Wyebrook Dispatch

GAINING GROUND

GAINING GROUND

A few months ago I bought the book Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard. Of course I bought the Kindle edition and shortly after I started it, my Kindle broke. I was strongly opposed to Kindles before the idea of having hundreds of books in my bag at any given moment won me over. Now I am back in the books camp. Other than the binding, they don’t break. Even if they did you’d still be able to read. Plus there’s just something about having a book in your hands. But enough of my rant.

The thing about Gaining Ground is that it is truly one of those books that you can’t put down. I found myself pulling out my phone any time I had a spare moment and reading using the Kindle app. I loathe reading on my phone. A single paragraph barely fits on the screen. But Gaining Groundwas worth the annoyance and the strain on my eyes.

Author Forrest Pritchard shares his agricultural adventures in a humble and hilarious story. When he graduated from college with a degree in literature and no great vision for his life, he returned home to take over his family’s farm which was $50,000+ in the hole. Despite growing up around farms and farmers, he knew little about running a farm and basically had to start from scratch. Humorous and heartbreaking moments abound.

This is the book about farming I’ve been looking for ever since I became interested in farming. I’m not much for public displays of emotion, but found myself laughing openly in the Moscow airport as I read about Forrest’s many mishaps. I knew Forrest succeeded in turning the farm around before I started the book. I’ve been following Smith Meadows (his farm) for some time. Still, that knowledge didn’t stop me from rooting for him as he struggled to make his.

Gaining Ground is without a doubt my favorite book of 2013.

If I haven’t convinced you to read it for yourself, I will leave you with this quote: “One has never truly lived until one has pulled alongside a school bus of bored children with a large goat on the back of one’s truck.” You know you want to hear the rest of that story.

BACK TO BUSINESS

BACK TO BUSINESS

Tomorrow I head back to the farm after over two weeks of being away. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long! I hope all the animals haven’t forgotten me. I admit I have missed Baab, my pigs and the goats. Even the cows. But not the chickens.

Being on a bus for 10 days made me appreciate farming even more. I loved seeing so many countries and cities, but sitting all day was tough. At the end of each day I found myself itching to go run around to burn off excess energy. One thing’s for sure: I never want to be tied to a desk ever again!

Pictures will be coming soon. I’m about halfway through the editing process. I probably won’t post them here since this is a blog about farming, but I’ll post a link so anyone who wants to see them can.

It will certainly be nice to be back at the farm so I have fun and amusing stories about piglets and skid steers to share with you all! Sorry things around have been so out of sorts. If you have any suggestions or topics you’d like me to write about, let me know!

SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY

SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY

I think I am finally back on the right time schedule. That is the one downside of traveling. It messes with your internal clock and completely disrupts your routine.

I am also all caught up on all the pop culture I missed while away. Last night I watched the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special and today I saw Catching Fire. All is right with the world.

Today was small business Saturday. It along with Black Friday and Cyber Monday mark the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Small business Saturday is supposed to be the better alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A beacon of light sandwiched between two days devoted to Walmart and Amazon.

My problem with small business Saturday? It still buys into and promotes the idea that the holiday season is all about gifts and stuff. Excessive consumerism is excessive consumerism, whether you buy a $20 faux leather purse at Target or a $500 handmade bag crafted from humanely-raised cow hide from a farm down the road. Yes, where we buy things matters and makes a social and economic difference. But “where did it come from?” shouldn’t be the first question we ask. Instead we should consider “Do I need it in the first place?”

Shopping locally shouldn’t be an activity relegated to one Saturday of holiday shopping each year. It should be something we all do on a regular basis. Supporting local businesses is how you grow an economy: from the ground up, not the White House down. Still, it is only the lesser of two evils when it comes to Christmas consumerism. After all, shopping at small businesses is still shopping

Perhaps this year, instead of toys and gadgets and clothes, we should all think about doing something more meaningful. For example, did you know there are charities out there that allow you to give farm animals to families in developing countries? These animals provide food and income. This helps the family and community break the cycle of poverty. You could spend $70 on stocking stuffers and cheap gadgets that no one will care about come February or you could drastically improve a family’s quality of life by gifting them a goat or a flock of chickens. Which is the better investment? The better bang for your buck, if you will?

Two top-rated organizations to consider are Kiva and Samaritan’s Purse. Both provide ways to give agricultural gifts to those in need around the world.

