Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blessed Be

I just want to take a moment to honor a piggy. The berkshire barrow pictured with black skin and fir and painted white legs passed away last Friday. The picture is two months old, but a freshly-weaned, rambunctious, curious piglet is how I would like to remember him. He became ill with a respiratory infection, and he did not responded to any of the medicine we gave him. He was weak, and did not want to live any longer. I had a ceremony for him, and Mike and I dug a hole and buried him Friday afternoon. Bless your little heart and soul that you are free. In his honor, thank you.

Embracing Fall

I've been waking up in the morning to a dark sky and a crisp cold wind. Fall is here. The leaves are starting to color the hillsides that surround our pastures, and with the end of summer goes zucchini, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I am embracing the winter squash, cabbage, and oh so many homemade batches of soup with nourishing broth. This is the first time I have experienced fall in New England in five years. I am remembering the reasons why this is my favorite place to be to experience the fall. The equinox passed by yesterday, and I am embracing this transition of the seasons.
Although the seasons are changing, the farm rhythm is still in the season of fresh grass. Every morning and evening after milking, the cows are still venturing out into a new paddock of fresh sweet grasses. The flow of milk is constant and all the cheese that we are making now, will age until the holidays for market. We are still cutting hay, although the season is wrapping up. After the drought halted and we were soaked with late summer rains, our hay fields have greatly recovered and will surely feed all the animals here for the entire winter. We will hopefully get one or two rotations out of our pastures for the dairy cows, which means they should be grazing until the end of October. Our pastures dedicated to our herd of Hereford beef cows should keep them grazing into December before we have to feed out hay. We have several cows freshening through January, bringing our dairy herd up to thirty three, which is ten more cows than we are milking at the moment. The winter will bring a change of pace, but there will be more milk to turn into aged cheese and more time spent keeping the barn clean for all of the animals to live comfortably indoors and away from the harsh weather.

There was no time to reflect during the month of August. During that month, the garden was ripe, everything in my life wanted attention all at once, and I was preserving the harvest so that we would have enough food for the winter. Canning. Mike and I canned more this winter than we ever have before and we will enjoy every jar we open. We canned tomatoes in every way - whole, crushed, thin sauce, thick sauce, salsa, jam, and tomato soup (except pickled!). We canned green beans, beets, pickled carrots and jalapeƱos, peaches and peach butter, blueberry preserves, pickles, to name a few. Freezing. We have 30 lbs of zucchini and summer squash to enjoy throughout the winter. If you want any, we have more than we need. Drying. I dried so many cherry tomatoes. They are sweet candy in the frost covered evenings of December. And green beans, also known as leather britches, will be enjoyed along side some slow roasted pork in a few months.

Now the garden has stopped producing so many fruits, and the cold weather has withered our plants. There are still carrots, kale, basil, green beans, and onions in the ground waiting to be harvested. We harvested these huge beautiful red cabbages a couple of weeks ago, and we have been turning it into several batched of sauerkraut. We have a batch of cortido fermenting which is one of our favorites - cabbage, onion, garlic, carrots, cumin, dried hot pepper flakes, and coriander. And apples. All of our many fallow apple trees have sweet juicy ripe apples. We have been eating them right off the trees for weeks, and so have the cows. Many have fallen to the ground, but there are many trees still set with fruit. We have aspirations for harvesting several and making apple sauce, apple butter, and apple juice.

My life in this time and place is work. Seventy five hours a week of work. Making cheese and caring for cheese. Milking cows and feeding pigs. Not a moment to stop and catch up. Somehow I manage to cook really good food, and catch up on laundry and cleaning. With the markets winding down in a few weeks, and hay season ending, and the grazing season ending, the farm will be able to take a breath and reflect. Most importantly, I will be able to take a moment and catch a breath. I will have more time on the farm side, which I am looking forward to. And the aging room will start to pile up, as we save cheese to sell in the spring and pick quality batches to age out for 10 months and turn into Maggie's reserve. There will be more time spent preforming the affinage in the aging rooms.

