Friday, December 31, 2010

Retrospect = 20/20

It seems appropriate that I'm suddenly full of hindsight on the dawn of a new year, but it really has more to do with the sudden onset of a cold winter and circumstances colliding to make a clearer view of certain choices.
Firstly, it's funny how short a memory can be when things are going well and buying twice as many laying hens as previous years seems like a good idea and a brilliant business decision.  Hens, after all, are the lowest maintenance animal there is, aren't they?  I mean, they don't eat much, they peck around all summer and stay inside all winter, giving fresh eggs everyday.  That whole, giving eggs everyday however, can be a problem, when customers take Christmas vacation from eating eggs and the farmers (who happen to be the main egg consumers) go off to NB for three days.  What results is a ridiculous amount of eggs upon return.  
So, when we decided to get twice as many hens, we apparently also made the decision to keep our year-old ladies on over the winter (which we've never done before).  It seems silly to kill off year old birds who are still producing an egg every few days.  That is until you find yourself laid on your back on the icy precipice that is the walk from the coop the main barn (where the water source is), having just dumped the entire water feeder all over yourself when you slipped (and having just filled it that morning).  That is until you have a child who refuses to walk and sits on the same icy path, screaming his face off until you respond, two buckets of eggs, and a bucket full of milk in hand, ready for the long trek home.  That is until you begin to hate even thinking about opening the door of the coop which houses those dreaded birds that you so enjoyed watching throughout the summer, happily picking through your leaves and lawn.  
My vote, having now seen the light of retrospect, is to kill off the old ladies (I don't CARE how productive they continue to be in their maturity) and NEVER ever again order twice as many as we currently have customers for, not matter 'how easy it is to sell eggs' at the time. 

And speaking of a kid who won't walk, hindsight tells me that although it may have been always easier to just pick him up and truck him along wherever we wanted to go, it taught him nothing and now makes for a miserable EVERYBODY, as the prospect of a baby sibling who actually REQUIRES carrying, looms near.  A battle of who-is-more-stubborn, in the parking lot of every store in Summerside, does not make for a happy mother, thus an unhappy household.  It also makes for a cold wet bum of the boy having the tantrum in the slush and a cold, impatient sister.  Good times.

Hindsight has also taught me to pick very different marker colours for the rams when I do two different breeding groups. Blue and green turn out to be VERY similar when it comes to separating the ewes and depriving a ewe of any grain prior to lambing seems to make a big difference in the lamb itself.  The morning we were scheduled to leave for NB, I went out to the barn, checked over the two ewes I had left to lamb, fed everyone and happened to notice a strange, tiny little white lump curled up on the WRONG side of the barn (the side of the barn where the ewes not due until March are housed).  It's mother was at the manger eating away and the little cat-sized thing was pathetically trying to make itself comfortable in the straw.  We DID eventually get to NB (for a great visit I might mention) and the lamb continues to do fine, but after letting it out with the rest of the flock for a day, I could see that it was too far behind the rest of the rambunctious lambs to really strive.  So, her and her mother have their own deluxe pen in the corner of the barn and she seems to be much happier (she at least isn't getting plowed over and looking so pathetic as the rest of the lambs romp and play).  Result?  Dramatically different coloured markers and watching the calendar to ensure that the ram is taken out at least a couple weeks before Christmas lambs would be due to arrive.  On the upside, I've never seen growth in lambs like I am in these ones.  They are all singles, which is really ideal as far as I'm concerned, and there were two rams who were big to begin with, but they seem to have quadrupled their weight in only a couple weeks.  Must be that Cheviot blood.  Thanks Duncan!

In other news, my Christmas present was the kitchen island I've been nagging for ever since we moved into this house and retrospect asks me why we didn't do it sooner.  It's perfect. 

Here's before:
And here's after!
Here's a few pics from our Christmas;

At 5am, Wilson was more interested in stogging his stocking chocolate in before someone told him otherwise, than the presents.
Wilson and his Dad inspecting/fighting over the new Massey tractor from Poohie and Grampy.  "It even has a manure scoop on it!"
 Lucy and I trying out my new pasta machine.  It works like a dream and is a great 'helper' sort of job!
 Lucy and her Grampy in West Branch having a feed of nuts.
 My sister April getting an accordion lesson from Dad, with an audience looking on in excitement and I'm sure, adoration!

It was a beautiful, family filled Christmas and I feel so blessed.  The weather outside is chilly, but as it should be this time of year.  As I read in a poem a few weeks ago an old man was asked if he didn't hate the Maritime winters after all these years and he replied something to the tune of,
"The pantry's full of food, the shed is full of wood, the loft is full of hay, let 'er come."

I feel the very same.

Have a fun and cozy New Years and a healthy, happy 2011!



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Wish

Despite being the youngest of nine kids, due to a significant age gap, I grew up more like an only child, but in a busier house than normal.  Maybe that's why I remember so clearly the day in the car that I asked my dad if the big guy in red was the age of 12.  And his always infinitely patient but ever-so-slightly exasperated answer of, "What do YOU think?" to a child whose peers had known the truth for half their lifetime already. 
Maybe that naivete is what makes me so sentimental about Christmas and all the traditions.  Maybe it's the pregnancy hormones too, or the veil of 'tired' that has become part of my wardrobe lately, but it doesn't take much for me to get happy and nostalgic to the point of tears these days.

