Tag Archives: farm

Homesteadery

I’m counting down the days until it’s time for us to pull up our twiggy roots and transplant westward to greener, damper climes. As I’m thinking about packing, gifting, lightening our loads and general short-term mayhem I can’t help looking ahead to where I want to be and slowly flexing my fingers in anticipation. Are you curious about what I’m scheming? I hope so because I’m about to lay it out for you in rough chronological order.

Step 1: Get some bees.
I’ve wanted to have my own hive(s) ever since I took a beekeeping class in college. Recently, things have gotten a little more specific as I read this book and that website. I want a top-bar beehive with russian bees. Essentially, having a top bar hive means you get a little less honey than the typical langstroth hive (the tall, boxy towers of bees) but you don’t have to wrestle with immensely heavy hive boxes, you get a natural honey comb shape and better bee health. Here’s a video describing the basic idea behind top bar construction and you get to watch him inspect the hive as he chats. A very well done video.

I want to go with Russian bees because they are a bit heartier than the Italian bees most beekeepers work with. They resist diseases a bit better, they tolerate colder weather and they just seem to be a bit feistier than their mellow, golden cousins. I figure that if I built a top bar hive right away, there’s a chance I could get my hands on a swarm within a month of getting to Oregon. That’s enough time for the bees to get established enough to make it through the winter. Then, next spring we’d be ankle deep in honey!

Step 2: Chickens!…. or ducks

I would love to have five chickens. That way I would have five eggs a day at peak season and about two a day during the off season. Plus, five chickens makes a pretty satisfying group of chickens scratching and pecking in the yard. Welsummers, Marans, Ameraucana and/or silkies! The first two lay dark dark brown eggs, the third lay blue/green eggs and the last have the sweetest temperaments.

Now, I say all that but what I’d really love to have is ducks. They lay eggs all the time (more often than chickens) and I love their sweet dispositions. My first choice would definitely be a pair of Indian Runner ducks. No doubt. If I could find some of those, I wouldn’t look twice at chickens.

3. Dyers Garden CSA

I want to plant an herb and dyers garden as soon as I can. There will be Black-Eyed Susans, Coreopsis, Dhalias, Goldenrod, Indigo, Marigold, Sunflowers, Yarrow, Zinnias… and so much more! The idea behind a Dyers CSA is that I would compile a kit of seeds, a small booklet with instructions on when to harvest, how and what to do with each plant in order to dye with it… perhaps a bit of nice white wool, cotton a linen fiber to experiment with. How fun!

4. Start a Fiber CSA

The idea is to start a Fiber CSA in Oregon. There would be a share for spinner, knitters and felters (that way there is as little waste as possible). I want a small flock of sheep (no more than ten) and it would look like a grab bag flock. I’m thinking one or two Bluefaced Leicester, one or two Romney ewes, one Cormo ewe and then a smattering of crosses.

Step 5: Raise some Goats…

I have big plans for goats. If I got a Anglo-Nubians, Alpines or Boer doe I could get milk from a doe and a female kid and, if her kid(s) turn out to be buck(s), they would make great pack or draft goats! That’s all in addition to being great bushwhackers, foragers and troublemakers.

6 and Beyond…

Further down the line I dream of setting up a really basic mini mill in a little shop/yurt and processing my own wool and whoever else in the area needs their fleeces done (you’d be surprised at how few places there are to send your wool to be processed, and there are even fewer in any sort of driving distance).

Oh, how easy these things would be to start! It’ll take about 5 years before I’m anywhere close to all of this and another 10 before everything is on the go and mature enough to really look at it with a business eye.

My overarching goal is to get to a place where I can feed myself… that is, grow 90% of the food I eat. Or be able to barter with friends for things they are growing/producing. I want to make my own clothing from recycled fabric. I want the sheep to support themselves through the sale of their fleecy goods. I want to live simply and quietly, satisfied that I have done good work with good people.

