Ash

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stove

Eyes open to dark skies
Cold toes slip into warm socks
Hot coffee steams as rich aromas fill a sleepy house

Logs on embers
Slow, long breaths create life among the coals
Sparks rise and dance over the black stove

Heat

Rough hands grip hard wood
Splinters probe but can’t pierce the thick skin on the worn fingers
More wood is added
More breath
And flames spring up flickering between pieces of wood
The fire consumes the logs in minutes, turning them black
And then, in hours, to ash.

Each log a memory
A physical representation of labor
Each a years worth of walking, searching, cutting, carrying, splitting, stacking, aging, drying, waiting.
Each piece a sore back
Or a bruised shoulder
Or a crushed thumb
Sweat
Dirt
Frustration
Satisfaction

Warmth

A years worth of labor
Those hard hands are not impervious by chance
Every swing of the axe bore new blisters
Which, in turn, hardened
And transformed pain into protection
Effort into armor
Each loaded step a second closer to the goal
The end

A spark
A flare of light
A majestic and fitting tribute to the beauty of hard work done
Heat is emitted
And warms cold bones
As labor, and achievement
Turn to ash.

***

truck tractor and pheasent

Roosters crow, heralding the daylight
A sound you think you hate
Until the day when you don’t hear it
And you realize how much you miss it

The sun burns a slow, liquid path across the tree line
A cold day again
But crisp air enhances the warm reds and yellows and golds of the winter sun

Boots on
Toes wriggle and feel for the familiar holes
How many miles have they walked in these boots?
Your footwear knows your feet better than you do.

Jacket on – far too hot now
But you’ll want it as soon as you step out into the cold morning.

animals in barn

Larger animals are moving
You can hear them stretch and shift to better soak up the new rays of the sun
They begin to speak to you in their various voices
Deep and powerful
High and expressive
Calling you
Reminding you (just in case you forgot) that they want their breakfastr
You are happy to heed their calls
And you step out the door
Ready to begin a new day on the farm.

vinny carrying bucket

Name that bull!

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This little cutey just turned a year old! He is a purebred beef Devon from world class stock. We are going to keep him for breeding purposes which means he gets a name!

What do you think?

Bragging rights and the warm glow of being better than everyone are the rewards for suggesting the best name (according to my extremely biased decision…lol)

Let’s hear ’em?

Thaaaaat’s Reggie!

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reggie on top

Happy New Year everyone!

It’s been a while (meant to be read in a Bare Naked Ladies voice) since I’ve last posted a blog. I can’t even say that things have been particularly crazy since my last post, things are always a little crazy on the farm. Crazy is good! (At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself…)

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, happy holidays happy new year, or a satisfying time grouching around and pretending there was no holiday! (Bases covered??? Just trying to be open minded here and stay in the Christmas spirit!…oh crap! …I mean…a…nice?…spirit…?) 🙂

Cathy and I have finally joined the 21st century (dragged there kicking and screaming I might add…) and finally have smart phones! So I am hoping to be able to begin sharing more pictures to illustrate the tall-tales I tell (so ya’ll know I ain’t lyin’!) ((…and not exaggerating…too much…))

I’d like to spend some time talking about my favorite and (simultaneously) least favorite animal on the entire farm: Reggie the goat! (Or, as I have been trying to get to catch on “Sir Reginald”) Reggie is my 3 year old Nigerian Dwarf stud buck.

Let’s see…where to even begin?

Reggie…is a character…

He is the cutest weird noise making, brawling, gate bashing, barn destroying, stinking, own-face urinating, female goat pestering, female anything pestering, ANYTHING vaguely goat shaped pestering, inappropriate gesturing, fluffy, adorable little piece of crap you could ever have the immense pleasure of meeting.

…yeah! That sounds about right!

He currently lives alone in a bachelor’s pad in the barn. He had to be separated from our ram (who was his roommate for the last year) because he kept beating him up. Our ram is a beautiful, mature 200+ pound Katahdin…a stud in his own right. Reggie weighs 50lbs soaking wet yet still bullied the poor sheep relentlessly…I guess it really isn’t the size of the dog in the fight! (or…er…the ruminant in the pen…? I dunno…)

He whines because he wants you to pay attention to him, will cuddle with you and eat treats out of your hand ,and then the second your back is turned will ram you in the back of your knees with everything he’s got. And he packs quite a punch for a little guy!

The Score

Reggie has a personal vendetta against me because I took him away from the girls…

…because he wouldn’t stop trying to breed them…

…did I mention that these girls were not always the same species as Reggie…?

…thaaaaat’s my Reggie!

To show his disapproval he began taking his frustration out on anything he could find. He broke through boards on the wall, bent metal coral panels, and will repeatedly bash his thick skull into one of the metal support columns inside the barn.

