Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lambcrazy

If the farm depended on my blog entries to exist we'd be in hard times wouldn't we?  Thankfully that's not the case.  December has been a month of busy busy kids which makes for a tired tired Mom which makes for a very quiet blog. I've got some dandys simmering away though, so expect some new reading in the coming year.
I've hit a bit of a wall when it comes to my sheep since it has been lamb-city here in the past week. I had that one lamb a couple weeks ago and then nothing...until a few days ago when they started coming like wildfire.  I've got 12 now with a couple more ewes to go, I think.  And it's that "I think" which is driving me crazy.  After dealing with a lamb who died because it's mother was old and had no colostrum, etc etc I was forced to face the reality of not devoting enough time to my flock and having to decide whether this was going to continue to be a volunteer 'project' of mine (marginally successful) or a real part of the farm business.  I had another lamb I was bottle feeding because his legs mysteriously didn't work (I think I was late in coming along and she laboured too long and he suffered because of it) and so couldn't drink.  He didn't make it and I think partly because nature took it's course but I also couldn't get over to the barn as often as I should have to feed it.  Mark says I just beat myself up over this kind of thing, and he's partly right, but there's more to it than that.  After all, after three sets of beautiful healthy twins, it's easy to erase the failures from memory.
It's that I hate the selling part of the business.  I don't mind shipping the lambs, it's not a sentimental thing, it's the action of selling something, my own product.  I just want to raise them, not worry about sending them off, getting them cut up, wrapped, dropped off, picked up, whatever.  I'm a farmer not a marketer/distributor/retailer.  And the only way I get to avoid that is to sell wholesale to someone, and that doesn't exist for organic lamb.  Mark suggested we could just sell to the conventional stream, but when I've done our cost of production in the past, because of the time we have to dedicate to moving the fence each week, we'd be pushing it.  If we didn't have to pay ourselves we'd be A-Ok, but life doesn't work like that.
And don't even start on my non-existant management this past year. Hence, the Christmas lambing schedule...what is THAT!? and the not culling ewes I KNOW are terrible.  Ugh. 
I'll have to do a cost of production again soon, since that one is pretty out of date now and I have an on-site shearer at my disposal. And we've refined the fencing much better.  So who knows.  Lambing is a stressful, sleep deprived time, so maybe once my head is cleared of Christmas sugar and my body spends more time in bed than in the barn at night, I'll have more to bring the shepherding table. 

Speaking of salespeople, we're excited to announce that we're expanding the farm operation a little bit by being a distributor for Bio-Ag, a company out of Ontario that sells all non-GMO agricultural products like minerals, salts, cleaners, etc.  I know, I know, I just talked about not being a salesperson, but this isn't 'our' product, it's just one we believe in.  We have used their minerals since we've been organic and now use their diotomaceous earth, salt and a probiotic as well.  We have a barrel of their peroxide as well which we use mostly in the summer in the various water tanks around, but is a popular product for livestock farmers to keep waterlines clean and dairy operations up to spec.  Anyway, Mark's next project is getting a corner of the barn ready for storage. I'm really looking forward to being the Island distributor and although it's a small company I think it will be fun to promote it and see where it takes us.  The previous distributor here is retiring and the owner is coming in the next couple weeks, to meet us and facilitate the transfer so hopefully we'll be up and running very soon.

I had a really great Christmas, as they always are.  The kids are at SUCH a good, magical age and I'm sooo grateful that I got to be around for December and be a part of thier excitement.  One of my favorite parts was Christmas morning when I went in to wake Lucy and said, "Lucy, I think Santa came last night, wanna come see your stocking?" and rather than running to see what she got, she instead, went to the kitchen, crawled up on the stool and exclaimed, "He ate his cookies and drank his milk!"  The rest was just a bonus.

Although I was in the thro of lambing on Boxing Day, my stubborn father-in-law all but shoved me in the car and we went to NB. I was really glad we did because we stayed the night and I enjoyed some great laughs and drinks and food and stories while Wendell dealt with a dopy lamb in a set of twins.  The lamb has come around now and I'm convinced is only alive because of Wendell's early intervention.     

Well, with only two ewes left to lamb, I think I'll sleep through tonight and stay in bed until at least 6. Then again, something will probably wake me up at 3 am and I'll lay there thinking of the worst case scenarios that could be happening in the barn until I struggle over there in wind/rain/snow/sleepcoma to find them all chewing cuds, blinking at me stupidly as if to say, "Go back to bed dummy, we're sleeping."

Hope this finds you enjoying every minute of the season and looking forward to a new year of great goals and plans!

-Sally

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Attack of the....cookie dough?

So the latest food scare is...ready for it?  raw cookie dough.  Yeah, apparently a big e.coli outbreak across the states has been traced back to pre-made, store-bought cookie dough, eaten raw.  And the chicken farmers are safe this time, it wasn't the eggs; it was the flour.  The FLOUR!  Somewhere along the line in the production, the flour became contaminated with e.coli which would have been killed if the consumers had cooked it, but they, like any good child, ate it raw. 
There is so much wrong with this.  Firstly, why are people buying cookie dough?  Even a college student can surely throw together the 3+ ingredients it takes to bake a batch of cookies.  There is no way that there is enough time savings in buying cookie dough, bringing it home, figuring out how to open the can/tube, greasing a pan, preheating the oven, throwing out the empty tube/can and cooling them, compared to mixing up ingredients in a bowl to make it worthwhile consuming whatever preservatives and not-pronouncable words are in that tube/can.  Cookies are so EASY and (mostly) FUN! 
But the thing that really bothers me about this is that the take home message we're being served as a result of the outbreak is that its our fault for eating raw cookie dough, not the fault of the giant factory making bad product.  "Don't eat raw cookie dough, period" is the headline from one paper.  So that's it childhood, see ya later.  My kids are doomed.  In fact, over the last two weeks of Christmas baking, the three of us should be put in a museum as miracles of survival under the harshest conditions of nearly DAILY raw cookie dough consumption. The horrors!
Before cookie dough goes the way of dinosaurs and real eggnog (made with real, raw(!) eggs) here's the simple truth; make food you trust with ingredients you trust and ENJOY IT!  I splurged on my last bulk order from Speerville Mills (in New Brunswick) and ordered a special pastry flour to see if my Christmas baking would be any different from when I use the regular Speerville white and whole wheat.  It is a really nice flour and has that distinct flour taste that I've come to expect from baking now and as I was scooping out another cup for (yet another) batch of cookies (a favorite time consumer these heady days of waiting) I noticed that it had the farmer's name right on the label.  Because it's a specialty flour, made in small batches I guess that Speerville has the one farmer growing that particular wheat, so they have his name right there; Murray Bunnet.   He also happens to be the farmer we bought our soybean roaster from in NB and as I sprinkling the flour on the counter (or 'making it snow' as we call it here these days), and thinking about the raw cookie cookie dough debacle, once again I was so thankful to have the access to quality food that I can trust, because I KNOW the farmers who GREW it!  Short of grinding my own flour (which is not likely something I'm going to take up as long as Speerville can do it better), this is about as 'secure' as my food can get. 
I guess that is the kind of marketing freedom that brought about the eradication of the wheat board, but I'm afraid that without the wheat board we're even farther from any chance of real food 'security'.  Once Cargill (for one large example) has free reign to set prices because they are the new monopoly, farmers will surely feel the crunch of corporate greed. Oh my, this is a whole other entry.  Where was I?
Ah yes, the cookie dough.
Well, I hope that after reading this, you will gather up the ingredients for your favorite cookie recipe, use some good quality eggs from a farm you trust, add the special touches that make you happy and eat all the dough you want.  May you have a mildly sore belly from too much butter and sugar and sticky fingers and a smiley face.  May you NOT fight to the death (or at least until bleeding) with your sibling over the last scraps of dough left in the bowl on on the spoon- or maybe that's just at our house.

