Jan 2014 – hardships and inspiration

happy new year!?

Today was totally the most shitty day in a long time.-16 degrees this morning.

When it’s my turn to do chores in the morning, I go first to the ducklings, bringing warm water for them from the house. They were cold but doing ok. I poured the water into one of their 2 water basins, filled their feed hopper up, and then went to round them up, over to the feed and water area to make sure they all go over there to drink and eat. It’s weird- when it’s so cold- they will sometimes be reluctant to get up and go nourish their bodies. Once they were all over there, I filled the other basin and backed out as quickly and quietly as I could, so I wouldn’t disturb them. I pushed the door shut and slipped the socket wrench into place- it’s our door latch.Then I walked around to the other side of the barn, climbed over the bottom half of the frozen-into-the-ice door and fed the older ducks, they were doing just fine, fat and sassy as they are. The water hydrant in the barn wasn’t working though. I went to the other hydrant by the hoophouse, and the handle didn’t even want to lift up. I pulled up with all my might, and finally it came up, but no water came out. So, it’s frozen? This is a specifically chosen frost-free hydrant! Knowing what I had to do involved chores taking a lot longer, but I resigned myself to go lug buckets of water from the bathtub out for all the animals.

First I had to get this hydrant handle shut in case, by some miracle, it started running. I pushed and grunted to get the hydrant handle down, back into the “off” position. As I did this, needing to use all my body weight, I managed to SLAM that iron piece of sh*t right on my glove encased finger. I pulled the glove out of the vise grip, cussed and thought, well that was close. I walked back up to the house, and then felt my finger tip getting moist, and the throbbing began. I went into the bathroom and took off my glove to find my finger had basically exploded, the skin was ruptured along one side of my fingertip, but I couldn’t hardly see it for all the blood just welling out. I wrapped a bandaid tightly around and watched the blood pooling up at the lip of the bandage, dripping into the laundry sink. Sobbing with everything that is, and has been, going wrong, I turned around in our ramshackle little bathroom to fill my buckets with water for the animals, and…. nothing came out of the faucet. The water heater’s contents had apparently been what I’d been tapping into for my duckling water and coffee making, now something was wrong with our well pump. WTF, I do not need this right now! My finger was starting the intense aching of a traumatic injury and I still had animals waiting for their breakfast and water. I drank some coffee and sat in the kitchen sobbing for a while first. Hike up your panties, girl was one thought, while the other was why is EVERYTHING going wrong?

I had overnight soaked-grains to bring the pigs, which would supply their water needs for the morning. Feeding the pigs was going to be a problem, as they are very rowdy and will try to greedily knock the 5 gallon bucket of food out of your hands as you lower its bulky, heavy mass down to their bowls. I went into their pen to collect their food bowls on the other side of their paddock, which apparently double as fun toys to toss around. With their whale like eyes, the pigs watched me enter their pen with excited anticipation. Our 3 pigs, Chopper, Tulip and Lecker, are very inquisitive and friendly pigs who just happen to weigh at least 300 pounds a piece.  They bumped into my legs, wanting to play a bit. I was not in the mood.They are used to us coming to rabblerouse with them in the morning, as well as bringing them warm soaked grains. The grain soaking liquid is their favorite part, I’ve heard it’s called rejuvalac, and has powerful nutritive qualities. This morning I had to attempt feeding them this good stuff around their greedy, powerful snouts without bumping my severely damaged finger. It was nearly impossible but I did it after using my boot to push them out of the way (they thought I was playing and snorted, did the pig twirl around and wiggled their tails as they raced back,) dumping the juicy feed into their bowls quickly.

I had to wake up Andrew, this water thing was not good. He climbed down into the well pump chamber and examined the pump, put a milk house heater down there and called a well specialist. He couldn’t come until 3pm. I collected snow in buckets and started melting it down to water our animals.To distract myself from my finger pain, I dove into several garbanzo bean projects in the kitchen, including crackers, crunchy roasted chickpeas and hummus. I recently bought a 25lb bag of dried organic garbanzos because I love them, so it was time to do some experiments utilizing their deliciousness. Protein, fiber and low fat is good stuff.