My mom began a tradition a couple decades ago (can't be decades!!) of each year making a Christmas tree ornament for each of her grandchildren so that when they grew up and moved away, they would have their own set of ornaments to take with them to their respective Christmas trees.  Back to being a pseudo only-child, and perhaps because she had a grand daughter older than me, I managed to get onto the list of ornament recipients each year as well.  So now, when I dig out the shoebox full of ornaments each year, I get to walk through a bit of a time warp as each ornament finds its place on the tree (now out of reach of stretched out hands), and although each one doesn't necessarily carry a specific memory of that year or something significant, together, the set of those ornaments takes me right back to West Branch and where I came from.  My sister, April, did much the same with me, creating (yes, always handmade-despite being a mom of three wee ones) unique and pertinent decorations for my Christmas collection and those ornaments tell each of their own stories as well.

So, in the spirit of nostalgia and that genuine heartstring-pulling feeling that comes only at Christmas, I send you a very sincere Barnyard Organics Merry Christmas.

I hope you get  make time for those you love, especially over the holidays which are actually designed for just that.
I hope you make time for yourself, to sit back and reflect on all the blessings, all the good things that you are so fortunate to enjoy.  I hope you also sit back and reflect on the harder times and what those have done to you and for you.
May you remember those no longer with you and celebrate the joy that they specifically brought to the season.
May you look excitedly upon a whole new year, a whole new set of opportunities waiting to be found out and promise yourself to tackle at least one thing that makes you nervous/scared/apprehensive.
I hope that you eat until you are full and content and take a moment to think about the source of that food, where it came from, who might have raised/grown it. 
I hope that you are able to give a gift that you really want to give.

No matter your background, may you make time to reflect on the origins of this holiday for you and the importance of religion in an increasingly secular, and world.

Enjoy the simple things within your traditions, whatever they may be.
Like, the way a Christmas tree lights up a room in the early morning hours.
Or how neighbors suddenly stop in, just for a visit, unlike any other time of year.
The tell-tale evidence of powdered sugar on grinning faces.
The smells of the greenery and tree, the baking, the turkey, snow (we hope), the orange in the toe of your stocking.
The sharp crack of a hazelnut, walnut or almond being broken into and promptly gobbled up.
The laughter, stories, music and games that come with family.

The overwhelming warmth of being 'home' and full and completely content.

Lambing continues here and the wind and rain are unrelenting, but the spirit of Christmas is filling us up, none-the-less.  Lucy continues to fill the house with caroling at all times and Wilson seems to have a sense of excitement, combined with complete obliviousness.  No one seems sure what will happen after 'three more sleeps', but the sense seems to be that it's going to be good!

So, from our wee shepherds, to you, have yourself a merry little Christmas and enjoy every moment.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rumens and Humans

The Christmas tree salespeople have been on the news lately complaining of low sales as apparently the sale of artificial trees is growing each year.  They said that the lack of snow is one of the main reasons that people haven't bought their trees yet, so they should be happy today.  We've gotten a pretty, nice little dusting over the last couple days and there is just enough to make things sparkly without needing a shovel.  It's supposed to turn mild tomorrow, so we might take advantage of the frost in the ground today to go find ours, even though we won't put it up for at least another week.  The spot on the farm that seems to have the most fir trees borders a plowed field this year, so it's going to be a bumpy ride back (and we hope the tree survives with only one busted up side after being hauled behind whatever implement we choose to go back with), but adventurous as usual.  

I haven't posted in a while, for no real significant reason.  I'm starting to slow down (rather reluctantly) and am getting more tired everyday, so when I would usually be writing a blog entry, I am instead laid out somewhere, 'vegging' as they say.  Lambs have started to arrive (a couple days late for the Sunday School concert photos) and so far so good.  The first guy was big and had to be pulled and he looks like he's three weeks old already. He's got the cute North Country Cheviot face and proves his heritage by being an excellent jumper (Cheviots are notoriously 'crazy' and jumpy). 

In other sheep news, we have finally purchased our own ram.  After trading with my mom and trying out the renting thing, it only made sense that as we're trying to be a fairly closed flock and we're organic, we have our own man about town, if you will.  He's young yet, but turning out to be a handsome fellow.  We'll see how his progeny turns out when my second batch of ladies start to lamb in March.  Although I like having the Cheviot blood in my flock, there seems to be a bit of a market developing for purebred breeding stock right now, so it will be nice to have some pure dorsets around again.

Sticking with the ruminants, milking has fallen into a nice little routine of milking as much as we need/want in the morning, letting the calf out for the day, then shutting her in at night when we feed Rosie so that there will be lots of milk in the morning again.  We seem to have rid Rosie of most of her annoying mannerisms while milking, although my patience wears thinner much quicker than Mark's on most days (no surprise there I'm sure).  I'm including a rare picture of me (or rather, mostly just my ample nose) milking the cow in my "beautiful pea green boat' as Mark so affectionately calls my self-made maternity one-piece snow suit.  It's only self made in that nearly all the seams in the back have been completely ripped out to make room in the front for a growing belly.  And since I washed it a couple weeks ago, most of the seams on the inside have let go as well, so the pockets no longer hold anything and half the time I shove my hand or feet into the stuffing rather than into a sleeve.  But it does the job, so no complaints here.  Only from Mark who seems mortified everytime I put it on (even though we're only going to the barn!).

 Here's a growing Poppy.

