Thursday, July 30, 2009


Our intern and friend Ingrid has a blog some of you may enjoy. It is called Open Eyes. Ingrid is a teacher of creative writing, violin and theology. Some of her friends have a hard time believing she would want to come to the farm and do hard stinking labor on a volunteer basis. I think they would have a hard time believing she would want to come and work for money!

It is such a joy to have Ingrid on the farm. I am very grateful for her hard work. Summer duties are endless. Having an extra set of hands is a part of sustainability. Not to mention the benefits our family gains by being around such a terrific, smart and funny gal. We have been very blessed to enjoy some amazing young people. I guess at 25 she is definitely not THAT young, even if the kids have asked Ingrid what she wants to be when she grows up. It is fun knowing that even though we are baby farmers with little experience, we still have something to offer others. Even the kids get to participate in the process of teaching Ingrid about stuff like milking the goats and processing chickens.

If you check out her blog you will enjoy another facet of farm life written very eloquently by Ingrid. A different perspective. Along with a few pictures. Here is her link:

Welcome Back Rachel Banks!

For days Nora extolled the virtues of Rachel Banks to our friend Ingrid.

"Rachel Banks did this. Rachel Banks did that. Rachel Banks is coming back for a visit. I can't wait to see Rachel Banks."

Rachel interned with us for a few weeks last fall and then again in the winter. She visited in the spring and is now with us in summer. She drove all the way from Missouri to attend a family wedding and then headed our direction with her two brothers. Thankfully they arrived while the rest of the gang was watching Food, Inc at the Grandin Theater.

I say thankfully because that gave Nora the opportunity to give Rachel and her brothers the tour of the farm, to show them all the new stuff like the chicks and the hay and the garden. The boys helped me pick some carrots and turnips and cucumbers. Nora updated Rachel on all the animal happenings.

We are so happy Rachel is back for a visit. They immediately jumped in and helped transfer the pig to a new area with fresh grass. We all had a supper on the deck of curried potatoes and cabbage, spaghetti squash and fresh tomatoes and carrots. The boys drank many glasses of goats milk. Then we had a delightful tea party with the girls, Ingrid and Rachel. We used our best manners (most of the time) and laughed and laughed and laughed. Then the thunder rolled in, the rains poured down, and little girls and big girls ran out to dance in the deluge. (but not the Mom.) Lightening drove them all inside.

Great fun.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


One can only have so many roosters on the farm.

We have several flocks of chickens, some in a chicken yard near the house, some in a little field, some in the barn.

Roosters are wonderful protectors of their hens. They make sure the girls get food, gather them round when hawks fly over head.

Too many roosters mean fights. Mean fights. Since cockfighting is illegal in these parts, we try to keep roosters to a reasonable number.

A while back we ordered meat chicks. With the order came a number of free roosters.

Free meat!

I guess I knew that there is nothing free in this world.

Roosters eat a lot of food. They crow. They scratch up the garden. They have to be harvested.

So today we harvested roosters.

Rhode Island Reds, Black Austrolorps, White Rocks.

Our partners in poultry processing (Serge and James) came to work. Arlene, a new friend from down the road, brought ice and doughnuts. Ingrid, our intern joined in on the "fun." Sean jumped right in as well.

Thomas and Philip set the stage by bringing the plucker machine, the counter top and the scalding equipment up to the house.

Serge puts up the tarp for shade. Sean brings all the stuff we are missing (hose, propane tank, hose connectors.) Rose, Ingrid, James Patrick and Maggie catch roosters. Patrick performs humane execution, teaching Ingrid the basics. (Way to go Ingrid! Not the most pleasant of tasks, but a useful one if you find yourself hungry and no one else is around to process your chicken.) Serge, Sean and I scald, pluck and eviscerate the birds. Serge walked Ingrid through the steps of evisceration, many details on the proper names of the bird's anatomy. We all got a great biology lesson as we worked. Arlene washed the birds and placed them in the tubs of ice water. My friend Stewart (Serge's wife) brought the lemons and olive oil for the hummus and plenty of vacuum sealer bags.

Everyone cleaned up and put away equipment while I prepared lunch of homemade hummus, flat bread, garden veggies, roasted eggplant and cheese and olives with a side of fried gizzards for the brave members of the group with really good teeth.

I vacuum-sealed the chickens and placed them in the fridge to chill a couple of days.

We will not roast these old roosters. We will boil them for soups. We will stew them for gumbo or make them into chicken enchiladas. Perhaps some chicken and dumplings some winter evening. Chicken a la king. Chicken curry and rice.

Once again, farm life with friends gives the opportunity for community to be expressed via legitimate worthwhile labor. Tiring labor. Stinky labor. Labor that produces food for our families along with lifelong memories.

