Saturday, December 5, 2009

Giving Thanks

This past Thanksgiving weekend, may sister Lora, brother-in-law Mike, and our two nephews, Gavin, 4, and Logan, 2, came down from northern Illinois to visit the farm for a couple of days. For Gavin, this was his second visit to the farm, but the first when he’s been old enough to have an understanding of what’s going on. He knows that Uncle Lane and Aunt Ricki have a farm with horses and other animals, and he loves animals. So Gavin was very excited about his impending visit. To hear Mike and Lori tell it, Gavin talked nearly non stop for the entire 500 mile drive.

They arrived Saturday evening, and Gavin almost immediately asked me what farm work we had to do. He came to help on the farm, and he wasn’t too interested in waiting until the morning. First order of business Sunday morning was to take hay to the steers and heifers in the back pasture. So we got the horses harnessed and hitched to the wagon. We all rode to the hay stacks where Uncle Lane loaded a pile of hay. We then took the wagon and hay around and out back where the hay was unloaded into the feeder for the cattle. While out there, Gavin and Logan got to see the free range meat chicken flock and the guardian dog, Aegis. Later in the day, Gavin and Logan helped with chores, feeding chickens and gathering eggs (Gavin was really looking forward to getting the eggs), haying horses and feeding pigs. At the end of chores, Gavin and Logan got to watch Uncle Lane hand milk the cow (another very exciting experience). Sunday night we all enjoyed a home grown Thanksgiving meal prepared by Ricki, which can be read about here.

Monday morning brought drizzling rain and colder temperatures. Undaunted, Gavin was ready to head out to do the day’s farm work. Later in the morning, Gavin and Logan helped Uncle Lane spilt and haul firewood. After lunch and nap time for the boys, we saddled up Hijinks and Daisy, and Gavin and Logan got to take a horseback ride through the woods (another thing Gavin was looking forward to). We ended the day with chores again, gathering eggs and feeding chickens, pigs and horses.

Monday evening, after supper, the electricity inexplicably went out in the neighborhood. It’s not an entirely unusual occurrence for us, so we quickly got candles lit and settled in. We all ended up gathering in the living room by the wood stove, talking and watching the boys play. Then the conversation started. Gavin was asked, “What all did you do this weekend?” He started listing things off. Gathered eggs, fed horses, took hay to the cattle, fed pigs, split firewood for the woodstove that was keeping us warm, rode horses. Then, “Gavin, what all did we eat this weekend?”


“Where did the eggs come from?”

“The chickens.”

“What else?”


“Where did that come from?”

“From the cow.”

And on we went. We had sausage that came from the pigs. Hamburger that came from the cattle. Roast chicken and chicken soup that came from the chickens. Vegetables from the garden. What a great conversation to have with a young boy learning first hand where his food really comes from, and that Uncle Lane and Aunt Ricki raise it themselves. I’m not sure that he really comprehended that the meat came from an animal that had died, but we can get to that in time. The important thing is that the ground work has been laid, and Gavin and Logan had a weekend they're still talking about a week later.

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving weekend, I’ll start by saying I’m thankful for Lora and Mike for giving me the opportunity to share my values with their children, and for ensuring that I am an important part of their lives. I’ll never be able to find words to express what that means to me. I’m thankful for Gavin and Logan being in my life, and the opportunity to pass on a part of myself to the next generation. I’m thankful for having this opportunity to grow our food the way we do and to pass on knowledge to those who desire it. And last but not least I’m thankful for Ricki, who not only kept us fed all weekend with wonderful meals, but also for her being in my life and sharing this life with me, even though it never seems easy.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Seasonal Eating - Feasting on Rutabagas

A big part of living sustainably is raising our own food. Cooking almost completely with seasonally available produce was a big adjustment for me in our first years here. One thing it did was to make me a more conscientious vegetable gardener, I really had to plan the gardens better.

One of the things I decided to plant a few years ago was rutabagas. I had been visiting some local farmer friends and they were overwintering rutabagas under row covers. I had never eaten them before and discovered they were delicious. Besides that, I really liked the name, Rooootaaabaaaaagaaa. They are especially delicious boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt and pepper.

This year I actually began craving them as they came close to being ready to harvest. After several meals of them mashed with butter, salt and pepper it was time to do something different. I felt like trying a cream of rutabaga soup, and this is how I made it. Sorry for the vague measurements, I just improvised and eyeballed it.