He had a nice hanging hay feeder (fancy little thing) which must have made faces at him (or called him smelly or something…) because he reduced it to rags and threads. Literally tore it to bits!

But my favorite was the day that I came to the barn and tried to open the front (in-swinging) door to find that Reggie had bashed his pen across the barn floor sliding it right behind the door so that it could only open an inch or two…

…and then he yelled at me (as I attempted to break into the barn another way) because his breakfast was late in coming…

…thaaaaaaaat’s my Reggie!

The pen is the barn is my latest attempt at keeping him confined. As I mentioned he literally busts through anything wooden (he could teach any karate master a thing or two about breaking boards!)

I experimented with chaining him up for a while. He had a nice little shelter and a 20′ length of chain which allowed him to go in and out of the shelter as he pleased, get to his hay and water, and run around and pee on himself to his heart’s desire!

No dice! I have no freaking idea how he kept getting off that chain…but he did. The chain was never broken, never warn or had any signs of anything other than being a chain…same with the latches that I used to connect the chain to the horse trailer that was his shelter. Sometimes i’d come in to see him running around dragging the chain behind him…sometimes the chain would still be firmly attached to the trailer…the only consistent part of all of this was his smug little expression as I would stand and gawk at him (as he chased after whatever female and/or goat-ish shaped animals or objects were in the area…)

So it had to be solitary confinement. Twine and chains holding together cattle coral panels with hog panels running along the insides…he hasn’t gotten out yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Reggie the beloved

And of course my boys absolutely adore him! (As do almost everyone I know who has met him.) One of their favorite activities at the barn is to carry handfuls and handfuls of hay, treats, (sometimes rocks and twine “Just to see what he likes!”) and allow Reggie to gorge himself out of their hands. If they are too long in bringing more treats Reggie continues bashing his pen gates etc. until they indulge him. All they need are palm leaves to fan over Reggie while he eats to maintain ideal temperatures…

“He’s just lonely…and always hungry!” They say…

“He’s just a stinky B**tard!” I carefully think in my head and definitely do not say out loud…

“He’s so cute! Here’s some more treats Reggie!” They say…

“Enjoy it while it lasts goat! They won’t be here for long…” …….me…

And no…for the record…I don’t think it’s weird that I talk to a goat (whether it be aloud or internally…and I do both regularly). Trust me…he get’s the message. Somehow he knows…

Peace Offering

I hung one of those horse toy balls with the handles on them in his pen to give him something to bash other than my gates. His new favorite game became either standing on his hind legs for tens of seconds at a time and (quite literally) boxing the ball with his front feet as it swung; OR twisting his horns around the rope the was suspending the ball until they were stuck solid, and then running around in a circle until he literally leaves the ground and swings around the pen in the air…like a smelly helicopter propeller…

…better than peeing on himself as a form of entertainment if you as me…

Despite myself…

But at the end of the day…you can’t help but love the guy! For whatever reason I have always gotten more attached to the problem animals than any others. The horse that tries to brush you of it’s back using the low hanging branches and then turns and laughs at you when you hit the ground…that’s mine!…the cow that breaks down the electric fence and gets out, only to spend the next four hours crying for the other cows as it meticulously paces the fence-line trying to get back in, completely ignoring the giant portion of the fence that is now lying on the ground…sign me up!…or the pig that breaks into your garage and somehow locks the door behind him, tips over buckets of old transmission fluids all over everything only to take a nap on an old bag of bark mulch…yup…I’ll take him…

Reggie epitomizes problem animals.

And that’s why I love him!

 

 

 

 

Farming: The vocation, not the profession

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Defining Moments:

What does someone mean when they say they “love their job”?

I realize that this is not something that is said very often, but SOMEONE out there must positively connect with what they do! I refuse to believe that there is no-one out there who has landed their “dream job”; and not in terms of $$$, but in terms of what they have “always dreamed about doing!”

There must be people out there that love their jobs. But what does that really mean?

I have heard people say “I love working with kids.” or “I love working with animals.” or “I love crunching numbers!”…(really, person? Do you really love crunching numbers?…Or are you just saying that because nerds are “in” right now…((thank you Big Bang Theory!!!))

But this “love” so often seems to end at 5:00PM.

And then you move on to the things that you REALLY love; puttering around in your garden, reading a good book, playing music, writing, watching the Big Bang Theory, WHATEVER. But the point is that the majority of the people that say they “love their job” really mean, “If I have to work, I’d rather do THIS job than anything else.”

That‘s great! But that’s not love.

I don’t think a spouse of 30 years looks into the eyes of his/her partner and says;

“Honey; I just wanted to let you know that, in my limited experience of being married to other people, I can honestly say that I probably would rather be married to YOU than to anyone else who lives within an average commuting distance from my house!”

