Monday, March 31, 2008

Rain, Rain, Don't Go Away

We are so GRATEFUL to our creator for sending rain.  We have had a couple of cold, wet days, and are trying hard to not complain or wish for sunshine.  The sunshine will be here before you know it.  As it is, the misty hills are lovely.  i love this time of year.  All the trees on the ridge have a pinkish glow as they get ready to open their buds.  I am hoping for edible wild mushrooms to sprout up after this nice rain.  Morels, anyone?  

Saturday, March 29, 2008

When we all work together, together, together...

Today I castrated our bull calf, with the help of friends, Laura, Josh, Serge, James, and daughter Maggie.  

According to my research, it is best to wait until calves are at least 3 months old before castration, to give them chance to naturally produce growth hormone, since we do not give our animals artificial hormones.  The animal is still nursing, so it has the extra vitamins and antibodies from the mother's milk.  Not to mention the comfort.  

Poor Mousse needed some comfort after today's little procedure.  

We chose the surgical route to castration because the alternatives have more risk of tetanus and other complications.  We made an  improvised head gate with exterior barn wall and gate.  This was definitely a team effort.  Josh held the halter with a rope at the head.  Laura held up the tail to theoretically immobilize the back legs.  Serge roped the back leg and held it back so it wouldn't kick me in the face or cause me to cut something I shouldn't.  Maggie and James held the gate tightly against the barn.  I operated.  It went so well we decided to  take care of the baby goats while we were at it.  What friends.

Farm life is so good for me spiritually because there are so many things I have to do that cannot be done alone.  I have to ask for help.  I get to see community around me as we tackle things we don't know how to do; together.  We learn.  We laugh.  We grunt in extreme effort as we try to make an over 300 lb  very healthy calf go somewhere he does not want to go.  

By the way, I try to consult the Farmer's Almanac to at least try to follow the old-fashioned advice.  This weekend was listed as the best time of the month to castrate.  What an amazing difference.  Last year we did not consult the Farmer's Almanac.  The amount of bleeding was horrible.  This year, hardly any blood.  What a difference.  I am convinced.  God the creator makes the world operate so well, and gives such cool guidance.  

I hope all my friends get a chance to do something new and challenging that requires effort and the help of several friends this coming month!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Wall St. Journal and the price of tea in China

OK, I read this great article in the Wall St. Journal today over coffee.  It was on the front page, which should tell all you non-farm  people that farm issues are definitely going to be affecting us all, farm or no farm.

Here are a few statistics:  The proposed farm bill for 2008 will offer $13 billion in federal subsidies.  These subsidies will go to 1% of the population of the US, industrial farmers, some making wages of an average of $70,000 plus a year.  Some have an annual adjusted gross income of    2.5 million dollars a year.  These subsidies will be broken down as this:  

corn-over $10billion
wheat-over $5 billion
cotton/soybean-each over $2 1/2 billion
rice-over $2 billion
sorghum/barley/peanuts-each over a $billion

The farm subsidies came into being back in the depression, when over 25% of our population was agricultural.  They have helped many farmers be able to survive the many ups and downs in the market, the droughts, floods, heavy equipment expenses that hit farmers very hard.  Well and good.

Many lawmakers are trying to bring some reform to the farm bill.  $13 billion dollars is a pretty big chunk of cash for tax payers.  One of the reforms brought before congress was something designed to lower the subsidy level to farmers who had $1 million annual adjustable gross income.  Someone else tried to reduce it to $500,ooo or $250,000 annual adjustable gross income.  The industrial farm monster lobby is a very strong lobby.  All the potential reforms were ditched.  

Why do little farms like Full Circle Farm care about front page articles on the Wall St. Journal about industrial farms and subsidies?

Why should you care?

