Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farm Goals for 2014

It's list making time, hooray! It's New Year's Eve, I will be making many lists today. And this thrills me so much more than it should. Anyway, on to the list. In no particular order; because I can't seem to figure out how to make a descending ordered, numbered list, these are my goals for Serendipity Farm this year.

  1. Find a local, affordable source of raw milk. This may involve buying a cow, I'm OK with that.
  2. Successfully hatch out goslings 
  3. Ditto for turkeys 
  4. Add flocks of quail, guineas and/or ducks
  5. Pigs. I suppose right about now I have officially gotten over my head. A cow, more geese & turkeys, quail, guineas, ducks, a pig and we haven't even started talking about gardens yet! These first 5 goals though are more like options than goals. A cow or a pig is probably more likely. Ducks or guineas. Ya, that's my story & I'm sticking to it when my partner challenges this list :) 
  6. Name & launch our birthdays on the farm idea 
  7. Host 2 swap meets & craft fairs- note to self: let's try not to schedule either for the same week as the State's Fair. Turns out those are kind of big deals to farming folks, who knew?
  8. Investigate the local Farmer's Market. Before I lose real food street cred, I do shop at a Farmer's Market of sorts. I love Farm 2 Family. I make a pilgrimage back to Richmond regularly to shop there & of course plan to continue. I just haven't done any exploring in Caroline County yet. 
  9. Plant (& more importantly maintain) gardens that will insure that ALL of the animal feed is coming from the farm. There just isn't another viable option. It's terribly important to us that our animals are GMO-free. It is terribly important to us that the farm is cost-effective. And it's terribly important to us that our products are reasonably priced. Charging $7 for a dozen eggs just wouldn't be OK with me and that's about what the numbers work out to when buying organic feed in the winter. 
  10. Plant, maintain and preserve a harvest that insures around 50% of our food comes from our farm. Does that seem too low or too high to my readers? I've had friends respond in both directions. Those that think it is a high goal recognize that it is a lot of work. Those who think it is low wonder why the goal isn't 100% or at least close to it. The goal is 50% and I imagine it always will be. We are a large family, and we like variety in our meals. Permaculture, sustainable farming means working with the unique micro-environments of your farm. This year will be about learning those characteristics. Do tomatoes do well in our soil without heavy supplementation? Will I ever successfully keep the geese off of our greens? I learned last year that corn is going to be challenging here. My neighbor is a giant GMO corn grower. This year I am going to try growing corn behind a wind block & hope that cuts down or eliminates cross pollination. If it doesn't, I'll skip corn the following year and find a local grower I can trade with or buy from.  I don't have a moving body of water on the property, rice would never grow here- but I'm going to give quinoa a try. I don't expect it to do well, but who knows maybe it will. That's why the goal will always be about 50%. When we find what does best here, we'll plan crop rotations to insure we don't exhaust our soil and let those crops be our focus. 
So the first list for 2014 has been written. If you're making any farming, homesteading, or gardening goals for 2014 please share them in the comments. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Yogurt Making

Making yogurt at home is so simple & so cost effective. You really do not need special equipment, it's very inexpensive and although it takes quite a bit of time to turn milk into yogurt, it's only seconds of actual hands-on time.
When I first started making yogurt at home I used a technique Alton Brown (isn't he so dreamy?) demonstrated on an episode of Good Eats (I think). It's been years since I did it this way & I'm certain I will forget details. But his method was basically warming your milk, inoculating it with your starter yogurt and then putting that mixture into a container that fit inside of a second container and keeping it at a steady temp by using a heating pad wrapped around the container holding the milk-yogurt mixture, nestled in the larger container.I did it that way for ages, it's not terribly difficult even if I didn't explain it so great. Google it, watching Alton cook & be smart is never a waste of time.
When you're done watching Alton, do it this way instead.
The Easiest Way to Make Yogurt: In a crockpot!
I won't infringe their copyright & copy the directions here, so you'll have to head over there to get the directions in their entirety. I'll just share a couple little tips to make it even easier. When I am fortunate enough to have access to raw milk, I do remove some of the cream before using. Store bought "whole" milk is 4% milk fat. Raw milk, depending on the season & the breed of cow, is around 16% milk fat. You could leave all the cream in, but raw is illegal & expensive here. You don't need that much milk fat to make yogurt, so it seems wasteful to me to leave it all in. I skim about half of the cream & save that for whipping, coffee or small-batch butter making. Also when I start a batch I take a wipe-off marker & I write the start time right on the lid of the crockpot, then I write the time I need to shut it off, the time I need to inoculate it & the time it will be done. So if I start at 2p, I write "2p-4:30, 7:30, 5:30am" I would never actually start at 2p though, only thing I do at 5:30 AM is keep my pillow warm.
You can make Greek style yogurt from homemade yogurt by simply straining away the the whey. I line a colander with a cloth napkin & nestle it inside of a bowl. Pour the yogurt into the strainer, put it in the fridge & forget about for around 6 hours. The longer you let it sit, the thicker the yogurt will be. The whey will drain down, you can use this for lacto-fermented veggie recipes and the now Greek style yogurt will be left behind in the cloth napkin.
Easy-peasy, frugal & nutritious real food.
Oh & don't forget to save a cup for the next batch you make!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Five Minute Gardening

