Monday, September 28, 2009

The Boy Is Back In Town

Tis the time of year when the air gets breezy and crisp, the leaves begin to turn, and hormones get all a flutter; in sheep at least. I had been negligent in finding an appropriate ram for my ladies and as usual left it to the last minute, but also as usual, things have worked out really well. In the past, I have always stayed with a purebred dorset ram to maintain my purebred lines since I figured it was a benefit to have the option of selling registered breeding stock as well. I'm yet to use that option and right now, my organic lamb is worth more in a freezer than in a show ring, so I decided to branch out and look for a ram who would bring some helpful/valuable characteristics to my lambs. I've been considering the North Country Cheviot breed for some time, but have been wary of thier tendency to be a My little dorsets are so calm and easy going that I have no trouble in handling them, but I've seen how jumpy and crazy cheviots can be. I've also seen the meatyness of them and figure that they may bring a faster growing lamb to the flock. They're also a maternal breed, are hardy and make good use of pasture so if I choose to keep some females they may be a good addition to my flock.
ANYway, enough justifying! My mom shopped for a ram for me at the annual sheep sale in Truro back at the beginning of September, but apparently Quebec buyers were there in numbers and the prices were going high. Good for the farmers, not so good for me. So I began a desperate search. I really wanted to rent a ram rather than buying one, primarily because I would have to house him all winter and due to the fact that Lucy enjoys getting right in amongst the flock and I don't have great trust with rams, I'd have to keep him separate. I also wanted to try breeding something other than a dorset, but didn't know if I wanted to do it more than once, so didn't want the committment of potentially having him for more than one season. Renting a ram however, has its own share of problems due to never really knowing enough about an animal and what sort of history it has, what kind of problems it might bring, etc. Particularly in an organic system where I don't have the chemical tools usually used to treat things like ticks for example.
Anyway, long story short, a girl who bought a bunch of spring lambs with the intention of breeding them, figured she wouldn't need her ram until much later this fall and I wanted an early lambing, so in exchange for trimming his feet (or rather, Mark trimming his feet), I've got a big beautiful, 3 year old, North Country Cheviot ram in my flock these days. I checked his tattoo as we unloaded him and according to the Canadian Livestock records he was originally owned by the late, great Allison Stewart, a locally reknowned North Country and Suffolk breeder who just recently passed away. The ram has perfect North Country character in his face and is truly the picture of fine breeding lines, or at least I think so. Judge for yourself.

Notice he's the king of the hay mountain there. We don't trust him, but so far he's been too interested in the ladies to even notice us.

The green on his chest is the breeding marker we rigged up. We didn't have a marking harness, which is the most common way to mark the ewes who have been bred, but wondered if a little vegetable shortening and tattoo ink would do the trick and as you can see from the green bums of some of the ewes, it's working! As of today I think there are 10 green hind ends, and he's been here for only a week so far. I'm a happy shepherdess these days and look forward to seeing what kind of floppy eared little lambs show up in February!

In other news, we attended Open Farm Day once again and once again we're glad we did. We only made it to one spot this year as accomodating naps, kids and thier accompanying accessories is no small task, but we made it a good stop none the less. It was a breezy day so fittingly we went to Kool Breeze Farms in Summerside, who always make it all about the kids and each year they get more and more creative. There is the annual scarecrow contest and then out in the field there are big hay creations.

Although its a bit blurry I love this giant hay spider. I used Mark as the size comparison. haha.
This is a picture of Lucy checking out the scarecrow of "Boomer", the Island weather man, a celebrity of sorts.

Finally, we attended the afore mentioned Organic Harvest Meal last night and I'm still recovering today. What a spread! It was the first time that they did a sit-down meal versus a buffet and it was sooo good! I can't decide what my favorite part was, but somewhere between the organic beer, the savoury soup served in a pumpkin, the apple deliciousness and the keynote from What-Would-Ralph-Do-Martin I'm pretty sure I got drunk on amazing food and some good laughs. Worth every penny for sure! I didn't bring my big 'ole camera, but I'll include a picture of Wilson who looks like he is having as much fun as I did last night.
Hope all is well in your corner of the world!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lots of links and thinks today!