These subsidies allow farmers to sell their products for unreasonably low prices.  They allow you, the consumer, to go to Wal Mart or HEB or Kroger or Sam's and buy chicken for 69 cents a pound.  Eggs for $1.29 a dozen.  Milk for $4.25 a gallon.  These are not true prices.  They do not reflect the value of the product.  It takes more than $4.25 to raise a chick, feed it, water it, kill it, butcher it, package it, and drive it to the supermarket, and put a label on it, and put it on the shelf, and scan it, and put it in a grocery sack for you to drive home.  These prices make it hard for you, the average consumer to think of paying more money to a local farmer because we all want to be wise and frugal and spend our hard earned money carefully, and it seems like the $4.25 chicken is a lot cheaper than the $12.25 chicken.  

Milk doesn't cost $4.25 a gallon.  These subsidies hurt small farmers.  They hurt the rest of us who ignorantly shop at Sam's and whatever other discount grocery supermarket offers the cheapest prices, because we don't realize we ARE paying for these groceries every time we pay our taxes.  These cheap prices encourage optimum production at whatever cost.  More chickens, more milk, more spinach, more eggs, more whatever.  Cheaper, faster, means more chemicals, more antibiotics, more irradiation.  What a bargain...

I know this info is a bit off what landuvmilknhoney usually covers!  But it is pertinent and affects us all, and I did happen to notice that while this info was front page of the Wall St. Journal, none of it was mentioned in our local newspaper.  Hmmmm.

Here are a few more statistics that I found interesting (and these are for the industry):

Comparing prices on commodities market 2007 and 2008

Coffee-up 25%
Eggs-up somewhere over 50%
Flour-up over 50%
Wheat-price went from $5.5 to $14.43  you do the math!
Corn-$3.58 to$5.17

Everyone knows what gas prices are doing these days.

Soooo, here in the land of milk and honey, we try to be aware of our surroundings.  For example, a few minutes ago, I went out onto the deck, sans coat, and sat for a bit, looking at the stars, listening to the wonderful springtime night sounds of the bugs and frogs.  Wonderful.  We didn't have those sounds not too long ago, and if I had been inside watching the TV, I never would have known.  

We also try to pay attention to the world around us, because it really does make a difference what the price of tea in China is today.  I don't know what I can do to change some of these circumstances, like the ethanol craze, or the war in Iraq, or drought in Georgia.  BUT, I can refuse to buy cheap things that aren't really cheap.  I might even get around to writing a letter to my representative and say that as a farmer, I think a few reforms might go a long way.  That we are not in the Great Depression, and that 25% of the population is not going under.  I may have to pray and ask God what is the way we, as a family, here in our little corner of Virginia, should live to be good stewards of all that we have been given.

There are many facets to the arguments regarding this huge dilemma facing our nation in the realm of agriculture and food.  I don't presume to have any answers.  But I think that we HAVE to start thinking about it.  We have to pay attention to what is going on around us, and ask God, "What should I do?"  

Some kid not too far from you might be selling eggs for $3.25 a dozen.  (Not Patrick, he already has too many customers!)  That locally produced cheese might be twice the price of the on sale stuff at Wal Mart.  How about eating 1/2 the cheese you might ordinarily consume?  

OK, I think I am starting to preach, so I will go to bed!  And dream of our wonderful family, and animals and garden, and milk and eggs and friends who love us and pay fair prices for our yummy goodies.  

May we all be truly wise stewards of what we have been given.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Happy Birthday!!!!

Yesterday, Maggie's goat, Portia, had FOUR babies.  I know this does occur occasionally, but we were really surprised.  They are tiny little things.  The runt of the litter was not thriving last night, so Maggie milked out some of Portia's colostrum and fed the baby with a basting syringe.  She is so patient and kind.  Definitely gifted in animal caretaking.  Baby immediately perked up.  We tried to put him with his mom and siblings today, but she pushed him into a corner and would not let him eat.  Hard core survival of the fittest.  So Maggie is feeding him and we'll see how he does.  He looks like a toy.  

Today was a glorious spring day.  Sunny, 70 degrees.  The peach tree is starting to bloom.  Buds are swelling on the cherry trees.  We planted lots and lots and lots of vidalia onions.  Tomorrow will be more peas and hopefully a few more rows of spinach and maybe we can find some potatoes.  I love to plant garden by the moon signs.  It truly does work.  My grandfather always swore by it.  HOWEVER, I have to choose a different tactic most years.  When the opportunity arises, I run out and plant as much as possible and pray for rain to water it in.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

The forsythia, quince, bradford pears, tulip magnolias and red buds  in town put on their Easter dresses for us.  Out here in our neighborhood, it was still too cool.  We must have orthodox trees in our neighborhood.  