On our first milk product adventure we made butter, which actually turned out far better than I expected.  It was really easy (ok ok, Mark did the hardest part-shaking the cream) and is pretty much exactly the same as 'boughten'.  Cream seems to carry more of a 'homemade' milk flavour than the milk itself, and my 'delicate palate' (har har) can pick it up in the butter, but overall, I was pretty impressed. 

Here's some fresh homemade bread, half eaten, made with Speerville flour (NB), spread with Barnyard Organics butter.
Here's my little snow bunny, after my own heart, gathering up as much of a handful of the white stuff as she can to have a little snack first thing this beautiful morning.
The Sunday School concert is next week, which means today is our last practice, so I'd better go get my Nativity Scene director's hat on (and maybe tie on a few extra patience to boot).  I hear Mark battling over church clothes with our increasingly independent duo upstairs, I'd better go begin my own battle with the closet of muumuus.

Hope this finds your squinting at the snow in the sunlight, or at least enjoying the view of whatever is out your window today.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Organic Christmas!

Have an Organic Christmas!

Barnyard Organics is excited to be offering, for the first time, a Christmas promotion that is sure to please all you health and environmentally conscious eaters out there! 

For the low price of only $75 you will receive a hamper that includes **

  • Two organic chickens (5 lbs.each avg.) (value of $35)
  •   Three packs of organic lamb chops (1 lb./pk) or One organic lamb roast (value of $30)
  • Two dozen organic brown eggs (value of $8)
  •  One package of ground lamb or lamb sausage (value of $8)
  • A coupon for a 2 for 1 discount on fresh chickens or lamb in 2011.
  • A jar of mint jelly to accompany the lamb
  • Booklet with directions for cooking organic meats and recipe ideas for the holidays!
          **substitutions/additions can be arranged

This is a great chance for anyone new to lamb, to try it out and experience the flavour you’ve been missing out on.  The new smell of Christmas at your house will be a lamb roast with rosemary and mint, wafting through the halls.  And with the recipe ideas, you won’t be left wondering the best way to serve all your organic meat!  

We also have individual chickens available for sale, as well as lamb, so if the above deal doesn’t suit your needs, I’m sure we can accommodate your Christmas wishes.   

As you know, all of our animals are raised on pasture and fed only the highest quality organic hay and grains, grown right here on the farm.  Our laying hens are still out and about, picking through the snow and running through the mud.  Our new lambs are arriving as this goes out and while we wait for our own new baby (#3) to arrive in January, life on the farm in 2011 is already looking busy and bright!  Read our blog ( to keep up to date with the farm and the family.

This is a limited time offer until Christmas and once the meat is gone, so is the deal, so don’t wait!  We will deliver to Charlottetown and Summerside for your convenience.

Mark, Sally, Lucy and Wilson Bernard 
Barnyard Organics
Freetown, PE C0B1L0

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bolt or Armstrong?

I realize you are all tired of hearing about milking a cow, but I have one last comment to make.  Rosie seems to have settled in nicely to our routine and we have a LOT of milk, which is great. We keep Poppy in her own pen overnight, so morning milkings are the most successful and the evening ones are really just to empty her out for the long, calf-less night ahead.  Despite my repeated moans, "My hands aren't getting any stronger! I can't go any longer now than I could two weeks ago!", I think I am getting more milk than ever in the small burst of speedy milking that I do.  If I am Usain Bolt however, Mark is Lance Armstrong (I realize they are completely different sports- but the Armstrong pun was too good to resist).  By that I mean, he is slower, but manages to last much longer and get more milk than I do, and also a frothier foam on the top, which according my books is the true indicator of a successful milker.  In any case, both Bolt and Armstrong get their chance to shine and Rosie doesn't protest when we move from one to other, so things are good on that front.

In other livestock news, each morning when I go to the sheep barn I say a quiet, quick little wish into the grain bin that when I open the door, there will be baby lambs waiting to greet me.  According to my calendar they should be here by now, or any minute and although I'm always eager to have the first lambs this year there is added urgency.  Firstly, the Sunday school group from our church is coming out on Sunday to take photographs of a living nativity scene to be shown at the Christmas concert and baby lambs are sort of a key cast member in charge of the cuteness factor of the photographs.  Secondly, I don't particularly want to be checking the barn come Christmas.  I am looking forward to getting home to West Branch for a couple days after Christmas and leaving a lactating cow is chore enough, baby lambs yet to arrive would probably push my favour-asking over the limit of my accommodating in-laws.  But with only eight ewes bred (or so I think) for this early lambing, once they start, surely they will team up and get it done at once. 

I am continuing to expand and each day regular activities get just a little trickier. I am starting to get to the point where I'm getting excited to meet this little critter, although I am really glad that Christmas will be over first.  January is usually a quiet sort of month (relative to the previous one at least) and although I always said November (Lucy) was a worse time to have a baby than April (Wilson), I think January will be just fine.

Mark is busy roasting beans and although the markets were looking a bit worrisome at first, they seem to have come around and kicked it into gear, for now.  At least the roaster is getting some action.  It puts out such a delicious smell!

We have a great Christmas promotion on our products right now, keep your eyes peeled for its blog debut very soon!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Milking tips welcome!