I wished to go see a screening of the movie FRESH this evening. It is a film about the sustainable agriculture movement.

After a late Weston A Price meeting at another area farm last night and a hard day's work processing poultry today, I was just too tired to go to Lexington. Philip and Thomas went in my stead. I hope they take notes.

It gives me great joy to know that somehow or another, providence has placed us in a situation where we can live out the principles of the movie. What a miracle! Who would have imagined that we would be raising our meat, our veggies our fruits and our dairy on our own farm? Not too many years ago we were the family with the overflowing shopping cart in Sam's Club, shopping for the cheapest and biggest. I feel satisfied and grateful. And tired. The dining room is filled with baskets of clean laundry. We will fold it tomorrow as we make plum jam. But for now, to bed. The sustainable agriculture movement has been great for my sleep habits. Hit the pillow, out like a light!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Poetry of Potato

Ingrid dug up many potatoes on Friday as I baked birthday cake.

I felt left out.

Digging up potatoes is one of my favorite garden tasks.

Saturday I went out to the garden to weed and stayed much later to dig potatoes.

We are so grateful for a wonderful harvest of potatoes. I think we finally planted enough potatoes for our family to enjoy and to sell a few. Mounds of Yukon Gold potatoes line the rows.

The monster harvest (so far) this year are the potatoes and the onions.

I think I have to share with you a poem or two about potatoes.

First one by Pablo Neruda Oda a la Papa 1955

te laamas
papa y no patata,
no naciste castellana:
eres oscura
nuestra piel,
somos americanos,
somos indios.

y suave eres,
pulpa pura, purisima
rosa blanc
alla adentro
en la tierra,
en tu lluviosa
en las islas mojadas
de Chile tempestuoso,
en Chiloe marino,
en medio de la esmeralda que abre
su luz verde
sobre el austral oceano.

de la tierra,
la madre
no tuvo
metal muerto,
alli en la oscura
suavidad de las islas
no dispuso el cobre y sus volcanes
ni la crueldad azul
del manganeso,
sino que son su mano,
como en un nido
en la humedad mas suave,
coloco tus redomas,
y cuando
el trueno
de la guerra
negra como aguila de sepultura,
busco el oro salvaje
en la matriz
quemante de la araucania,
sus unas
fueron exterminadas,
sus capitanes
muertow, pero cuando a las piedras de Castilla
los pobres capitanes derrotados
levantaron en las manos sangrientas
no una copa do oro,
sino la papa
de Chiloe marino.

Honrada eres
una mano
que trabaja en la tierra,
una gallina,
compacta como un queso
que las tierra elabora
en sus ubres
enemiga del hambre,
en todas las naciones
se enterro su bandera
y pronto alli,
en el frio o en la costa
tu flor
enunciando la espesa
y suave natalidad de tus raices.

Universal delicia,
no esperabas
me canto,
porque eres sorda
y ciega
y enterrada.
si hablas en el infierno
del aceite
o cantas
en las freiduras
de los puertos,
cerca de las guitarras,
harina de la noche
tesoro interminable
de los pueblos.

If I were not a farmer I would translate the poem for you. I especially enjoyed several lines, such as:

Castilian you were not born,
you are dark
our skin,
we are americans,
we are indians.

Here is another:

Honored you are
a hand
that works with the earth,
you are
a hen,
compact like a cheese
crafted by the earth
in her nourishing
enemy of hunger
in each of the nations
she buries her victorious
and soon there,
in the cold or in burning
her anonymous flower
of the thick and creamy
natality of her roots.

There is plenty more good stuff in this poem, as with most of Neruda's poetry! Many years since poetry translation classes, so bear with my poor efforts!

Potatoes. Boiled, creamed, salted, mashed, fried, hashed, vinegared and casseroled. We thank you!

Friday, July 24, 2009

My love is like a red red rose...

We celebrated Rose's 9th birthday today. After milking Coco and overseeing some of the other chores, Rose and I headed into town for our yearly birthday breakfast date. We used to go to IHOP for breakfast, mainly because the kids liked the idea of the giant monster icecream sundae they would get for free for their birthday. Awhile back the kids would comment that the pancakes tasted kind of chemically and that all that ice cream for breakfast made them sick.

Now they enjoy finding a local, family-owned breakfast place. No free ice cream sundae, but the food is better and we feel much better knowing our birthday dollars are supporting a family in the area.

Thelma's Chicken and Waffles is the place in vogue with the kids right now.

YUMMY! I know, I know, it is white flour, not a grain of whole wheat in sight. But it is a birthday, for goodness' sake. I need to haul hay after such a food-filled day. If you feel like you need a waffle, I hope you will try Thelma's. On Orange in Roanoke, just past Williamson Road.

