If ever you find yourself fantasizing about the "simple" life in the hills of Vermont...picture me, in my long-johns, a sweater meant for a 90 year old man, and clown-sized snow boots shoveling out a walk way just to reach the outhouse. That should do to temper any fantasy.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good toilet seat covered in snow.

I hope you all had a wonderful week of Christmas. And I hope those of you who got hit by this latest storm are warm and safe and with light and a good puzzle. And I hope that all of you who live in warmer climates are frolicking in fields wearing sundresses and laughing at photos like that above.



I don't know that we have an apocalypse on our hands but the weather outside is surely frightful. The wind last night was more fierce than anything we have ever tried to sleep through. I resisted seven separate urges to go check on the animals. The barn where everyone is spending their winter sits behind a big hay field so as last night's internal argument went they'd be blocked from most of the wind. We, however, sit atop the hayfield. It took several layers of long underwear, the insulated Dickies jumpsuit, my grandmother's bomber hat and a wool scarf wrapped around my nose, chin and mouth to get me to brave morning chores.

This morning, aside from the arctic wind, it sleeted, snowed, and rained. This must be at least close to the worst of what a Vermont winter can throw at us. Right?

I came home and rewarded myself with an un-modest handful of Luke and Louisa's caramels. Last night a box of their caramels and cheese greeted me in the milk barn when I went in to feed the sheep. I'm doing my mediocre best to save some for my family as we head to the Vineyard tomorrow for four days of Christmas. If you are in need of any last minute gifts I couldn't more highly recommend the goat's milk caramel from Big Picture Farm. I wrote Louisa just this morning that my Christmas wish would be to swim in a vat of their caramel. For a list of places that sell the caramels visit here.

I wish everyone a merry christmas weekend of family and sweets and all manners of food.


an odd photo-series of cats and beets and thoughts on the farmer/worker relationship

These photos are from the summer, obviously. Dad took them and I'm not quite sure where we were going with the theme but I found them yesterday and thought to share as they contain green and bare hands and necks and the kittens when they weren't yet fat. The following post has little-to-nothing to do with the above photos.

When I first started farming I used to relish in the idea that it wasn't my land, and it wasn't my farm. Working for somebody else allowed me to escape the finality of responsibility. It allowed me to cast grand aspersions on other farmer's mistakes. It allowed me to take off for a weekend or even once for a whole month without any destructive stress for the survival of the farm. It allowed for me to look at an aphid attack on the tomatoes with a philosophical interest and not understand the weighted threat of an entire crop's demise.

There is a very comfortable measure of separation from you as a human being and the farm when the farm is not yours. I hope the above doesn't make me sound like a horrific employee. I was responsible. I was honest. I was dedicated.

I have a theory about farmers and self employment. It goes that farming livestock and vegetables is an all consuming work and because of this the farmer becomes so passionate and involved in her day-to-day that she finds she can work for no one but herself.

In the height of the summer you are working sun up to down. You are working every damn day and there is no such idea of getting July 4th weekend off or Labor Day or even a Sunday. Some nights you are elbow deep in cold damp soil planting potatoes by headlamp. Some mornings you are racing to pack coolers of meat and feed the pigs, chickens, goats, sheep before market opens. Some afternoons you are painstakingly squishing japanese beetles between your fingers because you want to save the edamame. Some sweltering day you find yourself covered in mud behind a laboring sow trying to save her babies from the circling vultures. These situations test your patience, your strength, your endurance and inevitably you begin to want to change things so you aren't waiting until 9 o'clock at night to plant potatoes. You want to change things so sows are farrowing under the protection of a barn. You think market mornings needn't be so hectic. You can't believe its the second year in a row you've been told to plant edamame right here and Of Course! that's why the beetles have come!

When it isn't your farm it is So Simple to find the reason and the person for blame. It becomes second nature. You start sowing seeds of your own dissent and before you realize it you follow accusations of blame with the On my farm we will do it THIS way.... Oh how obnoxious, how insufferably presumptuous and ignorant.

And now I have my wish. The beginnings of a wish. I have my own farm business with Nick. Our own land is yet to come. And, as though reading a child's story with the moral so neatly written on the last page. I start to see how things become rushed, and hectic, and unplanned, and full. This summer, in our first season farming on our own, I had an almost continuous blush of humility on these cheeks. If I were a stronger man I would call upon my former farm bosses and mea culpa myself out of the guilt of knowing they were doing the best they could. And, my best is no better than theirs.

But farmers, including the two looking back at you from this post, are a prideful lot. So, I'll probably keep my lesson learned to myself.