I'm having a day. I don't know not really a bad day, but not matching my idea of a good day either. My littlest Gelf is cutting a molar. He's not impressed with the process. Then I guess because our mother-son bond is so very strong, I am suddenly in excruciating pain very aware of a cavity in one of my molars. We finally got to bed last night, at 6:30 this morning.Then at 8:30 AM the pain medicine I took for my tooth wore off. Then there's the upcoming holiday. It's my youngest's first Christmas. The baby I am pretty confident will be my last. The three year old really "gets" Christmas for the first time, she talks about it nonstop. For a week now she's been reminding me that she hopes Santa brings her a big, red, balloon. (ya- no idea where that request came from but I am lifting my balloon ban to accommodate & embrace her simple request) I had these ambitious plans for a completely homemade Christmas. I'd make coordinating but not quite matching PJs for all of the Gelfs, I'd even make 2 more sets to ship to my Grand-Gelfs (yes can you imagine? I have two grandchildren already!). I'd think of something clever and magical to make out of all of these chicken & turkey feathers. Satisfying both my creative needs and my desire to not be wasteful of any part of the animals we process here. All meals & snacks would be made from scratch, while wearing the purple & red-hat apron that I brought home from my last visit with my grandmother. At 4:20 on the twenty-second of December, none of these things have happened. And then, the icing on this just not quite cool cake, it's 65 degrees out but it's raining. What? I had acclimated to the cold snap we've been having. I made good use of yesterday's warm day out in the yard. I love the rain, but 3 days before Christmas snow would be so special. Or a warm, sunny 65 degree day would also make for another productive day outside and I would be ever so grateful. But no snow, warm, but raining just seems like exactly the wrong weather for today.

And you're reading along still, thank you, while wondering how any of this has anything at all to do with gardening. I'm getting there, I promise. I felt like something, anything outside would help me shake off some of this blah. And I remembered I had a bunch of celery stalks I've been meaning to plant. And I remember to take my camera so I could share. Here we go.

Disclaimer: I am not a master gardener. I am not an adept gardener. I am barely an accomplished amateur gardener. I just make it up as I go. That approach gives me like, I don't know, a more often than not success rate, and that's good enough.  
These are the bottom 1.5-2"s of 6 organic celery bunches I've used in cooking over the past month. They've been sitting in that little dish for weeks. Most of the time there is water in the dish, sometimes I forget to check them though. They haven't died & all those leaves are new growth. Again, good enough. I took those, 3 soda bottles & scissors out to my front porch.

I have a ton of 6" pots a friend gifted me with recently. If I didn't I would have cut the soda bottles in half, poked holes in the bottoms, used the bottoms as pots, then taped the tops back on. But since I had these pots, I cut the bottles in half & used each half as a top for the pot. I filled the pots with an organic potting soil & buried all but the leafy growth. The last batch I did I only put about half the stalk in the dirt. I have no idea which method is better. The only reason I did it differently this time is because I forgot how I did it the last time until I looked at those ones when I was done with these ones. I think both methods will work just fine. If they don't, I'll have learned something new to apply the next time. I tucked the bottle domes pretty deep into the soil. If I had thought of it, I would have added some rabbit manure to the potting soil- I think I did with the last batch. Rabbit manure doesn't need to age like cow, horse, chicken manure does. I forget why that is, but even fresh it's safe to mix right in & won't burn your plants. The covers will act like a mini green house. Keeping them warm & watered, even when I forget. If the grow faster than the weather warms up, I'll cut new bottles taller or look for another thing to re-purpose for the job.

I've been told that growing celery is challenging. Maybe it is. Maybe these will get half way grown & suddenly die or rot or who knows what. The ones I planted last month seem to be doing fine. Maybe whoever told me that celery is challenging tries too hard or has never tried and is just repeating some rubbish they were told. It took about 15 minutes from when I thought "I should plant those celery plants" to uploading the pictures of the finished project. Took me far longer to share the story. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bobbe Dunn

This was my grandmother. My mother's mother. Catherine-Susan McCabe Dunn Trotta. I called her Nana, most people called her Bobbe. My grandmother was many things, but first and foremost my grandmother was a story teller. Most of her stories began with her lamenting that she didn't take notes when she was younger eavesdropping on her aunts and mother telling stories at the kitchen table. But you kids today, she'd say, you could record all of this on your tape recorder. I meant to, but just like she never got to writing down the stories of her elders, I never did either. It's OK though her stories are tattooed in my memory banks, and I can recite them all even without a tape recording. 