I am looking forward to cold nights next to the fire in the living room, with time to read and knit. In a couple months, I should have that space again. Although things are winding down, I am still in the middle of the busiest time of year, and I'm ready to slow down. Now is the time where we start re-evaluating our life. We have a lot of decisions to make in the next few weeks, and many of farms to contact for our next job. Yes, September is the time when farms start planning for the spring - the plants, the production, and new hires. We are looking out there for both management positions or for the right apprenticeship. We need to access where we feel pulled to live after we leave the Berkshires, and make a plan for the next few years. Too much to think about it one thought. The process starts again. What we really want is to find the right place. When, where, and how will we get there? We will place our conscious intention and goals out there and wait for a reply.

The stars are bright, the sky is dark, and the breeze is sharp. Time to rest my eyes before tomorrow begins again. I'm going to dream about that idealist diversified farm with biodynamic vegetables and holistic fruit and nut orchard I so desired to work at next year. Maybe there will be milking goats.....or heritage breed Jacob sheep.......or the opportunity to manage a breeding operation of pigs organically. I'll keep dreaming of that place.

Picture 1. Our garden harvest at the end of August - summer squash, zucchini, beets, turnips, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, tomatillos, hot peppers, and calendula. 
Picture 2. A sampling of our pantry. From the right, top to bottom - heirloom tomato jam, vanilla cardamom ground cherry jam, spicy roasted tomatillo salsa, beets, garden tomato soup, bread and butter pickles, tomato sauce, peach plum butter, green beans, spicy tomato salsa, lemon basil blueberry preserves, whole peaches, cucumber pepper relish. Why I had no time for writing in the month of August.
Picture 3. Wheels of Maggie's Round, ready for the brine the morning after they are made.
Picture 4. My farmer's market table in Northampton, where I am once a week for the whole year. The market is outside from May-November every Tuesday 1:30-6:30. And then December - April on Saturdays 9:00 am - 1:00 pm.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Milk flows when the Grass grows

Here's a little snipit of the day to day management of our pasture land, and how we have been trying to get by in the worst drought in sixty years. We have to adjust to whatever nature offers us and meet the need of the cows and our demand for grass-fed raw milk.

The milk flows when the grass grows, but the grass only the grows when the rains come down. The sky broke on this humid cloudy evening, and rain fell on the land. A couple of weeks ago we got a soaking of rain for four days, and it has been heavy with humidity and sun ever sense. We have been struggling with keeping our dairy herd on the pastures that halted all growth. There has been so little rain that our pastures were no longer lush and green, but instead browning and turning to straw. For this reason, our cows are producing less milk, and we have not been making nearly as much cheese.

Topher and Matthew made the decision a few weeks ago to graze the dairy herd on our 40 acre hay field. This meant sacrificing our third cutting of hay off of this land, but this meant that our dairy herd could continue grazing and we would not have to give them stored winter feed. In the winter, we feed our dairy herd, haylage, which means that the hay is wrapped immediately after they were bailed in the field. Haylage is fermented hay, which maintains a specific moisture content that is ideal for preserving the most nutrients - vitamins and minerals - in the grasses. In the winter, they also have access to dry hay and are fed a little bit of grain. However, winter is not here yet! We are hopeful and grateful for the rains coming our way that will continue to soak our pastures and sustain our animals here, which are sustaining us.

Now that the weeks pass, we took a break from grazing the 40 acre hay field and were feeding them winter feed for a week and a half, while the pastures recovered. And as of last night, the dairy girls are back on a new piece of fresh pasture after every evening milking. This means that they will come in to be milked from the pasture in the morning, hang out in the barn and in the brush and grasses behind the barn in the afternoon, and after they are milked in the evening, the herd will spend the rest of the evening out on a new piece of pasture munching on fresh lush grass. This will double our cycle of pasture rotation and for how long a piece of pasture rests for. I think that this is a good balance and practice for our current drought situation, which at the same time maintains our promise for proper animal husbandry and animal health and our commitment to maintaining adaptable and conscious practices towards the land.