Draft Goats

I’ve been dreaming a little big dream about training a harness/draft goat to help around my future homestead (another bigger dream in the works). I want to be able to move rocks, tote dirt and compost around and shift bundles of crops around without destroying my back or knees.

Why goats, you ask? Because horses are just too darn big and easy to hurt. Goats are low to the ground, easier to handle and are sturdy as all get out. Plus they eat all sorts of ruffage which means that you don’t need to buy much feed and you can house them in something much more reasonable than a huge barn or stall setup. Plus you can get milk and… if you’re of such a persuasion, meat out of the deal too.

The type of goat? Boers! They’re super sturdy, docile and pretty easy on the eyes (if I do say so myself). Just look at that photo! That is one handsome goatie. It’s like a giant Jack Russell.

And I found out that Hoegger Supply sells a goat powered garden cultivator and a variety of wagons and carts built for goaties. Plus, the internet is a wonderful gold mine of information on training draft or “harness” goats.

Sterling Farm

It’s SPRING! And lovely outside. That means that the babies are getting bigger, the goats are getting friskier and the pigs are lolling around in steaming piles of muck.

Odin, guard llama extraordinaire does NOT like to be touched. However, he doesn’t mind it in the least if you want to gaze at him in an admiring fashion…

One of the new lamby-lambs feeling rather brave and sturdy. The mother ewes are now back at Bonnieview and the lambs are doing just dandily out on pasture.

And last of the hoofed creatures is Thyme, the friendliest nubian milk goat you’ll probably ever meet. She spends a good chunk of her day with her elbow hooked over the door of her pen waiting for some sort of action to walk by.

I realize that I haven’t put up any pictures of my favorite animals at the farm: the meat rabbits. There are roughly 100 rabbits ranging from babies still in the nest box to the momma rabbits.

This is the second of three batches of babies. Still small enough to chill in a nest box. Since then there are three more nest boxes with babies still sleeping in puddles of their mothers fur, too small to do anything but squirm around and squeak.

These are the first batch of babies from a few months ago… too big to stay with their mothers and too small to eat.

And here’s the big buck, all on his own. Apparently he hasn’t been too prolific so there’s been some debate about what to do with him. Joe and I keep joking that Linus should make a trip down to the farm… before we realized that he’s actually sterile. Ah well, it’s better that way…

Farmama

I just worked my way through a wonderful blog my friend Schirin posted a link to yesterday. The blog is called Farmama. It’s written by a woman living on a farm with four children and is making her life as sustainable as possible. I appreciate the simple, bright beauty of her photographs and her stories about knitting sweaters for her children starting with raising the sheep, all the way through the dying, spinning and knitting process. Oh my heart! I’m inspired beyond belief.

The Sterling Farm

Joe and I walked down to the farm to off-load our compost bin into a large, more impressive compost barn and since it was such a pretty day I decided to take a picture of the animals that are still down there. First up: horses. 

These are the two new Belgian mares: Brandy and Lady (in some order, I can’t remember which is which).

And here are Rex (white) and Lincoln (brown). I caught them this morning on my way to the post office.

And then again later when we went to the farm.Silly faces…

And here is Bronze, one of the oxen brothers. Chrome is chilaxing just out of sight behind Bronze’s rather large rumpus.

The three lady pigs, resting in hay divots. They actually have perfect pig-shaped impressions about 1-2 feet deep in the straw that they’re crammed into. When they got up to snuffle about and see if I had any food, you could see perfect outlines of where their legs and snouts rest a good foot into the straw.

And here’s Peanut, the pregnant milk cow. She was a calf last spring and now she’s ready to start the whole cycle all over again.

And of course, none of my farm visits is complete without a peek into the hen room to see if there are any warm eggs to cup in my hands. Lay hennies lay!