This is what ran as her obituary. It's alright, but it's just not enough. Her stories should be told again. I really feel I need to tell her stories again. I started writing this entry a month ago. I come back to it, I change some things, add some things, get a little sad & save it for later. I'll never finish it at this rate. There's so much I need to process with her passing. It isn't going to be over in an afternoon. I think for 1 year I will dedicate one post a month to a story from my grandmother. So you can look forward to hearing how my grandmother invented belt-less maxi pads, her excommunication from the Catholic church, and dozens of other really cool stories. Understand that we had a tumultuous relationship. It wasn't all playing hairdresser and pretending we spoke french. There may be uncool stories too. I need to do this to process the other stories too and to make my peace with her passing. So I will leave the following that I've already written as an introduction....
Her name was Catherine-Susan. Together, not a first & middle. My family lacks name originality. She was named after her mother, who was named after her mother. I'm not sure, but there may be very well be a chain of Catherine Susans stretching back to the dawn of time. I have 2 second cousins and a third cousin (or is the child of your second cousin a second cousin once removed?)  that bears that moniker too. I'm dumb-founded that while writing this it is the first time I realized all four of her children have original names. I guess it didn't occur to me because they each in turn recycled their names. A moment of sadness here that it never occurred to me to ask her why she didn't choose to continue the tradition. Everyone called her Bobbe. There's two different stories about why that is. One story is just that she always used a dozen bobby-pins to pin up her black curls. That story is boring. I like the other story better. She was the first-born, and her grandfather was hoping that she would be a boy. So he started calling her Bobbe & it just stuck. Both of these stories may be true, then again they may be whole cloth; story tellers are allowed artistic license too. The grandfather version always seemed likely to be true to me. It made sense. The name fit. My grandmother wore long beaded necklaces that tied in a knot when they reached her sternum. She used Oil of Olay moisturizer & Dove soap. She was a seamstress, and designer. She owned a tailoring shop with my mom called "A Stitch in Time" and created costumes for the productions of  the Chateau DeVille Theater Group, now Lantana's in Randolph MA. She also swung hammers.  The raised ranch she lived in during my childhood, she built. No I didn't say she designed it. I didn't say she had it built. With a hammer, with a table saw, with sweat & blood and her 4 teen-aged children assisting; she built a house. About 15 years after the foundation was poured, when everything was finally exactly perfectly what she wanted; she sold it. When she was about 50 she bought a rundown 12+ room farmhouse in Cornish, Maine and spent the next 30 years restoring every inch of it. About 10 years ago I brought my friend Lori up for a get-away vacation. Lori complimented my grandmother on the new three-season porch. My grandmother started to tell the story of how hard it was to talk her partner Mike into spending the- oh I think it was $3000- to build the porch. Lori was flabbergasted that Nana, then 70-something years old, had a porch built so inexpensively. It took me a minute to get what was getting lost in the conversation- Nana didn't have it built, when she said Mike (then about 78 years old) and she put on the porch last spring, she meant that she & Mike were out on a rig tearing down that wall & building this porch. She was no nonsense,  pragmatic, and tough as nails.She was creative, skilled and capable. She was so many the qualities I take pride in using to describe myself too. But she was also distant, cold, stand-offish.She was judgmental, and harsh. She set standards and expectations unreasonably high. The qualities I worry that I inherited too. When I was little I thought she was magic. When I would need a pencil, for the lists I kept even then, she would reach up into her mane of black curls & sort of feel around for a moment and like magic, produce a pencil. My straight as a bone hair can't replicate that trick. So little me started stabbing a pen through my ponytails to copy her in my own way. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Response to What to Ask a Poultry Farmer

I came across this great article last night at kellythekitchenkop. Three Tips on Knowing Your Farmer...  it outlined questions you should ask various farmers. I've decided to answer the 5 questions suggested for asking your poultry farmer. The questions are: 

  • How are your chickens raised? On pasture, indoors, confined? Are they caged?
  • How much time do your hens spend outdoors each day?
  • Are your hens force molted?
  • What are your hens fed?
  • Are your hens given antibiotics? 
After the questions there is also a paragraph that talks about exposing chickens to hormones via being fed animal protein. 
I would add to Kelly's list to ask what breeds your farmer raises and why. Heritage breeds are breeds that lend themselves best to permaculture/sustainable farms, and many of them are in danger of extinction. We are focusing on heritage birds; which may mean their eggs and meat look or taste different than you are use to from the grocery store. Asking that question will likely lead to your farmer explaining how to best prepare the items she offers. 