Rose and I had such a nice time chatting. I asked her what she thinks she learned this year. Math stood out to her. She conquered addition and subtraction of 3, 4 and 5 digit numbers. She worked on fractions. She began multiplication. She also started to write cursive. She reads voraciously and couldn't remember what book was her favorite.

Rose has made great strides with piano lessons this past year, too. It gives me great joy to listen to her play the piano. She doesn't just go practice because she must, she plays the piano most every time she walks past it. If she is sad she plays. Sometimes when she is mad she plays. I am blessed to enjoy her music.

Rose has been learning to cook. She was thrilled when I told her over breakfast that now she is nine, she is old enough to take on a week of dishes duty.

Well, she wasn't exactly thrilled. But probably deep down inside she must be thrilled to know that she is old enough to take on the responsibility of the kitchen clean up one week a month.

Rose planted cucumbers in her garden this year. She loves to pick them and eat them right in the garden.

Rose has several friends this year. Emily is a long term friend who is like a cousin. They have know each other since baby days. Emily lives in North Carolina, but visits often. Sofie lives in Fincastle on a farm and is homeschooled. Maddie has a Grandma who lives down the road. Anita lives down the road. Madeline lives in town and goes to our church. Emma is homeschooled and lives down the street from the farmer's market. Rose is blessed with very sweet friends.

I forgot to mention that Rose has learned to milk a goat this year. Actually she tells me she learned when she was seven, but now she is helping to milk Nita most days.

Rose has very good taste. She requested blackberry pound cake for her birthday cake with homemade custard vanilla ice cream. She also requested fried chicken for her birthday supper. We have been eating all day long! We were so grateful that Ingrid picked potatoes today while I made cake and ice cream. She picked piles and piles of potatoes. Of course we had to fry some to go with all the fried chicken and fried eggplant. As Rose mentioned to our friend Julie, we don't fry stuff very often, but when we do, we try to go all out.

If you can get a good locally grown free-range chicken, I recommend you soak it in buttermilk or whey along with some sea salt and garlic and any other herb you might enjoy. Thyme might be a good choice. Then drench in some freshly milled whole wheat flour seasoned with garlic and salt. Fry in lard. The trick to crispy french fries to go along with that chicken is to fry them twice. First fry them until they are barely cooked through. Drain and fry them one more time in hot grease. They should come out crispy and not at all greasy. A bit of work, but worth it on a birthday.

No baking for farmer's market for us today. First Friday off all season. I am so happy to celebrate Rose's birthday.

Dear sweet Rose, slightly spicy to keep things interesting. I enjoy spending time with you. I love talking with you. I enjoy hanging out with you, in the garden, in the kitchen, running around town taking care of business, cuddled in bed with a book. You were precious to me when you were a teeny little rose bud of a baby. You were precious to me as you learned to toddle around. You were precious to me as you perservered, learning to ride a bike, you were precious to me as you sang in church, you were precious to me when you wrote your "I'm sorry" note. You are precious to me as you stretch and grow and run and learn. Beautiful, lovely Rose. Intelligent, creative. I love seeing you become even more of you as each year comes and goes.

You are my gift!

But please, don't let me have any more cake and ice cream til we haul hay again, okay?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Welcome New Friends!

My friend Julie from Charlotte got in this afternoon. Tagging along were her children Alan, Emily and two new friends, foster kids from Ethiopia, Eyayu and Tsegaw. Eyayu and Tsegaw are with the Webbs for the summer and we are praying that soon they will have a forever family. Those fellows are 10 years old and have already found a place in our heart. Right now Patrick is playing with them out in the yard. I think the play involves running, laughing and pointing out objects to learn the Amharic and English words. I do believe that Patrick has the gift of languages.

We got to eat injera (a sourdough flat bread) with a spicy lentil stew. Yum.

Smiles on the farm come in so many flavors. I love it!

Blackberry (The Jam, Not the Phone Thingy)

We made the first little pot of jam yesterday afternoon.

Some friends brought over a bowl of blackberries. We ate a few. The berries looked up at me and begged to be made into jam. What else could I do but comply?

Blackberries are ripe and growing wild all over the place for the next week or two. I wish everyone would go out and pick at least a quart or two to make some jam. It would make them so pleased and satisfied.

Here is the way I make blackberry jam, courtesy of one of my most old-fashioned cookbooks:

Place rinsed berries in a pan. Mash with a potato masher. Bring to a boil. Boil til half the liquid has evaporated. Add 2/3 cup sugar (I prefer to use an organic evaporated cane juice) to each cup of ripe berries. Boil, stirring constantly until the jam will coat the back of a spoon. Pour into sterilized jelly jars and top with a lid if you are going to eat right away (as in the next few weeks) or seal with melted paraffin if you plan on keeping the jam for months.