So this Christmas, don’t buy into the consumerism and materialism that world tells us is so vital to our existence. It isn’t the stuff that makes our lives meaningful; it’s the people. Spend less time shopping and more time with your friends and family. And come January when all the hype dies down, remember to keep shopping locally. It would make a great resolution for 2014!

MEET YOUR MEAT

MEET YOUR MEAT

The first time I  reckoned with the reality that my food had a face was while I was living in China. I always knew that meat came from animals – I had even been a vegetarian for several years – but had never given the connection much thought. I was against CAFOs and animal cruelty, but in a more theoretical sense.

My grandparents spent their working life raising hogs, but had largely retired by the time I came around. I remember visiting the farm and watching the pigs (who also liked to chew on my shoes, much like the Wyebrook piglets) but I was much too young to make the connection between them and the bacon I ate for breakfast.

All that changed in China. The town I lived in didn’t have grocery stores in the American sense. There were two Super Wal-mart-esque monstrosities – Carrefour and Auchan – that carried groceries (and anything else you could want or need), but they were a fair hike away from my apartment and, to be honest, gave me panic attacks every time I went. The best place for fresh produce was the outdoor markets.

I discovered the market by accident. I was just wandering as I liked to do, turning down random street and alleyways, when I stumbled into a veritable farmers market. The vendors looked just a shocked to see me – a very lost American girl – as I was to see them. Wanting to be friendly and to appear more local/less lost than I felt, I bought some broccoli. It was one of the few items I actually recognized. Plus, my mom had sent me some mac-and-cheese and I figured adding broccoli would make it healthy.

A few days later I went back and explored some more. There were produce vendors selling everything from apples and broccoli to lychee and stinky durian. There were fish mongerers whose wares swam around in vats and buckets waiting to be selected. And there were the meat stalls, only the animals weren’t all yet in meat form. Live ducks and chickens squawked and pigs grunted. You selected your animal and they’d butcher it for you on the spot. Truly, it didn’t get any fresher than that market.

I never did work up the courage to buy meat there. The whole thing kind of disgusted me at the time. If you had told me in just a few years I’d butcher a chicken myself, I would have laughed at you. But here I am. Even though I went to the market just about every other day, I never could bring myself to take pictures. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t. So you will just have to use your imaginations.

WHAT’S IN A FARM?

WHAT’S IN A FARM?

 Reblogged from Write to Farm:

Back when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) first started to move through Congress in 2009, none of us really anticipated that we’d be fighting over four years later to preserve the very idea of a “farm” as defined in the new law.  Well, almost none of us expected this, except perhaps my very dear friend Russell Libby, then executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).

Read more… 1,462 more words

Photo Friday

Photo Friday

Guess what I did? I went wandering with my camera! Finally. One of these days I’ll actually start doing this consistently. One of these days…

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A New Game

A New Game

 

While I miss having Steve around and am looking forward to the day when his back is better, I have enjoyed working with Ryan these past few days. He is a good boss and a generally fun person.

Today was chicken slaughter day. One of today’s tasks was catching some of the moulting layers to be slaughtered as stewing hens. Catching broiler chickens is annoying, but not unmanageable as they live inside the broiler houses. Catching layers is a whole different story.

Our layers are truly free range. They have a coop and most come back to roost there every evening, but they have the full run of the farm. They run between pastures and under gates. They hang out in the woods by the compost pile and even down at the market from time to time. Which makes catching them…complicated.

I went up to get eggs around 11:00 and Ryan came along to catch our stewing hens. He actually did pretty well, better than I could have managed. But after he caught a few the chickens started to catch on and began dispersing away from the house. That’s when I came up with a mildly brilliant plan.

Chickens love eggs. Weird, I know, but they do. If you crack an egg in a flock of hens they go crazy trying to get at it. As I gathered eggs, I gave Ryan any cracked ones I came across. He’d identify a moulting hen and toss the egg towards it. As soon as the chicken attacked the egg, Ryan attacked the hen! Success! I’m sorry I don’t have a video of this. I was too busy looking for cracked eggs for him to throw.

While it was fun and incredibly entertaining, I think next time we need stewing hens, we’ll just grab them late Wednesday night while they are roosting.

Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin Carving

 

Tonight was the last garden night of the season which means I stayed out too late and am too tired to write much. Not to mention we are starting at 6:30 tomorrow for chicken slaughter. Instead, you get pictures of our garden night pumpkin carving fun. Enjoy!

