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?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


 Public Service Announcement from this farmer's wife:

For starters, let's just clear up that every sale is important and valuable and each and every customer is a valued member of our farm community as concerned eaters.
However, if you happen to be a concerned eater who shows up at quarter to five on a weekday, this message is for you.

Don't knock.  Just come in.  Your knock won't be heard and the doorbell can't be counted on either.  If you insist on waiting for someone to answer the door, don't touch the dog; he smells like rotten seafood and/or manure and the slightest bit of attention will draw him to you for life.  If you think that knocking will give me some time to prepare myself or gather things together, I can assure you that it won't make any difference.  The amount of 'preparation' that needs to happen is beyond the amount of time you would be willing to spend on my step, so come right in.
I'll answer a few questions for you right now so that you don't need to ask them,

-Yes, I am pregnant again and yes I will be busy, thanks for the reminder. 
-No, I didn't get my hair cut, it's just dirtier than usual.
-Yes, we have eggs.  Give me a few minutes to wash them for you.

If you are easily embarrassed, avert your eyes from the fact that I am probably looking like I just crawled out of bed (although I can assure you that I haven't) and maybe even still wearing pajamas (or more likely, am back into my pajamas already).  Or maybe I'm wearing my husband's clothes which need a lot of hitching in some areas and pulling in others.

Do your best to step around the pile of whatever is directly in front of the door, after you push it out of the way WITH the door in order to get in.  If the kids' rubber boots are nearly completely disguised with the excrement of some livestock, continue on as if you've seen and smelled nothing. 

If you had to drive by a small boy looking like he was stuck in the culvert in the driveway, he probably was, but at least I know where he is.  If it looks like there is a little girl in the garden having a dump in the pepper patch, she most definately is and I would ask that you shoot her a big thumb's up on the way out.

If you are faint of heart, don't look at the fridge where a bloody handprint is the evidence of where a child fell down the stairs, didn't notice the bloody lip and went for a drink of milk, which immediately spilled all over the floor because their hands were slippery from the blood.  Do your best to look inconspicuous as your try not the stick to the floor in the kitchen.  I certainly hope you've kept your shoes on after seeing the entryway.

If you want to see the view from the front window, come back when the kids have moved out and cleaning the handprints lasts for more than 3 minutes.  To keep your appetite, don't inhale the smell of potatoes boiling over, the meat burning in the oven or the toast smoking away in the toaster.  If you can hold it, wait until you go home to go to the washroom, unless you want to wash the cloth diaper that has been soaking in the toilet for the last couple of hours waiting for someone to wash it.

Feel free to overlook the piles of random junk taking up space in places where junk shouldn't even be.  Once it finds a place to sit in this house, it immediately becomes part of the background.  This can include but is not limited to items like freshly washed socks, dirty socks, two-year old farm magazines with one article that might be valuable down the road, that receipt for those pants that were missing a button but ended up being worn anyway, a button for some other pants, a mitten without a match, more receipts and tiny pieces of paper with unidentified phone numbers, half of an egg carton, the cover from a plastic dish, a broken toy, a children's book with a torn cover, a roll of tape with less than a half an inch left on it, a shoelace, a glass of water and four pens that don't work.

If you'd like to know more about the chickens and 'how they live' feel free to spend some time with them on the front lawn. 

If you're on your way home from your desk job where you leave all your work AT work, don't ask when Mark will be in. 

Don't feel the need to pretend that your house is the same, when I attempt to apologize for the mess.  And if you feel bad for stopping in a 'busy time of day', feel free to say so, so that at least I feel like you may actually think the house isn't like this all the time.  Which of course, it is. 

Thanks again for stopping by, we really do appreciate our customers, despite occasional appearances.  Now I'm off to salvage supper, wash a diaper and feed a howling cat.  Come by again next week!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just a quick photo update

There is something in the air of early autumn that gives it a sense of freedom, adventure and careless abandon.  I love this picture of Lucy making a trail through some wild, tall grass, without a worry in the world.

John Denver would say, "Life on the farm is kinda laid back" and in our case at this moment, he would be wrong.  With a few consecutive days of sun, the combine is earning its keep and Mark is a much happier man.  All we have left is one big field of barley and all fingers have been crossed and wood has been knocked that the breakdowns for this year are behind us and between today and tomorrow that should tie up the grain havest.  Until soybeans are ready that is. 
 You might notice my ewes in the background of this photo, looking anxious for a ram.  Mark left early this morning to go pick him up in NB so that we can get the breeding on the go.  It will be later than last year at this point, which is a little disappointing, since my lambs were ready earlier, but I am assuming that by the time lambs start arriving in the spring, and I've got a two month old, a one year old and a three year old, life will look plenty busy. 
I took this photo of our resident hawk a couple months ago, and unfortunately sort of missed the point of the picture.  Just outside the border of this shot are two of our chicken tractors, full of tender little morsels of dinner for this guy, who was keeping a vigilant eye.  We often see him hunting for mice and other critters around the fields, but the slow, fat meat kings would make a much easier lunch.  Unfortunately for him, he never got one.
For some reason a good chunk of my usually successful peppers decided to soft rot on me, so Lucy and I cleaned up the pepper bed the other day.  It was a rather dismal harvest relative to other years, but we left the strongest and most rot-resistant looking ones for a bit longer.  Her face is looking a bit strained here as apparently, "These peppers are HEAVY!".
And of course, we took in Open Farm Day again this year, as I hope you all did as well.  Being PEI, we managed to explore three farms that day and had a great time at each one.  You can see that Wilson's favorite stop was probably the certified organic apple orchard where instead of picking, he hunkered down on the wagon and munched his way through a couple of the tastiest, crunchiest and healthiest apples in the province!  Beamish's, you make GOOD apples!

