Saturday, January 30, 2010

White Gold

I grew up always having a milk cow on the farm and for some reason, in my adolescence (not a time known for legitimate hatred) I decided to hate the thick, creamy, sometimes grassy tasting milk that was always in abundance in our fridge. I managed to hone in on the grassy tasting part (which was really only for a small part of the year when the clover was in its prime) and avoid it at all costs. This milk-hate followed me to university where I didn't drink much milk there either, despite there being ZERO grassiness, creaminess or tastiness. It has only been in the last few years, since buying it for my seemingly chronically calcium deficient husband and for the kids, that I have developed a real taste for it. If it weren't so damned expensive, we would drink a lot more. It kills me to hear things like, "MARK! One glass is enough!" come out of my mouth, but when milk takes up a very significant portion of our grocery bill, I can't help myself.
The former potato farmer-turned grain farmer has been bothering me since...well very early on, to get a milk cow. I initially laughed at him, chalking it up to livestock ignorance on his part. But either, he's wearing me down, or everything is coming together to convince me that this is actually a good idea. There are two factors left that are holding me back;
1)too much milk. We would need to share with a family or two to be able to use it all. Then, how do you arrange a trade/payment for milk, etc.
2) being REALLY tied to the farm. Mark's dad is so good to us to feed the sheep or chickens when I want to make a trip home to NB . With the kids now, we usually only go for a night, and only once in a while, but with a milk cow that isn't a possibility. So, if the family we shared with, would be willing to take the milking on while we're gone, that might solve things.

I've been reading a book by one of my favorite authors called, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and although it's just a reiteration of most of the things I already knew about industrial agriculture, it's really motivating me to actually do something about it. Barbara Kingsolver isn't an activist or an extremist in this book, she just presents the facts and explains the decisions that she and her family made as a result of those 'facts'.
Anyway, I would highly recommend it. Even for those familiar with producing their own food, because although it initially sounds very food 101, it's really far more indepth and educating for anyone. I'll leave you with my favorite quotation so far:
"Food is the rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is most likely the one to make you groan with pleasure. Why resist that?"

Here's to personal food security (and endless amounts of heavy cream...haha). I hope this finds you healthy and well.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'Tis the Season...

....for meetings!
Correctly so, most organizations, groups, committees and boards have figured out that for most farmers, this time of year is the best (and only) time of year to hold meetings. Many farmers fail to see any merit in most of the meetings/info sessions/workshops, etc. and in some cases they are right, but Mark and I find the needle in the haystack once in a while that keeps us going back to more meetings than we probably need to. What I mean by that, is that although sometimes the day is overall a waste of our time, there will be one or two tidbits of info that makes it worthwhile. Or sometimes the info session itself is a waste of time, but we made a good contact with someone we would never have seen otherwise.

Anyway, the point is, Mark and I both find ourselves attending various conferences, meetings and workshops this time of year, every year. I won't go so far as to say it has become a competition to see who can claim they want the workshop more, so the other one stays home with the kids, but...sometimes I wonder. haha.
I spent two days last week in workshops. The first one was purely for my own marketing's sake, meaning I went mainly to promote my new business venture, which is as an "Organic Certification Consultant". I got a really good response from both the certifying agencies and the producers/processors who were there, so I'm hopeful for some work soon. I already completed work with one company and I think it went well. Since completing the Organic Inspectors course in the spring, I feel pretty confident in my ability to help anyone who needs it, now that I have experience with crops, livestock and processing. I certified mixed vegetables once, but I don't think those will be the producers that will be needing me the most.
The next day I went to a direct marketing workshop, which was one of those in which I wondered if my time couldn't have been better spent somewhere else, but also felt like maybe I had taken more out of it subconsciously than I thought. As in, maybe when I'm marketing lamb down the road I will find myself doing something that I couldn't have picked up anywhere but on that day. I am having a hard time reaching that 'mom' demographic with lamb. They seem to keep that connection between lamb and...well...lambs! It's really the fault of whoever first called it 'lamb', since we don't have little porks, or beefs running around looking cute, we have pigs and cows. But there's nothing I can do about that now, so I've got to try and make the most of it. So many men came to my booth at the market this summer wanting to buy lamb but, "my wife won't eat it." and evidently when the wife won't eat it, the husband won't buy it. (The direct marketing workshop confirmed that women control the food dollar in most households.) And then we've got egg customers who are looking for chicken or "whatever else you have here, the eggs are so good", but apparently...not lamb.
So, at this point, I don't feel like I have the soccer mom demographic in the palm of my hand, but I may have picked up some helpful hints along the way. It was a day out of the house anyway!!!