Anyway, I keep intending to post an inventory of the millions of Christmas projects that have been undertaken around here this year, but those 'projects' tend to be fairly patience-consuming and by the time the activity/recipe/craft/decoration/story/card/gift is done, nobody feels like remembering that it happened, let alone recording it for eternity.  :)

That first lamb is doing really well.  She's a fast growing little beauty but is strangely a bit lonely.  Yes, it would seem that she is a bit of an oddity since no one else is showing signs of lambing anytime soon.  Well some of the girls are 'bagged up' as we say, but it's been that way for a month now.  There goes my super stellar records.  Yes, I AM a record keeping consultant, but it's the sheep!  They don't always (or ever) do what they're supposed to, when they're supposed to do it. 

Other news from the farm is pretty quiet.  Mark is 'puttering' when he's not hauling mussel shells and devising ways to unload them in soft fields. 

Ah, computer time is up, or so says the baby tugging at my pantleg. 

I hope this finds you looking forward to a relaxed and joyful Christmas full of all your favorite traditions!  Consider your local farmer when preparing for all those big meals!

-Sally    

    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't Hedge Your Bets

Young trees for a new hedgerow - a rare sight in potato country these days.

I won't assume to know what the snow situation is wherever you might be, but here on PEI, the first snow is melting and is for the most part, gone.  As we went for a short Sunday drive today, I noticed the mostly bare fields with a swath of snow sticking around the edges where the hedgerows are.  Like spring, when the long anticipated exposure of the soil peeks up through the snow and farmers get the itch to 'get on the land', there is something about the snow that won't leave around the edges that reminds us that we're not really the ones in charge, no matter how ready WE are.
Also, on today's Sunday drive, Mark pointed out, over and over, how many hedgerows have been taken out lately.  There is one neighbouring farmer of ours in particular has taken an especially strong aversion to those pesky trees and 'opened up' field after field after field, creating huge prairies of landscape, all bleeding one into the other.
As we drove we critically discussed the reasoning for so much hedgerow removal with cycism and disgust, but I really wanted to know why.  We know the farmers and know that they are not unreasonable people so I was convinced that there had to be a really good reason to invest the time and money into removing well established hedgerows.  Some of my best speculations added up to:

-bigger fields=efficiency?
  • no trees=no interference with big equipment (ie. spray booms, etc.)?
  • no trees=no snow retention in the spring, so quicker to get on the land?
  • no hedgerows make for that much more land to farm?  Trees don't make money year after year.
  • hedgerows can harbour pests through the winter?
I realize I'm looking at this through my stubborn, self-righteous lens, but I'm shocked that modern, educated farmers would seriously be able to weigh those reasons against the benefits of hedgerows and have the removal of trees come out on top. 
  • snow retention=poor man's fertilizer. snow is great for soil.
  • wildlife habitat
  • safer wildlife corridor to forested areas
  • windbreaks against erosion
  • windbreaks against crop damage
  • pollinator habitat
  • water erosion prevention by trapping soil particles and creating breaks in sloping land.
  • organic matter from leaf drop, soil break down
  • buffer zone from neighbouring spray drift, dust, smells
  • retain more water in the summer against drying winds, reducing irrigation needs
  • trees= good.  We all learn, as children, the benefits of trees to our own existence.  I now know as well, the importance of mycorhizae fungi which sequester a LOT of carbon from the air, but only exist in low tillage, no spray soil.  Taking out trees means that land will now be put into 'normal' production and we can say goodbye to those helpful little critters. 
So once again, I'm faced with questioning this whole dichotomy of agriCULTURE versus agriBUSINESS and the fact that they are getting farther and farther apart.  For the past three years I thought we were so lucky to be able to get trees from the Dept. of Forestry here for new hedgerows and to maintain existing ones, since I assumed that they would be a hot commodity but then I'm faced with the reality that big corporations (in this case processors like Cavendish) are demanding their farmers to get bigger and more 'efficient' (ie. build big warehouses and/or take out trees) or lose their contract.  I'm not a potato farmer so I can only assume that last statement, but I can't come up with another reasonable explanation that makes enough sense to me.     
SURELY THE VALUE OF THE SNOW IN THE SPRING MAKES IT WORTHWHILE KEEPING THE HEDGEROW!?!?!?!

A few summers ago I worked on a pilot project called the Ecological Goods and Services (EG&S)Program, designed to pay farmers to go above and beyond environmental regulations.  It became the basis for PEI's Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) which is a really pared down version of the program, but has some of the same bones of the EG&S.  Anyway, under the EG&S there was a nice payment for hedgerows which met certain criteria (certain width, height and mixture of species, etc.) and now I can really appreciate the value of that program.  I hated the program when I started working with it because I didn't understand why the public should be expected to pay the farmer to do things that ultimately benefit themselves in the end, but are considered 'inconveniences' in the scheme of production.  If Cavendish truly is the driving force behind the removal of those trees this may be the perfect illustration of why a program like EG&S is so important.  It gives the farmer the opportunity to weigh the options and consider the real benefits against the pressures and 'suggestions' of their 'customer'.

Yes, it's a Sunday in winter and I'm making up for lost blog/rant time. Enjoy!

-Sally

Eating my words, and other tasty things

So I've been all preachy about appreciating our food and eating less meat, but BETTER meat and only eating free range, etc. etc. and a part of that whole mindset is learning to cook the lesser appreciated parts of the animal; to use the whole thing; nose to tail if you will.
Well, I am NOT an adventurous eater.  When I was in Africa I survived on hard boiled eggs and bread.  The one time we did get to a grocery store I spent nearly our whole budget on a bag of chicken breasts from who knows where.  Looking back I realize how silly that is to me now, but it's just one example of my reluctance to branch out.  I've grown considerably in my willingness to try new things, but it's marginal. In any case, when we butchered Poppy, we had all intentions of keeping the cheeks since we had had an amazing beef cheek dish at DB Brickhouse in Ch'town and in talking to the chef, it seemed simple enough.  Anyway, we forgot to tell the butcher and the cheeks got tossed with the head :(, but Mark was kind enough to remember to ask for the tongue and the heart (which is GIGANTIC!).  Mark, who I don't think is particularly brave when it comes to food, just not discriminatory, is always ready to try whatever I've come up with.  I'm not sure I've found anything that man will not eat-which is maybe one of my favorite things about him.  :)

So everytime I open the freezer here's this seemingly HUGE cow tongue staring back at me, its reminder like a sandpapery lick on my conscience.  I realize that tongue is NOT that big of a deal in most circles.  It's even common in some circles, but not for this girl.  I've never even tried a chicken giblet for heaven's sake!  I can't even fathom the heart at this point so I've set my sights on the tongue.  The point is, I'm working up to the tongue.  I'm taking baby steps.  Maybe liver will be the next stop on the road to tonguetown.
But yesterday's stop was ham hocks. Well, I insist on calling them pork hocks, because ham suggests to me that they were smoked or cured, and a lot of recipes call for smoked ham hocks. But mine were the regular variety. I had accumulated a little collection from the various sides of pork we've bought over the last couple years, so I had a slow cooker full of them.  I basically just threw them in some broth with the usual vegetables (carrot, onion, celery) and cooked the bejeezus out of them on low, all day.  Seems like that method is pretty much foolproof for anything, except the really good roasts which just get tougher. Anyway, they turned out fine, if not a little tasteless, so I made up a quick bbq sauce and tossed the meat bits (as opposed to the small bones and fat bits) in and we had pork hock a la pulled pork sandwiches.  Delish!  It's no tongue, but it's a small step towards it.