So the learning continues here at Barnyard Organics where our latest and largest challenge is Rosie's preference during milking.  I think we're slowly breaking the habit with some good jabs talking to's.  We've also refined things a bit with a sturdy floor for milking, versus the bedpack and found that even though we're sharing the milk with Mark's sister, we simply can't use it all fast enough, so are trying letting the calf out with her most of the time.  We milk her out twice a day and still have lots, so until there seems to be a problem, I think this will work best for everyone.  
This is another case of Mark doing something that is usually not done, or even frowned upon by most farmers and me playing the role of doubting Thomas, giving all the reasons it shouldn't work.  Why don't more one-cow milkers leave the calf with the cow? Why don't any of the hippie family cow books that I have, discuss that as a real option?  Is it because more people use more milk than we do?  Is it bad for the cow? I'm watching diligently for signs of mastitis, but it seems to reason that as long as we are milking her out dry twice a day, it should be fine, right?

Anyway, I guess we'll see.  Here's a rather bug-eye picture of Miss Poppy who is much cuter in person.  She's got a very 'beefy' build to her, but a cute little face.  We're not sure of her future yet, but for now she makes for good giggles as she bounds around the barn. 
Not much else new here.  Got a nice dose of snow last night and Lucy and I have been having some delicious white mitt-fulls for snacks (although not enough for a full bowl yet).  Cracking the layer of ice on the water troughs has been added to the chore list, but other than that, life is trucking along quite nicely.  
I had a nice, quick visit to my home in NB and came back with a dish of maple butter, which along with the Jersey cream and a guilty conscience that left with the warm weather, has been making for a rounder me.  

Since I've been a bit lacking on the rants lately, I'll just leave you with this.
I see where fast-food giant, Wendy's, is advertising "Natural Fries" because they have sea salt, rather than regular salt.  I think this is a perfect example of just how fluent and useless the word "natural" is when it comes to our food.  There are no standards, no requisites, NOTHING that makes something natural other than the label.  So, when you're looking at a product that says it's natural, remember that it could mean that the farmer just doesn't want to certify organic for some reason, or it could mean that they're using sea salt rather than table salt, could mean nothing at all. If you really want to be sure, go with a standard that has a set of strict rules, is enforced and monitored; like organic certification.  Just sayin'.    

Here are my sous-chefs at work, testing the durability of my kitchen drawers.
Hope this finds you cuddled up cozy enjoying the first true signs of winter!


Monday, November 15, 2010

A New Frontier

I don't know whether it's because my expectations were exceedingly low or whether it's because Mark seems to have a natural skill for milking a cow, but the whole milking thing has been going much better than anticipated, on my end at least.

This morning marks the 5th milking and most of what we've heard suggests that within a day or two the milk will take the turn from thick, sticky, yellow colostrum to drinkable, creamy Jersey milk. 

I'm blaming my large belly on my lack of natural aptitude for milking, but I think I just need to suck it up and spend some more time trying, because mostly it's just my hands that tire out.  We also haven't found the right size bucket or box for either one of us, so in these early days of  time consuming milkings, it's not the most comfortable situation.  Also, we have a nice stainless steel bucket, but it's too slippery to hold between our knees, so it ends up just sitting on the straw beneath the cow, which isn't ideal by any means. She doesn't move much, but some movement is inevitable and having the bucket in prime stepping range is tricky business. 

The other challenge has been our previously friendly cow Rosie turning into a child-hating demon.  We don't let the kids in the barn with her, but she will charge the door and gate if they are on the other side and paw at the straw like a bull in a movie.  She seems to be threatened by Lucy even more than our dog.  And Lucy has actually been really good about being calm and quiet around the barn for now.  So, just another little challenge with wee ones around.

NOTE: Was interrupted at this point while writing this for a phone call from a man unloading grain over at the farm to tell me that Mark broke his hand and needs a drive to the hospital.  Thankfully, the x-rays showed no breaks, just severe bruising.  It was from a crank that raises and lowers the augers that snapped back around, caught Mark's hand and stopped when it hit his elbow.  He got a stitch or two on his elbow since the crank hit hard enough to break the skin through 3 layers of heavy clothing, but there was ZERO wait at the hospital and things went smoothly.  So as per expected, Mark is out and about on the farm, with a wrapped hand and bandaged elbow and full of painkillers, waiting for the frost to finally dry off so he can get the last 20 acres of soybeans off the field.  We'll see how THAT goes.

Anyway, sadly enough, my first thought when I got that phone call was, "OH NO! I'm going to have to milk that cow all by myself!!!!"  Hahaha.  You can see that the sympathy runs pretty deep around here.

In other news, while I was waiting at the pharmacy to pick up Mark's prescription, I got a chance to (finally) pick up a copy of the latest Saltscapes magazine (a beautiful glossy paged magazine featuring unique and interesting articles about the Atlantic Provinces) and had a few minutes to browse through a great feature on organic and no-spray farming by Jodi DeLong. Jodi had contacted us a few months ago about the article and a photographer had come by to take some pictures a few weeks ago, so we were looking forward to seeing it and as with everytime we're in some kind of publication, you can never really prepare yourself with how it will look in the final version.  There are three photos of the farm, including one of us near the grain tanks, Mark holding some grain and a hen, posing coquettishly.  The article includes a profile of two other young organic and/or no-spray farms as well as an overview of new/young farmers and opportunities in the Maritimes.  I recommend you pick it up, if for no other reason that check out the pics of Barnyard Organics of course!!  And to tell me that I DO look pregnant, not just fat.  hahahahahaha!!

