Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Farm-side Chats

Consider this the part where I invite you in, pour you a cup of coffee and we get down to the business of getting to know each other.

Because, really, what's the fun of it otherwise?  And yes, before you ask, I have baked goods.  (A friendship without them is one I don't want to be a part of, thanks.)

So ask away good friends.  Post questions in the comment section and I'll be back to answer them in a day or two.

In the meantime I'll tackle a few of the questions that I get a lot.  So settle into the arm chair, refresh that cuppa-joe and imagine we're two buddies yacking away the dreary afternoon.

What made you decide to start living a farming lifestyle?
I can honestly say I'm not sure.  I think it started when I planted that first garden and just didn't feel like I was done.  My sister had moved from the city to a more rural section of our hometown and was getting chickens.  I was intrigued.  Then she sent me the book The Self Sufficient Life as a gift.  It painted a picture of a lovely bucolic lifestyle full of hard work and honest living.  It apparently appealed to the Amish in me.  Or the Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Whatever.

Is it as fun/rewarding/hard as you thought it would be?
Yes, and No.  Maybe.  (Pause while I add a large pour of Bailey's to my coffee.... Ahem)  It's about to get real here, people.  It's. Hard. Work.

We bought a pregnant cow and watched and waited as her due date came, and went.  And then went some more.  She was a whole month off.  That kind of mix up could give a girl heart problems.  Then her calf died in the birthing process even after a lot of coaxing and working and arms-in-a-cow-vag moments.  It was heart breaking.  Part of the investment in our cow was the hope to sell/eat her off spring thereby recouping our cost.   Instead we added a vet bill.  It was a hard drinking night if there ever was one.  Only I'm pregnant.  You can see my troubles.

But Veronica, you say - (sliding an apple fritter onto my plate, because really, how hard can life be with an apple fritter nearby?)  You have baby goats!  And chickens!  It can't be all bad, right?

No, it's not.  The chickens practically take care of them selves and while we're still not getting eggs (they'll be fully grown and ready to produce in the next month) - they are proving to be easy keepers.  The goat kids... oh those sweet little downy bleating piles of hope.  They make it all worth it.  So glad we're not goat eating people or I'd be all about the kale and vegetarian options right now.

So yes, it's hard work (look for a post soon on barn keeping featuring POOP! The Constant Companion!) but fun and rewarding and occasionally full of baby goats.

Now your turn, what deep dark farm related secrets do YOU want me to spill?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Road Home

I stood at my back door today and looked out over the back acreage - the prairie as I like to think of it. Past the orchard is the wild, untamed portion of our land.  The dry grass stands knee high and bends and blows gently in the wind.  I was taking a break from the kitchen to survey the yard, my loud unruly children and the vast expanse of earth past the line of trees.

In that moment I could understand the pull of the field, the untamed, the wild.  Why people left homes and family and cities behind and crossed the mountains and then went further until they carved out a homestead, a farm, a town from the nothing that had greeted them.

The wanderlust of our ancestors whispered to me across the ages.

I stepped out into the pasture to check on the animals and as I filled a bucket with water a gentle breeze kicked up, brushing my hair across my sun warmed cheek.  I looked out over the place we had carved out from nothing, the fence posts and barbed wire and mesh that blood and sweat and hard labor had put up and felt satisfied.  At peace.  The empty land behind my back called to me, begging me to tame it, turn it into something, till it under.  It was the whisper of promise.  Of possibility.  

The pioneer in me ached in response: the land was a siren and her song was spellbinding.

It was a moment of transcendence, of standing in the moment, in that field, and knowing down to my bones there was nothing else I would rather do, no where I would rather be, than looking out over my land.  Surveying my animals.  Tending my children.

There are so few moments in life that captivate so completely.  That speak in such silent volumes.

I was blessed that day with understanding.  It can be a mystery even to myself what would make a soul choose this life when there are so many other, easier, paths.  The part of me rose up to answer the wind over the grass spoke a truth: there is no other path for me.  This is the only road home.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Trump Card

So today I was going to tell you about the chickens.  The Great Chicken Toss and other boring things like feed and coop maintenance.

But you know what trumps chickens?  Goats.  Tiny little baby goats.

Every time.