So, one victory down! I was glad that I had accumulated a few hocks though because the meat from all those hocks did not add up to a whole lot and one meal of the Bernard bambinos took care of it.  I don't know why I continue to be amazed at the lack of leftovers in this house.

In other farm related news, Rosie is slowly drying up (have I talked about this before?).  She's not due until mid Feb. but I think partly because we only milk her once a day and partly because it's winter and she's pregnant, but we're only getting a little under 2 L a day. That's a shocker to a family who used to drink milk recreationally and use 3 times that much in a day.  It's strange how my brain went from "What can I make that uses lots of milk?" to "what can I make that doesn't need milk?".  Thayne still has a full bottle at night too, so he gets priority and that takes a good chunk.  Did I forget to mention that more than half of that 2L is pure cream as well?  I am curious to see if there's any weight change in the adults in this house when she dries up until the calf comes.  ;)

And of course, with winter and reduced egg customer traffic comes an onslaught of egg production from the hens.  All the young girls are laying and it's in full swing in the coop these days.  So now we're on a egg-heavy diet.  What we lack in milk, we make up for with eggs.  Our new favorite is egg quesadillas.  I've tried getting my kids to eat quiche of every kind, since they love scrambled eggs, but there is some sort of mental block when it comes to eggs in pie form, so the quesadillas seem to disguise whatever the resistance is. 

I guess the point of this email is that we're pretty blessed in the food department around here and I'm excited to try my next culinary adventure. 
Tips for cooking liver?

Hope this finds you trying something new in the kitchen!

-Sally

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let er come!

 Yep, first snowfall and it`s a dandy!  Well, I guess we  had a little skiff of snow a week or so ago, but this one is `fo real`!  Mark is trying to prove me to how useful plowing can be versus blowing (since he wants to buy a plow for the truck) so he made this `snow mountain` for the kids to play on this morning with the little tractor.  It WAS a good time until all the fingers got too cold.  Well, I`ll speak for me, since I know that Thayne probably wouldn`t say it was a `good time`.  What a terrible age he is for snow.  Can`t get around in it, it`s just a cold, wet hinderance.  For a boy who seems to always have a smile, this is as happy as I could get him today. 
When he and I did chores last night in the thick of the snowfall, he seemed really fascinated with it and gave me extra time to feed the sheep and even give Rosie a little brushing, but it was clear today that fascination has turned to frustration and disgust.  Even the sled was NOT fun. 
I however, was really enjoying the snow in my old `maternity` snowsuit, sans belly.  I could really play and climb and slide this time, which is a nice change for me!  And of course, I know it`s really flattering, so that helps. (note: the sarcasm-this IS the snowsuit that Mark lovingly calls the ``Pea Green Boat``.)
Here`s Thayne finally having found a vantage point from which he CAN enjoy the white stuff. 


Since I last posted we celebrated a birthday here, with a request for a Rainbow cake from the birthday girl.  You have to use your imagination a little bit, since I was short on time and long on cheap candy, but here`s the rainbow with some gold on either end.  
 
Lucy got 12 little buckets of brightly coloured playdough for her birthday, which I was skeptical about since we already have lots of the homemade salt stuff around, but there is something to be said for not having to wash your hands every 3 minutes due to the dehydration factor that comes with playing with salt.  And it shows in how much play that dough gets from these two kids. Lucy insisted I take this picture of her drawing and then a sculpture of her drawing of me. So for those of you who claim I don`t post enough pictures of myself, here ya go!  :)  Also, note the colour of the sculpture, 24 hours after having opened 12 different colours. haha.   

In farm news, there`s not much.  Mark is done field work.  Well, actually he expects to get back out when the snow goes (which it inevitably will with some mild temps on their way this weekend) and `get across some land` with the discs.  He`s on a couchgrass killing mission these days, convinced that the frost will kill it if it`s exposed.  Here`s hoping! But really, if winter settled in tomorrow, I think Mark would be satisfied with how much he`s gotten done for this year, so that`s always nice. 
The animals have been scrounging the pastures until today when they gave up and laid around the barn, blatting whenever they heard or saw someone nearby, waiting for feed.  The grass outside probably hasn`t had much nutritional value since some of the harder frosts, but they were getting enough to not have to cut into the hay inventory.  I`ve got lambs coming at Christmas (yeah, my great timing at work again) so I`ve started to introduce a touch of grain and probiotic to my `girls`.  We also threw Duncan (the ram) back in to breed any girls that hadn`t caught the first time around.  I wasn`t going to, but the last module of a sheep course I`m taking was very production oriented and I started to question my shepherding management.  I was hoping to get the whole flock onto a once a year, late Nov-early Dec. lambing, but since no sheep naturally breeds at their best at that time of year, I`m always worried that some of them haven`t `caught` and I`m feeding a `freeloader`.  Then I remember that I have an old girl whose had mastitis, who I purposely try to prevent getting pregnant just because I like her; she is one the first ones Mom gave me and she`s the leader of the pack, and all logic goes out the window.  So take that, optimum production percentages.  bah.
Well, it`s been a long day of snow-wrangling, snot-wiping and sock-changing, so I`m off to get some sleep.  Maybe one more bowl of snow before I do though.  Mmmm.  The one food that you can still only get at a certain time of year!


Bon Appetit!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who's for Supper?

It was over Thanksgiving when I was telling Mark's aunt about our calf Poppy and how everytime we have meat for supper we have to discuss whether it's Poppy or someone else.  Lucy has figured out the difference between chicken and beef, but Wilson likes to call everything chicken, or bacon (and mostly those two sound pretty similar, so who knows). Once we determine the species, the forks still just sticks up in the air until Wilson is satisfied as to the source of whatever is on it. 
I wasn't really thinking much about it as I was sharing this with Mark's shocked (and I think disgusted) aunt, but later it occured to me just how fortunate we are to be able to have that connection with our food.  Lucy met the farmer from whose farm gate stand we buy most of our veggies, so we often have 'Raymond' for supper, with our broccolli or cucumbers or potatoes.  The chickens don't have names, but they always have to mention how they 'used to be in the pasture with Rosie'.  Our pork comes from "Ranald with the stamp at the market" because he always makes a point of stamping the kids' hands with a pig stamp, and he's got a fun little video of his pigs rolling around in the mud and tromping through the apple orchard.
Anyway, I just felt so lucky to have such a direct knowledge of our main raw food products and was really excited that the kids are so sticky about giving everything a name before eating.  If that doesn't make you appreciate the food and what goes into eating, I don't know what does.
So, it was a bit contradictory that I found myself at our newly renovated Superstore, excited to be going through the self serve check out.  I've been through them before, at other big box stores, but it was while I was joyously tossing my items into the bags without having to talk to ANYbody that it occured to me that this sort of technology that pushes us just that much further from making any connection with our food.  It's like a system of robots, who mix up a concoction of fake ingredients, package em up, send it off to a distributor who sends it off to a store where it's picked up, beeped through, taken home, heated and eaten.  I know this sounds a bit reaching to some of you, but the thing is, I recognize that these self serve check outs eventually take somebody's job and that interaction with other humans is what keeps us sane, even if it's only as small as chit chat at the cash, and more importantly takes that last, tangible human part of food away. Now you can buy a jug of milk or an onion or a chicken without ever ONCE having to talk to a person.  I know, I know, that cashier has nothing to do with that onion or milk, but there is just something there, or rather, something missing when buying food becomes an automated chore between you and a machine.

That said,I couldn't help but enjoying myself, zipping my items through at a good clip, packaging them how I like and getting out of there as soon as possible, so what does that say about me?