Shutdown

Shutdown

A friendly public service announcement: as part of the government shutdown, all routine FDA inspections have been halted. Should you be concerned? Possibly.

At the moment, most food safety inspections have been put on hold until further notice which means all food imports are going straight to the shelves without being quality checked and approved.  The overwhelming majority of our seafood is imported. Half of our fruits are imported and one-fifth of our vegetables are imported. None of these products are being inspected at the moment.

Do you know where your food comes from?

This is yet another reason why you should buy local! You can’t call the farmer down in Chile to find out if the pepper you want to buy meets FDA standards for pesticide residue; you can ask the guy at the farmers market if he uses chemicals like Roundup. Who do you trust more? With the FDA on furlough, the only one who can assure you of the quality and safety of your food is the person who grew it. Get to know them! If ever there was a time to start buying locally, now is that time!

The Center for Science in the Public Interest published a list of the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the FDA. Riskiness was determined by food-related illnesses resulting from eating the foods in question. You can check out the whole study here if you are interested. If nothing else, buy these items locally or avoid them altogether if you don’t have a reliable local source (listed from least to greatest risk):

  • Berries
  • Sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese
  • Potatoes
  • Oysters
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Leafy greens
For anyone concerned about meat products, those are monitored by the USDA, not the FDA. Because slaughterhouses cannot legally operate without a USDA inspector present, those inspectors are still at their posts.

There’s Always One

There’s Always One

Steve hurt his back over the weekend so I hung around to help Ryan. We had two big moves today and I was glad Ryan was leading the charge on both of them instead of me!

First we moved the calves. My favorite group! They were going into the woods with the goats. They were hungry and came as soon as Ryan started calling them. I followed behind just to make sure no stragglers turned around and tried to escape, but that wasn’t a problem. The whole thing took maybe 20 minutes. Maybe.  I wish moving calves went that smoothly every time!

Cooperative calves

Cooperative calves

Then we moved the cows. They were the tricky group. We put them above the pond, right below the cottage and café.

Cows outside my window!

Cows outside my window!

There aren’t perimeter fences for that section so we had a lot of setting up to do. Once we had everything ready, we set about moving them. To make it easier to follow, I’ve drawn up some lovely diagrams.

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You were hoping I’d actually draw a cow, weren’t you? No such luck. This is the extent of my artistic skills.

The cows were in Pasture 1. The solid black lines are the perimeter fences and the blue dashed line is the temporary fence that was still set up. The two gaps between Pasture 1 and Pasture 2 are coil spring gates and the opening at the bottom of Pasture 2 is the gate that opens into the lane. Our goal: run the cows through the coil springs, through Pasture 2 and into the lane. They would then follow the lane around to the are we’d fenced for them above the pond.

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We were worried that the calves would run past the 1st coil springs and get disoriented. This has happened before. They pass the opening they are supposed to run through and can’t figure out how to get back. They see the rest of the herd through the fence, but don’t know to turn around so they just keep plowing on ahead. To try and keep this from happening, we set up some chicken fence perpendicular to the far corner of the coil springs.

We also had a contingency plan. If any of them did run past the chicken fence, I would drop the temporary fence (blue dashed line) and open the far coil springs and call them down that way. Contingency plans are good. You should always have one because there’s always one knothead who can’t get with the program.

The whole herd came galloping through the first coil spring opening, following Ryan to new pasture while I waited to bring up the rear. Miraculously, all of the calves made it through and I though we were in the clear. No such luck. One of the mamas ran past the chicken fence and got herself trapped. I quickly dropped the fence and called her down to the other coil spring opening.

20131014_0028She came running, but by the time she got through the herd was out the gate and halfway down the lane. I wanted to keep her moving in the right direction so I ran behind her all the way down the pasture.

20131014_0029On paper that might not seem like a far distance, but these drawings are not to scale. Here’s a photo I took from the gate. I ran there from the ATV. Can you spot it?

20131014_0004I’ll help you out.

20131014_0004aI am supposed to run a half marathon on Sunday. That’s pretty laughable at this moment. There is no way. My eyes have been opened and I am no longer under the delusion that being ‘farm fit’ will enable me to run 13.1 miles without any training.

Back to cows. They are happily settled right outside my window! It is lovely.

Cows outside my window!