The Organic Harvest Meal is coming up and I must say that as I grow in what I like to think is my 'foodie' side, it is one of my favorite events of the year that Mark and I attend. The event is organized by the Certified Organic Producers Co-op here on PEI and since Mark is the current president we usually get to sit at a pretty good table, so that's one plus right off the bat. That meant that last year I got to sit right beside Chef Michael Smith who is a real celebrity these days (and a small secret crush of mine). He lives here on PEI and is a huge promoter of local and organic food and this year has a hand in the creation of the menu and the food for the event. I cannot wait. Another plus of Mark being president is that he is in touch with the organizer, Roy Vandermaar, so I had some early inside information about what the menu was looking like and damn it's gonna be a dandy!

Reception with Chef Michael Smith and Speerville Flour Mill
serving Wood Fired, Apple and Smoked Organic PEI Cheddar Flatbread
sampling "Picaroons Traditional Ales" Certified Organic Beer
Roasted Squash and Cauliflower Soup with Sage Pumpkin Seed Pesto and Chicken Dumpling
Heirloom Tomatoes with Warm Goat Cheese and Local Greens Beef Roulade with Roasted Garlic & Parsnip Potato Mash, Shiitake Mushroom Gravy
Farmers Market Vegetables Apple Gallette with PEI Organic Cheddar, Oatmeal Crumble and Maple Anglaise
Also, Speerville Flour Mill Wood Fired Artisan Breads with Whipped Herb Butter

There is something about that Speerville Wood Fired Bread that makes me melt. It's my favorite part every year.

There's been some confusion about the cost this year because the Fall Flavours (a big week-long culinary event held to showcase PEI food) website (which I linked to at the top of the post) is quoting $69 plus taxes, but it's actually $69 taxes in. Taking into consideration that this is a special, four course meal which uses only PEI certified organic products, cooked by top-notch professional chefs that is a pretty reasonable price. COPC members get a cheaper rate, which is helpful, but as someone who skimps and saves everywhere she can, I don't mind spending where it matters.
I've been talking to Mark about organizing an event specifically for PEI's organic farmers however, since the OHM is more of an event for the general public who are concerned about thier food and want to support organics and less for the farmers who produce it. I think it would be interesting to host something where everyone brought a dish made with some of the food they produce (or if you're a grain farmer, made with some local organic ingredients). I think it's safe to say that many of the new, young farmers in the region are involved in or are interested in the organic industry and although there exists groups like PEI Young Farmers, there still remains a stigma about 'hippie organic farmers' and it would be nice/encouraging to have a time for us to get together, just to chat, talk about the challenges, successes of being organic farmers, young and old. Even having time to chat about non-farm related stuff would be great as we have a lot of the same concerns about our food and our environment.
I went to a talk a few months ago, put on by Jen Campbell and Becky Townshend about thier respective CSA's and although it was really informative and exactly what I went for, it was the chatting afterwards that was so nice. It was great to be able to talk to people going through the same things, experiencing the same challenges, etc. Farming is an all-consuming career/lifestyle that is lacking the 'office Christmas party' of other businesses and I think that networking and having time to sit-back and relate is really important for the growth of the organic community here. And then there is the ACORN organic conference that happens in the spring, which is a huge, growing event, but I think something Island specific would be so good.

Whew, the soapbox is wearing thin today, especially with no pictures to share! We're having some of that precious warm September weather these days so I won't waste another minute of it in here on the computer. I know I'm only procrastinating on beginning to clean up the garden for another year.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well, the market goers didn't lie; they really did want fresh chickens over frozen. I'm still convinced that many of them took the birds home and promptly plunked them in the freezer, but that's just me being cynical (and probably shooting myself in the foot as well since many of them probably read this!) Anyway, our sales were up about 500% from the week before which is pretty fantastic. I also did what I swore I'd never do and took some fresh lamb cuts to see how they would sell. For the first time and for not really knowing how people would want the cuts I'd say it went pretty well. I should have gotten the racks cut up into chops instead of leaving them whole because they're nearly a four pound product left whole and that's generally far too much for most people especially when the comment I heard the most was, "Oh, that's way too big, since I'm the only one who eats at our house." Seems like there's a lot of homes with a single lamb-eater. Too bad. Although I can't say it's any different at this house. hahaha.

