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.