Monday, December 29, 2008

A Farmer Joke

So, after the end of the busy growing season, the farmer does this huge house-cleaning, puts everything away, and fixes all the loose screws, worn weather stripping, dripping faucets, etc. The house looks great. Everything has a place, and is in its place, and works properly.

"There!" says the farmer. "All done! Now that I've finally gotten caught up with all the defered mainenance that I've been needing to do for the past few years, it will be easy to keep it looking this nice next growing season."

If that doesn't have you rolling on the floor with laughter, you probably aren't a farmer.

A Fabulous Feast

Today was JL's last day at the least until her return next summer, after studying sheep in New Zealand for 6 months. Not even this summer of too many graves has discouraged her from pursuing her dream.

Since it was coincidentally JF's monthly work day for her long-distance apprenticeship, we decided to celebrate JL's departure with a feast. I also realized it's been pretty close to a year since EF started volunteering here. So it turned into an awards banquet, of sorts. Families were invited; we ended up with 8 people including JF's children.

I did some prep and a little cooking ahead of time: Boiled the eggs for the devilled eggs; made meringues for desert; made a fresh batch of mayonnaise including freshly laid egg yolks left over from the meringues; gathered ingredients; made sure the rack of lamb and the applesauce I put up this summer were thawing. I filled pitchers with water, checked the ice supply, made a batch of spearmint tea to chill in the garage overnight.

Mainly, I cleaned the house!

This morning I got up and started the bread machine about 9 a.m. (whole wheat bread from flour grown and processed in western Kansas, seasoned with garlic, basil, oregano and sage from the garden). Then I started the roast, and began cleaning and cutting the veggies carrots dug aweek ago, right before the single-digit weather set in, and potatoes harvested a few weeks ago, and onions grown my my hay supplier a couple miles away) that would later join it in the roaster.

Folks started coming, and as planned we completed the meal prep together. After a long season of working together in the sheep shed and the garden, working together in the kitchen came easily. We made a grated carrot salad seasoned with ginger my mom grew in her greenhouse; we took tour of the garden and scrounged a surprising variety of salad stuff from under the row covers despite the recent arctic temperatures; the last package of frozen rooster turned into the chicken stock base of the leek-and-potato soup; the devilled eggs were completed with the homemade mayo and popped right back in the fridge; jars of Dilly Green Tomato pickles and Pepper Relish that Mom made from my veggies were opened and put in dishes; chestnuts from a friend who planted his chestnut orchard about the same time I started my farm were slashed prior to roasting; the kids and other bystanders took turns shaking a pint of heavy whipping cream in a glass jar to make the butter for the bread. Pinwheel Farm honey turned out to be a popular topping for the herbed bread, with a thick layer of homemade butter to keep it from soaking into the bread.

What more could we want? JL brought a pumpkin pie she'd made, I believe with one of those pumpkins we got from the neighbor awhile back.

It was a memorable feast, and a wonderful demonstration of the kind of meals that one small farm could produce for its people.

After the meal, it was my extreme pleasure to commend each of these wonderful dedicated volunteers for their work and learning this year. JL and EF received sheepskins as tokens of my appreciation for their work. I really could not have done it without them this year. JF received felt ball kits to share with her family; she's just been with the farm since June, and can only come once every three weeks because of the distance.

The most remarkable thing to me is that each of these folks deliberately set aside time from already busy, demanding lives to come work and learn here. EF is a fairly young full-time college student communting from near KC to KU; he unfailingly has done evening chores 6 days a week for the past year with only a few days off AND managed to keep up his grades in a demanding school schedule. JL worked a busy job, and in addition to coming to the farm 3 or more times a week, managed to complete the Growing Growers apprenticeship program which meant attending out of town workshops at inconvenient times once a month. I told her when she started that I would reimburse the GG program fee she had paid if she completed the GG program AND stuck with her work commitment to the farm until after the Holiday Sale in Dec., and I was happy to do so today.

Many other people worked this year--whether for a day or for months--to make it such a great year for the farm...and to make it possible for me to work full-time in addition to keeping the farm going. For various reasons, some could not make it to today's feast. But if they read this, they should know that their efforts are deeply appreciated. I hope to reward each of them in due time, when I see them again.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are great feasts, but neither means as much to me as this one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cricket on the Hearth

I believe it is either the Chinese or the Japanese who believe that a cricket on the hearth is good luck. When I was a child, we used to get the most exquisite little bamboo cricket cages from an oriental gift store...sort of an exotic version of Woolworths. Apparently you were supposed to track down your good luck omen and imprison it just to be sure. Hm...not quite my style.
So I was delighted to have this little harbinger of blessings appear on the hearth by the woodstove this morning. It's a camel cricket, very different in appearance from the classic black field cricket that chirps so annoyingly in the fall. These delicate creatures with shiny wingless hunched backs and long threadlike antennae generally live in the basement or outbuildings. This past month is the first time I've seen them on the main floor. They are carnivorous, and not as likely to eat holes in fabrics as the field crickets do.

Slow Food, Slow LIVING?

I've followed with interest the emerging Slow Food movement...a hint of sanity in the desertification of American Foodways, and increasing wasteland of nutrition-free fast foods, junk foods, snack foods, etc.

And of course you've heard me rant about the myth of "simple living". Of course, it's hard to really know WHAT to call it. But "everyone" (at least everyone of a certain mindset) knows exactly what I mean if I say "simple living", and those who have tried it, like me, will give an ironic chuckle or roll their eyes.

Today I had an insight: Perhaps what we are really seeking is a more holistic extension of "slow food"--in other words, "slow living".