Anyway, overall, a much bigger success. I really enjoyed my market experience. It was nice to be busy, be outside in the sun, talking with people, meeting customers, selling things I believed in. I always say there are other things I'd rather do with my Saturday mornings, but in retrospect after having done it for a couple weeks, if it wasn't such a hassle for Mark to keep the kids I'd seriously consider doing it more often, on a more regular basis. That would mean we'd have to have fresh chicken and lamb on a more regular basis as well however, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Oh well. We've got to figure something out for Thanksgiving weekend however, since we've taken orders for fresh chickens that weekend and also have a wedding in somewhereville NS (Sherbrooke) which we need to get to that Saturday afternoon. (Just looked it up on MapQuest and it tells me that we're a 4 hour and 3 minute drive- not including the kid-drop off at my parent's place... oh my....). Perhaps we'll do a chicken drop-off that Friday evening. It's unfortunate to have to miss out on all those Thanksgiving customers that Saturday though! We'll have a freezer full of PERFECT, fresh chickens ready for the oven and no one to sell them. Hmmm..any suggestions out there? Anyone want to sell birds for us? We'll give you one in return!? Bahahaha!
Moving on! We had a lovely anniversary. The pictures for this post were taken on the day, Sept. 9th and what a day it was (I highly recommend September weddings- the weather is heavenly). You can see the reflection of the mirror in the combine shot that Mark has a beer in hand. This is not a frequent occurance, just a brief celebration with me in the midst of harvesting wheat. He's finished the grains now and is just waiting for the soybeans to be ready (likely late October at this point). That is not to say that 'just waiting' means I see him any more than when he was combining. (Ahem.) He's been seeding out oats as a winter cover crop and moving the grains among the bins that we've got available, dealing with some roasting orders and working out contracts. Bizzy bizzy bizzy.

My double tooth extraction went swimmingly despite the fact that when I sat down, the dentist mumbles to me in a thick french accent that he's only 68, too young to have 'da cataract'. Um? Sorry? Oh, no big deal, he had one operated on last year and is going for 'de udder one dis fall'. Oh, well then, what a relief!? He grabbed the right teeth, so that's all that matters I guess...
Mark and Lucy stretching for a quick kiss during a visit to the field in the middle of harvest.

The kids are well and although the weather has cooled down considerably, life is still running pretty smoothly here. My peppers and tomatoes are having a hard time ripening, but I managed to make one batch of salsa yesterday. We're yet to try it, but it looks good in the bottles so fingers crossed. Am about to tackle pickling hot peppers for the first time as soon as I finish this post.
As a side project this year, I've taken on the role of music director for the Sunday School at our church (Summerside Presbyterian) which begins this Sunday. I'm really looking forward to it as the Sunday School hasn't really had a music component before and I still remember really loving that part of Sunday School when I went as a little kid. So I've been practising and remembering all the old favorites this week, along with Lucy's help. There's one that goes, "Hallelu-hallelu-hallelu-hallelujah! Praise ye the Lord!" and I usually do the 'Hallelu' parts and Lucy does the 'Praise Ye the Lord' part except she says, "CRAZY Lord!" instead. Pretty cute stuff if I do say so myself.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world!


Friday, September 11, 2009

Quick Note

More to come later, but wanted everyone to know that I will be having fresh lamb for sale at the market tomorrow. Come early to get your favorite cuts! This is a very limited time offer. So much so that it won't be happening again. Unless through some miracle it turns out to be the most lucrative thing since roasted soybeans.

Highly unlikely I think.

See you at the Summerside Farmers Market!!!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Market(ing) 101

Our display off the back of the truck, beside the entrance, when Mark and Co. showed up for a few minutes. From this picture it looks a bit 'shiftless' to me with the papers and things, but at the time I thought it was fantastic. (See blackboard photo below for full effect)
So the first show at the market for Barnyard Organics was ...bittersweet, I guess. Everyone says, and I got the impression that the first week is not a fair representation of what it gets to be like after some time, but since this isn't something we're interested in doing for the long haul it was only fair in terms of business.