Well, I'd best be off to do some hand strengthening exercises in preparation for tonight's milking.  We'll see if the next milking update blog post is nearly as optimistic as this one started out!  Bah. :)

Hope this finds you healthy and able-bodied.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Poppy Arrives!

As predicted by our dairy-expert friend, Rosie gave birth to a big heifer calf this morning.  We figured it was close enough to Remembrance Day to call her Poppy (that will also help in the future when we can't remember how old she is).
So that's the news from Freetown this morning!  Now comes the many adventures of learning how to milk a cow, what to do with the calf, etc.  I feel a learning curve (and new forearm muscles) coming up!!!!

I hope your day is as beautiful as our weather is here!  Blue skies, sun shine and the crispness that only November can offer.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quick Farm Updates

 As per the original plans, we tried out the big round bale in the 'new' sheep barn yesterday.  And I will have to admit that it worked pretty well.  So far, anyway.  Mark did the rolling, after the tractor tipped it in the doorway, but it rolled a lot easier than I thought- especially for having a square side after a few months outside.  If you haven't guessed, we moved the girls in, out of the rain.  We probably could have gotten a little bit more out of the pasture, but this rain just isn't giving up and I could see visions of footrot and moisture-loving parasites breeding in the bazillions with every raindrop.  So, we moved them into a pretty cozy, dry and breezy barn where they can laze around and eat to their hearts content.  About half of them are due to lamb in a month or so, so I wanted to start giving them a little bit of grain to get their condition up after a long summer on pasture.  I also like to give some probiotic at this stage, and it's easiest to give with the grain, so we'll be starting that up soon too.  Ah yes, back to winter chores.
 Speaking of winter chores, if there is one thing I can say about Mark, it is that he does not 'arse around' when it comes to getting things done.  I hadn't even mentioned trimming sheep feet, and in fact had suggested that it probably wasn't a big priority right now, but when the kids and I went over the barn this afternoon, there he was in the tell tale postion; bent over, red-faced, cursing and struggling with ewes who refuse to take a good pedicure like a lady. You can see Wilson playing the role of apprentice, preparing for the day he can take over this favorite chore of a shepherd (or a shepherdess' husband in this case!). 
 In other news, our new hens have FINALLY started to lay!!  We got them about a month later than other years and it feels like eternity since they first stepped onto the farm back in June to last week when we rejoiced over the first tiny egg.  Since we have 28 of the new girls and still have 20 of the oldies, we didn't want to put them all together in the oldies pen.  The oldies are sooo bossy and territorial that they don't let the young'uns eat or roost or anything, and numbers this year just didn't leave us enough room to put them all together.  So Mark (again, not wasting any time!) put together a pretty cozy sorority house for the young ones. 
 I'm not sure what the establishment of such a lush coop means for the future of all the old girls (since we of them when the new ones start laying, but everyone is still laying pretty well, and with the extra house...who knows!  It could make for a LOT of eggs around, but I'll worry about that great kind of problem when it happens.
I had to include this picture that I found while going through some photos and it stopped me in my tracks.  I always say how much Wilson looks like his Dad, but this pic really proves it.  There is no denying the genes in this pool!

Hope this finds you high and dry!


A Not- So Fine Line

I stated a while ago that I was going to branch out and do some reviews of the various food/agriculture events that we go, but then after the Roving Feast, fell a bit flat on that promise.  Not from lack of thought or neglect however.  I have been purposely contemplating how to write my review of "Nigwek: Festival for an Organic PEI" and the "Organic Harvest Festival" because some good friends of ours (and readers of this blog) played key organizational roles in both and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I (as usual?) have some complaints.  Well, just one complaint really.

 Both of the events were geared for the general public, not the farmers.  And I can appreciate that both are trying to ease the public into the idea that organic can be an everyday commitment, not a rare treat.  Nigwek had a small mix of farm vendors, but was really about the speakers and the music and promoting the idea that an organic PEI is something that we can actually strive for.  Admittedly, Nigwek never claimed to showcase the organic farmers, so I guess I can't fault them for that.
Overall, I suppose that it was a pretty big success by most benchmarks.  It was a very windy, but very sunny Sunday afternoon and there were thousands of people who passed through Victoria Row, browsing through the vendors, listening to the music and taking it all in.  As promised, there was a diverse and good mix of music for all tastes, good speakers and it was essentially, a street party for the masses, aimed at promoting organics.
We had some problems with our plans to cook our edamame on site, due to some Coleman stove issues (and the wind) and the organizers were quick to step up and find an alternative.  We had the kids with us for the day, which always adds an extra element of chaos, and my nerves may have been a bit stretched to start with, but overall, we sold out and got a lot of names added to our list of interested customers from Charlottetown (something we had been hoping for).  Looking back, although by the end of the day I remember being exhausted and saying I wouldn't do it again, maybe like child birth, time heals all wounds (and bad memories).
photo by Amanda Jackson
Onto the Organic Harvest Festival, which I promoted heavily on here and on our farm Facebook site, and the true issue of contention for me, on this grey wet morning.  I was going to just avoid commenting or reviewing this event all together, because overall it really was a raging success, but after reading the latest ACORN newsletter in which there was a thank you to (nearly) everyone involved, I've taken up my usual stance on the soapbox, with a purpose.
This festival is exactly what the Certified Organic Producers Coop needed to do.  It was a beautiful day; the activities for the kids were perfect; the chefs and their food was amazing; the venue was perfect; the music was just right; the organization was outstanding, for the most part; and I think it's safe to say that everyone had a really good time.  The food was all from PEI and nearly entirely organic, which is an organizational feat in itself.  But where did that food come from?