Took me less than half and hour. Made the children very happy. Guess we will try to pick more berries and make more jam.

BTW, I prefer to leave the seeds in the jam. It is blackberry, for goodness' sake.

AND, might I suggest to my readers, if anyone out there does plan on picking wild berries, and I hope you will, be sure to wear long pants, long sleeves and take a nice soapy shower when you get back home. Poison Ivy, ticks and chiggers love berry patches.

Thank you God for blackberry jam.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Misty mornings

Our weather reporter friend, Kevin Myatt, writes that we are experiencing the coolest July in years.

I love it.

We have to sleep with a blanket. Sometimes a sweater is necessary when heading out to milk. The mist hangs heavily all throughout the farm. Sometimes so heavily that sounds of birds and sheep and chickens are muted.

This year is a very good year for berries. Since it is a bit cooler I think we should try to harvest more wild berries and make some jam. We especially like to freeze our harvest. We rinse the berries, spread them on a cookie sheet and let them freeze, then transfer into a container to put into the freezer. Perfect for later enjoyment in yogurt, baked in tarts, popped in mouth like candy.

These days I am doing lots of praying while I work. Several people in my life are struggling with very serious issues.

My dear friend Becky's daughter Brooke is fighting a very violent battle with cancer. She is 21 years old.

Some other friends are struggling with trying to keep marriages from falling apart. Single mom friends are struggling to make ends meet. Mental health issues overwhelm another couple of friends.

So I milk the cow and pray. Weed the garden and pray. Eat and pray. Walk the fields and pray.

A friend expressed confusion regarding the concept of prayer. What's the point? Since it seems that God is going to do what he is going to do, why bother?

I pray because I can not NOT pray. I ask. I plead. I beg. I cry. I express frustration and fear and concern and regret.

I wait.

Sometimes the answers are so brilliant, so clear, so immediate, so pleasing, I just know that God heard my prayer and I am pleased that he answered the way I wanted.

Sometimes there is silence. Or an answer I don't like at all. Reading the Psalms helps me to see that David liked to pray as well, and even when God was silent and didn't answer in the way he wished and hoped, the prayer was an outlet. A way to maintain relationship. An expression of faith and hope. David even expressed anger with God, lik in Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night and am not silent."

What I see over and over in the Psalms is a transformation. As the complaints and fears and cries of desperation roll out of the heart, peace finds a way to come in. "We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you." Psalm 33

I don't understand prayer. I know it doesn't always make sense and yet... I will head out to milk Coco and pick berries and make pickles and will pray. Pray for Brooke to be healed. For Becky to be comforted in this really hard race. For my friends to find forgiveness, restoration and redemption in their marriage, for the single moms to have enough money to pay the bills and get the groceries, for the homeless to find a home, for grace to cover the rough spots, for peace to rule in my heart.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spaghetti Squash

Rolling thunder woke me up this morning. Heavy rain and dark cloudy skies put me back to sleep. Cracking lightning and more booming thunder woke me up again and I luxuriated under covers, cozily counting seconds between flash and crash. By the time I got up and had breakfast and started the laundry the storm was over.

I love living in the valley. Storms are one of my favorite things and we have some wonderful thunderstorms.

Ingrid helped us with barn clean up today. A hose leaked in one section and we had to dig out a very mucky area. Waterlogged sawdust, straw and manure is very heavy. I am thankful for such great exercise.

All that exercise makes farm food taste absolutely delicious. We had sandwiches with sauteed veggies for a late lunch. Supper came around before you know it. I roasted some of the first spaghetti squash. Mmmmm.

I love spaghetti squash.

So simple. Later on in the season we will top it with fresh marinara from garden tomatoes. Maybe some curried vegetables. But for now, I want my spaghetti squash pure and unadulterated. Cut in half, scrape out the seeds. Place cut side down on cookie sheet. Roast at 350-400 degrees until the shell is soft. Scoop out tender strands, dollop with butter and a little sea salt. Yum. The green beans and the zucchini and yellow squash with herbs were good, but the star of my dinner plate tonight was the first spaghetti squash. I hope you know someone growing some who will share.

PS the little chicks and the guinea keets were moved from the breakfast room to the barn. I won't miss them. Very much. It is almost time to order turkey poults. Hope to find another little pig or two.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer '09, So Far So Good

Cool evenings. Moist air, sweet with dew and the scent of some flower or tree somewhere, hanging in the window.

Braids and braids of onions decorating the screened-in part of the deck, hanging to dry. Beautiful.

Pond is full. Last year it was not.