Wash and cut your rutagabas into chunks, leaving the peel on. Boil till soft. Drain and set aside. Mix half milk, half cream,(or you can use half and half), you are aiming for the soup to be half rutabaga, half cream. Melt several tbs. butter in a fry pan and add 2 or 3 tbs. flour - vary this depending on the amount of liquid you are thickening - I had about 4 cups of liquid and used 3 tbs. flour. Mix and cook the flour in the melted butter, stirring constantly. After a few minutes, slowly add the milk mixture. Stir and cook over low heat until it thickens. Puree the rutabagas and combine with the milk mixture. Salt and pepper to taste and add some nutmeg. Thinly slice a leek and fry in butter till it softens. Add some sliced almonds to the leek and cook for a few minutes. Serve the soup warm garnished with the leek almond mixture.

We ended up with quite a bit of leftover soup, I made a lot for three people! I just mixed in the rest of the leeks and almonds and stuck it in the fridge. Today was the first full day with our new intern so the routine was being adjusted. Lunch time came on fast and I needed some inspiration. The soup cried out to be morphed into... something. Oh yeah! It looked kind of like mashed potatoes. And one of the best things to do with leftover mashed potatoes is to make potato pancakes. That was it! Rutabaga pancakes! Here's how I made those:

Scramble a large egg into a large bowl. Mix in your leftover soup. Add more salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add enough flour to make the soup mixture somewhat stiff, and add baking powder proportionally - I put about 3/4 cup flour to 2 tbs. baking powder in around 3 cups of leftover soup. Mix well. Heat some oil (I used olive oil) in a large fry pan. After the oil is hot, put about 1/4 cup of the batter in the pan and fry till golden brown, flip once and brown up the other side. Keep cooked cakes warm in the oven by placing them on a plate with paper towels to drain excess grease. These turned out great, crunchy/chewy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. I served them with a warmed pearsauce, but applesauce or sour cream would do just as well. Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Strawberry Madness

Today I was working in the official strawberry bed pulling runners and picking off flower buds. Amazingly enough, the strawberries are flowering.

I acquired my strawberry plants several years ago at the Scottsville Amish auction. It is a huge horse drawn equipment auction held in the spring, with lots of other goodies being auctioned off and/or for sale. I had wanted strawberry plants for quite some time and bought a hanging basket of four plants. They gave me some tasty berries and spent the season in the pot. When late fall came I popped the four plants into one of the garden beds on the far side. Those four plants got pretty neglected the next year and proceeded to send out runners, runners and more runners. They threatened to take over that whole side of the bed. So I made another bed, an official strawberry bed, and transplanted out some of the runners, sold some and bartered with some. I left the unofficial bed - I’ll admit, I just don’t have the heart (or need the space) to get rid of them all. The unofficial bed occasionally gets out of hand, at which point I launch a runner ripping attack to keep it in check.

Now you may wonder why I have not, like many people who grow strawberries, just yanked them at the end of the season and planted new ones in the spring. Well you see, I got seduced by an idea.

There was this book that I read called "Ten Acres Enough". It was written anonymously by a man who farmed with his family in New Jersey in 1864 on ten acres. I identified with this guy since the farm they bought was really weedy and beat up. Using manure, manure tea and backbreaking labor he made the farm pay for itself and give his family a decent living and lifestyle. He grew peaches, strawberries, produce and blackberries and shipped them into the city. He prided himself on the quality of his fruit. He farmed with one horse and milked two cows. He had pigs and chickens. He utilized every acre of ground to its maximum advantage. I was totally captivated by this book. He claimed that strawberries were perennials and were capable of bearing almost indefinitely if they were taken care of properly. This appealed to my gardening bleeding heart and also to my pocketbook.

According to the Ten Acres Enough guy, the first year you clip any runners and all blooms so the energy of growth goes into the roots. Good enough. I did a decent job of clipping blooms and a fair job of keeping up with the runners. When our intern came, it wasn't too hard to keep up. After she left, every once in a while I would go and rip out the runners when they got too rambunctious. Over the summer, when it got dry, the strawberries got some kind of bug. They looked brown and crispy. I fretted, all that work and I was going to lose them. I sprayed some insecticidal soap on them once, and they still looked lousy, but things were so busy and they seemed to hang on. When the rain started back up, they came right back and looked great.