I am currently having a little internal crisis over the ACORN conference since I am supposed to 'do my talk' tomorrow morning and the weather is sounding less than cooperative for getting over the bridge and sometimes more dangerous, through the Cobequid Pass.  Mark has suggested I go over tonight, which is probably wise, but I'll be away for two night as it is, one more will only make it that much harder to stay at my sheep course in Truro on Sunday, instead of zipping home at noon, like the bad student I can be when it comes to my babies. 

My sister, April has been on my case about Halloween pics of the kids and I'm finally going to get them up.
This was at 5:50 as we were gearing up to go out the door.  For two weeks previous to this, the kids have been going through the trunk of costumes and each time Lucy would come back to the 'kitty' costume which was too big last year and say that THIS year she would get to go as the kitty.  Despite having worn it around the house for two weeks, it was only at 5:50 on Halloween night, with face painted that she decided it wouldn't "stay out of my bum", and was a little on the short side (gee, wish I had've suggested that throughout the two weeks of dress rehearsal...ahem) so in a frantic search, we managed to pick out another, if not exactly ideal, more comfortable option. 
6:00- departure time.
Even Lucy wasn't sure what to say when people asked what she was, but she was comfortable and got just as many treats as before so it didn't really matter.  Something between a crocodile and a lizard perhaps? 
And as you can see, the cowboy was quite satisfied with his choice.  The gun soon lost it's shine in favour of a treat bag, but he was pretty good at his 'ye haw' before the night was over.
This year we carved pumpkins togther for the first time (usually it's just Mark and I) and the kids had a great time. 
Wilson's lazy-eyed pumpkin.

I had to post this picture of Lucy drawing her jack o lantern face, because although I've noticed it before, this was the first time I caught a picture of her working with her tongue out.  Anytime she concentrates hard on a task, out it comes and I can't help but think of her Uncle Doug and how maybe that is somehow connected to a short temper as well?  ;) 



 Last picture is of our late apple tree.  I don't know the variety but they are hard, crispy and so sweet.  After a few couple frosts they're even sweeter and I've been trying to get some apple-related treats made for the freezer, but they're delicious just as 'eaters'.  Anyway, I took the picture because the yield this year is amazing.  I've never seen it so full since I moved here.  Every year Mark and I say we need to get out and prune the orchard (which consists of 5 trees), but it never gets done and every year I think the yield is going to drop off as the trees get more and more out of control.  Mother Nature proved me wrong this year though and we're enjoying it. 

We had a small hiccup with the combine last week, with just a few wet acres of beans left, but they're all but finished now and Mark has high hopes to get it all finished today, which is always cause for celebration.  Putting that combine away is a truly satisfying mark that winter is for certain on its way. 

Well, I hope this finds you eating well, naming your food and cozy on the cool nights.  Batten down the hatches for the storm(s) tonight! And if you're in Halifax, be sure to check out some of the ACORN conference!
  
-Sally

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hallow's Eve

I just cannot believe that we are already at the end of October.  I feel like this year has gone by faster than any other.  I keep forgetting what season we're in and sometimes feel like maybe it's spring and we're headed for summer, rather than the snowy clime of winter.  Had a stark reminder last night though as strong winds blew in some rain mixed with snow, and lots of cold temperatures.  We didn't get any accumulation like New Brunswick, but I think our winds are always stronger, so we made up for it in naked trees and Halloween decorations in the ditches.

My evenings have been eaten up by my trying to organize a presentation that I'm making at the ACORN conference as part of the opening keynote and I've really been struggling.  I enjoy public speaking, and I know once I get going, it'll be fine, but I've had a hard time articulating what it is exactly that I want to say.  Due in part, I think, to the varied audience.  I've speculated that because it's in Halifax and has been well advertised in the young-concerned-eaters circles, there will be a number of new-to-farming or even just thinking-about-one-day-having-a-nice-garden-farmers who may or may not know the ins and outs of organics, but also some of the pioneers of organics in the region.  So it's a mixed bag, and I don't really feel like I have a lot of offer either of those demographics.   Anyway, I'm plugging away and Mark assures me that so far, so good.  Any advice is welcome. 

Mark spent a couple days in the combine, working away at the beans, and thankfully was able to make a joke or two about the sad state of the yields this year.  The weeds really won the battle this year and at this point, I think we just want to be done harvesting and start thinking about next year, and how we're going to source enough beans to fill the market we have.  (If you have organic soy beans, we want them!) 
I haven't had a chance to post anything about the new dryer than we purchased, for the big tank.  It's pretty cool and despite my initial concerns, seems to do what it claims it would.  I'll get some pictures up soon.  I wish I had taken pictures of it being installed since, although not quite as smooth as shown on the manufacturer's website, was still pretty slick; especially since it was put in after the tank was built.

Ran my second 5k race on Saturday morning. I wasn't totally prepared in regards to training, but I thought it would be good practice and it was fun.  Everyone was dressed up in costumes and it was a real laid back affair.  I've been training with Thayne in the stroller this time and it's an added challenge for sure, so I wasn't too surprised that my time was down from the last race, but a little disappointed.  Also disappointed that I didn't win the costume prize, what with these..err...voluptuous legs decked out in flames!
 
Well, the kids have had enough of me being on the computer and we have a costume party to get to if we can get ourselves pulled together this morning.

Looking forward to the slower days of winter.  Those are coming right?  How long do I have to talk about them for them to actually arrive?

Sally

Saturday, October 22, 2011

camera clean out

I cleaned out my 'other' camera tonight and found a few treasures from the summer, and from recently, so here they are!

Firstly, a picture of our latest addition.  Well, actually we've had him for a few months.  Mark's sister kept a few chickens at her house up the road, in the woods and they promptly became a fox lunch, except for one hanger on, a young chick who came to Barnyard Organics as a safe haven.  The poor thing wasn't here a week until it somehow managed to survive yet another fox episode at our place that fateful night.  Anyway, it stuck around and was always too 'boney' to bother sending with the meat kings to the abbattoir, so we kept it in with layers.  It became evident throughout the summer that this wasn't just any regular old chicken.  We had ourselves a Delaware rooster.
 
I'm not overly excited about having a rooster around, but Mark is keen on it, with varying reasons, but mostly I think he just feels outnumbered on the farm with all my 'ladies' in the pasture and in the coop, and Rosie.  So for now, the rooster stays.  He is consistent with his crowing if nothing else.  6 am every morning whether you like it or not, he wakes up the farmyard.  So far he's only living with the young hens (who have finally started to lay! yay!), but one of these days we'll let him out with the old girls and see what happens.  Probably just a lot of strutting around, if I know men. 

This is one of those pictures you forgot you took, but find on your camera as a special surprise.  All summer, as the field beside the house went through clover, cutting, baling, plowing, harrowing, a ditching project, planting, harrowing again, the kids revelled in every stage, but especially the one that involved scaring the seagulls only to watch them land and scare them again.  I love this picture of Lucy so carefree, stirring up seagulls as she balances on a furrow. 

Something that was a topic of conversation in the farmyard this summer was the pending doom of a HUGE elm tree next to the farmhouse that had contracted dutch elm disease and was showing evident signs of imminent death.  Many of the larger branches were already dead and the discussions of which way it would eventually fall were not optimistic, so it was decided to bring it down before it fell down.
Apparently Mark fancied himself an arbourist one weekend while I was gone and decided to borrow a boom truck to take down the monster.  Wendell maintains enough caution for everyone, so I should have know it would go fine, but coming home to find a camera full of pictures of a novice woodsman, chain saw running over his head, 50 ft in the air, was somewhat unnerving. Anyway, the thing came down without a hitch and the giant stump that's left tells a tale of a tree at least 150 years old.   