One Day

It’s been one week since I started at Bonnieview and I’ve gotten to milk sheep, make cheese, harvest sunflowers and potatoes, collect eggs, feed chickens and pigs and live in a yurt. It doesn’t sound like much… but it adds up to a long, happy week. I found my camera yesterday so I took some pictures throughout the day yesterday so you can get a glimpse of farm work in rural Vermitt.   DSCN0288

Liza and I milked the sheep yesterday morning at 8. I start milking them on my own next week. These sheep are a mix of several breeds, one of which is a Tunis (I only remembered that because one of the Tunis rams is named Tuna and has one of the coolest faces I’ve ever seen).DSCN0290

Here are twelve sheep standing on the milking stand. You can milk six at once with the setup we have. The sheep put their head in the headlocks where the grain is and the whole thing slowly (oh so slowly) pushes them back to the railing so that we can reach them. We wipe their udders and then stick the cups on and then spray them with a disinfectant after wards to keep their udders happy.

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Here’s an udder before it’s been milked. Liza and were joking that we should make a memory game where you have to match the pictures of their udders to the sheep’s faces because we know them all by their udders but there’s no way we could recognize who is who when they’re staring us in the face. DSCN0293

And here it is post-milk squeezing. Saggy baggy udders…DSCN0294

After milking I herd them back to their field about 1/4 of a mile away on a dirt track. You can see the guard llama in the background there guarding his sheeps. DSCN0298

Everything you see here is Bonnieview farm land, it’s so pretty and rolly out here. After I herd them down I head back up to the farmhouse for breakfast (which usually turns into an extended lunch) and then out to do the piggies!DSCN0334

Penny and Roger eat everything that we don’t plus the whey from the cheese making process and a wee bit of grain. I try to avoid them at all costs because they’re very tall (up to my waist) and I’m more than a little afraid of being eaten.

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Penny was trying to suss out whether my camera was food or not… turns out it wasn’t.DSCN0308DSCN0312

One of my other chores in the afternoon has been harvesting sunflowers. That looks like me attacking them one at a time with a pair of hand clippers then gathering in bunches of about ten and tying them together with bailing twine then hanging them in the greenhouse to mature and dry. They’ll use them to supplement the chicken feed in the winter.DSCN0314

These are all the sunflowers I’ve done so far. It’s about three afternoon’s worth of work and about 1,000 sunflowers. There’s still 1/2 a field left to do and it’s so overgrown with weeds that it can be a little tough to negotiate.DSCN0320

I found this spider when I was tying up a bunch of flowers yesterday. I have no idea what kind it is but it looks very much like a mushroom and a spider were amalgamated together to form a wicked cool little critter.DSCN0333

And here are the babies! These little guys just reached their official birthdate the other day and they’ve been so cute and squirmy that it’s been hard not to sit there and stare at them all of the time.DSCN0340

And here’s their older sister, Tressa helping us harvest three bushel baskets of potatoes from the garden. She’s been so helpful and sweet, you’d never know that she just gained two little sisters and one brother just a few weeks ago. DSCN0345And my favorite chore of the day is collecting the eggs from the henhouse. I usually get about 20 every evening which then get washed and sold at the farmers markets in the area. There are about 50 chickens but some have gotten out and successfully made several batches of baby chickens. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll be one of my jobs to round up the chickens for winter so they can roost in the greenhouse where it’ll be warm.

That’s it for now. I think we’re making cheese on Monday so I’ll try to get some pictures of that. Until then you should close your eyes and imagine all of the smells and adventures with poo that you’re missing because you’re not here with me.

From Here to There: A Small Eternity

So, I moved. Yep, I’ve mentioned it before but now it’s suddenly become real. The bags were packed, the car washed and there was a map created. YES! A map! I went from Sandy, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah over to Omaha, Nebraska up to Champagne-Urbana, Illinois on up to Rochester, New York and finally over to Craftsbury Common, Vermont. It’s almost been a week since I got here. I’ve gone out to Bonnieview Sheep Dairy twice to milk sheep and make some cheese and I’m moving out there into the yurt officially tomorrow morning.
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This is the dairy… or at least the majority of the outbuildings and the house.DSCN0270

And this is the yurt! It’s perched way up on a hill (I think it’s about 1/4 of a mile from the house up to the yurt which means it’s very very quiet and pretty).