Amazingly, the water came back “on” before the well guy could show up, a pipe must have defrosted, or something. It was a very frightening experience of our vulnerability in this extreme climate. I had several thoughts during the day of how nice it would be to just raise summer vegetables, then hightail it out of here and be snowbirds for the winter. But that’s not how we are setup to operate, and so banish the thought!

beans, offal and our own “foie gras”

I bought two 25lb bags of organic dried beans from our feed suppliers, Whole Grain Milling, with the intention of canning most of them to have ready to use in the summer. I love cooking beans from scratch, but not in the heat of summer. I haven’t done the canning yet, but meanwhile I’m going nutty cooking all kinds of bean dishes- today it’s the Brazilian Black Bean Fejoida, with bits of our home raised, cured and smoked Rosie bacon and ham, as well as some highland beef short ribs from some neighbors that we bartered with. You cook the beans, then sear the meat and add to the pot with thyme paprika, bay leaf and some hot peppers. Then sautee onions, garlic, celery in the meaty fats, add a quart of tomatoes, then combine that with the beans and meat, allowing it all to simmer gently together til dinner time. It smells SO GOOD.

I’m also going to try making cassoulet tonight, which from what I’m reading, is hot debated over what is appropriate to include in it’s proper preparation. Whatever guys- this cassoulet will be all LTD. Even the white beans are saved from my green bean plants two years back. Rosie bacon, goose confit and maybe some Rosie ham will go in layers with sauteed onions, garlic, tomato puree and the cooked beans. Cassoulet is not a stew like Fejoida- this will go into the oven to bake, the beans making a crust on top. YUMMM.

I embraced nose to tail eating enthusiastically when i began eating meat from our own animals. I don’t want anything to go to waste. I frankly overdid it on the offal there for a while- boiling pig heads to create headcheese, making crazy heart paprikash stew, chicken gizzard chili, cleaning pig intestines, crafting pot pies with parsnips, duck hearts and livers, I even tried searing up pig kidneys (blurgh!) Then I had a bad experience when I over cooked the liver from one of our pigs. It was grainy and chalky and iron-ey tasting. Really took me right off the offal.

Last night I finally got up the nerve to try liver again, and some special livers these were….from 3 of our pastured geese. Our own foie gras! Our geese did not have big fatty livers, they were appropriately sized and a deep, healthy ruby red, not the margariney looking engorged livers found in force fed birds. I’ve never had that stuff and never will. All I can tell you is our goose liver tasted WAY different than regular liver. Rich, nutty and meaty. I coated them in herbed sea salt and flour, then seared them in a hot pan, and served them with hot seared chunks of onion. This was our dinner last night, it was so delicious, so satisfying, so nourishing- I didn’t even feel the need for late night snacking afterwards!

my hero

After 2 days working in my friend Angelica’s commercial kitchen, and 2 days of talking the whole while, I’m feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. We had fun and got a lot of work done! She’s been putting up the enormous fall harvest of brassicas from her farm. Her awesome employee Jessica and I packed countless 5 gallon crocks of various ferments into jars and labeled them up. The 2nd day we prepped ingredients for Angelica to craft into 20 crocks’ worth of her delicious and unique kimchi ferment. This woman is just SO incredible in all ways, I’m so grateful and lucky to know her and to be embraced into her fold. She’s a down-to-earth powerhouse, a farmer, a wife and a mom, a very thoughtful woman and a successful entrepreneur. I have so much to learn from her every single time we spend any time together.

We talked about everything. Evolution of your passion, your products, your life. Trying to remember to focus on enjoying what IS, soak it all up. The fear of ill health and death and the motivation that that fear provides to really LIVE and appreciate what is. Pro-activeness about caring for yourself. What success is, financially,and why that matters. Feeding whole grains to broilers, the glorious feeling of feeding people good, real food. The hormone cycles that cause wild mood swings, what it’s like working with your partner 24/7, the realities of being tied to your job because it is your life, your calling. Vacation dreams and conference attendance conspiring.

It’s hard to explain the feeling after leaving her place to return to ours. I feel lifted up, encouraged and emboldened. This is what a great mentor can do for you. She gives me something to really aspire towards. Angelica, you are my hero!

I arrived back home feeling amazing and ready to dive back into planning for the spring and the whole upcoming season. Andrew and I have been working on our seed order and talking about our 5 year out plans. We’re nervous but itchy to get some serious whole farm permaculture installations going this spring. We also reviewed our 2013 farm year in numbers and it was not nearly as bad as I had feared or suspected. What a fantastic thing! Yeehaw!

Meanwhile, we have at least 2 more months of winter to wait through. Among other things, this time will be used to plan out the upcoming season to the letter. Every year we get better and better at knowing what to expect, and also what’s realistic, in terms of what is actually achievable. I kind of hate knowing what our limitations are because I always want to reach for the moon; always want to be attempting more and more….but I also appreciate knowing what that quantity/ability is. This kind of knowledge we’ve attained over the past years can’t be absorbed from books, it can only come from our blood, sweat and tears from years of hands-on trying. Learning to farm from scratch takes time and dedication, and it takes reaching out to your heroes to have a renewed inspiration.

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