It is helpful to have this overwhelming humility coupled with former worker dissatisfaction in mind as Nick and I work on our pasture and garden management plans for next year's growing season. We are hoping to have a few dear friends farm with us in the coming year.  My desires (or perhaps guidelines?) for helping to form these working relationships into healthy ones are what follows.

1. Have constant feedback between our workers and Nick and I. One idea is to have a nightly dinner check-in to hear the good and bad about work.
2. Give our workers the proper tools to do their job.
3. No heavy loading shitty (sometimes literal) jobs on to one person.
When we worked in North Carolina my cousin Elizabeth told me that she never likes to give a job she wouldn't do herself to a worker. The best example of this at that farm was that she brought every animal to slaughter. No exceptions. She never made us do it. 
4. Never confuse personal favors with farm jobs. No asking workers to do dishes that they haven't used or feed the usually useless pet pigs.
5. Respect that it isn't their farm and that their motivation for weeding the garden may not extend past sunset, or through a particularly hot afternoon.
6. Trust those working for us. Trust their ability and their decisions. Once workers are given a proper understanding of the task and the proper tools, we must trust not micro-manage. We have been granted that trust at every farm we have worked and I value it more than anything on this list. Trust breeds confidence and a happy, more invested worker.
7. Always remember to express gratitude for the work the worker has done. Compliment them on a job well done.

I'm sure its not a complete list and even with such a list I imagine we will run into feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration. However, I think that being aware of these issues will go a good way to having as open and honest and productive of a farm-space as we could hope for. If you have anything you think I should add to the list please do let me know. I'd love to make this as complete as we are able as we go forth in planning for the farm of 2013.


the final week in milk

I'm sitting here drinking a glass of milk. And eating this porridge with cut apple. No sooner had I photographed my breakfast and sat down to the task I tasted garlic. Oh! how easy it is to ruin such a sweet apple with a garlic'd cutting board. How stupid. And, it was the last apple. So I am trying my best to ignore the bites of garlic. This charade is greatly helped by my glass of sweet full-creamed milk. Our milk.

Winnie's milk to be more correct. It's raw, unpastuerized, real, milk. It is taken from a cow that is grass fed. She is given fresh grass daily in the summer and in the late fall and winter she is given our best hay. I drink anywhere from a glass to a half gallon of this milk a day. Which is, admittedly, a lot. But, I love it that much. I have a glass or two or three with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nick often jokes that I drink as much as a nursing calf. It doesn't do wonders for my waist, but it makes me feel as strong as an ox.

 In my opinion it is miles above the best product we make on our farm.

The thing about milk that I think very few supermarket-Americans understand is that it is a seasonal product. Mama cows have around a similarly long gestation as women ~ about 265 days. Just like you would want to give a woman a break between nursing one child and delivering another the same basic courtesy is given to mama cows. We call it drying off.  You want to give the mama cow some time to keep her nutrients and proteins and calories for herself and the baby calf she is making (instead of giving it to the milk).

Dry periods vary between farms and cows but we want to give Winnie almost 4 months off this winter. She was quite skinny after her last calf so we are trying to give her a little bump in recuperation so she is healthier when she calves this spring. It is ideal for calves to be born in the spring so they are born on fresh grass and have a whole 7 or 8 months of warmth and grazing. This is thus ideal for the small farmer (me) for the time to dry off is not so coincidentally the coldest time of the year. Milk barns are generally very cold and dark places. Not where you want to huddle in January with bare hands and steel bucket. It is also ideal (as I deign to say) for the most delicious milk is made off summer's sweet grass.

Sunday was our last day milking. Last week was the last week we sold milk to our customers. Its hard imparting the seasonality of milk to our customers. We aren't the only ones who sell raw milk in our little corner of Vermont and we are one of the few that dry off for the winter. (What I described above is provided your cow is bred in late summer, and doesn't work for everyone). So, I worry that we will have trouble finding our customers again come spring when Winnie calves. Someday when more and more small 1 and 2 cow dairies are allowed and encouraged to spring up around the country the seasonality of milk will come too. Then the proclaimed foodies of our country will see summer's fresh grass milk the way they see August's bulging red tomatoes.

Something to be appreciated in its own time and place.

As we get closer to spring when the cows will be set free of their winter pasture I will get back on my milk soapbox and talk to you about the benefits and joys of raw milk. But for the winter we will say goodbye to milk and concentrate our efforts on the June and August butter that remain in the freezer. Little frozen bits of yellow summer gold.

Until April sweet sweet milk.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...