Last year we were canning green beans at this time. This year the first batch was flooded and rotted. Coco got in the garden and ate the tops out of the survivors. We are getting enough beans to eat, not enough to can. Hopefully in August and September.

Baking bread for two farmer's markets has been a challenge. I am baking up to 75 loaves of different breads, 50+ pizza crusts, plus pound cakes, brownie and pancake mixes and other assorted things every Friday. It is very hard work and I am tired of the crazy long hours. HOWEVER, the bakery is providing needed income for farm expenses like feed and hay making and we are so very grateful to all the people who choose to buy our freshly milled whole wheat and spelt products.

Baking for the markets has taken my focus off the farm a bit more than I wish. The garden is suffering as a result. My plans to expand the garden and the bakery at the same time were overly ambitious. We are lucky that we are getting any produce at all. It is not really luck, it is the providential provision of volunteers in the form of very kind friends who like to help me and the kids work.

This summer it is more evident than ever that we can not do life on our own. It requires friends, all of us helping each other. Sometimes I am needy. Sometimes my friends are needy. We need each other.

Frequent rains make parasite management much more pressing this summer than other summers. We are learning that we do not have all the answers and that certain ideals look great on paper but don't necessarily work in real life.

Free-range chickens have obliterated my herb gardens. But boy-howdy, those yolks sure are dark orange!

We usually deep mulch the garden with hay. Did not have hay or straw to do so this year. The difference is phenomenal and horrible. Deep mulch makes potato picking pleasurable and weed prevention manageable. Will make that a priority next season.

Guinea hens are a noisy nuisance but this summer the tick population is virtually gone. Guess we won't kill those obnoxious squawkers.

Due to the prolific crop of golden turnips we have had the opportunity to try many recipes. We are convinced that the only way to eat those turnips is to fry them in butter with garlic and sea salt til they are golden brown. I like turnips any old way, but the rest of the family and even other people's kids will eat them when cooked that way. PLEASE don't give up on turnips til you fry them in butter and sea salt!

More summer to go. Wonder what the rest of the season has to offer? Looks like the plums are about ripe. Will we make all jam or will we try our hand at home grown damson plum wine? There are very few apples and figs, thanks to the hard freezes. Pears look promising. New variety of butternut squash appears to be producing prolifically. I hope the squash will mature before the bugs kill the plants. Will we get great pumpkins this year? A new adventure awaits every week.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1

Welcome Ingrid!

Ingrid and I met at a bridal shower. She told me she was interested in organic farming. She is a teacher at a private school in the valley and had planned to spend part of her summer vacation volunteering on a farm somewhere in the US. Before the shower came to an end, Ingrid and Krystin, another teacher and mutual friend, offered to come out to the farm and help pull weeds in the garden.

They came out and spent hours with me, pulling weeds, sweating and chatting about life and marriage and God.

A couple of weeks later Ingrid asked is she could be an intern on the farm for a week or two. Last Thursday she arrived...

Right as we gathered up our baskets to head down the road to pick berries.

I suggested she get on some shoes that would handle briars and brambles, and off we went, 8 kids, three moms and Ingrid. Two hours later we returned to the house, bellies full of berries, baskets laden jewels: ruby red wineberries and glossy blackberries.

Ingrid and I discussed that an interesting form of premarital counseling could take place with a mentor, the young couple and a garden full of weeds. But berry picking would be the place to take your potential sweetheart. After a couple of hours of berry picking you would probably know all you need to know about the character of your "friend." Is he/she willing to get a scratch or two in order to find the best berries? Will he/she give up after a few minutes of itchy sweating or will he keep on going long enough to get a basketful for jam? Just how obsessive/compulsive and work driven is this guy/gal? Are you compatible?

I don't know. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We are glad Ingrid is here to help us on the farm. I hope she will learn lots and lots. We are so grateful for her hard work and eager attitude. The kids are already in love with her sweet personality. This week Maggie will be mentoring Ingrid in goat milking. I hope to teach her pickle making and jam making. Probably some cheese making. I bet there will be many things Ingrid will teach us. Seems like that is the way it usually works.

Welcome, Ingrid. We hope you are blessed by your time on the farm!

Self-Esteem Classes on the Farm

Saturday a week ago my friend Lynn came to spend a week on the farm. She brought her son Drew and her friend Karen and Karen's three children. They drove down from NJ with the van loaded down with tents, sleeping bags and other important stuff like muck shoes. They also brought willing, hard working attitudes, ready to pitch in with whatever task happened to be on the agenda.

The kids were in awe as they wandered around discovering pig, chickens, ducks and cows. Goats and sheep, dogs and cats, so much life and noise, not to mention excrement.