Today I was thrilled at how many flowers each plant had, and my mouth watered at the thought of strawberries and fresh cream in the spring when I would finally let them fruit. I wondered if all of that work was worth it, coddling these plants instead of starting out with a fresh set each spring. I decided, yes, it was worth it, because oddly enough, I had become rather fond of these strawberry plants, these tenacious leafy guerillas that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And as I walked into the house I thought that that was a way worth emulating.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Saying Yes

We got this in our inbox the other day and I love it - Ricki

LocalHarvest.orgLocalHarvest Newsletter, October 22, 2009


This is a story about trying to do something good, getting stuck, getting angry, leaning over the edge of gloominess, and then, finally, getting over myself. It is a story about the importance of saying yes.

First, a confession: sometimes I think if I hear one more person name 'recycling' as a substantive act of environmental protection, I will lose it. At the same time, I am as much of a ninny about radical change as the next guy. I am absolutely ready to move beyond "Ten Easy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth", but not quite ready to suspend all air travel, live in a tent, or eat squirrel.

What I thought I'd do was plant a few fruit trees. There's a large, empty lot near my house. It was destined to hold condos before the landowner's Ponzi scheme caught up with him. Thinking it might be a number of years before this land gets developed, some local food activists and I thought we'd plant half a dozen apple trees on the perimeter, where they might fit in with the eventual plans for the property. We called it a community orchard. We envisioned people walking by and picking a couple of apples to snack on during their walk: local health food, to go.

All was going well. The bank that owns the property initially agreed to the idea, provided the neighbors in the adjacent condo units were amenable. Meetings were held. Plans were made. People got excited. And then we hit a snag. The banker decided he needed a series of indemnification documents. Price tag: $600.

We can skip over the part of this story where I paced around my office waving my arms and yelling. There was no entity behind the orchard, mind you, just a group of like-minded people trying to implement what we thought was a good idea. The money for the project was being pooled from members of the group, our friends and neighbors. I could not bear to nearly double the project's budget just to ensure that the bank wouldn't get sued if an apple dropped on someone's head. I wanted to drop the whole thing. For a few days, things got bleak in my own head. This thought kept coming back to me: if we can't get a few trees planted on an empty lot, how are we ever going to take on the really big stuff?

Finally I was ready to stop wailing and gnashing my teeth and consider Plan B, offered by an inspired activist who proposed that we locate the orchard on public land, via a new community garden approval process she has been crafting with the City.

Between you and me, I had not wanted to work with a bureaucracy to get these trees planted. It felt too complicated. Trouble is, I still believe that a community orchard is a good idea. So, if making it happen involves getting over feeling lazy and too busy, inexperienced and shy, so be it. I'm trying to make an internal shift from, "That's too hard," to simply, "Okay, yes." Yes to overcoming inertia. Yes to complexity. Yes to not knowing what I'm doing. Yes to getting bigger inside.

As you have probably heard, this coming Saturday, October 24, people from nearly 170 countries are putting together over 4,000 events for the International Day of Climate Action. It is activism on an extraordinary scale, designed to send an unequivocal message to the United Nations Climate Change meeting in December. If you haven't yet visited the website, do. You will find events happening near you and see photos and descriptions of events already happening worldwide. Some are wildly creative, and many are surprisingly moving.

In my town, activists will be collecting pledge cards on Saturday, asking people to commit to whatever climate actions they choose. Essentially they are asking, "What is the biggest thing you can say yes to?" The International Day of Climate Action has the potential to move our national conversation beyond "Ten Easy Things...", but only if we are ready to acknowledge that significant change is often not at all easy. Shoot, just getting a few fruit trees planted may turn out to be a lot of pushing uphill. Even so, it's worth doing. So... what are the biggest things we can say yes to?

As always, take good care and eat well,

Erin Barnett

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm Ready for Winter

During the growing season when the days are longer, the farm activities and animals are spread out over the whole farm. The steers are rotationally grazed through the back pasture, and there are two flocks of chickens there also, the meat chickens and a laying flock. Aegis Thor the livestock guardian dog lives with them to keep the chickens alive. There are meat hogs in the pasture south of the house and the milk cows are rotationally grazed through their area next to the hayfield. The horses are rotationally grazed also, through a series of four paddocks.

When we get into winter mode the back pasture is shut down to rest and the laying flock and dog are moved up close to the house. The meat birds and hogs are in the freezer. The horses are moved off of their pasture rotation and into a nearby dry lot where they are fed hay. The milk cows are on their winter lot and the steers are in the meadow in the woods, an area that is the most protected from the weather.