We have a flock of less than 30 chickens; about 25 hens and 5 roosters. We also have 5 Pilgrim geese, and 4 sub-adult Narragansett turkeys. We have several coops, but only 3 are in usable condition. Our farm was a family homestead 20 maybe 30 years ago, we're slowly restoring and repairing everything. What we call the back coop houses the turkeys. It is 2 rooms, one that is completely enclosed from the elements and one that allows good air circulation and is constructed primarily of chicken wire. At this time the turkeys are confined almost all of the time. They were allowed to range for about 2 months when we first began raising turkeys. That is until we lost 2 of the 8 birds we started with to predators and had to start herding them home daily from approximately a quarter mile away. The confinement is temporary. Building an enclosed run is on the To Do List right after finishing the pole barn that is currently in construction. Two of the adult roosters have taken up residence in the side coop. The side coop is actually a broody run, 5 individual runs with a nest box in each. The doors to this are never closed, and the two bachelor roos retire to runs in the evening and leave of their own accord as soon as the sun is up in the morning. Side note: Did you know that you can learn to ignore a rooster crowing while perched on your window at 5am and continue to sleep? Well I can, because I am an expert at sleeping.  Another rooster has claimed my pony as his flock. He spends most nights in Ariel's corral sleeping in a covered area by her hay shed. Occasionally a hen or two will choose to sleep out there too. The geese and the remainder of the flock use the front coop. This is a two room enclosure that is approximately 20' by 8'. We open the doors around 8a and it is kept open until around 10p most nights. The hens tuck into their perches long before then, but our geese seem to think they are owls. Since we tend to be night owls too, we send them to bed around 10. The front coop is at maximum bird capacity, which means cleaning more often than I would like. The nest boxes have clean shavings or straw added every other day or so, and are cleaned out with the rest of the coop weekly. When we expand our the flock of geese this spring, the geese will move to their own coop & the hen house will hopefully go to a bi-weekly cleaning schedule. The chickens and the geese are allowed to range all of the 3 acre yard and the 12 acres of forest. They also help keep down the bug population of 2 neighbors' yards. Neighbors who have each told me not only do they not mind, they enjoy watching our chickens play. They also sometimes sneak across the street to the barren corn field. This is not allowed and fencing is also on the To Do List. They are never caged. The only time we confine birds in any manner is when they are a new purchase and undergoing  quarantine. They go into one of the brooding runs, not cages. We only purchase groups of flock-mates, so they are not alone during their quarantine period. They have access to fresh air & sunshine during that time too. We never force molt. Egg production has been down to 3 eggs daily from 20 for over a month now. Our girls did not simultaneously molt as we hoped. There seemed to be about a 3 week lag from when the first started till when the rest joined in. So molting is dragging on & on here, but that's OK. We know production will slowly pick up too, and before we know it we'll be up to our ears in eggs again. We do not give routine antibiotics. And knock on wood, we have not had to treat any illness with antibiotics either.  I actually offer free-choice probiotic treats like kefir & kombucha often. I hope that this coupled with good husbandry will keep our flock healthy & strong. At this time of year they are getting about 65% of their diet from foraging; during the spring, summer and fall foraging accounted for up to 90%. Their diet is supplement with organic "scratch" which helps them to stay warmer, and during warmer months they are given an organic layer feed to round out their foraging. Next spring I want to try planting gardens for the birds. A mixed garden of greens, beans, peas and squashes in the hopes that we can feed them exclusively from what we grow here. They are also given the trimmings from the gardens, sprouts and appropriate table scraps. Which brings us to the last piece of advice from the article. It suggests you ask if the hens are given meat and explains that this could lead to the hens being exposed to hormones, then it explains that it is not known whether this would in turn mean that you would be exposed to hormones via eggs or meat. Our chickens are given meat scraps from our table. Mostly in the form of bones that have been processed multiple times making bone broth. I follow a Weston A. Price-like approach to feeding my family, and we go through a lot of bone broth. By the time I am finished with stock production I believe I have extract every trace element and mineral from the bone except the last of the calcium that will crumble into dust from finger pressure. Calcium that I can't access but the hens can, and they need it. We also offer shells from clams, oysters and crab whenever we eat those foods. Sustainable wild harvest shellfish are not given hormonal growth treatments :P  At this time the bulk of our family's meat is coming from other local, ethical family farms, a small amount is from our livestock and a still smaller amount is from the grocery store. For the sake of full-disclosure, yes they may be exposed to trace amounts of hormones infrequently and it is unknown whether those hormones than pass into consumers. Please keep in mind that hens fed a vegetarian diet are exposed to incredibly high levels of phyto-estrogen from their primarily soy diet, as are you when you eat non-fermented soy products. 