This coming week is Mark's turn who is attending two meetings, and who tends to come home far less cynical about his time than I. For example, he spent a day last week at a "Vision and Goal Setting Workshop", from which I probably would have come home shaking my head, but he came home invigorated and really enthused about creating a proper vision, posting it accordingly, developing goals and working towards them, etc. etc. While it's true that these are important things for the farm and for any business, I am far too cynical to find a LOT of value out of spending my day that way. And I'm the one with the English degree. Who'd a thunk it?


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Real work"

Evidently, Mark is feeling a bit left out of the blog world. Or maybe, misrepresented (although I think he is enjoying the previous post in which I praised his handyman skills) due to there being very little about the farm these days. I think he is worried that the world will begin to think he is just puttering around the house, leaving the farm to fend for itself. Yesterday he took my camera with him 'to work' and brought home some evidence he wanted me to put up for you to see.
"So people can see what I do...this time of year."
So here's the beautiful 8140 and her matching red snow blower. The only thing missing is Mark inside, heater on high and music blaring. He's got about 25-30 driveways, but hasn't done much blowing this year, yet. Or maybe I should leave that last line out. He's busy on the farm.
"Well, the forklift is the next project. Gotta rebuild it."
I'm not totally clear on what this means, although a guard was knocked off the front a little while back and has to be re-welded. So, that's the 'next project'.
Ok, I'm being a bit cynical here. Mark is not one to sit idle, so I know he's always doing something, I just thought it was hilarious when he came home with these pictures of "what I do."
One of the projects that he has been working on is interesting. Our big rotary cleaner deals with grain in three sections, each screen getting progressively smaller until only the desired seed is left to come out the end. Sometimes there is too much dust to start with and the end product is not as clean as we would like. Mark came up with what he thinks is a perfect solution.
He attached a fan to the front, below where the seed initially enters the cleaner. It blows the first round of dust out of the way, over the top of the cleaner and out the pipe you can see sticking over the side. This hopefully means that the screens in the main part of the cleaner can do that much better of a job, with some of the dirt removed before it even goes anywhere else. Initial tests look promising.
Finally, in other news, we had lamb dish #2 of 2010 last night and it was another success. I actually really enjoyed it. I followed my sister, April's advice (she is the smart one of the family)and used mint jelly as the flavour base. Mark's sister, Sarah, had coincidentally, given me a jar of homemade mint jelly for Christmas so I put it to good use. I made a reduction of red wine vinegar, mint jelly and rosemary for a sauce and it was sooo good. I probably cooked it too much for gourmet chefs, but I though it was perfectly done. Five lamb chops don't go very far however, with a meat loving child, and a viking of a husband, so next time I will have more faith and cook a couple more. See? Next time!! This may be the first resolution I keep!
Then for dessert, also to honour my smartest sibling, I made snow pudding. After one botched batch down the sink and two frantic phone calls to my mother, I managed to pull off one my favorite desserts. I'm not sure when I'll learn that the recipes my mom makes sound the easiest (Oh, ya just throw that in there, when it looks like snot, throw it in that bowl, mix it if you want, cook the other stuff, not too much, but hurry up....etc. etc.) are usually the hardest. Anyway, it was delicious and a nice lowfat/no fat comfort food dessert.
Speaking of recipes, I smell my banana bread, better get that outta the oven.

Hope this finds you well,


Monday, January 18, 2010

Home of the Handyman!