And apparently during lunch that day, when Mark looked out, there was a woodpecker working away on what remained of the tree (at that point, the main trunk was still there).  I am convinced he was cleaning up the beetle that carries dutch elm, and lets hope so for the sake of the even bigger, beautiful tree in the backyard.  
The kids and I cleaned up the garden today and I finally gave in and admitted that my huge, unintentional squash yield had ripened all it could ripen. Here's the kids picking out their favorites.  Taking all squash recipes/suggestions. 





Well, I have been completely exhausted for the past couple weeks and when I mentioned to Mark tonight the possibility that I might need my thyroid tested again he replied, "Yeah, can you get a transplant?" so I think I need some sleep, as it doesn't take a rocket scientist to read into that response. 


This last picture is from today on a slide at the local elementary school playground.  What a glorious day it was!  I LOVE this time of year and the surprise warm, sunshiny days that always feel like 'the last one' before winter hits.  Like a present you would be foolish to waste.

Hope this finds you enjoying the leaves and breeze and taking time to have some slide and swing time while you still can.  

-Sally









Tuesday, October 18, 2011

bizzy bizzy

There is something about this time of year, and the air that seems to carry a real sense of anticipation for the slow-down that is coming.  And I think that anticipation is what carries us through this crazy time to the winter slow-down.    Because while fall is beautiful and crisp and the perfect ending to summer, it is also such a busy time and the cool nights make for much needed deep sleeps for tired people. 
 Too bad those sleeps weren't just a little longer.

Anyway, Mark and I are both really busy with our church community these days as we all get moved into our beautiful new building and get routine started up again.  Sunday School is back in full swing, but we are also in the process of looking for a new minister, so there is a small air of chaos around everything.  And of course, there's Christmas around the corner already, to get concerts ready for, etc. 
The ACORN Conference is coming up in November and is looking really good, but as a board member that's another plate to balance. 
We're also each in the process of a couple personal items which eat up our evening time so by the time our heads hit the pillow we're torn between catching a wink of sleep and hashing out our day since we haven't really seen each other, besides passing one another in the hall to get a kid to the bathroom, or a meal on the table, or...the things that we dream of as parents and a couple. 
So, life is just as it should be right now isn't it I guess?

Unfortunately for the blog though, it's taking the beating.  I've got SOOO much I want to say, it's driving me crazy, but I guess that'll just make for more interesting winter reading.  Speaking of interesting reading, the Rodale institute just completed compiling and publishing their 30 (yes THIRTY!) study of Farming Systems, comparing organic and conventional and the results are...well...undeniably astounding. 
Here's just one tiny quotation for you to sleep on-if you can sleep after this:

"GM crops have led to an explosion in herbicide-use as resistant crops continue to emerge. In particular, the EPA approved a 20-fold increase in how much glyphosate (Roundup®) residue is allowed in our food in response to escalating concentrations."

One of the favorite claims of GMO proponents is that because one spray does it all, it means using LESS, but this has been disproven so often, it's not even news anymore. What gets me is the second sentence which indicates firstly, just what a hold the chemical companies have over our public system, but also the glaring fact that we are consuming 20 times more Roundup in our FOOD than before.  And how much was allowed BEFORE!?  Ugh. 

So on THAT note, I'll leave you with some shots the kids and I took around the farm the other day.
The first is my fat sheep.  They did so well on pasture this year, I am increasingly concerned over them being too fat to lamb easily, but that's really a good problem to have, if you have to have a problem, I guess. 

This the farm from the back field.  I love this angle with all the shiny grain tanks and equipment nestled in what looks like a bunch of empty fields. 
This one of the leaves was taken by Lucy because it looked like a 'rainbow' and I thought my Dad would enjoy seeing that PEI has a few pretty leaves, even if NB doesn't.  wink wink. 


 And here's my big man, crawling around full bore, doing his best to keep up with his older counterparts.  He's pretty happy for the most part, but these last few days is honing the skill of getting attention by whining, fussing, crying and hanging off Mommy's legs. I'm pretty sure it's due to teeth and maybe a growth spurt, but time will tell.  Here's hoping.

Yawn.  Sleep calls.  If only I would answer more often and earlier.

I hope this finds you sleeping deeply in these cool nights and not giving up on my blog.  More to come, I promise!

-Sally



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Internet-Dependant

Internet is the new electricity.  I had NO idea how dependant I was on it until I didn't have any.  That ridiculous storm knocked the main tower sideways or something and couldn't be fixed until today.  It really couldn't have been worse timing as we missed a couple fresh chicken sales due to not being able to check our farm email account, but by today I was sort of almost getting used to it.  I suspect it would be something like if I had a cell phone and then suddenly didn't.  For the first couple days it seemed like EVERYthing I wanted to do required an internet connection but by today I had remembered how to use the telephone, turn real pages in my own cook books, write a cheque, listen to the radio for the weather and news, etc.  Amazing.

Anyway, of course while not having internet, I had what seemed like constant blog entries floating around in my head and now that I'm sitting here, nothing seems worthwhile posting.  So here's one I wrote the first morning after the two day storm.  Please keep in mind that the weather was insane.  Winds of 100km, rain, sleet, ice, hail, SNOW, more rain, more ice pellets.  Also keep in mind that we were planning on shipping these chickens TWO days after the storm.
But the chickens actually were fine.  I literally crawled in with them and they were actually cozy and completely wind and wet free.  How could I know that at 2am!? 

The title of the blog would have been " Those %$&*@ Chickens!"

"I wrote this mentally last night and had our house been a bit warmer (yes, that’s right I haven’t started the furnace yet) I would have snuck downstairs to type it up.   I hadn’t slept for a couple hours and knew that getting out of bed would be easier on a slumbering husband than the tossing, turning and sighing that I was currently perfecting, but it was just too damn cold (and we find out this morning that the furnace won’t start for some reason).  Here’s the sleep-interrupting conversation that was going on in my head, pretty much verbatim.

“Those *%#k*&$ chickens.  There are literally ice pellets hitting my window in sheets right now and those damn chickens are still out on pasture.  This can’t fall under the organic ‘humane conditions’ can it?  I know we turned the pens so that they’re sheltered and when we left them at 7 they were cuddled together looking fine, cozied up on the soft, dry pile of straw that I lovingly shook in amongst them, but it wasn’t ice pelleting then!  And the wind is stronger now than it’s EVER been!  Ugh!  Chickens.  Eff.  Here we are, going to ship them on Friday, I guess that’s tomorrow now, and there’s still another full day of this weather.  Great.
I keep trying to wake up Mark without him knowing I’m waking him.  I need some reassurance.  I know exactly what he’s going to say. He’ll say, “Oh gawd, they’re fine. The chickens are fine. They’re not frozen, they’re not dead.  And if they are, too late.  Go to sleep.” 
But what if it’s like that scene on Titanic where everyone huddles around the smallest chicken to save it from the cold and the ones on the outside die first?!  What if all that’s left is the smallest chickens!?  We’ve got people lining up on Friday afternoon in a parking lot in Charlottetown waiting for their prime Thanksgiving chicken and all we’ll have to offer is Tiny Tim of the meat kings.  Or not so meat king in this case...
Oh Lord, Sally, just go to bed.  Obviously Mark is not going to do anything tonight and you can’t do much on your own, so just go to sleep.
....

BUT LISTEN TO THAT ICE, RAIN and WIND!!!!!  It’s horrible! It’s a nightmare! 
‘Mark!  I can’t sleep. I’m stressed about those chickens.’
‘Snort, stir, sigh.  The chickens are fine. ‘
‘But you’ve been sleeping through the weather!  It’s a horrible night out there!’
Yawn. ‘The wind is blowing against the back of their pen.’
‘But if I’m cold here in my bed, in my house, on a sheltered lot, just think.....!!!’