As I was reading the original article, I thought of several questions I would add to the list. I didn't include them here to keep the entry to a manageable length. But please, if other questions occur to you ask them in the comments. I love what I do, and I love sharing that with others. This is an exciting time in farming. All across the country we are seeing people from all walks of life slowly returning to (or finding their way for the first time to) real foods, local foods, nourishing foods. Through your questions & feedback we can guide you as you embrace a healthier life style and you can show us what you need as a consumer. 

Please check out our Indiegogo campaign. It details our upcoming plans for the farm and if you wish, you can help us accomplish these goals. If you are unable to financially contribute, that's OK- there are many ways you can help and the most important one is by sharing the campaign. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Step 2:

My partner, Pete, and I have always dreamed of raising our children on a small, sustainable, family farm. It ties all of our passions, hobbies, and skills together.  Pete's an artist. Primarily a tattoo artist; but also a fix-it artist, a build-it artist, an-I-see-how-that-should-look artist. He worked many jobs as a young adult and the one that's remembered most fondly is the year he worked on a dairy farm. These days in addition to tattooing, he works with leather, he bakes and when something doesn't exist that needs to exist he refers to himself as Charles Ingalls & swings a hammer until the something comes to exist. My skill-set is a bit harder to outline. It is pretty eclectic. I am. I am a veteran home-schooling mom (15 years and counting). I respect & enjoy the company of animals; once upon a time I owned a pet store. I raised rabbits as a child and reptiles as an adult. I have a degree in alternative medicine. I am on the longest, winding-est path of midwifing you've ever seen. I am a clinical hypnotherapist and a former professional dominatrix. Oh wait, tmi, I wasn't going to get quite that exposed on my farm's blog. Oops. There is a theme here, though it may not be terribly apparent, but really at my core I'm a teacher. It's what I do. I want to know everything, and then what I really want to do is explain it all to someone else. I enjoy everything about managing our homestead; canning, baking, gardening, preserving in every sense of the word. Then I love to share it. I love when I have the opportunity to explain it to others, to share these skills I've learned. 

Having a farm has always been our dream, but it was on the mid-range goal list. If you had asked me a year ago when I thought we would get started with it I would have said, "Well 5 years, maybe 10, first we'll have to....". Then I may have cried thinking about all the imaginary things I thought we would have to do first. Turns out there wasn't much that had to be done first. The home we were renting had to again begin leaking 2 days after I gave birth. I had to panic for a few hours wondering where we would move & how we would afford it. Then I had to answer the phone when like magic a friend called to say that she knew someone renting a fixer-upper farm in our budget. You see now how the farm got it's name, right? 

There is a flip-side of having all of your goals suddenly manifest. Have you seen the Underpants Gnomes episode of South Park? K- well there's these gnomes that steal underpants. It's part of their plan for world domination. Step 1: steal underpants. Step 2: ???? Step 3: world domination. Ya that's how I approach most things. Step 1: Get Farm. Step 2:????. Step 3: live happily ever after. We have been knee-deep in step 1. The farm was very much a fixer-upper. We have been clearing away decades of debris, repairing outbuildings, and building new ones. We have been acquiring the things we need, and choosing the animals we wish to raise. Step 3 isn't a challenge either. We are enjoying all the steps in this journey. We were completely lacking a Step 2 though. How do these things fit together? I can create a sustainable system for keeping the chicken coop clean, but how to apply the lofty concepts of sustainability to the brass tacks of paying the bills was escaping us.  

Cue light bulbs. Thank you profusely for staying with me this long. I promise we are almost there. This spring Serendipity Farm & Forest will be offering our farm for birthday parties & events. See this with me. We are clearing an area in the back where we'll be building a small, cord-wood style building. We'll be creating a small petting zoo, specifically showcasing several heritage breeds listed as endangered by the Livestock Conservancy . I have a secret Pinterest board with ideas for an amazing children's garden. Think Jack & the Beanstalk, giant dragonflies, music walls & mud kitchens!  We will be adding several more greenhouses, and building a pole barn. Ariel will be available for pony rides, and we'll offer a seasonal, kid-friendly, ala cart catering menu for our guests.  During the week and off-season this building will also serve as a space for workshops & presentations. 