Or a soccer Mom pulls over her van on the side of the highway and says:

“Whoops, look at the time! 5:00PM! Everybody out! Looks like you’re hitching a ride to the YMCA today kiddies! Ladies night tonight! This Mama has to get her DRINK on!”

Or a Veterinarian saying:

“Hey now! Woah! All right guys drop what you’re doing…that prolapsed ewe will have to wait ’till tomorrow…I got T-time in 5! Meh! Her uterus ain’t going anywhere further tonight!”

THAT’S NOT LOVE!!! It’s a JOB that you ENJOY……but not love.

(And seriously Moms…c’mon…maybe you should think about cutting back on the booze a bit huh? And going out clubbing at your age??? Ain‘t nobody want to see that twerking…)

Now: there ARE definitely people out there that truly love what they do. They go to work all day, and then come home and pick up right where they left off at work. Not sayin’ people are not fulfilling their other responsibilities or whatever…but you know what I mean. What they choose to do in their FREE time, is the same thing that they do in their UN-free time. Also not saying that they don’t have other interests as well….I’m just saying that what they do for their living is something they are happy doing for fun.

That’s love baby!

Why are you telling me this…?

Over the years I have witnessed many, many farms in their early stages (I have been a part of my fair share as well.) Most of them end up failing. As blunt and uncaring as that sounds, it is true.

Most flounder for a few years (if that) consuming time, resources, and sanity; and what you are left with are frustrated, tired, bitter, poor people, who go back to their old jobs that they hate (which is what prompted the move to try and farm in the first place.)

There are millions of reasons for the failures. Lack of capitol, lack of knowledge or experience, poor quality land, or poor management skills, etc., etc., etc, we could go on an on. It is not easy to start a farm!

That being said, I think anybody can/could farm successfully!

Let me repeat that…

Anybody could farm successfully!!!!

I can spell it out for you…

A.N.Y.B.O.D.Y………etc…

How ’bout for all you French speakers out there?

Hoh-hoh-HOH Pomplemouse mademoiselle!!!……..okay yeah…I don’t speak French…but you get the point.

The ISSUE is that people have to adjust their expectations of what it MEANS to farm successfully!

Before you go out and buy miniature goats (because they are SO damn CUTE!!!) you need a holistic management plan FOR YOU WHOLE LIFE!

I am not talking a FARM plan here…I am talking a LIFE plan.

Because that’s what farming is! It’s a life choice! And I am here to tell you, that if you are unsure on if you are going to “love” your job as a farmer and the lifestyle that comes with it, then by no means give up on “farming”, just adjust your goals as a farmer.

My wife and I lived in an apartment in Webster, MA for a couple of years. Definitely not a rural area…more of a strip mall, (strip CLUB), liquor store with guns in the back, lower-working class type town. Nothing terrible, nothing amazing, it just was what it was.

She was a full-time graduate student working on her Masters degree in Speech and Language Pathology. I was working at the Umass Medical School as a Laboratory Animal Technician to put her through school. Not a job I enjoyed, but Umass would pay for a portion of Cathy’s tuition…so it was worth it.

We didn’t have access to any yard-space (our landlord refused to let me start a small garden OR a compost pile) And so we put planting boxes on all of our window sills full of lettuces, cucumbers, herbs, and worms. I raised rabbits in my mother’s backyard (in Worcester) at the time as well. I convinced a friend of mine from work to let me grow shiitake mushrooms in his backyard.

We did anything we could to keep our fingers in the dirt, keep some sort of our own food on our table, and to be involved in agriculture in some way.

Was it ideal? No!

Were we still “farmers”? Why the hell not? Not full-time, but we were growing plants and raising animals for food.

Unglamorous, unimportant (as viewed by many)), unprofitable yes…but agricultural? Sure!

Satisfying? You better believe it. Especially because I knew that I would only be moving up in the world from there (agriculturally…financially? Not-so-much…)

We were looking for the “farming” lifestyle because it was something that we both knew we loved. We started small, because that is all we COULD do. And we are STILL very small…but we continue to grow and are not broke or bitter, or crawling back to our old jobs.

What do you want in your life as a farmer?

I’m going to paraphrase, from an interview that I heard of Joel Salatin, two times in this blog post. Once, to agree with him, and once to disagree (and probably jab at and make fun of in the process….whoops.)

One of the things he said “to beginning farmers” was to, “Plant the things you like, because you may have to eat your products!”

He was literally referring to plants in your garden. If something goes wrong, you can’t sell your product, or you have an abundance of a particular product, and you have sufficient scruples that will not allow you to waste food…tuck in that napkin boy and eat up! You have to eat, don’t you? Problem solved.