Before we got married, but when things were serious, Mark once told me that he would love spend his life making me happy. I'm sure there are those of you out there (ahem..West Branch..) laughing at such a seemingly looming/impossible cause, but I will have you know that he has done a lovely job thus far and I don't think he's too fatigued about it (as in, I am not THAT hard to keep happy.) Anyway, I think one of the things he takes great pride in, is not only completing the things I ask for, but doing things I never knew I even wanted. An example of this was that a little while ago, while in Charlotteown, we went into a fancy kids store that carries VERY overpriced and sometimes useless items that a lot of people think are necessities to raising children properly. In the cloth diaper section there was a little hose/sprayer advertised for cleaning soiled cloth diapers, but I saw the price tag before I saw anything else, so I skipped over it and kept on browsing, never letting myself wonder if it was something I might ever want.
Mark, on the other hand, evidently took more notice of it and a few days later, I had this attached to the side of my toilet:
No, it is not a hillbilly bidet, although you could be forgiven for thinking so. No, wait, you couldn't. Anyway, it's a great little rig that is just perfect for cleaning cloth diapers! I had never heard of one before, but have since talked to at least one other person with one, for that very purpose. It has really good pressure and does a great job. I am thankful for my handyman and his great ideas, and although he may claim this is for me, I believe it is he who leaves the cloth diapers in the toilet for me rinse out later. No excuses now!
We've been using cloth diapers almost exclusively now for a little while (except at night) and this simple little hose will make it that much easier.
The other great addition to our house this week has been our 'new' radiator. Our entryway, although bright and very useful has been an icebox since we moved in. We added extra insulation and tried a few different tactics, but it remained the coldest part of the house, thus making the kitchen and living room cold too.
Things have changed.
This little beauty was being stored in the barn over at the farm and was earmarked for Mark's sister, but she doesn't have room in her cozy house, so we worked out a deal that if she ever does find room, we'll find her another rad. In the meantime, Mark stripped (the 6 layers of paint), sandblasted, primed, painted and plumbed it to a whole new life! It is cozy and warm in our entryway now and we don't have any wet mittens at chore time for the first time in 3 years!
As one of our egg customers said when she came in and found out that Mark had 'done it all', "There's not many people around that could do all that themselves ya know!"
She's right.
And I appreciate it all! (I may or may not be using this blog to show my appreciation and encouragement for more such projects! haha!)
Nothing new on the farm front. We started a cycle of feeding probiotics to the ewes in preparation for lambing. Mark calls it 'dried yogurt' and really it just looks like fine sawdust, but at 3 grams a day/ewe it's tricky stuff to feed. I do think I see a difference in them though, after we feed it for a while. It's not cheap though, so I plan to save some to feed to the lambs once they start eating grain. It basically serves to 'get the gut going' and get all the good bacterias doing what they do best. If I can't keep the worms away with parasiticides, I can at least give my sheep the best chance of fighting the symptoms with optimum health. The woman we bought it from says that she only feeds it when she sees an animal doing poorly and it seems to pick them right up. So far, I've only used it around lambing and I like the extra assurance of it.
Anyway, time to wake sleeping babes so they will sleep tonight. (I know, I know, conventional wisdom says to never wake a sleeping kid...seems nothing we do is conventional around here.)

Hope this finds you well,


Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Customers!

We had a new customer checking out our gate sign this week one day at lunch. He was too shy to come in, but I got a good look at him through the camera lens. I'm sure I heard him grumble as he turned his fluffy red tail, " chicken left. Should have come earlier in the year."
Our chickens continue to produce like the egg machines they are bred to be and although the yolks are a little lighter yellow this time of year, they are just as delicious as always. We had one customer tell us a story of how she had made the point of buying 'farm fresh eggs' from a local egg farm, but that she didn't think they were much different than store bought, but once she had ours, she couldn't believe the difference. The only store-bought eggs I've eaten have been in restaurants for breakfast and those always seem fine since, a)I don't have to cook them and b)all the butter and salt that comes with diner breakfasts makes everything slip down pretty nicely. I feel confident in the quality of our eggs though and that they are indeed superior to store-bought ones in flavour as well as nutrients. There have been numerous studies showing the health benefits of free-range eggs and it only makes sense. An egg is only as good as the feed that the chicken eats. It's so nice to have confidence in ones food.
Anyway, as you can see on the counter in front of Lucy in the photo above (my happy sous chef), there are a few dozen freshly washed eggs waiting for homes. For some reason some of our pre-Christmas customers have taken a bit of an egg break, so this last week we've had an extra overabundance. I had been talking to a chef of a restaurant in downtown Charlottetown called The Merchantman Pub who said that they can ALWAYS use good quality eggs and to drop them off anytime. This morning, since I was in Charlottetown anyway, I took 15 dozen down at $3.00/dozen. As I dropped them off, I explained that they are certified organic, trying to justify the price, which is what we normally charge, but I thought maybe she would expect a deal since they were taking 15 dozen at once. I was prepared to lower the price should she suggest so. She walked towards the cash, looking at the invoice I had given her and turned back towards me. I expected a rebuff on the price. Instead she smiled and said, "Next time, charge me $3.50."
I am continually amazed at what food is worth to some people (thank goodness!). At one of my trips to the farmers market this summer, I was selling our eggs and it is a tricky business in the microcosm of a market like that, where your competition is literally 6 feet over at the next booth. There were all variety of eggs for sale; conventional eggs selling at quota price, 'free range' eggs, 'cage-free eggs', 'blue and speckled eggs', organic eggs, etc. Ours were certified and the only other organic eggs there were selling for $5/dozen, and that vendor wasn't happy with my $3/dozen price, so I raised it to be polite, thinking how annoyed I would be to be going home with eggs that would never sell at that price. Within half an hour I was sold out and continually had people coming, asking for more. A lesson in market confidence that I obviously didn't learn, evidenced by this morning's experience.
Anyway, all is well here in Freetown these days. The sheep are happy and slowly expanding, Wilson is sleeping through most nights and Lucy is on the potty train! Whoo whoo! It's been about a week now and very few accidents, so as my mom said, "life is worth living!"

Hope this finds you well!


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sign of the times!