We have been able to begin this project with a shoestring budget by using re-claimed materials, bartering and a hefty investment of our blood, sweat & tears. (Many tears, Pete sold his Harley to kick this off the ground.) We will be able to bring this idea to life with more of the same, but we would also welcome the support & assistance of our friends and community. I will be launching an Indiegogo campaign to help purchase the materials, equipment and fund the advertising. We have chosen several great "perks" to offer through Indiegogo ,so please check it out when it's launched (hopefully) later today. (I'll come back with the link as soon as the final touches are completed.) There are several other ways that you can lend your support too. That tattoo you always wanted? Now would be a great time to get it done. Please continue to purchase farm fresh eggs, sourdough products, probiotic kombucha & kefir, and our bone-broth stocks from us.  I am looking for someone willing to barter web-building skills and someone to assist with the advertisement campaign. Following us here and on Facebook will keep you abreast of the project & of opportunities to learn techniques like cord-wood building. Most importantly, please help spread the word. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Defining Success

While aimlessly surfing yesterday this article caught my eye. I joked to my partner- well how successful are you if you're not only up before 8AM, but also doing 5 things too. I'm a night owl. I have always been a night owl. One of my earliest & best memories is of watching late night television with my grandmother & sometimes my great Aunt Mac until the "This concludes our broadcast day...." with the waving flag scene message came on at I believe 4AM. So I imagine I also come from a long line of night owls. I love the hours between 2 and 4AM. The house is usually still, but not always.The gelfs definitely inherited some owl DNA from me. I love the way my yard looks lit by the moon & the dim porch light. Even if it's a horrific mess of toys & trash pulled apart by the chickens, it just doesn't look as bad when dimly lit. I love the quiet. I love the peacefulness. And should something happen to disrupt that peaceful quiet, if a little one has a nightmare, if a girlfriend calls (yes my friends can & sometimes do call at 2a) with any nature of emergency; they can have my complete & undivided attention because at 2am my To Do List has long become a Ta Done List. Most often though nothing interrupts me at 4a and I can just be.

The article above, the article about highly successful people and their morning habits; it is well written. I imagine that highly successful people do indeed do these things. Truth be told, most days I am up before 8AM- I have a farm & babies I don't often get to indulge in my 2-4am special time. Of the 5 suggestions, I already practice 3 and the other 2 I am not interested in trying thankyouverymuch. It's good advice if you're into that sort of thing. For me though it inspired some naval gazing I want to share here.

Who is a highly successful person? In an unrelated conversation recently my partner used Donald Trump (disclaimer: neither of us are a fan of Mr. Trump) as an example of a successful, self-made man. I disagreed. I always disagree. Self-made yes, financially successful sure; but is that the only measure of success? Again, not a fan so I don't know his biography well but I do believe he's been divorced at least twice. While I am sure that there is no shortage of women interested in dating The Donald (I don't know if he's currently available, doesn't matter) the point I want to make here is that I bet sorting out who's sincerely interested in him from who's interested in his wallet is more than a little difficult. Sounds lonely to me.

If I were to share what my personal finances look like I am pretty confident no one would use the words highly successful to describe me. I am totally OK with that but I would disagree all the same. I do not punch a clock, I don't even wear a watch. There is a schedule I almost always follow, but it is set by my needs & the needs of my family. My family sits together for almost every meal. Frequently we share our table with friends or are guests at their tables.When my adult son had emergency surgery about a month ago I was able to drop everything else, pack the little Gelfs & drive 600+ miles to see for myself that he was OK. My relationship is fulfilling.My friendships have depth. Occasionally I have absolute peace & contentment at 3a. I don't know that I would ever refer to myself or my life as highly successful. It's not on my To Do List anyway. There are of course areas I am motivated to improve; but I think it is successful work-in-progress.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Your Chicken's Frequent Flyer Miles

The other day my partner told me that the FDA had given the green light for chicken processing intended for the US market to be conducted in China. As I often do, I told him he must be mistaken. Now understand I wasn't questioning his intelligence (my guy is hella smart) or his honesty, but it was just too crazy to believe. Chickens that were hatched & raised (if you can call chicken factory life being 'raised') in the United States, were going to be slaughtered in the US and then their bodies could be shipped to China for final processing, perhaps cooking (again if you can call what happens in a factory "cooking") and the finished product shipped back to the United States for sale and consumption. What? That's just crazy talk, it couldn't possibly be accurate. How could it possibly be safe to send half-processed chickens to the other side of the planet for finishing? Aren't we told to prevent cross-contamination that we should minimize the handling of raw chicken in our kitchens? How could it be cost-effective? I mean seriously what brainiack thought, "ya know what makes sense, filling a cargo jet with dead chickens and shipping them to China to be turned into chicken nuggets, I bet the American market will just eat 'em up."?

As I mentioned in another entry recently, my To Do List has reached epic proportions. I wanted to fact check this story, but I just couldn't seem to squeeze another hour into a 24-hour day. This morning the littlest gelfling had me up at 7am and then just as my caffeine kicked in, he drifted back to sleep. So now that an extra hour has been created in the day I figured I might as well investigate the claim.

It was challenging. I couldn't find anything on the FDA's website. I thought- see my guy has been hanging out on the hardcore tinfoil hat wearing websites and it was just not accurate. I kept looking though just to be sure. I misunderstood the fine-details, that's why I didn't find it at first. It is not a new law, bill or act; it was just an inspection. An inspection of all four of China's chicken processing plants was recently completed by the FDA, and they passed. Chicken manufacturers now have the approval, clearing, blessing of the FDA to fill cargo jets with dead chickens & ship them to China to be made into chicken nuggets.