On the livestock side of it; I love raising the rabbits because on one hand they are fun to have around, but they are also cheap to feed and take up relatively little space. On top of all that, I can sell them as babies for pets or breeding stock, or then as meat, pets, or breeding stock when they are older. The absolute WORST possible scenario, is that I never get them sold and I end up having to feed my family some extremely high quality, cheap, finger-lickin’, lip-smackin’, 100% delicious, locally raised, no hormone or antibiotic added, love-infused, humanely treated and processed meat.

…sucks to be us in that situation, right?

The worst case scenario sounds pretty damn good to me.

Now to take what Joel said a step further: Plant or raise the plants and animals that you like to eat, and that make you happy!

And what’s more do it somewhere that makes you happy as well!

If you want to be a farmer, find the things that make you the happiest to buy, raise, weed, feed, get kicked and pooped on by, harvest/slaughter, process, and eat! If you don’t feel good about your products, how are you going to convince someone that they are great?

Pick the products that make you happy and then, if you never sell anything you at least have the value of your own happiness…

…put a dollar value on that…

Find What You Love!

Most of us don’t marry the first person we see…

Talk to people, find farms in your area, intern, volunteer, take classes, listen to pod cast, search the web, read books, go to conferences. Find different people in the field that are successful. Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn!!!!!!!

But most importantly get that hands-on experience first before you try it on your own!

I have been farming for over 20 years in some form or other, and I went to college for it. I still am constantly seeking out other people with more, or just different, experiences than me. I am always trying new things, imitating other people, innovating my own techniques, succeeding sometimes, failing often, but always striving to broaden my understanding of agriculture. Once you think you know it all, or enough at least, you’ve probably forfeited your chance for survival in such a field that is constantly changing.

I hate (and it happens more often then you’d think) when “new farmers” complain to me about projects that have failed epically, when they never looked for advice in the first place. Chances are you are not doing something that no-one has ever done before! Ask other people before you throw away your time and money! If they had just asked, someone could have been like “Oh yeah…I tried that…it failed epically…here’s what I would have done differently if I did it again…” Money saved! Time saved! Sanity saved!

And be logical about things. This also can be lumped into the “raise what you want to eat” category…but just think about what you are raising before you do it! If you are Jewish…maybe pass up on those feeder piglets! If you are a vegan, maybe broilers aren’t a good choice! If you are like me and hate beans (oh God I hate beans…“magical fruit” my arse…) don’t plant 1,000 acres of pintos!

So many times I hear about people who raised meat-rabbits, or broiler chickens, or turkeys, but when it came time to process them “just couldn’t do it!” Then they have a hundred fat animals on their hands with nothing to do but mill around and eat you out of house and home! If keeping all 100 broilers as pets is valuable to you…then great! But I have gone and processed tons of animals for people who couldn’t do the deed themselves…generally for a fee. You don’t have to look into the limpid-pool-eyes of a cucumber as you violently tear it from it’s vine…you don’t have to subdue and calm a tomato as you pluck it from it’s home…

…know what it takes to produce your chosen product in it’s entirety before you raise it yourself…hence the “hands-on experience” first.

K.I.S.S.

Keep it small stupid!

There’s a reason they call us “small farmers” and it don’t got nothing’ to do with our appetites or our egos, take it from me.

Find the things you want to grow, and then be like the wussy kid at the beach! While everyone else just runs and dives into the water (and then proceeds to flail around freezing for a few seconds) be like the kid (you know who you are!!!) who inches in slowly, letting his body acclimate to the temperature one baby step at a time.

Now, you can definitely argue with me on this point. Big business d-bags (cough cough) will say jocky stuff like ‘No risk, no reward!” (and then probably playfully punch another guy who looks just like them, make a sexist comment about a female volleyball player, teacher, or librarian, and then flip off his Abercrombie and Fitch flip-flops and hop up for a keg-stand…….just sayin’…) They would tell me that I have to “Go big, or go home!”

…but I love my job and they don’t love theirs…so bleah!!!

If you are doing something you love and not bankrupting yourself doing it, then profits are secondary.

Clearly I am not a fan of randomly quitting your job to go off and fulfilling your life-long dream of becoming a full-time farmer. Because honestly, this rarely ends well. Ease into things. Figure out what you want to produce, start small, and then build as your market comes!

Market!?! Who said anything about a “Market”?!?

Marketing is huge! Marketing can be an amazingly good, or horrendously bad thing.

I used to manage a farm at a Quaker boarding school. The Headmaster and I used to argue back and forth about marketing farm products. She was of the mind that I should market products despite having a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t have that product when it came time to deliver. Her reasoning was that “If you pique enough interest, customers won’t mind waiting for a product!”…even though the “waiting” we are talking about was upwards of a year.