Lynn grew up with the opportunity to spend time with her grandmother on a farm in New York. She was used to a lot of the life here, but not so for the rest of the gang. The kids set up their tents behind the tractor shed and we ran Boaz, the Jacob ram, out of the area. His horns are a bit intimidating. Then everyone joined our children in the evening chores of gathering eggs and putting away animals.

I was a bit nervous about the prospect of having so many people in the house for so many days. Just slinging hash for that many kids three times a day made me concerned, but I shouldn't have worried a bit. Lynn and Karen washed dishes all day long. They swept, helped kids clean rooms, dusted, folded clothes, poured glasses and glasses of milk, ran to the store and cleaned bathrooms. They did not come to be entertained. They came to learn about the basic operation of life on the farm.

Monday is clean out the barn day. Those kids went out and swept and washed down floors, raked and did a great job. I saw our children take pride and joy in their role of farm chore instructor.

Kathryn is 12 yrs old. She is a shy gal, cautious and a bit timid. When she arrived she was a bit nervous around the dogs and cats and other animals. We have some baby chicks and guinea keats in a tub in the breakfast room. Within minutes she went from fear to holding a fluffy baby on her lap, petting it and picking it up. Then she learned to pet and hold Tabby the cat. She learned to rub Brownie's belly (the dog), she practiced milking the goat and worked up to a try at milking Coco, the great big cow. What an amazing week to see her progress.

At first I wondered what we had to offer these friends. I mean, really, all we did was chores all week long, with occasional breaks to play in the barn or the creek. We weeded the garden, we had to make pickles, we didn't have TV, computer games, trips to the mall or Six Flags. But then, as I saw Kathryn face her fears and exclaim to her mother, "Look, Mom! The first time I ever held a cat!" Or "Look, Mom! I can hold a chick!" Or "Look, Mom! I can squirt milk from the cow!", I had to weep. In one week's time this smart little girl learned that she had the confidence and courage to do all sorts of things that previously loomed like great big monsters in the closet. I thought of how those lessons in self-esteem could cross over and change many other aspects of her life as she faces different types of challenges. I was humbled and amazed that this crazy attempt to farm here in the valley could have ripple effects that might make a difference in the world. Small things. But a difference, nonetheless.

Karen teaches Home Economics in their high school. She noticed a dvd on cheesemaking sitting on my bookshelf. One day we had an impromptu lesson on mozzarella making. Karen will go back to school and teach her students that they can transform a jug of milk into creamy mozzarella. In learning that they can perform alchemy in the kitchen, some of those students will go on to learn that they can do all sorts of other amazing things in life as well. The ripple effect.

As we shared our life with our friends I thought of the importance of community. We can't fix many problems. We don't have a lot to offer, but we have ourselves. We are not asked to be something bigger or greater than we are. Just being ourselves is what matters. Lynn, Karen and the kids were able to take from our life and make their life bigger, just like we learn and take from our other friends' experiences and that makes our lives broader, more well-rounded. My kids need to learn from the expertise of our engineer friend, our doctor friend, our farmer friend, our journalist friend, our photographer friend, our computer expert friend, our artist friend, our musician friend, our town friend, our teacher friend.

Maybe this seems silly to some of you out there. I guess it is pretty basic. But for some reason, I was very touched as I considered the ministry we each have. I used to think that ministry had to be something you went off and did. My idea of ministry is evolving. I think that if we are doing what we were created to do, whether that is making beautiful pottery or conquering mathematical equations, we have a ministry that will better someone else's life. How amazing! Letting some little kids from suburban New Jersey squat down with me to squeeze a cow's teat to get some milk is a ministry!

I was pretty tired after our big week on the farm. But quite satisfied and happy with my job.

I must mention that our guests had some of the most well-rounded eaters I have ever seen. This is the season for vegetables and lots of them. We ate turnips and cabbage, onions and green beans, curry and beans. Okra and squash. Goat milk and cow's milk. They ate everything I gave them. Asked for more. It sure is a pleasure to feed guests who eat such a variety of foods. I would never expect it. Even Nora won't eat many of the things I serve. Somehow she manages to live on eggs, bread and milk these days. Kudos to hungry kids who eat what is set before them!!!

PS, I will certainly miss Karen and Lynn sweeping and washing up! So will the kids!

What Rose and I Picked in the Garden This Afternoon

Monster spaghetti squash.
Pickling cucumbers.
Slicing cucumbers.
A few green beans.
Golden turnips.
Big fat onions.
Yellow squash.
Rainbow swiss chard.
Zinnias and cosmos for bouquets.
Piles and piles of future dirt (aka weeds).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Continuing to Make Hay

Sooooo, I called my dad, as per usual when there is any type of farm question.

I just assumed that the hay must be ruined after a day of soaking rain.