I rest my case.

Meet Chocolate Chip.*  She and her sister Ice Cream* were born to veteran momma Truffles this afternoon while I was running errands.  Sometimes being a farmer is hard, like when your cow has a horrible birth that ends in a dead calf.  Then sometimes you go to a craft store, geek out on ribbons, decorations and fancy paper and get goat kids, too.  It's a crap shoot.

When I pulled up to the house I noticed something small and black in the paddock next to Truffles.  Hey I thought  we don't have anything tiny and black out there...  I wonder what that is?... OH MY GOD IT'S A BABY GOAT!

I may or may not have abandoned my own kids in the car to go check.


There were in fact two little bitty things running around.  Well, wobbling.  And bleeting.  Oh the little baby goat cries, they just melt your heart.

We moved momma and babies into the barn with a warming light as well as food and water.  Then we all stared at them.  Mainly we were wanting to see the kids nurse successfully but in their wee confused state they tried to nurse anything and everything but the teat.  Some long hair on Mom's tummy.  Her front leg.  The barn wall.

It was cute, is what it was.  Stupid cute, but still.

We are happy to report that before we wrapped up barn chores for the night we saw everyone get a healthy drink in.  Phew.  Now I can sleep tonight.

And as a farmer, that's no small thing.

*Names have not yet been approved or confirmed by the girls.  Fair warning that they may be named Barbie and Sprinkles by morning.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where It Began {Or It's All the Book's Fault}

So it all started with some chickens.  No, wait, it started before that, with a book about chickens.  And goats.  And cows and gardens and orchards and sustainable living.  It's the book's fault.

So anyway, we used to have this house in a rural part of southern Buffalo where I put in a pretty decent sized garden (about 200 sqft) and then looked around and, well, wanted more.  I wanted those darn chickens but the county had rules against them.  Poultry tabled.  End of discussion.  Move forward a few years.

I have more books now.  With more advice.  Longer lists of plants and animals.  Helpful diagrams.

It's now a full blown obsession.

However when we arrived in California (from New York) the first and only priority was finding a house with walls and a roof and a generally short drive to work for Josh.  House: found.  Downside?  It had a postage stamp of a backyard.  No, really.  30 ft long and maybe 6 ft wide.  Plus it was shady, with poor soil and no drainage.  It was a suburban swamp yard.  No where for chickens.  No sun for even a lonely tomato.

So, to fill the time I had another baby (that makes 3!) and read.  (Notice a theme yet?)

Fast forward another year and Josh finds an amazing, dated, run down, large house a mile from us on 10 acres.  With a barn.  (A barn people!  Animals live there!)  A chicken coop and lean-to that looked perfect for a ride-on mower or black widows.  Whatever.  It was heaven.  It was also ugly as hell.

Lease signed, paint purchased, we were ready to make this place our own and start living the country life.

Now pause for another pregnancy (if you're keeping count, that's 4) and just about all projects ground to a morning sickness induced halt.  

My mother (wise woman that she is) decided that if I didn't do something -and soon!- I would never get this farm thing going.  How right she was.  Finishing up the house was put on the back burner (where it still remains, which is why only half the trim is painted and most doors are still missing their knobs.  But I digress.)  Mom swooped in with her sister and cleaned out the large chicken coop and run while I chased small people and sipped tea and bemoaned my womanly fate as only the newly pregnant can.

After the coop was cleaned my mother insisted we go get chickens.  Right NOW.  Because, you know, that coop didn't clean it self and she wanted the satisfaction of seeing a fluffy chick calling it home, thank you very much.  

Off we went - the feed store is helpfully just up the block and they had a very generous selection of ridiculously adorable feathered creatures.  Now I had read books, remember.  I knew that I would need a chicken per person plus one to keep my family in eggs.  That makes 6.  (I can count!)  My mother had not read the same books.  She had not seen the helpful diagrams.  She was overcome by cheeping and downy feathers.

I now refer to that day as The Great Chicken Toss.

But that is a story for another day.  Today's story is about how one family, well read but otherwise unprepared, began the great adventure of traditional living.  It started with a book.  And a house found on Craigslist.  Who knows where it will end.

So far, though, the middle part is pretty awesome.