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This is the inside. It’s less bare-bones than I thought it would be… but there’s no running water, electricity or outhouse so it’ll be an adventure living there.DSCN0272

And this is the view! You can see the farm house peeking out through the tress down there… that’s how far away I have to trundle in the mornings. Not too bad.DSCN0263

And this is one of a pair of ox that live at Sterling College. I don’t know what his name is but he has managed to wrap his tongue all the way from one side of my face, under my chin to the other ear when I wasn’t paying attention. I’ll definitely get some pictures of the farm, the sheep, milking and cheese making and post them eventually. The internet has been incredibly spotty and I get no cell phone reception here. But I do have a PO box and some sporadic internets so we’ll see how that goes. Oh I’m so excited!

Doin’ the Right Thing

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The gardens at Edgefield.

Get this. Multnomah County owns the 46 acres across from Mcmenamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale. They were planning to sell it for housing development, but then the economy took a dive. This Thursday the Multnomah County Commissioners are voting to make the space an emergency farm to feed poor people. It would be powered by volunteers and (in the beginning) the 2 acre farm could potentially feed 500 people. The irony is that Edgefield used to be a poor farm 100 years ago… and now things might be coming full circle. Nice. Oh I’m so excited! Imagine what they could achieve with all 46 acres…

Nausea

I watched The Future of Food on Hulu yesterday. By the end I was so mad about the state of our food, our farms and our culture that I started shaking. The fact that companies like Monsanto are able to manufacture the genetically modified seeds, patent them, and then use them as a tool to stop real farmers from farming or worse, sell them to us as food shocks me to the very center of my brain. I don’t like being lied to or manipulated, especially in such an underhanded and manner. Not only do I not like being lied to, I also don’t want to die because of what I eat. I don’t eat meat because of the hormones and the chemicals in it, I try to buy locally so that a.) I know where my food comes from and b.) I am less likely to become ill. I have to eat, it’s something my body requires, like breathing or sleeping. To have something so necessary to my survival and well being threatened by my ignorance of something so large and pervasive scares me out of my mind. I’m glad I don’t have any children I have to worry about… yet.

Goodlifer had a really great post about Food, Inc. a movie similar to the Future of Food in that it looks like it covers the same concerns.

Text VIA GOODLIFER:

“How much do we really know about the food we buy at our local supermarkets and serve to our families? That is the question filmmaker Robert Kenner poses in Food, Inc., a film premiering on June 12.

The way we produce and consume food has changed more in the last fifty years than it has in the ten thousand years before that, but the image we are sold, on food packaging, in advertising and so on, is still that if a quaint agrarian America, with pictures of red barns, happy farmers and healthy fields. This is a pastoral fantasy and the reality is very different.

We no longer have any seasons in our diet, everything is available in the supermarket year round, shipped in by boat, truck or plane from all corners of the world. The average supermarket today has somewhere around 47,000 different products, the majority of which are being produced by only a handful of food companies. Thanks to chemical engineering, the produce is always fresh and there is more white chicken meat than ever. But we are purposefully kept in the dark about what is actually in the food we consume. 70% of processed foods have some genetically modified ingredient, but current legislation does not require that this be stated anywhere. SB63 Consumer Right to Know measure requiring all food derived from cloned animals to be labeled as such passed the California state legislature before being vetoed in 2007 by Governor Schwarzenegger, who said that he couldn’t sign a bill that pre-empted federal law.