Here is one of my favorite hymns we sang today:

Praise to the Lord,
The Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him,
For HE is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
Now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord,
Who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under his wings,
Yea so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
How all your longings have been
Granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord,
Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness
and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew
What the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord,
O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath,
come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
Joachim Neander

The same God who allowed His son to die in my place, who has power to bring dead to life again, is the same God who protectively puts us under his wing, warm and protected.  I never would have fully appreciated that image if I hadn't seen one of our mother hens with chickies.  That is one tender image.  Sweet.  Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore him!  All that has life and breath come now with praises before him.  Let the Amen sound from his people again, gladly for Aye we ADORE HIM.  

PS.  I think that next year, instead of putting candy in plastic eggs for kids to fight over, it is going to be carrot sticks and pretzels.

Holy Week still continues, or humility is a virtue

Butchering chickens and ducks and having seven children to watch over and feed is not conducive to clean house.  So it makes sense that if you are going to have drop in guests, it will never take place on Saturday morning after the typical Friday afternoon house clean up, but will always take place on the Saturday morning after butchering chickens and ducks and having seven children to watch over and feed.  

We were thrilled to have our friend, Sean and his friends from Hillsdale College drop over Saturday morning for a quick visit.  We miss him so much.  Glad that he considers us friends he can drop in on, no matter how short the notice.  I almost had him talked into staying for a couple of extra hours to help castrate Mousse, Coco's bull calf.  (Mousse, as in chocolate mousse, not moose as in moose).  Unfortunately for all of us, except Mousse, that is, Sean and his pals had to run.

Our friend Laura came over to help with farm stuff for a few hours.  We cleaned kitchen, then headed to the garden.  More peas planted, spinach, arugula, lettuce and radish.  So much promise.  Good stuff to come.  Sometimes it is hard to envision the harvest stage of gardening when all you see is a teeny indentation in the ground where a seed has been thrust.  

I was thinking about death as I planted seeds.  My Aunt Stella died a few days ago.  The father of our friend, John, is nearing death.  Easter would not be; without death.  I am very thankful that God gives us ways to experience all the aspects of life via nature.  The trees were "dead" for months.  Their buds are proof of new life.  The garden looks pretty dead right now.  July will be a different story (I hope!)  

Easter gives us the ultimate lesson about new life and all of nature offers up practical application and illustration.  There is hope.  There is more to life than meets the eye.  Even when things are dark, there is a new day coming.  

Holy Week continues

My dear friend, and fellow chicken fiend, Julie, arrived for a visit on Wed, kids in tow.  "Do you have any chickens or roosters you want to kill?" she asks.  "Could you please teach me how to eviscerate a chicken?"

Well, here at Full Circle Farm, we love to share the wealth of information we are gathering bit by bit through the school of life.  So we call up all our other chicken owning friends.  Ask if they have old cantankerous excess roosters to contribute to the cause.  Believe it or not, two friends volunteer some roosters.  We catch two of our extra male ducks.  Evisceration 101 went exceedingly well.  Ms. Julie can now gut chickens with the best of us.  

What a crazy life.  Never would I have imagined 3 years ago that I would know how to gut a chicken, let alone that my friend, Julie, would want to learn how, or that I would have a circle of friends I could call with such a crazy request for a Friday afternoon, or that any of them would have agreed.  Crazy.  Plucking chickens and ducks outside with a friend in the warm sunshine is a pretty cool way to spend an afternoon.  

Happy Seder!

This year Passover falls in April, way after Easter.  We have celebrated Holy Week by having a seder dinner for the last fifteen years.  So we decided that the main idea was remembering, not keeping actual dates, and had our Seder last Tuesday.  Passover seder is our family's biggest feast of the year.  We try to invite new friends every year, and let them have a taste of Jesus' last supper.  