I disagree with this completely.

In my experience, return customers are what keeps a business running. If you promise someone a side of beef in the spring, and they don’t get a product until the following summer, chances are they are not going to order another side the net spring. AND chances are they are not going to sit around and wait for their beef! People have to eat! There are plenty of places to buy food. If you don’t deliver, someone else will..

And don’t get me started on taking someone’s money and then not providing a product at all! Sounds silly right? This happens all the time!!!

Farmer’s who don’t understand what is means to actually be a community supported farm, think that it means “I take people’s money, and then if the crops fail, it’s okay because I still get paid!” Good for the farmer in a very short-term sense, but bad for the customer (which is bad for the farmer overall.) Those customers are not coming back! There! I said it! They will find another farm to buy their food from and leave you (and your failed crops) in the dust!

Know that you can actually produce a quality product before you sell it! And if your product fails (because this happens…bad growing seasons, freak accidents…it happens, you lose crops and animals some times) figure out some way to make things right! Farmers may not be financially wealthy, but we are often wealthy in other ways. Find out what your farm can offer, and offer this in exchange for a lack of product if you have to.

Or simply give people their money back!

Treat customers how you would expect to be treated at any store. If you mess up, make things right! Being a small farmer does not give you a “get out of jail free” card allowing you to mistreat customers.

Quality?!? Who said anything about “Quality”?!?

If you went to the grocery store and bought a steak for $21.00 a pound, took it home, marinated it for 5 hours, slapped in on the grill and charred it to perfection, and then took a huge bite to find that it was tough, flavorless, and generally disgusting….are you going to pay $21.00/lb to buy that same steak next time you go to the store? HELL NO!

People! It is possible to provide a quality, consistent product on a small farm! It really is!!! You just have to know what you are doing!

Vegetables are a little simpler than livestock (easier to maintain consistency) but you still have to know how to grow a decent crop. Understand the plant and it’s lifecycle, soil sciences…etc.

For livestock you need to understand genetics! We’re talking science here folks! As much as Joel Salatin wants to tell you that science is killing agriculture (and the world) you cannot produce a consistent high-quality product without understanding the science behind how it is produced! (And, for the record, I have heard through the grapevine that ((due to inconsistencies in the genetic make-up of his breeding stock)) Joel doesn’t deliver a consistent product…….just sayin’ what I have heard…)

The “Small farms saving the world” story only goes so far. People need to eat, and they want to LIKE what they eat. At SOME point you have to provide families with food that they actually want to eat in order to justify the increased cost.

As far as I am concerned, if I can sell you the story of small farms, AND provide you with a product that is leagues better than what you can get at the grocery store, THAT’s when I will have happy customers.

…and so far, no complaints.

Let’s recap:

Do you really want to farm? It’s awesome! It sucks! Is this what you want?

Farm at your own level! This includes size, and experience.

Go and get help! It’s hard sometimes, but do it! Recognize when you don’t know something, and find someone who does!

Stay positive and raise what you love! Fruits? Veggies? Fly Larvae (Yes! Seriously!), Compost? Cattle? Whatever! Find out what makes you happy and work with that!

Set realistic goals and expectations. Don’t base your goals on the romantic idea of “farming” that you’ve dreamt about. Look around you, talk to farmers, do some research, and set your goals based as closely on facts as possible. And then adjust those goals as you gain experience.

Develop your market to reflect your farm’s growth. The ideal amount of customers is equivalent to the amount of product you produce.

Treat customers like equals. They are not the means that keep you in business. One of the reasons I got into farming was because I wanted to provide people with an amazing product that was produced in the most humane manner possible. I work FOR my customer.

Provide a quality product.

Always be true to your personal values and goals.

If you are happy in yourself, and doing what you are doing, customers will reflect this. AND it will be a hell of a lot easier to market a product that you know and love! No hypothetical’s, no unknowns, just facts.

Good products raised right going to good people. What could be better than that?

Fun in the Sun

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These are my memories of a trip my family (and a few friends) took as representatives for Heifer International to visit projects in Florida. I was young at the time, and it was definitely a lot to take in, therefore; I make no claim that any of the actual information in this story is technically accurate…but it IS an accurate representation of how I (as a boy) perceived the adventure.  

Cold Starts:

It was 40 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit…obviously…c’mon…) and it was the wee hours of the morning, 3 or 4 AM-ish (Why do they call them the “wee hours”…ain’t nobody sayin’ “wee!” at 3 in the morning…). I was 9-10 years old (something like that) and not happy to be awake, but excited about the trip that lay ahead of us.

