Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Dear Past Sally, thank you!

 I've been struggling in this new year to really settle into my goal of reducing my use of social media in favour of working towards my goals of writing more, reading more, playing more guitar and just generally being more present in the now. That subtle addiction to short, intriguing Instagram posts and videos is unbelievably powerful. 

After making an action plan for how to combat that omnipresent pull to pick up my phone, I decided to check out some old blog posts. when I used to share farm and family stories weekly, or even more frequently. Seems like 2010 was a banner year for posts on For the Love of the Soil and this post from October had me simultaneously laughing and incredulous that I have very little memory of the life detailed within.  I know my house was fairly chaotic at that time and it's inevitable with little kids that things will be unruly, but I am so thankful that I documented all of it!

And thankfully, re-reading those old posts has inspired me to take back up the sharing of stories from the Barnyard. They're decent reading, but more than anything are an invaluable snapshot of life that I am so thankful to have to look back on.  Future Sally will inevitably love these posts as much as current Sally is enjoying the old ones. 

So here's a start:

Last week I picked up our pork and beef from our favourite butcher shop. Our three pigs, Destiny's Child, and Thor, the jersey steer came back in banana boxes and the 6 of us worked hard to get them all vac-packed and in the freezer quickly.  That large vac-packer was probably overkill for the CSA at the time, but it's been incredibly useful, however infrequently. That said, I think I'd like to try wrapping some things in butcher paper next year. The roasts, and chops with bones don't do so hot with the vac-packer, often puncturing the bags and missing the point. 

What a blessing and glorious fruit of our labour to have the freezers full of the meat we raised! 

(No, we're not selling any.  Seems we 6 humans eat an awful lot!)

We FINALLY got some snow after what felt like a never-ending mud season in January of all months! It wasn't a HUGE dump or a terribly nasty storm, but there's enough to cover the fields and make some drifts. The kids have been taking advantage of two snow days off school to wear the bottom off one of their (expensive) LL Bean snow tubes but hauling it behind the four wheeler and seeing how many of three can stay on while the fourth tries to whip them off by doing donuts.  Lucy hit the frozen, heavy concrete planter by the front step hard enough to knock it over, so they're getting velocity and momentum!

The Belties are doing great and thoroughly enjoy their barn.  One of the OGs, #25, came into heat late last week, but by the time we managed to get her in with the bull, we had missed the heat, so it's on the calendar for next month.  I was torn about breeding her now as it'll mess a bit with the schedule for next year, but it seems more prudent to have her calf in October than let her get too fat all summer on grass, only to get bred in September.  

I'm trying to take the positive out of this situation, which is to say that I THINK she's the only one who came into heat, which hopefully means that Beowulf, our bull, did in fact manage to breed the rest of the herd. 

We castrated the little bull calf that arrived on New Years, Buster, which was a bit sad, given that he is purebred to fancy genetics, but my management capacity can't at this point manage two bulls with the mere hope of selling him as breeding stock. (That's one thing I was stunned at reading my old blogs. It seems we had unlimited optimism and confidence as younger farmers! Breeding sheep, getting a dairy cow for the first time, purchasing extra chickens, making first-time dairy products, all with multiple babies underfoot and almost no experience with any of it!  I don't read much doubt or worry in any of the posts. Just a wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm that seems to have more-than carried over any hardships. While I don't feel "old" I think that is a defining characteristic.  Am I overthinking it all now or was I under thinking it all then? Good on ya young folks, you're what makes things tick along at break-neck pace!). So all that to say, Buster will likely be our first taste of Barnyard Organics beef at some point in a couple years!

Mark's new blue tractor is meeting all expectations and making him a very happy farmer. There's some talk about PTO problems or implements not matching the power of the tractor or some such thing, but generally things seem to be working fine.  Here's to optimism for planting season!

Our farm hand, Browen, is away for the month of February, which adds some challenges in some ways, but also reduces Mark's mental load in ensuring valuable work for someone else. It also means I'll have to step up to be the feed miller more reliably, which is fine. 

The kids are well. I'm really enjoying raising teenagers (which is incidentally the mantra I repeat when Lucy is particularly difficult to deal with). 

I don't want to risk losing my audience (is anyone even out there?) too soon so I won't go on with further details just now, and I have to get out and make sure my bull has water on this chilly morning but I'm thrilled to be back! Stretching these particular writing muscles feels like a deep, delicious yoga I'd almost forgotten. 

May this find you feeling some winter sun on your face and crunchy snow under your feet!


Thursday, January 12, 2023

Eating Each Other's Food

Our household isn’t growing by numbers anymore, but our collective appetite is in a stage of exponential growth and one I expect to continue for a few years yet. Mark and I are not small people and neither are our offspring and we all love to eat. We acknowledge, nearly daily, how lucky we are to be able to raise and eat the food we do. We say the name of the animal and the part we’re eating, we talk about the farmer who grew the veggies, or the country from which some exotic ingredient came. We’ll research how something we’re not familiar with grows, how it might be harvested, how it gets to us. We’ll marvel over the colour and stain of a pickled beet, the yellowness of creamy, summer butter, the orange brightness of egg yolks from pastured hens and the flavour of the milk when the cow moves to fresh clover. We’ll all give a new cheese a deep whiff, gently poke at rising bread, nip some chilling cookie dough from the fridge and crunch into a sweet, cold carrot from the winter storage, gripping it with a mittened hand as we make our way back to the house with a bunch for supper.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get in a rut and tired of cooking. Some days, especially if I haven’t prepared anything in advance, it feels like drudgery and I start to resent this part of my job. I’ll mutter to myself about time wasting and hastily throw together a meal of relative convenience that checks bare-minimum boxes of completion and nutrition, but is hardly inspired or inspiring. Like, who decided that rather than just eat wheat, we should have to grind it up, make flour and then turn that flour into arduous pasta, or pie crusts, or bread or crackers. Why do we go to such lengths to put together some elaborate cream sauce when we could just eat some garlic, drink some milk, chew some herbs and save all the time and effort?


So this year, with my usual new years resolution gusto, I decided I wanted to avoid those occasional resentful moments in my kitchen. And I got to thinking about an idea I heard a couple years ago that suggests that at the most basic level, our entire purpose here, as humans on earth is to eat each other’s food. 
We might have grand ideas about the change we’re making in the world, or the importance of our careers, our goals, etc. But at the foundation of it all, at our very core as part of humanity, we’re here to be a member of a larger community and within that community, we eat. 
Why not make it awesome? Why not perfect that favourite sauce, why not make the fluffiest pancakes, use the sweetest cream from a cow on alfalfa pastures, find the best variety of corn for our garden soil, explore new flavours and interesting ingredients? 
When I’m able to think about it in that context, I start to think that we’ve actually been tricked into thinking cooking is drudgery and the kitchen is a jail cell. It’s easier for the profits of food companies if we think that so that we’ll buy more convenience foods, we’ll rely more on others to keep us fed so we have less control over what we eat and how it’s made. If we believe the lie that food is complicated, expensive and better left to someone else, we’ve missed the entire point of being here. 
To eat each other’s food.

to be continued...