Tradition...Girls were in charge of flower arrangements.  The daffodils have just started to bloom, so Maggie, Rose and Nora picked as many daffodils as they could find, and cut some wispy willow branches with pretty green buds.  The green St. patrick's Day tablecloth went to the laundry, and out came the white tablecloths and lots of candles.  Thomas helped me take leaves from the breakfast table and improvise to make the dining room table big enough to seat 13.  Patrick made a whole wheat pound cake in our lamb mold.  Maggie made cherry and wineberry cobbler out of our home grown frozen fruit.  Rose and our friend, Laura,  made matzo balls for the soup I made with our chicken bones.  We roasted a leg of lamb with home-grown dried herbs and Trader Joe dijon mustard.  A leg of lamb we raised here on the farm last year.  As Maggie mixed up nuts and apples and cinnamon, I put the herbs on the lamb, the soup bubbled away and Patrick's very own eggs went into his cake with butter and vanilla and all the goodies, so many aromas filled the air.  Only seder has such a combination of smells, cinnamon and red wine, rosemary and garlic, chicken soup and celery, horseradish and lamb shank.  Wow.  What a sense memory.  We had to stop for a moment to smell and remember the many other times of chopping apples, making matzo ball soup, pouring the salt and water into special dipping bowls, in Texas, Japan, New Jersey and now our third year in Virginia. 

I think we must use every piece of china we own.  At least it seems like it when we set the table.  And then wash the dishes later on!  The children grab every pillow they can find from couch and chair and bed.  This night is different from all other nights.  We get to recline and dip parsley into salt water, and eat matzo bread and horseradish and charoseth, and drink lots of grape juice and red wine and have children wash hands and Philip leads as we all take turns reading, stumbling over baruch ata adonai eloheynu, and eat and drink in a festive manner, and remember.  Slavery is bitter.  God gives us sweetness even in the most bitter of times.  Freedom from bondage is good.  Teaching children tradition that spans thousands of years is good.  Remembering that Jesus redeemed us with an outstretched arm is GOOD.  

I love seder.  You can't imagine the volume of matzo crumbs that several children can produce over the course of one meal!  But the glow of the candles, the crackle of the fireplace, the crowded table and communion of friends is worth it.   As we read the Psalms and invite Elijah to join us, I feel ready for Easter.  Grateful for tradition, smells, family and dishwashers.

PS, the chicks and ducks moved out to the barn in honor of seder.  Thank goodness!


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We had quite a week on the farm.  Monday was St. Patrick's Day, so of course, we had to have a tea party.  Some of our other farm friends came over to share with us.  I was still feeling a bit under the weather, so kids carried on tradition.  Patrick made oat cakes.  Maggie made soda bread.  The others helped spread the green table cloth.  Thomas put green dye in our home-grown milk for the children to drink with their tea.  I pulled out the special china tea cups and plates.  Rose cut up the cucumbers.  We read, again, Tomie Depaolo's story about St. Patrick.  Chickies and duckies cheeped in their temporary home in the breakfast room and stank.  Thankfully our guests were farm friends who didn't mind at all!  Later that evening, corned beef and cabbage and all the goodies rounded out our mid-March tradition.  We have so many tastes and smells that are vital to our sense of well-being.  Soda bread and corned beef and cabbage are just part of that inventory.  Stinky chicks are not.  Maybe they will be too in a few years!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

How many days til spring?

The baby chicks arrived the other day.  Along with the baby ducklings.  Cardboard boxes full of cheeping peeping little yellow fluff.  Now we have heat lamps and sawdust and waterers and cheeping peeping little balls of yellow fluff in our breakfast room.  These are our meat chickens and ducks.  First batch of 2008.  We have a broody hen setting some other eggs hopefully for future layer hens.  So far, no sign of life in that bunch of eggs.  It is fun getting the chicks from the hatchery, they are so cute.  It is hard for us to breed such a quick-growing chicken for meat purposes.  I know, I know, part of self-sustainability means sacrificing the huge, tender poultry that we Americans have come to expect...  So we are compromising a bit, to make a marketable bird.  We make the trip to the post office to pick up a box of springtime.  The little duckies are especially cute.  In a few more days they will be bigger, not so cute in our breakfast room, and they will move to their temporary home in the barn, til they are around four weeks old and big enough to handle outdoor temps.  Then out to the pastures.  Now they have to have 90 degrees and protected environment.  A lot of work for us.  