And so far, I don't hear any outrage. I haven't seen editorials peppering my Facebook feed talking about the loss of American jobs, questioning what ongoing measures will be implemented given China's spotty food safety record (have we just forgotten stories like this?) or talking about the environmental impact of filling cargo jets full of dead chickens,shipping them around the world to be made into chicken nuggets and them shipping them back to the US again.

Chicken can be a low-impact, low-cost, local & logical source of protein for communities. Right now conventional chicken is only one of those things, low cost. It is kept that way artificially & by paying no mind to those other ideals. Chickens are kept in deplorable conditions; packed into poorly ventilated, dirty, and dark battery cages or chicken buildings. They're fed an unnatural vegetarian diet primarily consisting of GMO soy & corn, which by the way is heavily subsided by our tax dollars. Even before the FDA opened up China as an option for cheap processing, chickens are shipped all over the country to make it to our dinner tables. A heavy footprint is put down at each step in the production chain; the pesticides being sprayed on their feed, the concentration of chicken waste near factory farms, and the fuel used to truck (or now fly) them all over the country; to name just a few.

It doesn't have to be this way. It is completely reasonable & feasible that families could keep small flocks of chickens in modest-sized backyards. Allowing them to range would keep feed costs next to nothing, and the chickens natural diet of pest bugs would eliminate the need to use chemical pesticides. As an added bonus their waste can be composted & used to enrich garden soil eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers too. Moderate sized community flocks can be just as easily maintained using the same concepts, by providing a proportionately larger area to forage. In a time when so many of us are worried about job security, food security, while also striving to meet lofty ideals like leaving a better planet for our children; I'll ask again- why are we going to allow cargo jets of dead chickens to be shipped to China?

Friday, September 20, 2013

What is a CSA and Why Should You Have One?

CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. It may be the very best example of the expression it's a win-win situation. For any family trying to eat healthy, local, seasonal produce and stay within a budget, a CSA is the way to go. For any farmer who wants to build a strong local client base, a CSA is the way to go. So what exactly is it? A farm makes available a number of "shares" for a fee, the farmer plants his or her gardens knowing how many shareholders she has invested in her crops and as the crops are harvested each shareholder picks up their share of the bounty. The fee may be a one time cash fee, a monthly payment, a commitment to volunteering on the farm, an agreement to barter items or a combination of these; each farm establishes what works best for their farm and their community. For example our family has participated in Farm to Family's CSA program for many seasons. Since they carry an array of local items, their CSA includes local pasture raised meat, eggs from free-range hens, dairy, and other specialty items and they charge a fee that can be paid all at once or monthly. (Just a little cross-promotion for one of my favorite local stores.) I have also seen CSAs that the share-holders did most of the work of maintaining the crops and the farmer charged only a low fee for overhead & use of the land. What is constant in each of these variations though is that the community is able to access local in season produce at it's peak of freshness. It also builds a living, working, vibrant connection between farmers and their clients. As a farmer I may hear from my customers that they love home canning, so I then know that perhaps I should plant sauce tomatoes in greater numbers than slicing tomatoes. Within the micro-community of a CSA recipes may be shared and friendships formed. 
Serendipity Farm is now offering shares for our Fall CSA. This is our first venture into both CSAs  and fall gardening so we're offering shares for a very low fee. We're asking $100 (which covers the whole fall season until the end of December) and a commitment of 2 hours per month volunteering at the farm. We'll also offer our Fall shareholders a discount on our Spring CSA for being brave enough to learn with us this season.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Longest To Do List

I have many bizarre loves. I love Mondays, really I swear I do. It is my most favorite day of the week and always has been. It's like a new notebook (which I also love), a blank slate, a fresh start. No matter how much last week went to hell, hooray it's Monday and we get to start over again. As I just mentioned I love new notebooks. All new projects need a new notebook, and I love new projects. I have a lot of notebooks. And of all my bizarre loves, I love To Do Lists the most. You'll never see me refer to a To Do List without capitalization, each one is a title unto itself. When I write To Do List: Monday on Sunday evening, it is a magical moment for me. 

Every so often though the To Do Lists team up with my minor OCD tendencies and reach maximum overload. It's rare. The last time I remember getting to that level my oldest daughter, Gelf A, was a newborn baby. My oldest son (Gelf E) was 4. I was entering my third year of college. I had moved into a new home (on the very day my daughter was born) and I was working part-time. I had so many running To Do Lists that I also had one titled Master To Do List just to keep track of the others. Like I said it doesn't happen often, Gelf A is 20 years old now. 