Our government’s regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA are often run by people with one foot firmly planted inside the very food giants from which they are supposed to protect us. Producer Elise Pearlstein says “We discovered that the food industry has managed to shape a lot of laws in their favor. For example, massive factory farms are not considered real factories, so they are exempt from emissions standards that other factories face. A surprising degree of regulation is voluntary, not mandatory, which ends up favoring the industry.” During the Bush administration, the head of the FDA was the former executive VP of the National Food Processors Association, and the chief of staff at the USDA was the former chief lobbyist for the beef industry in Washington.

Seven years ago, Barbara Kowalcyk lost her 2 1/2 year old child Kevin, who died from an E. coli infection he contracted after eating a hamburger. She has since, along with her mother Patricia Buck, become a food safety advocate, fighting to give the USDA the power to shut down plants that repeatedly produce contaminated meats. In 1998, the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E. coli 0157h7 so that if a plant repeatedly failed these tests, the USDA could shut down the plant. After being taken to court by the meat and poultry associations, the USDA no longer has that power. Self-regulation is again the recommended method of choice. In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006, they conducted only 9,164. “We put faith in your government to protect us, and we’re not being protected at the most basic level,” says Kowalcyk, who says she’s tired of being met with pity when telling the story of her child’s death. She wants to protect others from suffering the same fate and has pushed for the “Kevin’s Law” bill since 2002. It still has not passed.

E.coli 0157h7 is basically a new strain of this deadly bacteria, thought to be a result of feedlot cows being fed corn instead of the grass that they are intended to eat. The bacterial makeup in their rumen changes and acid-resistant strains of the bacteria form. “Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn. They’re designed by evolution to eat grass. And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly… The industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency. But each new step in efficiency leads to problems. If you take feedlot cattle off their corn diet, give them grass for five days, they will shed eighty percent of the E. coli in their gut,” says Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and An Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. This is not done though, and CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operators) instead look for high-tech solution, such as spraying the meat with ammonia to get rid of the bacteria.

My belief that Monsanto may just be the most evil company in the world, is firmly re-established. Prior to renaming itself an agribusiness company, Monsanto was a chemical company that produced, among other things, DDT and Agent Orange (the first a very efficient killer of plants, the second of people). In other words, established to produce products that kill they continue to do so quite efficiently. Although they are trying to make us believe that they are just like us, that is very much not the case. In 1996 when it introduced Soybean seeds resistant to their popular pesticide Round-Up (aptly named Round-Up Ready), Monsanto controlled only 2% of the U.S. soybean market. Now, over 90% of soybeans in the U.S. contain Monsanto’s patented gene. This is an extremely scary statistic. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was an attorney at Monsanto from 1976 to 1979.  After his appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion in a case that helped Monsanto enforce its seed patents. Engineered seeds are considered intellectual property and Monsanto investigators (a team of 75 or so, many ex-military and police) go after every farmer suspected of saving seeds, since this ancient and very sustainable practice is now considered patent infringement. Monsanto also compiles a black list, with names of all farmers not considered friendly or cooperative. They sometimes sue farmers, knowing that they will never actually win but can settle out of court and often destroy small farmers that cannot afford the legal bills associated with going up against a giant agrobusiness.

What really gets straight to my heart are the stories of the people in the film. There is Moe Parr, the seed cleaner who owns one of about six remaining seed cleaning machines in the country (he says each county used to have at least three of these), helping farmers that have not yet given into Monsanto clean seeds for saving. Monsanto sued him on the grounds that he provided farmers a way to infringe on their patents. Parr is a sweet old man who has done this forever and says his friends will no longer talk to him for fear of having Monsanto come after them too. After four months, he settled out of court since he could no longer pay his legal bills, and were put out of his seed cleaning business.

There is Carole Morison, the Maryland chicken farmer who, against the recommendation of her contractor, Perdue, speaks out against the terrible conditions she observes as a result of antibiotics and high-tech breeding practices forced upon farmers by the large chicken companies. It used to take a chick three months to grow into adulthood, but with the chemicals put into the feed, this now only takes 45 days. Chickens are also designed to develop oversized breasts to meet the consumer demands for more white meat, their bones cannot keep up with the growth and some of the chickens can no longer stand. Many die before they are brought to market. Morison lost her Perdue contract and is let with few options but selling the family farm.

