewing.”

...and so on and so on.

I get these kinds of things said to me frequently. Frequently enough that I have been ruminating on the subject of work, women and work, unpaid work, and women who farm/homestead for awhile. More often than not, I feel a certain vibe from folks like they assume that I’m running around having lunch with my girlfriends and getting pedicures every day, because I “only work two days a week.” 

Several attitudes come into play here....first we have the perception that only working two days a week is somehow cheating. We also think that if you aren’t working for money then you aren’t working. I think my generation (that’s Gen X) assumes women have to have a family and a career. I also think that because I don’t have children people think that I should be working (outside the home). And of course, we can’t forget the age-old issue centered on “women’s work.”

Historically women’s work has been undervalued and under appreciated. We, as a society, don’t consider unpaid work actual work. Running a household and running it well is hard WORK, but I didn’t always get this either. I’ll admit when I quit teaching full time I had more than a little meltdown...say, a continuous meltdown for months and months because I felt like I wasn’t contributing to our family, but more importantly because I felt like I had no purpose, no direction. Sounds like a stupid cliche’ but it was true. I was adrift. 

In the days before the farm, I had a very hard time mentally and emotionally because I felt like I had no value and I didn’t recognize that the work I did kept us going. The house was clean, the groceries bought, the laundry done, the lawn mowed (not traditionally women’s work?!). And it was never my husband who had an issue. He always recognized the work I did and valued the contribution. It was the deeply held, ingrained at the core of me, belief that I had to bring money into the household in order to be a productive member of the household. My struggles when I was (by choice) unemployed after 13 years taught me so much. I understand the attitude because I used to have it, but I also worked through it and now longer believe that I am not contributing simply because the work I do is unpaid in the traditional sense. 

I work hard every day and my contributions to our household involve  some of the most important and basic things we need: food and shelter. I take my “job” seriously now. I have value and purpose...make that, Purpose. I put food on our table, dairy, eggs, vegetables...meat if I chose to. I do this EVERY day. I tend the gardens and the chickens and goats EVERY day. I take care of our HOME. My “job” is a 365/24/7 job, but it is the most important job because it nourishes us and sustains us. 

I do work outside the farm teaching college courses two days a week; it requires me to be clean and presentable and prepared and on time just twice each week. Folks latch onto that work “just” and I hear it a lot. Yep, just two days a week, I clean up and leave the farm and work from 10am to 4pm. Pretty cushy, right? Yep, I get that a lot too.

Since this got me so very irked I decided to log my day today.

7am hit the ground running...get dressed
dogs out, kettle on, go outside:

Open Buck Barn #2, check Rhett and Ben for cracked skulls, check water troughs  **trough needs to be filled.
Open Buck Barn #2...check trough: full
Down to the Big Barn, open chicken hatch, check for evidence of predator **note scratching along wall....gotta go something about that.
Open Big Barn doors, throw hay to girls, visual inspection of each girl...everyone looks happy.

Back inside: dogs in, feed dogs, dogs back out, make tea while prepping for milking
Out to milk. Feed, milk, change water, fill chicken water, feed chickens.
Back inside: filter milk, set it to chill
While it chills (50 minutes): wash milking gear and (sadly) an icky casserole dish from last night, eat breakfast, check weather (ugh, forecast low of 34 coming up...re-prioritize super long TO-DO list), wash breakfast dishes, surf internet for news and facebook. Check email.

Back to Buck Barn #2: fill trough, clean and fill inside water, walk fence line, pick up litter from road.
to Big Barn: clean milkers and nursery stall, haul muck out, scrub kennel used for chicken transport, re-erect dead electric fence to channel goats to browse.
Walk up pasture and collect goats for a field trip.

It is now 10am.

From 10am until 12:30 I work on clearing the fenceline (the girls spook at some point and take themselves back to the barn....weiners!).

12:30-1:00 Lunch...also bandaging my thumb where I stabbed through my nail, because well, my gloves didn’t have a thumb?! Find better gloves, go back out.

1:00-1:49. Mowing along electric fences (of course, I had to air up my tires first. Then, because I failed to run the pre-mowing checklist...I ran out of gas...back to the garage for the gas can, poop!) 

1:49-2:00: loaded some hay for my Mom and helped her pick fabric for some quilt squares (took advantage of being inside to pee!)

2:00-3:55 finished all the mowing, re-erected the orchard and pasture-splitting electric fence, and flipped the switch to power the fence charger...

4:00 Woo Hoo, I’m finished. But wait. I’m not. 