I watched as my mother, and the Farm Manager at the time at Heifer International’s learning center in Rutland, rolled my older brother up in blankets and, half leading him half carrying him, hustled him out the door and into the night. I caught a glimpse of the whipping snow in the floodlights of the building, and then the wind snapped the door shut. It was like some sort of horror movie.

A few moments later and the adults were back…this time for ME!

I was bundled like a Christmas present and rushed out the door. I peeked over the top of the blankets that were covering my face and caught a glimpse of our fire-engine red dodge caravan with the sliding door open. I was tossed inside the van and the door was slammed shut behind me. 

Soon, the next brother in line joined us. And finally the youngest. 

Then my mother got in.

Then the Farm Manager.

Then the visiting staff member from China.

Then the Farmer’s Border Collie Kate.

…have you ever played Sardines? (the variation of “hide-and-go-seek”) This was kind of like that…only not fun.

When all the bench seats are in, those old Caravan’s don’t have much trunk space. All of our luggage was piled around us insulating us from the cold (on one hand), and rendering us completely immobile (on the other). Snug!

We were on our way to sunny Florida!

Keep on Truckin’

We were on a trip to visit Heifer project farms in Florida. Educational…and maybe a little fun thrown in here and there.

Now kids; these were the days before legitimate video games were portable. No iphones, no psp’s, no portable dvd systems for the car. We had to find ways to amuse ourselves without electronic assistance! Crazy! Right?!?

Many of you already know that my brother’s and I are somewhat musical. You may even have heard us perform our a cappella version of Destiny Child’s “Bills Bills Bills” (if you haven’t…you should…). Many of our a cappella numbers were spawned during these long car trips…much to the annoyance of anyone else in the vehicle at the time, we would break into classic numbers such as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or “Down by the Bay”, usually at full volume, and usually in 2-3-4 part harmony.

At one pit-stop, the staff member from China grabbed the entire row of chewing gum from the display counter at the gas station and, when we got back in the car, insistently offered us all varieties of flavors to chew! We couldn’t believe our luck!

It was only later in life that we realized that this was probably his polite way of getting us to shut the hell up for a few minutes…lol…but still…pretty sweet deal!

Kate (the sheep dog) decided early on that the floor was no place for her. She rode the majority of the way on our laps.

In order to save time and money we had packed coolers with food for meals on the road. I never, never, NEVER, want to eat another organic (no sugar added) peanut butter sandwich in an organic, whole wheat wrap again…neither together nor separately…

…we probably had other things to eat as well…but I can’t remember them if we did.

Cold Feet and Copperheads:

We stopped for the night in North Carolina with a family (friends of the organization) who had agreed to put us up. It was late when we arrived, so we were bundled almost directly into bed.

I say “bundled” because, while not being nearly as cold as it was when we left, it was “unusually cold” for North Carolina…and the house had no working heat.

I remember being manhandled into blankets for the second time in 24 hours and plopped into bed. My nose and toes were cold all night. As far as an actual temperature, I couldn’t say…how cold does it have to be for your boogers to freeze? …It was about that cold.

We woke up the next morning to a quick breakfast. The host family had three sons who were about our ages and they rushed us through breakfast as quickly as they could. What was their rush? We had had a “Huge snow storm!” that night, and they were eager to get outside with plans for “snowball fights and snowmen!” etc.

As native New Englanders we were no strangers to snow; but what kid doesn’t get a little excited when faced with the potential for new friends to turn into enemies during the epics sagas of pre-pubescent snow war-fare? We scarfed down our food, threw on our clothes and headed outside…

…to a whopping 1-2″ of snow…

We brothers looked at each other in disbelief as the local boys whooped it up, running, sliding, throwing snowballs (made with as much grass in them as snow)…

…if you have never jumped barefoot on a giant trampoline covered with an inch of snow…take it from me…

…don’t.

…not really a good time…

But that didn’t stop our host family! Apparently they hadn’t ever seen this much snow in their lifetimes and they were going to make the most of it. They’re joy was infectious, and we had a great time running around like idiots together.

I watched as one of the younger boys scampered off in search of more snow in taller grass (we had pretty much decimated what was on the lawn). As he got close to the border of the lawn and the taller grass beyond I saw him suddenly freeze. He let out a quick yell and his older brother ran over.

“Copperhead!”

…the rest of us ran up to see what the commotion was about, and the boys warily pointed out a relatively small, relatively harmless looking snake which was attempting to warm itself in the sun on the shorter grass…

“Copperheads’ll kill you before you can blink!” said the oldest boy.

As New Englanders we might have been able to turn up our noses at their measly 2″ of snow…but when your experience with reptiles is toting Garder snakes around the yard like living slinkies, the concept of a snake that can “kill you before you can blink” was a scary one.

I, for one, stuck to the short grass after that.