There is also the Latin family of five, where the parents work hard to earn a living and often find no time for cooking, leaving fast food the most viable option. Their money will buy them each buy a burger and soda off the dollar menu. We get to come with them to the grocery store, where the youngest daughter admires the pears and says “I want that!” The big sister weighs the pears, does the math and deems them too expensive. This is the unfortunate reality for many Americans today, no time to cook and no money to spend. The ironic thing is that they spend hundreds of dollars every month on medicines for the father’s diabetes, something that could have been prevented by eating a proper diet. These are the connections that people do not make, but the fact is that cheap food is more expensive in the end.

There is also Eduardo Peña, the union organizer trying to help the thousands of nameless, faceless illegal immigrants that make up the workforce of most meatpacking plants. Many are Mexicans and used to be corn farmers before NAFTA made cheap U.S. corn widely available and put these small local farmers out of business. Meatpackers place ads in Mexican newspapers and often provide bus transportation for them to come over as well. Yet, it is always the workers that are punished, never the companies. Many of them have agreements with law enforcement to allow a certain number of arrests every months, at times that will not disturb the food production. These workers who have been here for as long as ten years, producing the food that we all eat, making around $10,000 a month are arrested, deported and uprooted without any thought of psychological implications.

Then there are those who provide hope and positivity. Gary Hirschberg who has a background at The New Alchemy Institute, said he was tired of preaching to the choir and realized the only way he was going to win this fight was to beat the food conglomerates at their own game. He started Stonyfield Farms in the early 80s, with seven cows and lots of ambition. Today, Stonyfield is the third largest yoghurt provider in the country. We see Hirschberg meeting with Walmart executives, among them is Tony Airosa, the retalier’s chief dairy purchaser, who is an enormous change agent, no matter what your feelings toward Walmart may be. Airosa says “Actually, it’s a pretty easy decision to try to support things like organics or whatever it might be based on what the consumer wants. We see that and we react to it. If it’s clear that the customer wants it, it’s really easy to get behind it and to push forward and try to make that happen.”

Finally there is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, made famous in Pollan’s book An Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His farming practice is grass-based, letting cows graze free, mowing and fertilizing while they eat, just as nature intended. People drive for hours to buy the food Salatin produces. He says he never wants to grow beyond the point where his business becomes unsustainable or too big for him to handle. “I never want to be in a Walmart,” he says. There is no doubt that Salatin does farming the right way, without fancy technology and chemicals.

He concludes, “Imagine what it would be if, as a national policy, we said we would be only successful if we had fewer people going to the hospital next year than last year? The idea then would be to have such nutritionally dense, unadulterated food that people who ate it actually felt better, had more energy and weren’t sick as much… now, see, that’s a noble goal.””

Glamorous Greenery

Mom and I took off early from school to go see what kinds of plants a nearby nursery had. It turns out this place was my kind of heaven. You drive down this steep driveway, over a bridge straddling two ponds full of ducks, past a large chicken coop full of about 50 ducks and chickens, past a shed full of meat rabbits, past a goat pen with five goats and finally stopping in front of a tiny greenhouse. Everything looked cobbled together in a charming, ex-hippy sort of fashion and the poultry were some of the fattest, happiest birds I’ve ever seen. And yes, the did have a little radio tinkling out classical music for the chickens. We picked out an Oregon early and a red cherry tomato plant, spearmint, four lavender plants, a Himalayan rhubarb, an officiannale rhubarb and a chocolate mint plants. Now I’ve got some teeny tiny baby rhubarb to keep my ceramic pig company for a few weeks while they get big enough to plant outside in the big, bad world.

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Baby Rhubarbs, growing away…p1030268Tomato plants hanging out on the back deck.