A customer came by yesterday to pick up his chickens. He’s been with me from my very beginning as a farmer. We took a walk together out to see Lola and Ruby, chatting about things as we ran our fingers through Lola’s lovely fur. As we returned and after we had his chickens in his cooler, he turned to me with kindness in his eyes and said “ Well, now, how are YOU doing? I heard.”
OMG, what’s happening dear friends and readers, it’s been too long! This will be a rambling-all-over-the-place post, lots to write about and thoughts to share. There hasn’t hardly been a lick of time in the past month for writing. With the harvest time of year, the days are all about frantically trying to put up as much food as possible for the off-season; canning, fermenting, blanching, freezing, roasting, drying. There’s also been beef deliveries, chicken harvesting (still ongoing) and all my duck-related activities: feeding, bedding, rotating pastures, eggs to collect, clean, candle, package and deliver to over 12 accounts. I’m tending a flock of broilers and turkeys and geese as well. And my dear Aunt Coral was visiting over the past month, so I’ve had lots of wonderful family time keeping me occupied..
But, I need to confess that I have been sequestering myself from saying too much about my personal life, and it turns out that’s a major deterrent to writing. Up until the past month, I’ve been a fervent sharer of nearly all that has happened since the beginning of this farm, starting in 2008 with my website, then I did a tumblr blog (which my more-hip sister informed me “no one uses tumblr to actually write blogs, it’s hilarious you and Mel both write so seriously on there”), then I later transferred those writings post by post to this blog. I liked sharing the insanity and excitement of the goings-on here, feeling that there are many out there who are aspiring farmers, so sharing the reality of what it’s actually like could be fun, educational; my contribution to the population of beginning farmers. I also thought maybe someday I could turn it into something more, and I will.
However, when I couldn’t (in my mind’s eye) share ALL of what’s going on, I just haven’t wanted to write much in a public space. So it is time to spill the beans, I left Andrew in May. I tried, but we just want to go about life so differently. I thought we were on the same page, but we aren’t. Running a business together was a nightmare. My self-esteem hit rock bottom. So, long story edited, I am running MY farm on my own now. He has his own business. I don’t know what else to say about this right now. It’s been tumultuous, but I am happy to report that we are getting along much better now, now that we are each in charge of our own inputs and outputs. He has his pigs and the cabin, and I have my ducks and the old house (which is musty and gross and has needed a new waterline put in, a furnace repair and I could also use a kitchen sink, but the one in the bathroom will work for one more year. I also have to bathe old-school using a bucket because the water line to the shower was cut off when the pipes froze last winter, but that might be resolved soon. The last on my sad-sack list is that my internet doesn’t work unless I go stand on a ladder with my laptop above the grain bin.)
Lately, now that I live on my own, I’ve been embracing this “middle night” thing I read about. The gist of the article was that there are times when you will be creative or want to get things done without any distractions, and sometimes that is the middle of the night. When I wake at 2 or 3 in the morning, instead of lying there, restlessly trying to fall back asleep, I just get up and go do the things I need to do, the activities that are stirring in my brain. When I imagine that giant 20 lb bag of kale and collards I picked that I need to blanch and freeze, I just get up and do it.
Middle night is the only time of the day when I can be completely undistracted, can’t be lured outside to work on the abundance of things needing done out there. I can putz like I used to do in the mornings before going to my day-job. I make coffee, toodle around in the kitchen and do some writing or reading. Right now it’s 2 in the morning. I put away laundry, did dishes, roasted a buttercup squash and just ate half with a spoon, right out of the oven. I blanched collards, made dinner for breakfast. I still need to deal with the kale. I might go back to sleep, or decide to take a nap later after chores are done. This is the freedom of self-employment! But it sure hasn’t come easily. The main reason I am still here, able to be self-employed, well first off, is my awesome customers, both individuals and cooperatives. The other reason is my diligent frugality.
One of the reasons I am so passionate about being frugal, about growing my own food, is because frugality means less pressure to NEED money. Needing less money means more freedom from stress. I choose to raise all of my own animal products so that I now exactly how they live, what they eat and how they are harvested, that’s not a frugal thing whatsoever, it’s ethical. The other reason I embrace frugality is that this is the way I have chosen to live, trying to have the smallest negative effect on the planet. I don’t have kids to worry about in the future, and I don’t feel there’s much hope for humanity as this planet starts to show us it’s been abused too long, too much. Regardless, I still want to die knowing I tried my best to not contribute to it’s demise. Like the Native American man said at the end of that one eco-documentary that Leonard Di Caprio produced a number of years back: “the earth it’s gonna be just fine. It’s us on it that will not, if we don’t change our treatment of our home.”
When Coral was staying with me, she commented on how little food I had that was not from the farm. There are a few condiments, spices, flour, coffee, olive oil, but for the most part all of my food comes from my pantry. She asked if I had raisins or nuts when she was making a cabbage apple slaw. Nope, sorry, but it’s something to think about trying to grow in the future though! (I think the blogger at Trapper Creek, the Matron, said she dried their plums to make prunes. There are nanking cherry bushes here that produce prolifically maybe I could figure out how to pit and dry them.) I have a master list of all the foods I’ve put up in jars and in the freezer, and that’s what I consult when I’m thinking about the next meal or two. Sometimes I’ll just defrost some meat, or soak some beans and then look at my list to see what sounds good together. Another thing I used to do was go to Pinterest and type in an ingredient I have and then peruse all the pinned rapes. It’s a nice visual inspiration to decide what to make, like looking at the photos in a cookbook. I don’t really ever follow recipes, but more often take the concept and make it work with what I have. I made borscht the other day and didn’t have dill, celery or lemon juice as the recipe I was referring to called for. The pot of soup was definitely needing something, so on a whim I poured in a bit of dill pickle brine! It was perfect!
When eating frugally from the pantry, spices are essential to keep things interesting and take meals to new flavor dimensions. I made a ton of herb salt this summer, with the herbs growing here and that adds wonderful savory flavor to anything I put it in. What I can’t grow, I get at the co-op bulk section. About once a year I go in with my bag full of little empty jars and pick a bunch of spices from the bulk spice section. White pepper, celery seed, lemon pepper, berbere, smoked paprika are some unique ones I like. So fun to find new flavors, and buying spices this way is usually pretty cheap too. While I still don’t get bored with a “plain” roasted Bubster broiler, when I rub it with curry powder and lemon pepper and slow roast it, and then pair it with roasted cabbage chunks, which were sprinkled with curry, coriander, mustard seeds and garlic, it’s a whole new experience.
If I could encourage those thinking about getting into farming to start one thing, it is to grow all your own first. Grow and eat from your efforts, like as much as possible. It is a wonderful way to begin and practice farming, and you can see which food you like raising best and grow that into a business, but always, always focus on growing as much of your own food as possible. If more of us did this, just imagine the lesser amounts of trucks driving bunches of kale from across the country, eggs from Florida, tomatoes from Mexico, or flying bell peppers from Amsterdam and flash-frozen chicken breasts from China.