After our excitement we were taken on a tour of our host families’ small vegetable farm . I don’t remember much besides the Father pulling the biggest carrot I had seen in my life out from under the thin layer of snow and frost. The contrast of the giant, bright orange root and the damp black soil sprinkled over the fresh white snow remains a vivid image of beauty in my memory.

After the tour we were back in the van and back on our way.

Send in the Clowns

We arrived at the project farm in Florida after dark; which turned out to be perfect timing because as we walked through the door of the trailer/farm-house, they were just pulling bread out the of the oven. We sat around a small table, the grown-ups chatting, the young’uns shoveling bread into their mouths hand over fist and not listening to the adults.

Then they brought out the water buffalo meat that had been cooked earlier that day (this particular project had been given buffalo) and we munched on that as well. First (and last, so far) time that I have eaten buffalo meat, and I gotta say…stuff was incredible! BBQ buffalo…two thumbs up!

We soon left the farm and headed to the vacation house of another friend of the organization at which we were staying for the next few days. Place was a mansion! Bar, billiards room, man-caves, big-screen tv’s…

…surprisingly no water buffalo though…I guess money CAN’T buy happiness! 

The next morning it was 90 degrees (Fahrenheit again folks) and humid as all heck, And it was the day of the fair!

The farm project was celebrating (an anniversary or something I think…?) and were putting on a farm fair! There were going to be rides, games, balloons, candy, animal’s on display, Kate the sheepdog (who was nicely rested after hours and hours riding comfortably on our laps) was going to be given a sheep-herding demonstration, and there were going to be clowns!

Sounds awesome, right?!?

Problem was that we, the boys, were the clowns…

Still not so bad, right? Wigs, goofy pants, a little makeup, getting to act like a fool…all sounds like a pretty good time?…but not when you factor in the 90 degree (Dear Lord yes! Still Fahrenheit!! I am not a heathen!!!) heat.

Giant pants become sweat factories. Floppy shoes = foot-oven. We could have been medical test animals for all the make-up that dripped into out eyes. And don’t even get me started on the wigs! (Actually, in all fairness, my brothers wore the wigs. I was rocking a black, Charlie Chaplin-esque, bowler cap, and came fully swagged out with a bow-tie, and cane…..still not an airy outfit on the best of days…)

We sold balloons for 50 cents a piece as a fundraiser for the farm. 

The coolest thing I remember from the fair was that they had a taken a bunch of steel oil barrels, cut them in half, stuck an axle and wheels on them, chained them together, and were towing them around the farm behind a tractor like some big, death-trappy, train! So cool! And nobody actually died! (Not that I saw anyway…)

What I remember of the actual farm is vague (remember that it was seen through a humid hazy mask of sweat, make-up, and mosquitoes), but besides the water buffalo, they had sheep chickens, and some neat zero-grazing style pens. 

But all the heat, make-up, and semi-fatal train rides didn’t matter: tomorrow we were going to the beach!

A Snowball’s Chance in Hell

It snowed.

One day 90 degree (……), the next day…snow.

But you know what? We went to the damn beach anyway! 

Have you ever been on a gigantic, private beach in Florida where you have the ENTIRE thing to yourself? No problem finding a parking spot. No vying for the best spot to set up camp on the sand. No accidentally smashing some mean old lady in the face with a carelessly flung paddle-ball paddle (…whomever did this, you know who you are…)

Was it snowing out? Yes!

Is snow not the usual weather forecast for a day you might pick to go to the beach? Yes!

Did we have a whole freakin’ beach to ourselves to do whatever stupid things that might come to mind? Hell yes!

…It was mildly enjoyable…

Disneyland!!!!!

Okay…so…we went to Epcot….

Let me put it this way:

If Disneyland proper was an epic adventure movie, Epcot would be a dry documentary…

If Disneyland was nectarines, Epcot would be the pits…

If Disneyland was a car, Epcot would be the middle seat.

If Disneyland was a cow, Epcot would be…

…you get the idea.

We went to Epcot.

We sat in little train cars while machines talked to us… 

…wheee?

One Small Step for Man…

We went to NASA! Saw alligators, saw a space shuttle, saw a bunch of buttons and panels and sciency stuff! Our little boy nerd-brains geeked out.

Honestly my memory of this part of the trip is extra vague…I think I was still delusional after the heat exhaustion and rapid temperature changes…

What I remember of NASA is a combination of the things I saw there, stuff I saw about NASA at the Boston Museum of Science, and images that I remember from the book My Life As An Afterthought Astronaut….(good read…)…so…not exactly vivid.

Jig-a-de-jig

And then we went home. The end.

…seriously…that’s all I remember…

It was a great trip!

And if anyone else who was on the trip reads this and remembers something that I forgot to mention…or remembers something differently, please fill in the blanks!