Had I not been one of the farmers who provided some of that food (lamb and eggs), I would not have known.  I realize that in organizing a big event like this, particularly for the first time, that some things are going to fall through the cracks, but I'm disappointed that once again, it was the farmers who got left behind.  The run up to the event promised farmer profiles and admittedly I didn't manage to cover the entire grounds of the event (between trying to eat and chasing toddlers with candy apple weapons through straw piles) and the profiles may have been inside the building on-site, so I will blame myself for not seeing them.  However, there were signs beside each menu item explaining what food item was what, with no mention of where that food came from.  It seems like an oversight to have not simply added, "made with beef from ABCD farms" or something to that effect, below each dish, when printing those sheets. (Note, I don't even know whose beef it was and I think there's only two organic beef farmers to choose from on the island)

So let me repeat that overall, it was a great event and I hope to see a repeat of it in the future.  I wasn't going to mention it at all until, as I said, the ACORN newsletter came out with a review of the event, and once again, there was no mention of the farmers.  The thank you included the musicians and the chefs, who undoubtedly deserve the thanks, but yet again, no mention of the people who raised and grew the food that everyone so enjoyed.  It's a small thing for me to give a discount and drive my lamb to Brackley and despite what it seems like on here, it's not something I expect an individual thank you for, but a simple recognition of the farmers in general, who dedicate their lives to producing this food that we are trying so hard to promote, might go a long way to some.

As a side-note, I would estimate that 75% of the people I try to sell lamb to say, "I've never tried it, I don't think I'd like it".  At the Festival, Chef Emily, from The Dunes in Brackley did an amazing lamb kofta with our organic lamb and I like to think I might have been able to capitalize on a sale or two if the eaters had known where they could get some lamb of their own.  But that's just my personal problem.
I love this picture (taken by Amanda Jackson) of some friends of ours because you can see what a threat those amazing candy apples were to all the parents.  Lucy and Wilson's became little straw balls on sticks, but they weren't letting them go. 

So overall, I'm glad I live on PEI where these events get a lot of support and attention, and I'm soooo grateful that there are people out there willing to invest so much time and effort into promoting organic agriculture.  (I know I shouldn't complain if I'm not willing to step up myself)  I wouldn't change anything about the Harvest Festival except to throw in a bit about the farmers (and I feel pretty sure that it was just one thing that had to be let go as time got close and details gained perspective)- and I'm sure that will be a priority another year. So, thank you Roy and Amanda, please don't think me ungrateful, but it wouldn't be me, if I didn't say my piece!


Thursday, November 4, 2010


Sort of like when I went to Africa and realized too late that I'm simply not a worldly, traveling kind of girl, being officially unemployed this week has really proven to me just how much I value being home.  I am an entirely new person and I notice a big difference in the kids as well (probably due mostly to the lack of stress vibes being sent out around the house, by me).  Give me a hot oven and diapers over an office and deadlines anyday.

It's 7:30 pm and if I look out the front window, I can see the twinkle of the combine lights as Mark scurries to finish up as much of the soybean harvest as he can before the predicted week of heavy rain hits.  Frustratingly enough, I don't think he'll be able to finish what's left tonight and there will still be probably 10-20 acres left for yet another day.  While this isn't really late for soybeans, it sure feels like the harvest has been drug out this year.  It's early to tell yet, but I think the soybean crop is looking fairly good, especially relative to our grain yields for this year.  They certainly are coming off clean, which is a nice testament to Mark's weed management skills.

My family likes to give me the gears about my so-called 'rants' on this blog, but I would like to take a moment to point out that in the latest ACORN newsletter (which is circulated to all the ACORN members in the Maritimes, my entry on GMO's (inspired by the super(?!) salmon) is featured on the front page as a 'guest editorial'.  So there...hmph.  :)

And speaking of rants, I've got a couple saved up that I'm just waiting for a quiet nap time to write about.  Stay tuned for that.

In farm news, everything (except the ram) is still out on pasture, but the grass is starting to get a bit thin (especially with frost like we had this morning), so the barns have all been cleaned out and re-bedded, ready for move-in day.  Rosie has been nice enough to wait until harvest is done to calve, so she's still on the watch list.   The last of the lambs have been shipped and are in the freezer.  Island Taylor Meats cut and wrapped this time and although their price is more, they do such a nice job (plus they can make sausage for us).  Each cut is labeled and the sides have a great mix of cuts to suit anyone.  I still have a few sides left, so if you're interested, let me know. 

I had a request for a Halloween shot of the other spook from this house, so here ya go sis.  Buzz buzz.  How long do Halloween treats last anyway!??!!  We only went to 4 houses!  It doesn't help that we only had three spooks here this year, so there's a plethora of left-over treats to tempt the tastebuds...ugh.  It doesn't help that I get weighed every two weeks now!  Yikes. 

Anyway, I hope this finds you recovering from a sugar and chocolate induced coma, starting to feel the pull of hibernation in the air.


Friday, October 29, 2010

What is it about the air!?

