Chapter 34 – open house

Part of our farm mission from the beginning was to connect people to their food, a major reason why the CSA model was so exciting and fulfilling for us and our customers. Every month from May through October, each CSA member would get a box of goodies from our farm delivered to their dropsite. We also wanted to have people come to our farm to see and experience the source of their food. Most everyone was hungry to connect to the natural world, the life of farming and growing and raising food. The  baby goats were extremely popular on our facebook page, and many requests for farm visits started coming in, and not just from CSA members. Instead of stopping everything for a day for each person who wanted to come out, we decided to schedule an Open House, so everyone could come on one day. All requests were directed to either consider signing up for one of our workshops, or RSVP for our Open House date, and this simplified our lives greatly. But soon we were finding ourselves a bit too exhausted and preoccupied with farm work to promote our Open House, and we were also feeling we weren’t even sure if we were up for hosting it at all.

Our gardens were coming along, with achey backs and sunburnt calves from leaning over all day seeding the warm weather summer veggies and installing transplants. We had to hedge our bets and get food growing in as many places as we could, including the rough areas the big pigs had tilled up for us earlier that spring. Andrew picked up a used two-bottom plow, and with his Grandpa’s old Case tractor, he experimented with making raised beds by plowing up one side, and then back on the other side, effectively flipping the soil strips upside down on top of each other. Our soil was clay heavy, so we were worried about drainage. These new towering raised beds seemed like a perfect solution. The freshly turned subsoil would be mineral rich and we thought just perfect for brassicas, and so soon the raised ridges were covered in baby cabbage, kale and broccoli plants.

500 asparagus crowns arrived and we had to figure out where to put them, as they were an investment and a perennial we hoped would be productive for many years to come. However, we did not agree on how to plant them, and I was too tired to debate it. I wanted to lay them down in tractor plowed trenches, making solid, long beds. Andrew thought we should dig a hole for each crown. 500 holes! We went his route, because I felt unsure of my gardening prowess. The plan was to fill each hole with compost once we had enough made on our farm. We selected two areas to make into asparagus patches and started to dig lots of holes. As we worked, startled male pheasants called from the birch grove at the top of the hill, sounding their bugle-tin horn as they flew off.

Shortly after planting all those asparagus crowns we realized we had put them in non-ideal locations, but once they were in, we were not going to dig them back out. Part of the problem with the holes was that they were in that previously mentioned heavy clay soil, so when it rained, the holes filled up with water, and the water sat there. Some of the crowns rotted, but many of them still came up. Sort of the opposite problem with the 2 bottom plow raised beds Andrew had created. They worked well until the rainy part of spring ended, and then they began to dry out and this led to parched brassica babies. We bought about 1,000 feet of hose to run water from one side of our farm, down a hill, and back up into a bathtub so we could water the gardens which were located a bit too far from the house to tend and monitor regularly.

The day before our Open House I had a yogurt-making class at one of the Co-ops. I made a huge mistake though, when we were planning it months previously, I’d changed the scheduled time, but then had not updated my calendar…. so I arrived late. What an embarrassment. The class went fine, but I felt just so frazzled the whole time. As I stirred the pot of goat milk until it was scalded in preparation for the yogurt making, the whole class sat quietly and listened to me ramble on about  the goats and our farm. I felt like the students were all staring at me with anger that I was such an unprofessional teacher. I tried to bolster myself a bit and cajole them by bringing out samples after we’d set the yogurt up for culturing. I’d made a batch of yogurt a few days previously and brought it along to demonstrate how it deliciously different homemade yogurt turned out. One quart of the yogurt I’d poured out into cotton cloth to strain overnight. This resulted in something like greek yogurt, tangy from the goat milk’s caprylic acid and resembling a rich and super thick sour cream. In the fancy class kitchen, I minced up garlic and herbs and mixed this in, and then offered samples of my herbed goat yogurt “cheese” spread with crackers. They all loved all of it, and by the end I was feeling better about myself, after a glimpse of how vulnerable I felt standing at the front of a class. As I cleaned up and packed away all my supplies, I had to get my head in the game for the Open House the next afternoon.

That night after milking, we spruced the farm up a bit, cleaned in the house, and tried to make everything look as cute and nice as possible. We made a big pot of goat chili to simmer overnight in the crockpot too. The next morning, rain was unexpectedly in the forecast, and right after my morning milking, it started pouring. We had people coming from up to 2 hours away, and we imagined some of them were on their way already. Not too many people ended up making it out, but more than we could fit in our tiny home- so we all hung out in the pavilion, trying to avoid the sheets of rain blowing in as the wild wind whipped around changing directions every 30 seconds. It was quite something. Three of our guests were neighbors who we were just getting to know, and a couple were co-op employees who wanted to see our farm. They were all incredibly lovely,  kind and understanding people. As we huddled with our hands wrapped around mugs of hot chili and tried to chat,  my mind was totally preoccupied with how absolutely ridiculous this scenario was! And just like that, the rain stopped and the sun came out! Luckily everyone was dressed for wet weather and we walked around the soggy farm out in the sudden sun. The ducks were elated at what the rain storm had given them, and they showed off their mud puddle skills. The goats hated the rain and were all were hiding in the shed, so I brought out some of the adorable kids for everyone to hold and cuddle. Our big pigs and the 8 piglets were delighted with the new mud making materials and we explained how we were rotating them all around to give them a good life rooting in the soil, as well as putting their “pig-erator” skills to good use for the creation of garden spaces. One of our new friends ended up buying half a hog from us after seeing how we cared for our pigs.

After such an intense weekend; the embarrassing class and then the crazy rain storm, by the official end of the open house at 4pm, I was pretty zonked out. We learned a lot about Open Houses though! We hadn’t made a plan for rain, so we learned that a method of communicating our contingency plan was important. Also we hadn’t had any products to sell during our Open House, and that may have made it more of a business savvy event, since we had spent a lot of time and energy getting ready for it and then hosting it. We also had two stragglers who didn’t really want to leave at the official end of the Open House because they loved the farm so much, so that was something else to figure out a plan for.





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