The Way the Poopy Tumbles

Standard

They say that “shit rolls downhill” but I ask you, who put the shit up on that hill in the first place?

Often when I have “newcomers” visit a farm for the first time, one of the first questions out of their mouths (especially from the younger ones) is “What’s that smell?”

To which I always respond, “Money!”

“No! I mean that nasty smell…”

To which I theatrically sniff the air and exclaim…“Smells like money to me! Good’n fresh money too!”

“…smells like poop to me…”

“Exactly!”

I am proud to be one of those who are shoveling that shit right back UP the hill…(or what we in the Biz call a “Compost Pile”) You ever heard of one of them?

Sure there are other things in the pile; wood-shavings, hay and other plant matter, sometimes dead animals, worms, whatever, but it’s that manure that is the real gold in there. Liquid gold quite often.

Here’s a question for all you vegetarian/vegans/rabbitfoodetarians (yeah…pretty sure that is a word…) Where are you getting your plants from? The ground usually…right? Sure! But what happens when you continually harvest crops from the same spot (or the same few spots) over and over again? At some point you are going to start losing soil fertility. And then what?

Yes, yes I understand; crop rotation, nitrogen fixing plants…bleah, bleah, all that jazz. (Please don’t take that “bleah bleah” the wrong way people! I LOVE crop rotation and legumes, but in my experience this only goes so far!) At some point you are going to need some sort of soil additives to keep production up. So where do you turn?

And here’s why I posed this question to all the veggie-passionate people out there; manure, or some sort of animal bi-product is being put on your food. Composted manure, urea, fish emulsion, blood meal, bone meal, you name it. Where are these products coming from?

Anybody?

…anybody…?

They are coming from conventional farming operations! Who possesses the amounts of animal waste products needed to fertilize the huge veggie and grain industries? The conventional livestock industry!

I have yet to meet a gardener who has never put an animal bi-product in their gardens. If there are any out there, please contact me and either let me know what it’s like being a “gardener” who doesn’t grow anything because they have no soil fertility, OR please let me know how the heck you do it! (My guess is some sort of Voodoo?)

The grand point of this thus far (yes, there is a point) is that despite all the efforts people are making to NOT support the evil meat producing companies by avoiding meat altogether, you are still supporting livestock industries by eating conventionally produced vegetables and grains!

People are worried about manure on a livestock farms contaminating drinking water (haha…it really DOES roll downhill!) but why is it no longer an issue when tons of the same manure is being spread all over the ground where your kohlrabi is growing?

(I understand the process of composting and how it kills bacteria etc…but are you telling me that you are okay with drinking poop as long as it’s been composted?…….) but more importantly…

Why boycott meat produced by a certain industry while you benefit from bi-products produced by that industry? What sense does that make?

So what are the options you ask?

You could always grow your own veggies and just make sure that you are not using animal bi-products as fertilizer…not exactly sure how you would swing that…(Again, if there are people out there doing this, let me know. I’d be curious to hear how it works?)

Humanure…yes…I understand the concept…I just don’t see it catching on from a legal perspective any time soon…and again…you’d have to only collect waste from people who don’t eat meat I guess…

OR you could support local farms that support local farms! Crazy concept, I know! Not perfect, but better than the alternative maybe?

I get approached by gardeners quite often when they hear I have livestock.

“You have manure?”

“You know it!”

“…can I get me some of that shit?”

It is always mind boggling to me when I have people, whom I KNOW are vegans and want nothing to do with animals being used for food, come and ask me for manure. I’m like “…don’t you know where that manure comes from…?…and what those animals are being used for…? And this is okay with you why?”

I guess ideals only go as far as comfort allows.

But anyway…

Go on Craigslist. Check out all the listing from horse farms trying to get rid of their manure. There are gardeners, veggie CSA managers, hobby farmers, etc. going and collecting this manure and using it to grow their crops.

Yes, they are still using animal bi-products., so if you are uber-hippy person who wants NO animals involved with your food…then…well…eat…um…

…I was going to say “dirt”, but no…lots of dead animals in there.

…then I was going to say “sand”…but think of all the crushed up crustaceans…

…seaweed? Talk about the amount of whale shit fertilizing that stuff…and we all know how great the whales are being treated…

…so I guess you can eat…um…rocks?

Find the gardeners that are using manure from animals that are treated as humanely as possible! It’s the lesser of two evils if you ask me, and much better than unknowingly supporting the industry that you gave up eating sweet, sweet bacon to protest! (sluuuuurrrrpppp baaaacccoooonnnn ((drool))

Talk to your local farmer. They are the ones in the trenches…and, in many cases, those trenches are filled with shit…

…or what I like to call “Brown Gold!”