Much has changed in those 20 years. I've taken on so many more responsibilities than I had then. Forty year old me looks back at 20 year old me and thinks, "Rest while you can kiddo, you've got so much more to do.". There are 6 Gelfs now, 2 are adults so that helps. The little ones are home-schooled, and LOIs (letters of intent) need to be written now or rather they need to be written last month. Add build time machine to the list. There are chickens, geese, turkeys now and a horse coming soon. Oh and parrots & cats too. Summer produce needs to be turned into preserved foods for the winter. There's bread to be baked, broth to be simmered and someday I will dust off my sewing machine. You know, because I want to make my daughters matching sundresses this year. Oops. I meant matching ponchos for this fall. 

The To Do List is rapidly approaching maximum overload. I am rapidly approaching maximum saturation. My horse friends are going to laugh at me, but I think once my horse gets here it will help. I know there will be so many more items on the daily To Do List, but one of them will be *spend time with Ariel. It'll rock to check that item off daily. And Monday is right around the corner. To Do List: Weekly is just about ready to shred. This week I'll add "Be more spontaneous" and "Relax more" as a line items this week.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Save the Date: Saturday October 5th 2013

I planned on waiting until it was utterly official, and the little details like a name for this grand event was decided upon. But ya, remember how being reasonable isn't a skill of mine? Neither is being patient.

The Grand Opening, Great Unveiling, Big Introduction, Super-cool-you-don't-want-to-miss-this Day is set. Well the date is set. The idea is set. The name, eh we'll work on that.

But Denise what is it, you ask. Good question thanks for asking. October 5th is going to be the official grand opening for the farm. It will be part swap meet, part craft fair, all parts cool. We'll have local vendors of all varieties. Small-batch, hand-crafted soaps & personal care items, jewelry, and leather goods. There will be animals for sale, fresh produce, baked goods and a concession stand with all local fare. Buy and trade with small businesses, craftsmen and real people from our community. There will be demonstrations. There will be swag, really cool swag. Networking. Bartering. Entertainment. If you're really good & you ask nicely, there may be pony rides for the kiddies.

Mark your calender now, Saturday October 5th. You don't want to miss this. If you're interested in vending please contact me via our Facebook page.

Monday, August 19, 2013


These were some of our first babies here on the farm. Two of our Rhodes Island reds went broody this summer and suddenly we were not just chicken tenders (sorry silly pun) but chicken breeders too. Are we farmers now? Could I put that on my resume now? I hope to never write another resume in my life, but the question remains. Am I a real legitimate farmer now? And if not now, when is the deciding moment? 

We moved to our 'farm' in February of this year. When we got here it was simply a house in need of some TLC, on a substantial piece of land also in need of much tender loving care. The only critters that were here were dispatched quickly by my queens of the jungle house-cats Trixie and da Vinci. Was it a farm then? When did it become a farm? Early in the spring we added chickens. A feeling of legitimacy came with establishing a flock of chickens. Chicken farmers, check. We lost about half our flock to a fox. Chicken farmers uncheck?  

We put in a garden. My partner suggested we keep it reasonable. After all we have a newborn baby, a toddler, a 5 yr old and an 11 year old (there's more btw, those are just the little kiddos)- they're all home-schooled, a couple still in diapers, a couple still nursing. I heard him say it, I'm just not a fan of being reasonable. I had the gentleman with the tractor plow a 40' x 40' plot and then another 10' x 20' for good measure. I bought so many seedlings of so many varieties, but only got around to planting about half. Squashes, tomatoes, corn, blueberries, peas, all sorts of yummy stuff got off to a decent start. Farmers, check. Summer came, and like a line in one of my favorite Prince songs, then the rain came down down. The weeds came up, life got busy and well maybe once again, farmers uncheck. 

Geese came next. We started with 2 little goslings that could sit in the palm of our hands and swim in our bathtub. An accident took one and that fox took the other. Goose farmers: uncheck. We replaced them with two pilgrim geese, a heritage breed that I really love. They've grown so quickly. They now race around our yard with their massive wings flapping. They look like kids playing airplane. Still too young to lay eggs, but yes I suppose we are geese farmers, check. 

Our adventures in farming have continued at much the same pace. We added rabbits. Every last rabbit escaped because I didn't inspect their temporary home well enough. I caught 75% of the escapees. That's right I caught them. I am a rabbit wrangler now, and yes a rabbit farmer. 

We have more planned, so much more. A horse is going to be joining our crew in two weeks. Rabbit babies should be making appearances in nest boxes soon. There are eggs in the incubator. A better-late-than-never fall garden is going in the ground this week. I want to add quail, ducks and guinea fowl before the summer is over. I really want to add cows in the spring. I think this must be what farming looks like. We make plans; some will work and some won't. We learn, we revise and we grow. 

Farmers, check.