The steady breath of a sleeping person is his response.
Oh man, 4:26...Thayne is going to be up soon.  Ugh.  I hate these chickens for stealing my sleep.  And tomorrow morning I’ll have to be up at another ungodly hour to load them in the crates to take to the abattoir.  Won’t that be fun.  Let’s just hope Mother Nature gets the worst of it out of her system by 5 a.m. tomorrow morning or she’ll have one ugly chicken catcher on her hands. 
Well, I guess at this point it’s true.  They’re either dead or fine. 


 So this morning at breakfast I said to Mark,

“When you get out there to do chores this morning, take a good look at the chickens and if they seem cold, I’ll help you move them inside and we’ll get a heat lamp on them.”
A look of loss-of-my-credibility washes across his face, but only for a second.

“They’re going to seem cold Sally.  If you want to move them, we can move them inside.”
Translation:  “Enough.  Let’s both pretend that I’m going to do that, because we know I’m not.”

As I write this, only a short time after this conversation I realize, now that THAT is a response rooted in caring patience, because it COULD have been an outright dismissal, rightly deserved.
Or just a really high tolerance.
Either way, I suspect that somewhere on Mark’s mental ‘ToDo’ list today is “Get the furnace going.” And “Avoid the house and have confident reassurances at the ready.”  "


Hope this finds you enjoying the fact that our seasons are JUST the right length, at least if you're in Atlantic Canada.  For the rest of you, our seasons are JUST the right length. NA na na NA na.  :)

-Sally

Friday, September 30, 2011

Election Time on the Island

Well, fall is in the air (although not as cruely as it can be) and while we still have soybeans to harvest, the farm is winding down a bit and I feel some rants building up.  Lucky for my brother Mark who seems to have missed them so much, he called me on the day that the local radio call-in show was talking about spanking kids just to see if I was as riled up as he hoped.  Fortunately for all Maritime listeners, I had turned off the radio when I heard the topic, knowing that I would be annoyed.  See Mom?  I've come a long way! 

Anyway, since it's election time and we all know how I love politics, I can't miss out on an opportunity to squeeze in a quick one before Monday's voting day. 
Firstly, elections on PEI (or at least since I've moved here) are fairly uneventful and mostly because the parties are all pretty much the same, with VERY similar platforms.  There's no ominpotent leader coming up with crazy crime bills and staring down the enemy.  There's no exciting left wing party who sneaks up from behind and makes a great showing.  There's no real engagement at all actually, as far as I can tell, this time around at least.
The one thing the Island DOES have, is an eccentric, without-credibility leader who has genuine good ideas, but simply cannot and NEVER WILL reach the people who would ever want to support her. I am talking of course about Sharon Labchuck, our Green party leader.  And it's no secret that I love the Greens, so it's not a party-bias thing.  She's an old hippy with passionate ideas who is will informed about the serious consequences of monocropping and large scale potato production and chemicals and the general evils of industrial anything.  The party platform is actually fairly sound.  It's based on a lot of long term solutions, so not something that any short sighted voter is interested in, but has really good ideas about preventing the problems before they start (reminscent of organic production perhaps?)  Elizabeth May came to PEI during the election and showed her support, and using the exact same platform as Sharon, sold a very believable, conceivable and desirable future based on voting Green.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth May, Sharon Labchuck continues to undo all her good work like the lose hem on a homemade broomstick skirt of many colours. 
For those who aren't familiar with Labchuck, she's the one who some years ago caused a stir when she posed in a potato field with nothing on but a gasmask. And I mean NOTHING.  In all the debates she answers virtually all of her questions with references to pesticides and poisons.  She came out yesterday saying that we should ban hunting completely. 
As Mark and I heard that on the radio we shared a wincing eye roll and Mark began to tell me a story he was told by a friend who heard it from his uncle about how Sharon had attended a local community meeting called to discuss recent coyote kills of livestock.  As the story progressed I quickly recognized it as an old sheep joke, frequently told in appropriate (or inappropriate as it may be) circles by old farmers.  In that moment it occured to me that since the story was being told locally as gospel, but was actually a fictional internet joke of yore, Labchuck had truly lost every credibility as a legitimate candidate.  When a ridiculous joke seems plausible because your character is so out there, how can you expect people to follow and support you? 
So, the Greens are out.
The NDP on the Island are run by a bit of a buffoon who's been in the news over his own financial problems so not exactly instilling the highest level of economic confidence.
There's a real, tangible rural/urban divide in the Liberal party and platform with the rural not the side coming out on top.  To top that off, my own Liberal candidate lied to my face when he came canvassing at my door and he's generally a bit of a fool.  I have a personal rule that people shouldn't be politicians if my 2 year old could beat them at a 4-H public speaking competition and poor Georgie falls into that category the minute he opens his mouth.  And he was the Minister of Ag last time around for heaven's sake!  So, he's out (although will be back in I'm sure-since he's a potato farmer, in potato country).
That leaves me with the Tories.  Can you believe it.  This has come down to the lesser of the evils which is always a sad day for politics anywhere.  I actually really like the Conservative leader and not just because she's a feisty woman throwing her leadership in the face of all those old white haired big-and-small-C-conservative men who are still raw over her winning the convention.  I actually believe her convictions which is more than I can say for Ghiz.  When my local candidate showed up, I thought he was here to buy chicken until he finally introduced himself at the end of the conversation, but he seemed very sincere as well.  (My dad would say that it's easy to be sincere if you don't stand a chance of winning.)
So what is a green-blooded, Tory-bred, political-loving girl to do!? 
Ruin my ballot?  Surely not!

But alas, what will Monday bring?  More of the same.  More of the same.  More of the same.

Since you made it to the end of this rant, here's a funny bit from the Rick Mercer Report for your enjoyment.  So apt, in true Mercer style. 
 

Hope this finds you enjoying these cool nights and finding it tricky to crawl out of the warm bed with the fresh morning breeze blowing in the window.  Here's hoping the frost hasn't found your garden yet, although we had a dandy a couple mornings ago.  So thick the grass crunched under our feet. Winter is indeed en route.

-Sally

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Summer Vacation

Well, it's definately a bad sign for a blog when the author has to check in to see when they last wrote, to make a new post.  I think about the blog often, so if the old adage that "it's the thought that counts", than I've been counting.  Unfortunately that doesn't count for much in Blog Land.  But, I'm back!  And hopefully more frequently.  Thayne is on a regular sleeping schedule (knock on wood) and the evenings are getting quieter as the days get shorter, so it will be much easier to find time to share some tales from the Barnyard clan. 

Here's a few shots from the last couple months:

Thayne enjoying some top quality NB river mud on a trip home to West Branch.
It was one of the rare really hot weekends at home and I thought seeing the milk cow out in the pond was hilarious.  I've never seen a cow willingly walk into the pond before and thought it was a good indicator of "it was so hot that...."


I love this shot from the back of the combine while Mark was harvesting our best wheat field-a real matter of pride in this 'year of the wet and the weeds'.   

My little Massey Ferguson model

For our anniversary this year (5 years already!), Mark and I took the kids and ventured all the way down to the Annapolis Valley for a great visit with some NSAC friends.  I spent a lot of time before we went stressing about taking the kids, but it turned out to be really fun and we made some great, simple memories. 




Thayne is growing like the baddest weed around. I feel like the blender has become another appendage as he's not quite up to the chewing stage yet, but is up to the adult serving size stage already. 

We shipped Poppy earlier this month and today I spent some time at the butcher's learning how to cut and help wrap.  It was a fantastic little family business and I had a great time.  They don't often see a carcass quite as...er...well-marbled as that one.  Mark and I had a couple fresh steaks for supper and we're pretty sure it's the same as Kobe beef; the kind from Japan where they massage the cattle and feed them wine and crazy stuff like that.  After this last month when, after we shipped Poppy, we had to milk the cow out completely rather than leave it for the calf, I can see how much cream that creature was actually getting, and it makes my heart stop in fear.  But damn, it was a some GOOD beef. 