I will milk the cows in the evening, and every time I step into the parlor something is different. Peach is in heat, and needs to be watched for breeding time. Starlight was dried off this morning, because she is due to calf in three months. Lady's wound on her right rear teat is healing nicely and her milk no longer needs to be withheld soon. The flied are bad today, so the cows need to be sprayed with the essential oil bug spray again. Patti can be bucketed for the heifer calves once Lady better. This is whats happening today. Tomorrow it will be different.

Life with the diary herd is in constant change and I am learning about all of the management for our herd of 33 cows. Which is more than I ever want on my own farm, but in terms of learning, it is easy to scale down from what you have experienced, but never easy to scale up. This is why we are here learning on a larger operation than we intend to have. And we are gaining a lot from it. 

My woahs and my worries are different here. I am very content with worrying about the cow's health and very content that I am disconnected to the rest of what society worries about. This is the sixth farm I have worked on now, and I feel like it is appropriate to say that I never seem myself being anything but an entrepreneur for starting my own farming business and my own cottage industry. And that living in the country on these country roads is the life for me.

And here we are, traveled across the country to live nestled in the Berkshires for a while, working seventy hours a week and exploring the life of a dairy farmer......

To our Volvo that got us here, thank you
To all that have supported us on our journey, thank you

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misunderstood Nutrition

At the farmer's market every week, I get customers that ask me about FAT, and want to know the fat content of our cheese. Fat is a word that, in this society,  has received a bad reputation. It is a misunderstood building block to life, in which all living things are made up of and rely on for nourishment.
In the creamery, we pull over the milk after the morning milking and start heating it in our vat. There is nothing done to it between that process. The pure raw whole milk from cows that are grazed on rapidly growing grass contains every essential vitamin and mineral in an easily absorbable form. The milk of grass-fed animals are rich in good fats, notably, omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, support the mind - fat is needed for the brain to function properly and to achieve and maintain a balanced mental state -, helps improve the body's defense against fight cancer, balance hormones, and improve energy and stamina (Enig, 1999). These fats are absorbed into the body and utilized for energy, support adrenals and hormone production, and fat is utilized in almost every organ function in the body.  The good fats found in grass-fed meat and dairy are not stored, but instead utilized. Consuming a lot of these animal fats prevents cancer, arthritis, supports the immune system response, heals the gut, and prevents mineral deficiencies, which are the root cause to degenerative dis-eases and mental imbalances.

Fats are essential for the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and all minerals. When we consume fat with minerals, the absorption is slow and steady, which also keeps you full longer. In our raw milk, cheese, and butter from our pasture-raised cows, there are high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E and K as well as varying amounts of all essential minerals.  In traditional societies that consumed dairy, butter, cheese, and seasonal milk was prized so highly for its nutrient content that is was given primarily to expecting mothers, nursing mothers, and children. 
We make full-fat cheese, by which I mean we use whole milk fresh from the cow to make Maggie's round, Tobasi, Cricket Creek Fresh and Berkshire Bloom. We allow our cheeses to age out and form a natural rind that we take care of in the aging rooms. Our cheese are made by hand and we are making them with the intention of nourishing our community. If you are ever in the area, we make cheese in the mornings on Monday, Tuesday, and Fridays, and Wednesdays we make butter. Stop by and take a look in the cheese room. We welcome you to watch our process.