As I mentioned in the last post, I was really hoping to get some names for lamb orders, which I did, and we got some orders for Thanksgiving chickens, but I have to be honest and say that we only sold one chicken yesterday. I'm actually embarrassed to put that on here, but this is supposed to be an honest account of our farm (although if that were true, there'd be a lot more arguing and 'discussion' included! hahaha). A couple of people asked for one, but then said they were too big and left. A couple other people only wanted fresh ones (which sort of annoys me, since most of the time they're probably only going to take them home and put them in thier freezer). And then for lamb, there was lots of interest, but most people only wanted a piece of leg, or a chop, or some ground lamb. I kept telling them that a side is only about 20 lbs of meat, but no one has freezer space anymore. I don't understand it! We've only got a medium sized freezer, but it's got a side of pork, a quarter of beef, a little lamb, and some chickens in there. Then all my frozen peppers, berries, pumpkin, etc. off to the side. What are people putting in thier freezers? Fudgesicles and chicken nuggets?! (Don't let me fool you into thinking I'm too good for fudgesicles and chicken nuggets, I've got those too, know what I mean!)
The chalkbaord with our list of goods and logo (I'm so impressed with myself for the replica. haha!)
Anyway, so it was a little frustrating on the meat front, but encouraging on the edamame front. It sold out well. Because Tomoko doesn't have her booth at the market anymore, and she used to serve edamame with her sushi, lots of people knew what it was and wanted a fix. So we were able to fill that void. Then others were just curious and I was glad that I had made up a sheet called "What the heck is edamame and what do I do with it!?" which included cooking instructions, some basic info and nutritional information. We charged $3 for a half pound bag, which is a good sized serving and a few people took it home just to 'try it'. I feel pretty confident that anyone who tries it will want to try it again, so we'll have lots more available if we go again next week and I'll probably try to have samples available next time.

That is currently up for discussion because while we definately we made money, I don't think we made enough to cover my time and/or child care. Mark and his mom kept the kids, but it's a long, busy stretch with two kids from 7:30 to 1:30, so not to be ignored in the calculation of worth-while-ness.
One of the boxes, with oats and triticale. The other box had wheat and spelt. Not that anyone cared.
Maybe I'm just sour because we hardly sold any of my fancy wheat sheaves at all. I chopped the price in half (to $2 each or 3 for $5) about an hour after I got there, and even then only sold a couple. Lots of people walked by and thought they were 'cute', but only a couple people really picked them up or seriously considered them. Ya know how when you go to one of those Christmas craft sales and there's that one decoration that EVERYONE HAS GOT TO HAVE, because the right person is carrying it around? I think that's kind of the way with these things... I wonder if the well established flower-woman at the Charlottetown market had them, if they would sell? Or what they sell for in Halifax? Was everyone who looked at them too much like me and thought, "That's crazy! Those are cute, but I could THAT!" The thing is, we could all do it, but no one DOES! That's why we buy things... Anyway, that was my first lesson in expectations and being shot down. Since they're still perfectly fine, I can always take them back if we go again, and I was thinking that maybe corn stalks would sell too, but do I really want to waste my time if people are just going to smile at them?

It wasn't a completely negative experience however. All the vendors are really great. Gerry, the manager is fantastic! I felt the sense of community that I had hoped for. I met a lot of people who read this blog, which is always amazing to me, since it started out as a little 'newsletter' of sorts for family and friends and now seems to have taken on a bit of a following- if I could only translate that into $$! hahaha.) It was a BEAUTIFUL day and I had an outdoor booth (just plugged the freezer in outside-perfect!). I had a great spot, right by the door, totally unavoidable. I got to chat to people I rarely see. It was a morning without the kids! hahaha! I was also next to the market 'buskers'. There was the usual fiddler, then a piper came along who played the bodhran for a while and then a sweet little girl who did some tap/highland? dancing who were right beside me, and with the sun and breeze it couldn't have been a nicer day.
SO, we've got fresh chickens come Friday afternoon, and I'm shipping two lambs this week, which might be ready for Friday as well, so we could potentially hit up the market again next Saturday with lots of 'FRESH' meat. This a busy week though; with Mark likely combining everyday, our anniversary on Wednesday(which will amount to very little I'm sure with it being such good harvesting weather), I'm getting two wisdom teeth pulled on Thursday and friends coming to visit on Friday night, and chickens and lambs off to thier respective abbatoirs, so we'll have to see how things go.