Anyway, harvest is going very well.  The barley and wheat this year was incredible and what we lacked in yield (which was actually really good) we made up for with the size of the kernels.  It's always a good sign when you have to change the sieves on the cleaner because the kernels are so big.  Mark just finished the oats today and that yield was 'unbelievable' apparently.  Not having enough space to put them is a good problem to have.  Anyone need oats?   The field peas had a good showing too.  Here's hoping the soybeans come off better than expected (although that isn't saying much, since expectations are pretty low this year). 
Our trial with some fish fertilizer really seemed to pay off so that will probably a new input that we take a closer look at.  And now that we're getting organic hog manure from our main customer, soil nutrition is not the urgent concern it once was around here, although it's always a priority. 

Currently, we're getting the fall cereals in the ground and getting the harvest tidied up and put away.  And by 'we', I mean Mark and Wendell.  I'm a contented bystander these days for the most part. 
If you happen to be on PEI Sunday, October 2nd there is an event happening in Charlottetown that is a fantastic time and WELL-Worth the $35 ticket (which you can buy online HERE or at Sobey's across the Island). Great entertainment, kids activities, an interesting guest speaker and most importantly, a varied and delicious array of 100% PEI organic grub prepared by a couple of the Island's best chefs.  We will be there with bells on.  The kids had a great time last year and so did we.  Come on out and support the Certified Organic Producers Coop!       


Looking forward to more posts coming soon!
Hope this finds you looking forward to the prospect of autumn and the calmer days of a long cold winter.  I am. 

-Sally







Monday, August 29, 2011

Why you should go to county fairs/exhibition

Mark can attest to the fact that there are many things that make me nostalgic for my Kent County home, but there is little that makes me crave to be home more than Expo-Kent, or "St.Mary's fair", as I will always know it to be.  It is one of the few 'real' fairs left in the region and a true treat to those who remember how it apparently 'used to be'.  The original and true point of a fair was to compete against your neighbours, celebrate a (good) growing season, discuss the weather, crops, livestock, markets, kids, grandkids, family, milestones, remember those lost, take home some prize money, a lot of pride and a bit of celebratory relaxing after a busy summer and somehow, St. Marie's hasn't lost that.
Being a pseudo only-child, to older parents, I was given the glorious opportunity to attend a lot of fairs each summer and while I loved each of them, I was sad to watch many of them descend into nothing much more than a midway and some display cases.  Some exhibitions still bring in a few animals but there is no 'show' to speak of and very little in the way of the public's interaction with the farmers or agriculture in general.    
But it's obvious that since I grew up loving fairs and spending my favorite part of my summer at one, that I would have lots of reasons to want to be there.  So here's just a few reasons YOU should go, followed by the real reason we should ALL go.

-find the quilt display.  Stand back and admire the colours, the patterns and the variety. Now get close and look at each of those tiny little stitches.  Which quilt has the tiniest ones? Can you tell the machine quilted ones from the hand quilted ones?  Can you picture the woman who sat around that big quilt, putting each stitch in and out and in and out and maybe the song she was humming, or the curse she made when she pricked her thimble-less finger, or the sense of accomplishment that came with binding it all up and displaying it at the fair for a red, first place ribbon? 

-stop by the vegetable/fruit/flower displays.  Try to figure out what makes a group of five green beans place first over another group of five green beans.  Admire that anyone has a pepper that big so early!  Check out the names on the tags so that the next time you're plunked down at a community supper, a baby shower, benefit dance or some such event you can turn to old Auntie (whose not even your auntie) Ethel and make her day by saying, "Ethel, I noticed your gladiolas took first at the fair, do you plant a lot?  Those are a lot of work, digging up and replanting every year!"  or to Winnie and say, "I saw the red ribbon on your pretty felted wall hanging, I had no idea you were so crafty!"  or to Mark, "Your soybeans took first place, good for you.  First in a class of one, is still first! harhar." 

-walk politely through the commercial booths. They pay to be there and deserve a little of your attention.  Besides they always have ballots to fill out for some free draw to win soap or a prize pack of a windbreaker, a mug, a frisbee and some coupons for their product/service.

-of course, there's the midway and even if, like me, just looking at the rides make you queasy, we all know that the best people-watching happens at the carnival.  The carnies themselves are a fascinating crew, let alone the vast array of ride-goers.  And who doesn't love a little harassment as you pass through the game alley?  "Come on big shot! Win the lady a puppy!  All ya gotta do is hit the bottles! EASY! Watch, I'll show ya! SEE? Just like that! No problem! Ya CAN'T lose!"  Or my favorite "Hey princess, try this one, a Prize EVERYTIME".  Where else can you go, drop a few twoonies (ok more than a few) and come home with a crappy stuffed snake, cotton candy in your hair, a tacky cowboy hat, a lighter, a goldfish, and cow manure on your shoe?

-since you're in the midway, go for a trip on the ferris wheel and while you're stopped at the top (which you will be, especially if you're not a real ride/height lover), look down and think about the organization and cooperation it takes to pull together multiple days of such a successful event.  It takes a committee of some of the most dedicated people from around the region, a whole year to even begin to prepare for a week of entertainment for you, and I.   

-stand by the tractor display until a little boy comes along (don't worry, it won't be long) and just watch his face as he scrambles up in the cab, onto the seat, and grabs hold of the steering wheel. 

-walk through the horse barns and blink at the shiny tack in every spare corner. Listen for the tinkle of bells and the creak of leather.  Breath deep.  Mmmmm.

-make sure you go at a time that a livestock show is scheduled.  Find a good seat and spend some time figuring it out.  Track down a showbook if you want.  Put the animals in order of how you would place them, in your mind and see how close you are the judge.  After a couple classes of watching him, try to put them in the order you think HE will put them in, based on his previous placings and reasons.  Why is that one so much bigger than that one, but the small one is winning?  Are any of the show-people more skilled than others?  What's with the combs in the pockets? 

-find a farmer sitting around (you shouldn't have to look too far).  They will be more than happy to answer ANY question you have (and believe me, there's nothing they haven't heard).  Or if you just want to pass by and tell them what a nice group of animals they have, it would be much appreciated.  Think for just a minute about what it took to bring 12, freshly washed and fluffed sheep, or five cows, a calf and big bull.  And you thought that stroller and backpack was a pain in the behind.   

The real reason that everybody should go to a fair/exhibition is because, at it's root, the fair is a symbol of our food system.  I don't mean french fries and candy apples.  I mean, farmers bringing their very best to compete against the very best of someone else.  That cow and calf in the ring is representing the best of what we are eating everyday.  They will go on to produce more calves who will end up a plate somewhere, due to the careful breeding and selection done by that farmer standing there in the buttoned down shirt and grubby ball cap.  If we can't support the best of what our farmers are doing, by paying an admission fee to admire the years of hard work they've put into their craft, then we probably aren't supporting them when it comes to the grocery store either.  It does not bode well for the long-term of our food system, if we can't support the best of what we have for a day and spend the rest of the year complaining about the price of our groceries.   

So next year, plan to spend at least the day.  Take it all in and go home knowing you just contributed to a collection of the best of what agri-food has to offer.


Hope this finds you cleaning the manure off your footwear after a misstep from being temporarily distracted by the steady pounding of giant, black, shining draft horse hooves on hard packed ground.