The Slow Food idea is to start at the beginning, whatever you determine the beginning to be--somewhere before the grocery store, at any rate. Either growing it yourself or getting it directly from the person who grew it. Then preparing it yourself. To skip the "quick and easys" and the "pre-cooked" and the "instant", and recall the way of "doing" food that was really the only option less than 100 years ago.

Slow Living, then, would be to not only grow your food, but also to knit your socks, sew your clothes, provide your own transportation with your feet or a bicycle, use snail mail to keep in touch with friends, mow your grass with an unmotorized reel mower, make your own music or attend live performances, etc. And beyond that, to do so in an unhurried fashion. To skip the stress of wanting to acheive too much in too little time. To forego trying to be in too many places at once.

Obviously this is not something I have managed to put together in any cohesive fashion, or I wouldn't be blogging at 1 a.m. with a host of undone housework, bookwork, value added production, fall planting, etc. lurking in the background. But at least I've learned a lot of the skills. I have a puzzle picture, and now I have most of the pieces, I just need to figure out how to put them together to make the picture. I'm confident I'll get there in my own slow time. That's one of the important puzzle pieces, I think: learning to be content with slow progress.

As I listen to the radio now and then, gleaning glimpses of the economy beyond my own property lines, I find I am not too worried. I think I HAVE done well at planning a way of life and a business that will weather economic storms better than average, and perhaps even thrive. And I think that others may come to appreciate my approach more, through their own struggles. I already see a definite trend in people wanting to learn the "slow living" skills I have, in pursuit of their own dreams of a "slow life".

This Sunday will be a special "Slow Food/Slow Living" event at Pinwheel Farm, a private banquet of a dizzying array of farm-grown and locally-grown foods prepared by and for my key 2008 apprentices and volunteers. In addition to learning how to grow food, they've developed related skills they probably never imagined, like hitching a trailer, basic building skills, managing water systems in cold weather, knot tying, etc. They've been a great group to work with, and I'm looking forward to honoring them for this past season's efforts and to working with many of them in the coming season.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Upcoming Event: Bird Tree Day 2008 #2

Generally Bird Tree Days are after Christmas, during the school break. But the other day I just had the feeling that we needed to plan one for next weekend, the 21st. A nice way to celebrate the winter solstice. Also, my daughter will be gone over Christmas Break for a study-abroad program in Ghana, and she loves to participate.

So, anyone who wishes is welcome to join us from 2 to 4 next Sunday to make edible decorations for the towering Douglas fir tree in the front yard. It will pretty much be the same deal as the one we had last winter. Chances are we'll have another one after Christmas at some point.

I'll appreciate RSVPs in order to have enough cocoa on hand. Leave a message at 979-6786, or email

Bring your own mug if possible, so we don't have to break out the styrofoam ones. We'll supply popcorn, crackers, peanut butter, etc. for both decorations and snacking, but feel free to bring other stuff too.

Catching up...

Hard to believe it has been nearly a month since I've posted! I think I'll be able to write more often for awhile now that things are slowing down for the winter.

Today was the last major "marketing event" of the season...the Farmer's Market Holiday Sale. It seemed to be a bit slower than last year, but better than I'd feared. A good solid end to the season. This was the first year I've had vegetables, and several other vendors also had a variety of greens and root crops. Leeks sold out early on, and all I brought home veggie-wise was Jerusalem Artichokes.

I would have had more salad stuff, but I've been exploring a supplier relationship with a major local institution, and much of my "post season" produce has gone to them as we get a feel for the details of delivery, packaging, and other logistics...and I whet the chef's appetite for excellent locally grown veggies! The really exciting thing about this opportunity is that THEY came to me seeking assistance in procuring local produce. So I got to skip the "cold call" part of the marketing which I HATE. They are well-informed about the benefits of buying local produce: keeping their food dollars circulating within their community to create more financial stability here; increased food security in case of natural disaster, economic or infrastructure upset, or other disruption of the complicated logistics of hauling in food from around the globe; and of course better nutrition and taste. You will be hearing more about this relationship as it unfolds.

Where have I been lately? Recall that one of my last posts was about the bathroom improvement project. This has pretty well consumed my "spare" time and then some, including many pleasant nights of puttering until 2 or 3 in the morning. It is coming along nicely, and the fixtures are all back in service, and the tile floor is fabulous. There are just so many little details and challenges in the finishing touches. An entire evening ended up being devoted to hanging a dumpster-dived new-in-the-package towel bar. I wanted it on the bottom of the wall-hung cabinet, rather than the wall, as it is much less cluttered that way. Six screws, no big deal, done in 10 minutes, right? But the original screws were a fraction of an inch too long (trip to the hardware store), and the mounting holes were difficult to reach (ended up installing several screws with an off-set screw driver, 1/4 turn at a time working upside down), and holding the long rod while fidgeting with all this involved a precarious system of bar clamps, and trying not to drop anything heavy on the "new" sink. Eventually there will be pictures....

A steady schedule of work with both new and seasoned apprentices continues. We're still doing our 5:00 Thursday "livestock seminars" regularly, though it is pretty much dark by the time we're done. Lots of details on keeping the livestock supplied with liquid water, as the weather becomes more wintery: Draining hoses, thawing "drained" hoses, reviewing draining hoses; understanding and managing the frost-free hyrants to protect them from freeze damage; dealing with leaking quick-connect hose fittings (colored washers are better than black ones because there is less likelihood of someone mistakenly putting a new washer over an old one); troubleshooting stock tank heaters and their associated electrical cords, GFI-protected receptacles, etc.

Plus, we've finally dug the last of the potatoes, pulled all the tomato cages out of the ground (we can clean dead vines off them any time on a sub-zero day, but they have to be out of the ground before it freezes up for the winter, covered the fig trees, spread dozens of bags of leaves on various areas so we can start the spring weed-free, etc. Good satisfying progress, but oh-so-busy!