For those who are interested, I will make sure I get a more concrete harvest update posted here sometime.  We've had some requests for more info about the Acadia wheat, and once we get a chance to catch our breath and weigh some things, I will pass it along.  Stay posted!

Also, for anyone in the Summerside area, we will be doing our last chicken/lamb drop-off, JUST IN TIME FOR THANKSGIVING, this Thursday from 4:00-5:30 in the area of the Harbour Quay building.  Look for the half ton with the big white freezer on the back.  This gives you just enough time to get your chicken home, thawed out and golden brown for Sunday dinner.  Make this your most sustainable Thanksgiving yet!

Hope this finds you taking deep breaths of the crisp fall air (especially after those yucky days of humidity last week!).


Friday, October 1, 2010

A Review of the Roving Feast

I've decided to expand the mandate of this blog to include my personal opinions on food events that I go to.  This is probably a poor time of year to decide to this, since I've already missed a number of events this summer, but it might be a valuable resource for someone trying to decide whether to spring for a ticket to the latest and greatest foodie event on PEI at least.

Let me just start by calling out whoever decided that 'service fees' on an $80 ticket that is bought at the DOOR, is a completely made up, ridiculous thing.  I am the one doing the service, of buying the damn thing at the door, pay ME $5.  So that's that.

Also, let me clear up that I didn't end up having to buy a ticket.  Well, I did, but the minute I had it in my hand, I was scheming on how to sell it and sneak back in.  Which, in a roundabout way, I managed to do.  Let's leave it at that.
There has been a movement afoot in the media on the island to find out just how much we pay, as a province, to Michael Smith, PEI's "Food Ambassador" to show up at various events and look excited to be there.  I, for one am very curious.  I suspect it is an annual payment beyond my wildest imagination, but I hope I'm wrong.  In any case, he did his duty and was present at the Roving Feast last night, mainly to present the prestigious Taste Our Island Award, which goes to a deserving chef/restaurant who make an effort to serve local products.  It was the fourth year for the award and admittedly, it was fun to be there for the presentation.

The collection of chefs/restaurants that were at the event were the finalists for the award, so each was showcasing a specific local product that they use in their everyday menus.  There was, fish,  pork, potatoes, greens, pumpkins, chicken (GUESS WHO!?), black currents, tomatoes, more fish, bread, lobster, and more food, all produced here on PEI.  That part was really nice.  Actually, the whole event was really nice. But I was only able to enjoy it because we were there for free, as producers.  Had we paid for the event, I suspect my review would be much harsher.  Come to think of it, besides a lack of reasonably priced beverages (alcohol or not), I have no complaints other than the price of the event.  So, finally, here's my more properly worded review of the Roving Feast.

"A balmy night, for the end of the September, saw a group of the most talented and recognized chefs from across Prince Edward Island, come together in the ballroom of the Confederation Center of the Arts in Charlottetown for what is one of the shining jewels in the Fall Flavours Festival crown, The Roving Feast.  Featuring 9 different chefs from restaurants showcasing Island-produced products, each table was a delight to the eyes first, and then a joy to the palate.  Varying from braised, molasses Berkshire pork on a johnny cake biscuit, to lobster salad, to tomato and zucchini soup in a gluten free bread bowl and all things between, there were no empty bellies, although perhaps a few empty pockets.  There was a unanimous sense of jovial contentment with the quality of the food as everyone meandered from table to table, balancing drink and plate and information booklet, containing profiles of both the chefs and their respective producers/suppliers.  Chef Chris Buccheri, brought in from Chicago, IL to showcase a new take on an island product made an interesting, if not totally unique to the majority of the attendees, chicken dish featuring a pate of chicken, giblets, pistachios and various seasonings, poached in the skin of the chicken.  Although very tasty, one attendee was heard, between bites, comparing the dish to 'what very expensive cat food' might taste like.  Somehow it didn't sound like an insult necessarily.
A few of the most popular dishes included some classic crab cakes made with Island potatoes, on a bed of organic greens with caper creme fraiche.  The aforementioned pork, as well as the lobster salad also took home top honours amongst the small, but sincere crowd.  The desert favorite belonged to an amazing pumpkin cream cheese brownie with homemade ice cream and a pumpkin spice sauce.  That is not to say that there were no curious glances as people poked at their poached mackerel paired with tempura battered 'pulled pork', or downed their tomato and basil shooter, or tried to keep a straight, important-looking face over the beautiful but strikingly tart black currents.
At the price of admission The Roving Feast is not an event 'for the masses' and some of the dishes require a palate (and perhaps imagination) beyond that of your humble writer, but is instead an intimate evening of wandering, chatting, eating and drinking, complimenting and criticizing and going home to lie down from having eaten too many small plates of a wide variety of foods.   At least the price of the ticket gives way to a sense of obligation to be very honest about the quality of the dishes and personal opinions on taste.  And being at a small event where a 7 foot tall celebrity chef takes his time getting around the room, speaking seemingly sincerely to all, makes everyone feel just a little bit more important for having been there." 

See you all on Sunday at the Organic Harvest Festival!