(I used this hour to write the rough draft of this post and have a well-deserved cup of tea).

At 5:00 (winter time) I have to put the farm to bed. Three barns, 13 goats, some odd chickens. It takes about an hour. Then dogs need to be fed, then the dishwasher needs to be unloaded (but I can do that while dinner is in the oven), then I get to reload the dishwasher, take a shower, go to bed, so I can do it all again tomorrow. 

In the summer the days are just like this, except they are 14 hours long...instead of 12.

But I JUST work two days a week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Integrity Farming

      When we started this whole farming thing I spent a lot of time mulling over what to call myself and this place we are calling home. Am I a farmer and is this a farmstead?  Am I a homesteader and is this a homestead? I settled on the label farmer, but for awhile I still struggled to define myself as a farmer because I felt like a real farmer was more heartless, more exacting, more businesslike than I was. I was farming, but with a heart; maybe I had too much heart even. After much thought, I finally can own the title of farmer. I grow food; thus, I am a farmer.
Now when I say I’m a farmer, I own it, but fear that folks misunderstand what I really do. Most people are so disconnected from their food that they simply give me a blank stare when I say I farm on my homestead. For some, they assume I mean that I grow acres and acres of one thing, or have a barn full of zillions of chickens. If someone is actually interested enough in what I do to ask some questions or at least politely listen to me I eventually work my way around to one thing. 
What I grow here is “integrity food,” so I’m an “integrity farmer.” I know everyone knows what food is and I suspect we all have a pretty good understanding of the word integrity, but what does it mean when we put them together? Joel Salatin, who coined the phrase in a 2014 article for Mother Earth News, defines it this way: “I define integrity food as food that’s raised in a way that heals the environment and builds the soil, creating sustenance that’s nutrient dense and life-affirming---including for the lives of the humans who raise, process and consume it.” In a nutshell, he’s saying that the agriculture that produces integrity food must be sustainable (for the planet), nutritious, and up-lifting (for the humans). 
Though I agree whole-heartedly with Salatin’s definition there are a few things I would add that define further what I do here on my farm. I raise dairy goats, chickens, bees, and organic vegetables. I do most of the work by hand. This is important to me, to do the work by hand because I want to stay close to my food, physically and emotionally. For example, I milk my goats by hand and I feed each goat individually. When they finish I talk to them, touch them, and say their name. I do this EVERY day for EVERY goat. I am present for the birth of every kid who will one day produce our milk.  In the garden, I plant and harvest by hand. I pull the weeds and water by hand. In the kitchen, I can, freeze, preserve, prepare, and peel by hand. I am responsible for vegetables from seed to table. We raise chickens from one day old and dig the holes when they die, by hand. We touch everything on this farm and it touches us...that is integrity food.
Doing most of the work by hand means doing it slowly and that means you have time to think about what you are doing. You stay connected to the work and thus, the food.  Some folks might be disgusted by the thought of milking a goat, reaching between her legs and squeezing her teats, but I can’t drink milk anymore unless I know where it came from. Because all that time I spend with my girls, slowly and quietly milking, makes my food better. I now think about where my food comes from; I have a conscience; I have integrity of a different kind. I know my girls are treated well; I know they are fed well; I know they are loved. All that slow, quiet work lets me think about what I’m doing and it makes me question the way it is done in conventional agriculture. 

      For me, integrity farming also implies a certain kind of freedom. Wendell Berry, in his essay “The Pleasures of Eating” says it better than I can:
"There is, then, a politics of food that, like any politics, involves our freedom. We still (sometimes) remember that we cannot be free if our minds and voices are controlled by someone else. But we have neglected to understand that we cannot be free if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else....One reason to eat responsibly is to live free." The ability to provide for our nourishment frees us from shopping trips and expenditures,  and allows us to opt out of the chemical laden conventional fare most widely available.
With that said, maybe it would be easier to understand integrity food and farming by defining what it is not. For me, integrity food has no machines, no factories, no conveyor belts, no vats or trucks. Integrity food doesn’t come from the store. It doesn’t come in a box or bag. It is never wrapped in plastic or encased in tin. An integrity farm would never grow just one thing. An integrity farm would never keep animals confined. An integrity farms doesn’t use chemicals or any kind, no antibiotics or hormones either. 
As Salatin says, integrity food is “life-affirming.” For me, this farm gives me a Purpose and yes, I meant to use a capital P. The act of feeding those that I love is life-affirming. Treating my animals well is life-affirming. Rebuilding the soil is life-affirming.