Ok ok, this picture is from last year's soybean harvest, but I just haven't had the time to be farm photographer this fall.  After today however...!!!!

Is there not something completely intoxicating about the air on these autumn mornings?  I have always loved winter far more than summer, and there is most definitely a whiff of winter to the air these days. I've been out the door at 6:30 am for work the past month and I didn't even mind chipping the frost off the windows of the truck most mornings. 
On a side note, today is my last day of work!!!  I shouldn't sound quite so enthusiastic about that, since a paycheque is always a fine addition to any household, but I cannot wait to be home with the kids and the farm and not have to think about other obligations.  And just in time for my favorite season!!!

We've gotten a lot of rain over the last week and while our first run at the soybean harvest went really well, we're just waiting for a dry spell to get the last of it off.  Mark experimented with a couple new varieties (something we always aim to do to ensure we're maximizing our yield capability) and we had really good success with both of them.  Laurent was a variety we got from Co-Op in the spring and we nearly sent the seed back due to it looking so terrible.  It was full of splits, was dirty (we thought maybe moldy) and small.  But we threw it in the ground anyway, and it turned off the best yield we've seen in a really long time.  It also fought the weeds better than other varieties we've tried due to the wide canopy it spread, shading out any competition. The plants were tall and the lowest pods didn't seem as close to the ground as some others, so combining went faster than it mostly does.  Overall, it was hugely successful and as I type this I can hear the cleaner running, cleaning it for seed for next year. 

A new market that we've recently gotten into, that we thought was only temporary, looks to be heading in a more permanent, or at least frequent direction.  SoyHardy is a company based here on PEI that produces organic tofu and have branched out into soy nuts (a great roasted soybean snack-they make it with various seasonings, like peanuts) and now into soy ice cream.  I never had tofu as a child and to be honest, avoided it at university, but somewhere along the line decided to give it a fair go.  We now eat a pound of tofu every week.  Hard-core vegetarians would tell me that I'm missing the point by soaking it in chicken stock the day before I use it, but they would probably also admit that it doesn't have much flavour in itself.  I stopped buying pieces of chicken a long time ago (like those watery boneless, skinless 'chicken breasts' that are so popular) and started substituting tofu instead.  I use it in pastas and stir-fry's and even a big manly man like Mark will admit that he really enjoys it.   Lucy is yet to be converted, but Wilson gobbles it up like it's going out of style (which it's not!). 
Anyway, the usual supplier for the SoyHardy tofu ran out of beans and we were asked to supply some for the time being.  It turns out that they really liked our soybeans and have been buying them for the past 6 months or so.  When we started farming organically, we focused on the livestock feed market because the grading standards weren't there and we wanted to focus on markets we knew we could fill, but we always wanted to move towards the human consumption market if it was there and if we could produce the quality required.  So naturally we're really excited to be working with SoyHardy and look forward to continued success with them.  So I urge you to go to your local supermarket (Sobeys and Superstores across the Maritimes carry it) and find Soy Hardy tofu. It comes in plain, herb and garlic (and I think maybe chili pepper now too).  You can mash it up into unintelligible bits that look like feta cheese, or slice it like chicken, or cube it, or anything your heart desires.  I would advise you to soak it in a flavour of some kind (stock, soy sauce, etc.) for an hour or so before cooking (although many people don't and it's fine) and then drain.  The back of the packages have some recipes to try, or just try substituting it where you might otherwise use chicken, or add it to a veggie stir-fry.  After you get comfortable with it, the options are endless.  I don't think it's my favorite protein or anything, but I will admit that physically, I feel..well...better after eating it, compared to meat.  There's no heavy sort of 'full' feeling, if that makes any sense.
Anyway, I'm sure many of you out there have tofu regularly and are wondering why I'm writing about it like it's a new product, but if you grew up in West Branch, NB or on just about any farm where meat and potatoes was the daily menu, you might appreciate this post a bit more.

In other news, we're watching and waiting on Rosie, our jersey cow.  Mark's expert eye is estimating that 'she's getting real close' and I would have to agree.  Since the vet estimated her to be due in September and we're pushing November, surely she can't go much longer.  Then comes the challenge(s) for a couple of first-time, naive-but-eager milkers.
Lucy thought that "Cletus" would be a good name for the 'baby in my belly', but I think I've got her convinced that that might be a better name for Rosie's baby instead (no offence to all the Cletus' out there), so we're all holding out breath, waiting on Cletus.

I've got five pumpkins on my front step that I've been itching to get at all week to make Jack-O-Lanterns, but having learned my lesson over the past three years, I know better than to carve them more than 2 days before Halloween.  The chickens seem to just sit and wait until I make a dent (or an intricately carved eyeball) in the pumpkins and then pounce, picking the faces right to pieces, so by the time the trick-or-treaters arrive, all that's left is a floppy, one-eyed lop-sided smile on what used to be a perfect rendering of a angry cat face.  Sometimes they've picked all of the features out so that all there is, is a big hole where the face used to be. So I think if I wait until tonight, with Halloween on Sunday, they won't have time to pick it apart to the point of unrecognizable, I hope!  Then after Halloween, the sheep get their annual detox/cleansing by cleaning up what's left of the pumpkins. And when I say clean, do I ever mean clean!  There's nothing left but a thin shard of skin and a handle.  So everybody gets a Halloween treat on the farm! 