Speaking of springtime, today,  Maggie's goat, Nita, gave birth to the first goat babies of 2008. She went into labor early this afternoon.  What a good mama.  Her grunts and groans of goatbirth made me remember homebirth!  So much work to push babies out!  Maggie and I assisted, that is, we stood back, in wonder and awe, and encouraged Nita as she pushed those healthy little black and white goat babies out.  How can those long-legged creatures live for so long in that little mama?  Amazing.  We hope to have many more babies born before the end of spring.  I hope we do not cease to be amazed at the miracle of babies.  

I am way behind in my garden plans...  A cold set me back last week.  Most of the broccoli plants I was to have planted have died due to my illness.  They aren't exactly dead, just pretty weak and spindly.  I don't think they will produce.  Haven't even put them in the ground.  Oh well.  Who plans to get sick?  The peas I planted last month have JUST now started to come up.  I had given up.  They are alive!  It is now time to get lettuce and spinach and onions planted.  Let's hope for the best.

  I think that everything anyone ever needs to know about theology is spelled out very clearly in gardening and farming.  Life, death, resurrection.  Full Circle Farm Seminary.  I wonder if I can find any students who would like to register for classes.  As we enter Holy Week, I anticipate the many lessons God has for us here on the farm.  Keep you posted.  

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bringing home the bacon

We "harvested" a hog this weekend.  It is so much easier loading a pig up in the trailer, driving to the processing plant, writing out the cutting order, picking up nice white packages of meat ready to put in the skillet, write out the big fat check for the nice people who did all the work.  Sooooo, to move towards an even more self-sustainable lifestyle, we took on the job ourselves.  Over Thanksgiving, my family came to help us butcher two of our pigs.  Dad is a master butcher.  Makes it all look so easy.  But as he mentioned several times, the only way a person learns is to get in there and do it.  

We looked at articles on the internet.  We looked at how-to videos on You Tube.  We listened to Garrison Keiller talk about the last hog killing in Lake Wobegon.  We tried to give each other pep talks and try to remember all the steps Daddy so thoroughly showed us over Thanksgiving.  I tried to recall every thing I watched during all those years of my childhood, being sidekick and helper in the butcher shop.  

Well, we did it.  Our doctor friend and eight miles down the road neighbor came over to help.  We figured that with all his expertise in anatomy he would be of great assistance.  He was!  He pulled the trigger that ended the life of the pig.  It was quick and humane.  We were sad.  Grateful to God for giving us good things to eat.  Aware that there are costs involved.  Then quickly moved beyond sad to skinning and eviscerating.  What a lot of work for people who don't really know what they are doing!  The two to three hour job took close to four.  I can see how the big hog slaughter of days gone by was such a community/family event.  We learned some specific questions to ask my dad before we do this the next time.  We learned we don't want to do this job every month, so glad it is a seasonal cold weather event.  We learned that there is a lot of work involved in real food and are glad that our children are getting the opportunity to learn that lesson, too.  

Yesterday I boned out the meat, cut up pork chops, wrapped up ribs and decided to make sausage on Monday.  What a lovely amount of meat.  Breakfast should be covered for awhile.  But since we know it won't last forever, BBQ, our new little piggy, is busy foraging and eating, and otherwise pretending she is a cow.  We call her Barbie.  We are grateful for all our animals fulfilling their purpose in life.  Grateful to know our meat was grown in a clean, healthy, humane environment.  Fed healthy foods, instead of medicated "ration".  Glad to know that hard work is good.  But gotta figure out a way to get Daddy to come and apprentice me in the process a few times.  Beeves should be ready for butchering come next winter.....Wonder what it would take to entice him to show us how to cut up a whole steer!