In winter the farm has a more intimate feel. All of the animals are pastured close to the house and we are hay feeding twice a day. The air is filled with the smell of the wood stove and the sound of Lane splitting wood. Nights are long and we bring the TV downstairs into the bedroom to snuggle up under the covers and watch movies, old favorites and those brought home on loan from the library, a luxury we have no time to indulge in during the growing season.

I used to dislike the cold and the short days. But now I find that with this lifestyle we have chosen I have become more in tune with the seasons, and after the busyness of spring and summer and fall, I am ready for the dormancy of winter. Ricki

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saved By the Computer

I had started writing a blog post that I thought was great and then had computer problems for a day. One day later I realized what I wrote was just crap. Saved by the computer!

While I was milking this morning I realized that I had not fulfilled my goal of regularly posting seasonal recipes on the Recipes From the Farm web page on our site. Since our site is about to undergo a much needed major overhaul, I thought I would post here instead.

If you come into my kitchen and look at the recipe collection you will see the vast majority of my recipes are desserts :) although Lane and my boys tease me about this, they are rarely hesitant to eat whatever I fix out of that particular section. Since we are still milking, please enjoy this sophisticated pudding recipe.

I found this pudding recipe a while ago on, it is from the Wildwood Restaurant in Portland, OR, it is killer, and yes, you do need to add the scotch.

Butterscotch Pudding chill at least 6 hours before serving

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar Note - I just used dark brown
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk

4 lg. egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into small pieces @ room temperature
2 tbs. Scotch
1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 bananas, sliced
Whipped cream
1/2 English toffee bits Note- I just served it with whipped cream

Stir the 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves, increase heat to high and boil without stirring till the syrup turns deep amber, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush and swirling the pan. Remove from heat and add cream, the mixture will bubble vigorously. Stir till smooth, set the caramel sauce aside.

Mix brown sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heavy medium saucepan, gradually whisk in milk, stir over medium-low heat until it thickens and boils, about 8 minutes, remove from heat and whisk in caramel sauce.

Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl to blend, gradually whisk 1 cup of warm caramel mixture into yolks, gradually whisk yolk mixture back into caramel mixture in saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium head, gradually whisk in butter, scotch and vanilla.

Divide pudding into 8 parfait glasses (Note - I just put it in a big bowl). Chill at least 6 hours and up to a day, top with banana slices, whipped cream and toffee bits.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Great cheese, local food and fear ............

We have enjoyed the amazing raw milk gourmet cheese from Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese since moving to the area, and have watched over the years as the number of varieties expanded. As the season at the Bounty of the Barrens farmer’s market began I was excited to see that they had a booth there. I wanted to meet this guy and tell him how awesome his cheese was. Saturday after Saturday someone else besides Kenny was manning the table. Finally, towards the end of the season I asked the lady who was selling the cheese, (who turned out to be his wife), ok, is there really a Kenny. She smiled and said, yes, he has been trying to get here all season but has been busy and he will be here on the last day. And so on the last day of the Bounty of the Barrens farmer's market we finally got to meet Kenny. As a conventional dairy farmer he realized that the likelihood of continuing to do as he had always done would ensure that he would not be able to financially continue to farm, let alone have a farm to leave to his children. So he started doing something he had never done before, he started making and selling raw milk cheese. This impressed me. Here was a guy who had stepped outside his comfort zone. He also realized that he could cut his feed costs, and improve his cattle's health by letting them spend more time on pasture. Aha, a conventional farmer who was willing to research, learn and try new ways to manage his livestock. This guy was cool. Later, as I thought about that conversation, I began to realize that this area is full of courageous people. The couple who came here not knowing anyone, bought land and lived in a shack while they started what is now a very successful CSA. The church that took as their mission helping local farmers and began a small farmer’s market in a town that had not had a farmers market in many years. The group that realized that a farmer’s market could be turned into something bigger, a place for community, and absorbed the little farmer’s market and made it bigger and took on as their mission promoting local foods and keeping dollars in local communities.....

All of these people had to over come their fears to succeed. The myriad fears that plague us all. Fear of change, fear of being laughed at, fear of not knowing enough, fear of meeting new people, fear of being judged… The list goes on and on and can paralyze you if you let it. For inspiration, look to those around you who have followed their dreams and been successful. Try new things. Meet new people. Reach out to others. Share your knowledge. Seize opportunities that come your way. And hey, don’t forget to have fun. ....

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“The definition of insanity is when you are not succeeding but you keep doing the same thing over and over and over, and expect different results.” ....

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