As far as fat goes, I eat as much animal fats from our farm as possible - cream, butter, lard, tallow, cheese, and yoghurt. It sustains me all day long. I trust what the cow has to offer over what the industrial food system is producing. It has only been within a few generations that this mindset has changed, but the traditions of food are alive and well here on the farm.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thinning beets, Cucumber Beetles, Harvesting the First Summer squash

As I am thinning in the garden, I am contemplating life. Thinning plants happens once the seedlings get there true leaves, which is between 2-3 weeks. When I plant by seed, like my beets for example, many more plants come up in my row than I need. I have to thin these seedlings and only keep one plant every certain number of inches. My carrots are thinned to two inches apart between plants, versus my beans which are thinned to eight inches apart between plants. I am selecting plants and making decisions for what will grow. I think about this a lot, as I have thinned many of plants this season in my garden - turnips, beets, carrots, daikon radish, beans, basil, cilantro, calendula, nasturtium, spinach, kale. I hold the intention that the plants and the place have already decided this for me, in which case the plants that I chose have already chosen themselves. But I go through with my measuring tape or my hand length, and I pick a plant at every interval. I tell myself to have no dought, have only positive thoughts that this plant will prosper and yield a bountiful harvest. I am learning to trust my instinct. So far, so good, in the garden.
 One of my beds - beets in the back, carrots in the front

You might say this is a lot to think about when gardening, but the intention of my garden is not just to learn, it is my sustenance. I am growing food so that I do not have to buy food from somewhere else. I look at this challenge as survival, and I am grateful that if everything in my garden fails I can rely on someone else's garden for food. In the future, we might not be able to do that, but right now in this moment, we can. I am a planner. I have planned out this garden and know how we will be preserving everything it produces. We have a share with the organic vegetable farm down the road, Caretaker Farm. We trade raw milk for vegetables. The purpose for my garden is to preserve, so that we will have all the food we need over the winter and we will not have to buy it from the store. We will be canning, pickling, freezing, dehydrating, and cold storing.

The first heirloom summer squash, zephyr

The very first winter squash, delicata!

I do want to stress though that I am in this garden to learn, and learning I am. I am learning to trust bugs. I am learning to trust that even though I have cucumber beetles and flea beetles in my garden, they won't prevent me from having a harvest. We are sharing. The beetles eat a little bit of my squash, bean, and cucumber leaves, and I still get squash, beans, and cucumbers. I am learning that we can live together. In the past I have battled slugs, but I have always lost. Last year at GeerCrest Farm, for example, the slugs ate every single one of the first succession of broccoli plants that I grew in the greenhouse and then transplanted outside. I am very content with taking a break from the Pacific Northwest rain and their slugs. Here, I have a few slugs and a few snails in the garden, but they are not damaging much of anything. And I am taking the example from Caretaker Farm down the road, and learning how they deal with pests. They live with them too. This approach is comforting. I don't have to think about what kinds of organic pest management techniques I have to use. Just plain old fashioned hand picking and soapy water. Overwhelmingly, they are everywhere working on making holes in leaves, but I have started to harvest cucumbers and squash. Its all good. Lessons from this year's garden will stick with me forever.

A baby cucumber 

 My first batch of pickles from the garden, lacto-fermenting

Cycles of Life and Death on the Farm

This entry expresses in detail my experience of culling a chicken, and how I relate to life and death on the farm. I do not express much visual content, but I do explain what happened and why. If you do not feel comfortable reading about this, as it is a sensitive subject, please skip this entry. Thank you for understanding. I do still feel like is an important piece of farming, and I hope that all who do chose to keep reading understand my perspective and respect my way of life. 