Not to worry, assured my dad. When we girls were little Daddy made lots of hay for other people. I remember driving with Mom out to those river bottom fields in Central Oklahoma, red dirt roads, lots of iced tea and glorious trumpet vines. He would work so hard. I figured after all those years of experience he must know what he is talking about. I walked the fields. The top of the cut grass was a bit bleached by the sun, but perfectly fresh and green underneath.

Brian came over on Tuesday afternoon to rake and start to bale part of the cut hay.

We wrapped up Bible study at 8:30 and I headed out to the field to join Philip and the kids.

Gentle breeze blew.

Perfumed bales lay in the field. Philip drove the Suburban and children tossed the bales onto the trailer.

I joined in the dance. Bend, lift, toss, walk. Bend, lift, toss, walk. The load grew tall, Patrick organized from the top of the stack. We headed to the barn and transferred the bales to the loft. Philip and Thomas threw them up and Patrick and Maggie and I started to make a layer. We casted the salt just as Brian instructed. We wiped our sweaty brows and headed back out to the field. I began to worry about Nora and Rose and how they were going to get themselves to bed when Maggie assured me that our dear friend Rachel was tucking them in for me before she headed home for the night.

Bend, lift, toss, walk.

The headlights of another vehicle with a small trailer beamed and bounced onto the field. Who in the world?

Tim, the husband of one of the ladies in our Tuesday night group just happened to have the trailer hooked up to his SUV and wondered if we could use some help. We humbly accepted. The kids had been wishing for an opportunity to try out driving. I think I have never seen a happier look on their faces when we let them take turns driving the suburban for a load. Organic driver's ed.

Bend, lift, toss, walk. The full moon rose over the ridge. The gentle breeze blew. The layer of bales in the loft grew to over 175. We made a new layer. Wiped off sweat and headed back out for more loads. Around 11:30pm we got the last bale thrown into the loft and headed to bed. Very satisfied.

Next morning Philip had to go to work. Jason and Sean took the day off work and came on over. Rachel came to help with Rose and Nora. We ate a big breakfast, lots of protein, drank some more coffee and waited for Brian to come finish the baling. The dew was very heavy so we waited til midday to get back out there. After a lunch of fried hog jowl and home grown bacon sandwiches, fresh onions and some homemade mayo we were ready to get to work. Figured it would take all day and into the night.

Brian and Mr. Hank baled. We hauled.

Sweat flowed. The layers of hay grew taller and taller. Thirteen year old, twelve year old, sixteen year old worked alongside of twenty-something and thirty and forty-somethings. We howled with laughter at each other, we occaionally snapped at one another, we ribbed and joked. More driver's ed took place. Engineer Jason helped improve hay stacking plan.

We sweated.

We marveled as a cloud would cover the hot sun and a gentle breeze would cool our cheeks.

Right as Philip got home from work we made our way back to the field for the last load of hay. 685 bales. Philip and I were guessing around 700 or 750. Nice and dry. Leafy, not stemmy.

Sean surveyed the barn and stated that the old barn must be smiling. I know we sure were.

We thought of the years and years in the past that the Peery's would cut hay, bale it and stack it into the barn. The years of camaraderie, the joking and the fussing. All the stuff that goes along with working hard together in community. We recognize that we are small potatoes compared to big-time farmers. We delight in our puny little efforts like the kindergartener glorying in the ability to recognize her ABC's in the street signs and grocery store.

We delight and the barn smiles.

Rachel comes back home with the little ones. She survived the childcare. We cook up a big platter of hamburgers, grab a cold beer, glass of wine or nice glass of milk and sit out on the grass. Dirty and itchy, covered in hay. We brag on each other and start to get stiff. We understand that we couldn't do this life without each other. I shed a few tears as I realize how good we have it.

We have friends to help make our burden light.

We delight and I know that God smiles.

As soon as the rain stops Brian will be back to cut the rest of the fields that are waiting. Wanna come join the fun?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Last year was a bad year for hay.

Last year we chose to skip hay making in order to give our fields a rest.

Trying to raise organic pastures is a slow process. We do not have the resources to pour lots of organic fertilizers on the fields so we throw semi-composted manure from the barn onto the fields. We graze them and let the animals fertilize the grass themselves.

Last year we were in a drought. It was a hard year for everyone involved in hay making. Grass needs sunshine, nutrients and rainwater to grow. Hay availability was somewhat limited and seemed to be pretty expensive.

This year we have had RAIN! Inches and inches. The grass has grown very well. The problem with hay making has been the lack of enough sunny days in between rain showers. To get the best quality hay, one must pay attention to grass growth. We want hay that has nice green grassy leaves, not lots of stems and seed heads. it is best to cut the hay when the seed head is partially formed, since that is when the grass has most nutrition. When the seed heads form, the energy goes into seed making. The grass lignifies. That means it becomes more fibrous and has less nutritional value for the animal.