Not to scare you, but isn't this just the most ferocious lion you've ever seen?  He's making his best 'roar' here and it's about as scary as he looks.  :)

Hope this finds you breathing deep, crunching leaves and making a sloppy mess of pumpkin guts all over the floor. 


Saturday, October 23, 2010

To market, to market to buy a fat....lamb.....

...home again, home again...lickety damn!

If there's one question that we get all the time, that gives me a pang of ...well, I'm not sure what it gives me, but I think it's a mix between guilt, resentment and jealousy, it's "Can I buy your stuff at the farmer's market?"

Guilt because I know that I can't complain about sales problems when I'm not at the main spot for sales.
Resentment because everyone assumes that it's so easy to spend one day a week at the friendly, neighbourhood farmer's market, selling our wares and chatting it up with customers.
And jealousy because one tiny part of me would really enjoy that interaction (not to mention to plumper pockets) with the customers and jealousy because those who sell at the market seem to have a real camaraderie that comes with the territory that I'm not a part of, despite being a small, eager farmer.

So today, after having struggled with the sheep side of Barnyard Organics all summer (the sales, not the management), I walked into the market to be greeted with a cooler full of the most beautiful, FRESH lamb available by the cut for $6/lb.  It's not organic, but to be honest, 99% of lamb eaters/buyers really don't care.  That is what I was charging two years ago and what I'm going back to to try and boost my sales a bit.  So as I sat dejectedly on the steps watching the kids play in the play area with the toy dump trucks, moving bushels of barley around the room, I couldn't help but feel little pieces of my drive to provide, chip away with each open and closing of the lamb cooler.   
It seems a bit dramatic, I realize, to let one producer shatter my dreams, but it was sort of like the culmination of everything I'd been refusing to admit all summer and the reality that if I had REALLY, honestly been wanting to be THE lamb producer for the region, I would have been the one in there, with fresh lamb every week, a pretty display of wool products and smile for the public.  As it is, I'm the one on the steps, looking pathetic and tired.

So, it was a bit ironic that tonight, Mark and I had tickets to attend the 21st Annual Lamb Dinner put on by the PEI Sheep Breeders Association.  It was at the Culinary Institute which is always a nice venue and the atmosphere was very casual and light, but with very fine food.  There were three lamb appetizers served throughout the reception and then a wide array of lamb dishes in the main buffet.  I will admit that it wasn't my favorite meal, but I certainly didn't come away feeling hungry, so if that is a marker of success, I guess it was a winner.  Mark really enjoyed everything and there was certainly an air of contentment in the room with the food, so kudos to the Culinary for pulling off another great event. (Our only negative comment was that, as per EVERYtime we've gone to something there, the buffet line takes FAR too long and the first eaters are finished dessert and looking bored before the last eaters have even gotten up to get their first plate-and then the speeches are still held up until everyone is done.  But if that's the only complaint, then evidently, it was a great night.)

For being what most would consider, a fairly shy guy, Mark is really much better than I am at the small talk at those sort of events, so while he was chatting it up with the fellow table mates, I was working out in my wee brain, how I could justify keeping sheep around for basically no reason whatsoever.  The realities, as far as I could see it were this: a) I don't like lamb and I can't seem to teach myself to like it.  b)the 'local' market is pretty much filled and the 'organic' market doesn't exist.  c) I like sheep and I want sheep around, but they are expensive to keep as lawn ornaments.
How creative could I get with marketing?  Nobody wants to make the assumption between the baby lamb and the plate, so I've got to keep those explicit separate, but baby lambs are an easy sell in terms of cuteness.  Too bad cute doesn't pay the bills.
So I came down to two options: 
1) sell out completely.  The market for ewes right now is great and I could make some money if I just liquidated and moved on.  That makes me tear up to even think about, so obviously, not my favorite option.
2) switch to conventional production, increase my flock size and hope to be able to access off-Island markets, like Northumberlamb, MV Meats, etc.  I'm not fundamentally against conventional production by any means, since I think that I could essentially do exactly what I'm doing now with a lot less labour if I used a de-wormer every now and then, but my biggest criticism of farmers getting into sheep is that they don't know their markets.  And crossing my fingers on a wing and prayer that I can ship 20 lambs every so often 'over across' doesn't sound like a sure fire plan to me.

So what to do?  Have a good bawl, sell my girls and be done with it or increase over time and hope to God that I can sell lambs on a larger market than being limited to individual customers????

I have a good friend in the market garden business who feels a bit threatened by the seemingly continuous increase of new farmers coming along to settle into the vegetable production business and everytime she mentions it, I empathize but always think, "Oh but you're such a pro at it, you've been at it longer than them, you have your customers, your reputation, you know what you're doing, you'll outlast them everytime, 10 to 1."  I would hate to ever see her even have to consider doing something else due to the market being filled and yet here I am, in that exact position.    

And the most frustrating part is that, there is no one to blame but myself, because it could have been me in that market this morning with a cooler of fresh lamb, cut to specifications, selling out at $6/lb. 

Instead, however, I spent the morning with my kids, playing at knee-high table full of barley and dump trucks.  Then we went home and made cookies and built block towers.  We read books and coloured on scrap paper, on tables and ourselves.  I got my hair done at Chez Lucy while Wilson played with the cat.  I had lunch made for Mark and even snuck in a nap when the kids slept. 

I guess, when things are put into perspective, in the long run, are there even options to weigh?