 Let my love let your soul free

A few words about how farming has brought me closer to life and closer to death. In my experiences, I have helped birth piglets, calves, goats, and have watched eggs hatch into chickens and turkeys. The beauty in those moments has made me cherish what I am doing, to have such an influence in the first days of a animal's life. While also in my experiences, I have seen animals, in many stages of life, die. I have felt the confusion of wondering what I could have done better after staying up for 24 hours trying to nurse one of Ruby's piglets back to health, and still the baby dies. I cried when I had to bury that baby in the ground. I have wondered why Rhubarb's calf was still born, and what we could have done differently. I helped bury the old farm dog after she passed, a dog I had known and loved for a year. I cried the first time I watch the pigs I raised, from day old to butcher day, culled and processed in front of my eyes. But I cried in respect, in honor, and in understand. Death is an unsettling uncertainty, but it is part of my everyday life on the farm. I appreciate being so closely knit with the cycles of life, and I better understand my time here because of it. I raise an animal with conscious intention and respect for maintaining their health and well being, and I believe that the animals I raise understand their purpose, both in life and death, and that is how us farmers make it work. For me, culling an animal is a sacred experience, and I believe that I respect both the spirit and the body, in the process. 

On Wednesday morning when I went out to open the chickens in the morning, I noticed that one of the hens has a prolapsed vent. I was grateful that none of the other chickens has began pecking on her, and I separated her out to make a decision.  As viscous or as survival-oriented as it may seem, when another chicken is wounded, all of the other chickens will peck at the first sign of blood until she is dead and eventually they will eat her. This is part of the cycle of life and death. Everything is food for someone, and there needs to be so that nothing is wasted and everything turns back into soil. Without this process life would not continue. Since she was one of our older girls, it made since to cull her. I chose to do it myself. So I had a ceremony to celebrate her life, and then I ended it. The process of culling a bird has been practiced for so many thousands, if not millions, of years, that the process seems instinctual, completing the cycle of growing your own food and nourishment. Afterwards she went into the stock pot for chicken soup. When I eat this soup, I will think of this chicken, and blessings be upon her for all that she has done to nourish my family, thank you.

I hope you can appreciate this part of farming, and also be inspired by taking back the sacred in your life. Think of every step of the process to grow and raise your food, and let it nourish you, and have many thanks for feeling full and satisfied. True wealth is being nourished.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Found A Nest Amoungst the Nettles

Roaming around the many acres of Cricket Creek Farm are the guinea hens. In France, les pintades are commonly domesticated for their wonderfully flavored meat and very rich eggs. Guineas are amazing grazers and ours live entirely free-range and farrol on grass, bugs, and grubs, and they roost about 15 feet high in the maple tree overlooking the creek just south of our house. Guinea eggs, having such a rich yellow yolk and very little white, is something that I have wanted to try to some time, especially after working at Dancing Cow Farm in Prineville, Oregon where they kept a flock rotated on pasture and had a market for their eggs. However, when we were there, the guinea hens were not laying. Guineas hens have a short laying cycle and are not vigorous layers, which is why there eggs are so praised.

Last week I got to thinking a lot about their eggs and I started to become more aware of their alarm calls. All birds squawk when they retreat from their nest after they have laid an egg to ward off predators and attract attention to them instead of the nest. So, I have been listening to their squawks, and watching the hens move about the land around the creek. My awareness led me right to a nest, and I was so excited when I found it amongst the stinging nettles. The stings were worth it! I took a half dozen and looked up a recipe.


I Poached guinea eggs with lots of sauteed vegetables and butter from the farm. These eggs are so delicious.  And I have continued to enjoy them. I needed to know whether or not I wanted to raise them in the future, and I certainly will for both meat and eggs. Guinea fowl also keep tick and mosquito populations down, all the more reason to have their presence. I didn't mention how loud they are.......but it fits in well with all the pigs, cows, and chicken sounds at the farm. Its just better if they live aways away from your bedroom window. Its worth it. Yum!

And on another note, the guinea hens have continued to lay in the same nest. I was unsure if my disturbance caused them to find a new area, but I think they were okay with sharing a little. We don't have a tom on the property, so even if these girls wanted to be broody, there will be no chicks hatching at this farm. So if you ever get the chance, try a guinea egg. They are the best eggs I have ever had, and I have had chicken, duck, and guinea. I here good things about turkey eggs though, and I have not tried those yet!