I am no expert on hay making. Try to read about it. Am fascinated by certain facts, such as the fact that hay cut in the late afternoon has a higher energy content than hay cut in the morning. Hay baled into small square bales seems to be more palatable to cows. Salting hay as you put it into the barn helps it to dry out and makes it taste good to cattle.

There is much to learn about hay making.

The main thing for us this year has been trying to find a way to get it made and put into the barn.

We serendipitously found a fellow who would come and cut the hay, rake it and bale it for us (for a price, of course!). He came on the Friday before 4th of July and cut the fields. The hay looked great. Thick undergrowth. Good variety of grasses and legumes. Nice and thick.

Then we started to pray.

"Please, God, we know we need the rain as the garden is drying up, but if you could hold it off til Sunday afternoon, that would be great!"

The sweet smell of cut hay filled our farm. Toasty sun dried it out perfectly.

We had our baking day. We went to market. We had my sister and niece come for the weekend. Some other friends from New Jersey came down for the weekend. Many other farm friends and homeschool friends and church friends and neighbor friends and random friends of friends came over for celebration of the 4th. We potlucked. We made homemade icecream. We shot off lots of fireworks and sparklers. We smiled as the sprinkles of rain tickled our faces, surrendered to the fact that there was not one thing we could do the hold the rain back.

Sunday was planned to be the day we would put up the hay. Friends were lined up. Plenty of people to load and haul fragrant bales of hay up to the loft of our wonderful barn.

Sunday dawned, nice and late, soft constant rain falling on the fields, the house, the hay.

I made coffee.

For some reason a peace enveloped me, a feeling that if God did not answer our prayers, maybe there was something that could be gained. Maybe the hay was not the most important thing.

Calls were made, breakfast for 20 was cancelled. Philip took the kids to church and my sister and I had a long talk on the deck that involved many tears and hugs and more prayers.

At that moment a load of hay seemed like a very trivial matter.

On Monday the sun came out.

TO BE CONTINUED>>>(I have to go cook supper now!)

Happy Belated Birthday, Maggie!

In real world we celebrated Maggie's birthday right on time. Cyberworld is a little late this month.

Maggie was born 12 years ago on July the 2nd. A very hot morning in Fort Worth, Texas. Our first daughter/third child.

We were restoring an old historical home in Ft Worth when Maggie came into the picture. Figured we would live there forever on our tree-lined avenue, big backyard, pecan tree, fish pond, nice neighbors, french doors, 4th of July parade.

Never dreamed that sweet baby Maggie would one day be in charge of the goat operation here at Full Circle Farm. That her tiny little fingers would glide over piano keys, wield pencil to make such whimsical portraits, and milk four goats every morning.

I had no doubt that she would be able to accomplish whatever her sweet little heart desired. Even so, it is amazing to stand back and watch her grow.

Maggie is not the first to speak in a group. She watches. She listens. When she does speak, pay attention! It probably is worth hearing.

She is a very loyal friend. She loves to read. She loves to cook. She can make pretty much anything she wants to in the kitchen. For her birthday party she invited some girlfriends over, they made homemade birthday cake, homemade lemon curd to fill the cake, and some homemade sour hard candy just for fun. Then they played out by the creek. The other day she made freshly milled whole wheat chocolate chip cookies to sell at the farmer's market. They were sold in a flash!

Maggie's closer friends are also hardworking farm girls. These gals really do amaze me. They have strong bodies, clear heads, and a very healthy sense of humor. I should not neglect to mention that Maggie also has a gift in the field of cosmetology. She gives an amazing makeover. I love it when she gives me a pedicure and makeover. Hmm. I am taking a look at my toes and think I better make an appointment with her this week. With the strong hands she has from milking goats she could get a job as a masseuse ANYWHERE!

Another thing that amazes me about Maggie is her great computational skills. She whizzes through her math lessons with virtually no help from poor mom. She would like to be a vet someday. An artist vet. I think she will have no trouble getting through the college courses it would take to be a vet or a people doctor. She is calm. Clear headed. Seems to have a special instinct when it comes to treating sick animals.

We have one more year til the big teens. This year Maggie grew old enough to drink a cup of coffee with the family. She is tall and lovely. We have our occasional disagreements. All necessary to help her develop skills in conflict management and relationship building. I am proud of her and love watching her grow. Wish it didn't have to happen so quickly! Please slow down a little, calendar. Before you know it she will be long gone. And won't I miss her then! In the meantime, I better schedule a pedicure, AFTER the barn is cleaned.