I think I may have made this out to sound like a pretty bad experience overall, which it really wasn't. We sold all the edamame, some of the oat cover crop seed (which was kind of a last minute, thrown together, zero effort idea), all the sunflowers (which I actually took just as display, but that's all anyone wanted so I sold them for a $1/handfull) and made some good contacts for lamb. Probably for a first showing, that's pretty decent. If we were planning on being there long-term I might be more heartened, but when it's something we were hoping to only have to do when we need to sell chickens, it wasn't an overwhelming success by any means. Yet, I have a feeling I'll be back in just 6 days from now, trying it again. That will truly tell the tale of the future for Barnyard Organics at the Market.

Hope all is well on this chilly September night in your corner of the world. This weather lately has been heavenly. Warm days and cold nights are my dreams come true.


ps. It was really nice to meet some of you readers! Thanks for the support!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This Little Piggy Went to (the) Market

Kent County Agricultural Fair, seen from across the river in Ste. Marie-de-Kent, NB.
And this Saturday that little piggy will be me!! That's right, Barnyard Organics is making it's Farmer's Market debut and the Spring Street Farmers Market in Summerside! WhoohooO!

I'm nervous and excited at the same time. Nervous that we won't sell anything, excited to be a part of it all. I've always liked going to the market, but wasn't so keen on spending my entire Saturday mornings there if I didn't have to. But we've got more chickens coming and although we haven't tried all that hard to sell the ones we've got now, we thought the market might open us up to a new demographic of people willing to pay for a premium product. The other big reason we're going is to sell the edamame. Anyway, I think it'll be a good experience if nothing else. My biggest hope, personally, is to get some orders for lamb, since there'll be two ready next week and 8 more along the next few weeks/months.

I've also spent some time this week putting together some decorative sheaves of various grains, tied up all purrrdy with a bow, since we know that it's the stuff that people don't need that they spend the most money on. (If you're a potential customer please skip this paragraph! haha!) Anyway, I wasn't sure how they'd turn out, but I'm pretty impressed with myself really. I've got winter wheat, triticale, spelt and oats, each looking very different and very pretty. I had great intentions of having all kinds of pictures of what I'll be selling posted to the blog as pre-advertisement, but alas, it hasn't happened. I've got pictures on my camera, but every toy ever created seems to require batteries, so my camera has fallen to the bottom of the list- even though it's far less annoying that a little train that pipes the same tooting song over and over and over and over and over.....
SO, you'll just have to come to the market for yourself to see what we've got. Or, you could wait until next week and I'll put some up here for you to see. If I were you, I'd go with option one.

So that's what's coming up, here's what's been happening;

Mark is currently enjoying his second day of harvesting the spring crops, yay. :)
We took a 'vacation' last week and went home for the Kent Country Agricultural Fair, which has yet to let me down. What a great time. Mom and Dad were camping at the fair, so we got to sort of take over the house and travel back and forth at our leisure-although I've come to realize that with a 1.5 year old and a baby, there is very little relaxing about 'leisure'. Thankfully I've got a couple great neices and nephews who babysat for us while Mark and I hit up the fair by ourselves (or rather with my brother Mark and his wife Lisa, who we always look forward to seeing and visiting with when we go to West Branch).
Mom accepted her Farmer of the Year award like the celebrity she is and made a really sweet speech that made me cry just a little. I don't know what it is about the fair, but it makes me awfully nostalgic and sentimental. And glad that I married a farmer and into agriculture.

Mom and Dad rode into the ring in a fancy horse drawn carriage, with the premier, Shawn Graham (waving wildly), which is just a little bit hilarious, given the family connection (my grandmother married Shawn's grandfather).

When we returned from home (meaning West Branch, NB for me) we attended the Meal in the Field (aforementioned in the last post) which was held at the Rossignol Winery in Little Sands, PEI. Beautifully done event. We were matched up with Joel Short from Georgetown Inn, who showcased our chicken in a sushi type dish. He served it as pulled chicken with an Asian glaze rolled it up in rice, in a cone of kelp. He also offered it in the more traditional sushi roll. Either way, it was delicious and definately a new way to enjoy it. We got to taste lots of great wines and snack on some really really tasty dishes. (Mark's fav was our chicken, mine was Roy Vandemaar's pulled pork sandwiches made by the chef at Stanhope Resort, although all the food was pretty Deeelish.) Nicely done event. Made me all that much more excited for the Organic Harvest Meal coming up September, 27th, also organized by Roy.

Anyway, am pretty exhausted and have a big day tomorrow, so off to bed I go. Stay posted for the results!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world!