-Sally
  
  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Veggie Death Notice

SALLY'S NIGHTSHADES "Tomatoes and Potatoes"- May 2011-August 2011
Sally's Tomatoes, of Freetown, PE were found, Sunday afternoon, in a mass of black and grey leaves caused by late blight.  Born in Brookvale, lovingly raised by Jen Campbell, the tomatoes grew up with a strength reserved for the best that organic can offer and had an impressive showing in growth and production.  It was the unfortunate and damp weather of this summer, combined with their placement in the buckle of the potato belt which made their continued existence, nearly impossible.  The Bernard family was able to enjoy one ripe tomato prior to the wipeout and was able to recover a collection of small potatoes, but the pain of the loss was exacerbated by the large box of beautiful green tomatoes which promptly turned to grey slop. The tomatoes were survived by their sisters, the potatoes until they all crumpled at the thought of existing without each other. (or from late blight.)  Both families are survived by some very sad looking corn, overgrown beans, non-producing peppers and leafy cucumber-turned-squash plants.  The onions were too busy drying successfully in the sun to notice.   
A private ceremony was held with close family members and internment occured at the hottest compost pile.  Donations to a seed bank of the donors choice would be greatly appreciated by the family.


Hope this finds you making big plans for preserving and canning, with your own veggies or otherwise!  :)

-Sally
    

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A (Life) Lesson in Fun


While there is little more in life as alienating as an inside joke, this blog began as an update to my family as to my life here on PEI, so I'm going back to my roots on this one.  If you aren't familiar with my family you won't get this video, and it's completely unrelated to the farm.  But you might enjoy it anyway.   
It's a year since my sister passed away, leaving us all in a cloud of confusion and sadness.  Thankfully, she devoted a huge part of herself to making everyone else laugh so we have the memories that far outshine the sorrow.  My sister, April recently asked for some clips of the two of them in their 'alter ego' characters. Unfortunately, I think I was always laughing too hard to hold the camera straight long enough for a video, but I did manage to snap a few still shots of the fun, now and then.  This is a little collection of just a few.   (Make sure you have your sound turned on and up.)
video 
Enjoy!
And to my brother Mark, sorry for the short joke, it's all relative.

Love,
Sal

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Summer of Stupids. And Earwigs

This is just a quick post on a sleepy Sunday evening, but one I've been meaning to make for a while.

So, a few months ago when my last lambs were born, as I always do, I commissioned a neat little creep feeder for them to get in and enjoy some grain without having to compete with their bigger, more experienced mothers. This has never been a problem before.  Once the lambs figure out that it's easier and more readily available, in the feeder, free from overbearing mothers, they sneak in and snack.  Well, three creep feeder designs and nearly five months later and my lambs cannot figure it out.  I even went to the extreme  of shutting them in the feeder for a few days, making the grain available and showing them that it comes twice a day, at the same place.  Just be there.
Apparently, these lambs prefer the head butting that they endure when they dare to stick their heads in a place where their mothers and aunts may think for a minute that there might be a rare kernel of grain left.  They are the strangest lambs I've ever dealt with, and I have to admit that I will be glad to be rid of these ones.  They're jumpy and scared and make the whole flock nervous.  They tear around like small wooly jumping beans, never really relaxing and always ready for flight.  Here's hoping them make delicious chops!  Fresh lamb will be available soon, and it's limited, so get your orders in now!

The second stupids on the farm and the pasture chickens.  It usually only take a day or so in the pens to figure out that when the pen is moving, you should run the front to a)get the fresh grass and b)avoid the oncoming back wall of the pen.  Nope, not this year.  There is one pen in particular who seems to have an extra bad case of the stupids and has yet to figure out how it all works, twice a day. 

And I'm sure, if you live in an earwigged area, that you've noticed that this summer in particular is devastatingly bad for the disgusting (and hearty) little insects.  The farm is simply crawling with them and anything left on the ground is guaranteed to be an earwig condo within hours.  I am increasingly amazed at their resilience and determination, even though I truly hate them.  I wondered aloud the other day to Mark about how they know where to go to find good hiding spots and he responded, "I'm pretty sure they just keep going up.  They're at the top of the 40 tonne tank and I don't think they knew it was that high when they started." 

And speaking of bugs, I don't know whether to be ecstatic or disgusted, but I have found a new, bizarre joy of Lucy is to squish potato bugs (the fat, red, soft bodied larvae) with her bare fingers.  She likes the pop and explosion of guts.  She's a welcome weapon in my garden! 

Well, if I don't go to bed soon, I'm going to add myself to this list of summer stupids for 2011. 

Hope this finds you warm and dry, free from earwigs and pleasantly exhausted.

-Sally  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer= Little Blogging


Many a blog reader has been asking me for an update on the fox situation.  I have been saying that I keep waiting for an update to post, but alas I can wait no longer.  Tonight while moving the chicken pens, Mark stumbled (literally) upon a fox carcass in the grass.  We celebrated momentarily over the possibility that maybe he had actually injured one bad enough one night that it up and died right in the pasture.  I hate to be a buzzkill, but I also noted the the grass was greener and lusher around it, and it was more mummified than rotted, suggesting that perhaps it was not exactly..er...recent.  Anyway, let's all pretend that it was the very one who wore herself out carrying 81 chickens away and simply could not escape the eagle eye skills of the great Bernard hunter himself.  Yes. That must be it.

I also haven't been writing because the summer somehow seems busier than any other time of the year. And despite the weather, it is in fact summer.  Old Home Week is next week and is always the Islander marker of the end of summer, so I guess we missed the hot part somewhere along the way. 
Anyway, if I had to itemize what I've been doing in all the 'busy time', I'm not exactly sure what that list would look like, but I suspect that a blender would play a role somewhere along the way.  And I only wish that included exciting, tasty blender drinks.  Instead I've been making soooo much baby food for Thayne, the 6 month eating wonder, that I feel like 'puree' is my middle name.  I don't remember feeling this overwhelmed with baby food with the other two, but I just can't keep up this time around.
So in the moments where I might otherwise be blogging on a quiet evening, I'm tearing up Freetown with blended carrots, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, beets, chicken, beans. 

Here's the culprit.  The newest Speerville convert.

 I've also been doing a fair bit of summer 'relaxing', by which I mean, spending time with family.  I think I've been 'across' more this summer than most and it's been great.  I grabbed this shot of a sleepy Wilson on the way home from West Branch on one of our recent trips.  As you can see, he was too tired to even eat his last mini oreo, care of Poohie.  Not letting it out of his sleepy grasp though.  Funny, we all sort of feel that way after a good weekend away.  :)
And, just hosted another good Wilson Weekend here and am starting to get caught up on sleep.  I love seeing my nieces and nephews carrying it on.  And the food.  Man, it seems like we never stop eating. 
Speaking of which, Mark and I have started running together this week.  I have to admit that I actually really enjoy running with someone else, although taking a long break is NOT as easy to recover from as one might think.  I have big ideas for some upcoming races, but we'll see how those play out.  (wink wink Mark!)

Anyway, the farm moves along. Sheep have been sheared, wool has been bagged, first (few) chickens will be ready to eat/freeze next week (Aug. 10th), lambs are ready to ship (finally!), ewes have been bred, organic inspection completed, compost has been turned, hay put in, winter wheat being closely watched, plough is getting ready to go and garden soldiers on. 
OH!  Please check out the website for the Meet Your Farmer Bike Tours being organized by (who else!) ACORN. There is one in each Maritime Province this summer and it is a brilliant idea.  Turns out, Barnyard Organics just HAPPENS to be a stop on the PEI tour and we're so excited.  September 4th will see 25 bikes roll into the farm for a tour, snacks, etc.  The NS one is full and the NB one is coming right up (Aug 13th) and sounds super good.  Worth checking out.

Hope this finds you enjoying every bit of sun that makes its way to you.

-Sally