I'll soon be done bragging about the new sheep barn, but I'm still enjoying all the little details that we're slowly adding, I can't help but show them off. Like the little ledge we've added in the alley to keep grain within reach of the sheep (see below). If you've ever seen sheep go crazy for grain (which we've just started feeding this week in preparation for lambing), I think it must be agonizing to be able to smell it and see it, but not be able to reach it. So, now they can reach every little kernel, as long as I can pour it in a straight line down the row.
My favorite new detail however, is the sign I got for Christmas. My creative little niece, Ellie Wilson, with the help of her equally creative Dad, Bruce, made the Baa Baa Ln. sign for me. Decorated with little hand drawn sheep and some fantastic colouring skills, it pretty clearly marks the sheep zone. As soon as you step into the barn, the sign can easily be spotted, glimmering away in the back, obviously indicating the presence of some fine wooly creatures. Thanks Trafalgarians!

We've had the problem every year of the weather getting too cold and the chickens quitting laying eggs. It usually happens around the end of January, early February, when our good Maritime winters really kick it into gear. So we get a nice list of customers relying on our eggs, and then Kazaam, we have none at all. It's also a shock to the system of the Bernard household, since we eat four dozen eggs a week (that's without any baking!). Anyway, so we considered all of our options and wondered about the feasibilty of insulating the whole chicken barn (we only use a corner of it for the layers, the rest is for the meat chicks brooder house) and decided that was silly and only creating a rat habitat. My father has always been a firm advocate against (is that an oxymoron-advocate against?) heat lamps in barns, and I see his point, but we're trying something new this year. We always have a light on a timer for the chickens in the winter, to increase thier daylight (enhance egg laying), so we thought, since it's only on for a couple hours, and the couple hours before bed, maybe a heat lamp would keep them warm enough and also not be on long enough to be a hazard? Anyway, everytime I go in there to get the eggs at night I feel like I'm entering the red light district and find myself singing, "Roxanne".

Wilson slept through the night last night and has started eating like the little man that his is, so all is well here today! This is a shot of early morning in the kitchen, while we 'hatch', the kids have cereal (an appetizer before our main course of 6 eggs!).
Hope all is well in your corner of the world!


Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year!!!

Lucy, galloping into the new year on her new steed, Trigger.
Wilson and Lucy decorated the bottom two feet of the tree (which finally dried out very nicely) and Lucy is bragging up the branch she declared as hers.

There are those who think that resolutions are a crazy, outdated, overdone, boring and useless things, but I am not one of them. I think that a new year is like a new diary, a journal with a fresh start that can be filled with anything! Before I went to university (and subsequently felt I had something to say, evidently) I had stacks of empty journals that I just thought were too nice and too clean and perfect to mess up with mere words and sketches, etc. Anyway, January first seems like a great time to me to make promises to yourself to better who you are! Despite popular belief, I think there are actually things I could improve on. (haha)
So, I've decided, after careful consideration to post one here, in real life, in a tangible form I can refer back to when I need to remind myself what it is I thought would be beneficial to me.

- Learn to love lamb. I've kept a secret from my customers (but not from my family!) that I do not like lamb. I've actually outright lied to some customers and am quoted in one of the newpaper articles about the farm as raving over my 'favorite lamb dish' which is apparently bbq'd leg of lamb (which I've never had, but have seen on the Food Network).
-Apparently New Years is also a time to reveal terrible confessions about yourself....
Anyway, I've decided that I have to teach myself to like it more, if I'm really going to try to expand my market. I need to convince my own generation (and the generation before me...ahem brothers and sisters...) that lamb is good. So, first I need to convince myself. And I figure it might be an acquired taste, so I'm going to try to cook (and eat) more lamb. I haven't told Mark this yet (until he reads this) and he will be ecstatic, as he loves lamb. As will Lucy, who also seems to have a real taste for it. So January 1st, 2010 we ate our first lamb dish of the year, Lamb Sausage Penne with Tomato Sauce.
I'm no food stylist, but here it is, in all it's lamb glory. Also, please note, this is Mark's serving size, not mine...That would not be good for obligatory 'lose weight' resolution.

I threw some cottage cheese on the side because it is one of my favorite foods and I thought if I combined a favorite with a least favorite they might counteract and be ok. And they did, it was ok. Lucy's face proves how much she liked it.

Another resolution is to do more blog entries. I think I'm better off, for readership sake, posting short ones more often, than long ones infrequently. This is only a matter of self-discipline (as in not letting myself crash on the couch, and crash in front of the computer instead) and not teaching, or learning to love something, so surely this one I can handle.
Christmas was really great this year and I can tell it is only going to get better with each year as the kids grow. I'll leave you with a shot of the two them, enjoying their new sled from "Ho Ho" after our second snow of the season. As I write this we are getting our third, and biggest yet. Combined with all the rain we got overnight we have a very wet looking yard (but DRY BASEMENT!!! So far...).Hope this finds you well and warm.