Archive for category Farm
Last week Stephen and I took the plunge, it’s something we’ve been talking about doing for a really long time, something that would cement our nearly 18 year long relationship and make it, well, official.
That’s right, happily and privately, we registered ourselves as an official farm business. Wait, what did you think I was going to say?
Yes we are now conjoined forever and as one in the form of Fernwood Farm, so named for the ferns that grow in our forest every spring. We are committed to producing healthy food for ourselves and for our community, giving people access to pasture raised meat and eggs as well as organically raised veggies, honey and eventually other goodies too. It’s exciting stuff!
We even have a website now, which makes us doubly official, and we will be adding products and other farm info on it as time goes along. Oh, we have so many ideas and so many things we’d like to do! Our long term plans include creating an orchard, farming mushrooms, adding varied livestock onto our pastures, creating forest gardens and wildlife habitats, cultivating our bees and the wild bee populations, supporting rare and heritage breeds…I could go on (and on) but I won’t.
In order to make it easier for people to find out info about the farm, we’ve merged my blog with the farm website, it’s only a little change but if you want to find me you’ll need to go here from now on. My blog has been shipped over so I’m not starting from scratch, just adding a little change to my address, I hope you’ll still come and visit me!
This is the beginning of a really exciting new chapter for us, something we’ve been dreaming of for a really, really long time. It’s going to be a lot of work, a lot of learning and a lot of ups and downs, and hopefully ups again! I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
See you at the farm!
A thaw has arrived, bringing with it the illusion of spring and melting. The crunchy, powdered flakes of snow have become slick, slippery ice that tricks our feet and trips us as we tumble into the warming sun.
We turn our faces to the beaming light, rejoicing in the lack of pinching and biting in the winter air. But the ice beneath makes everything seem a little treacherous, a little unsure.
As I watched the chickens tuck into their treats of carrots and apple mush, I tore apart a hay bale to cover the slippery, shining pathways that our feet have made through the snow. From our house to theirs we trudge each day, stamping down the fluffy coating that rain and sun have made hard and smooth. The hay tears apart easily, releasing its bound shape and settling on the white ground, enhancing the illusion that spring has arrived.
The brown and green path cuts through the endless white and blue of snow and winter shadow. It feels as though it sprung up from beneath, like a goddess of spring walked that way and brought life back to the earth with her magical toes. The robust scent of summer blows up from the torn bale, the grass releasing its dusty fragrance and its memories. I am transported to the field where it was cut, the sunset of that day and the gentle warmth of a dying summer evening.
The chickens watch my work with more than usual disapproval. Their judgmental gaze amuses me as I move carefully around, trying to avoid the trap of becoming over confident and slipping. I am not so young that I enjoy the sensation of suspension and the crash down, I’m fearful of it and so I go gently. They look around the edge of their canopy and regard me with dinosaur eyes; the eyes of creatures far removed yet comfortingly domestic.
I walk to the house with surer footing, I turn back and watch the chickens investigate the path. Like me they are freer outside, the warming sun inviting them to venture out beyond the confines of their shelter. They walk along the path a little, enjoying the lack of icy pinch on their feet, they fluff and cluck their approval. I laugh and feel pleased with myself, my plan has come to fruition and surprised them out of their grim, old lady frame of mind.
Suddenly the longing for spring is overwhelming in me, I feel it in my stomach and ache for the green that is momentarily resurrected in the cast down hay. The longing hits my chest, contracting my heart with the desire to run my hand across soft green blades, to be assured the miracle will return this year as it has every other year.
I cast off the stillness and go about my work, throwing ice and water away on a shovel, listening to the patter of the dripping water returning to the ground. But the longing for spring remains, it is always there a little.
I think if I asked most people where their meat comes from they’d say ‘the supermarket’. That’s fair enough and when people lead such busy lives with so many demands on them, sourcing food any other way can feel like a huge hurdle. But raising our own meat has driven home something that we already ‘knew’ but didn’t know, deep down. Our meat comes from a living animal.
When we eat that meat we eat what has been a living being, a creature who walked the earth. For some that realisation leads to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, for others it means sourcing ethically raised meat from their local area; for us it meant creating a farm and raising animals to feed ourselves and others.
These days when I cook or preserve our meat I’m aware of a very different feeling within myself. I no longer see this simply as ‘food’, I approach it with a much greater sense of reverence and thrift. When I rub in the curing mix that turns our pork magically into bacon I feel almost meditative. I’m reminded of the animals we cared for and loved over the spring and summer months, I look forward to raising pigs again and bask in the memories of green pastures and hot summer days.
When I cook a chicken I am committed to using the animal fully, wasting as little as is possible. If we roast the bird (giving us 2 days of meat for 4 people) we then strip the darker meat and use it for a stew or a stir fry/curry (another 2/3 meals for adults or more for children). Then I use the carcass to make a stock, this is something of a 2-3 day event as I aim to draw as much goodness out of the bones as possible making the broth deep in nourishment.
When the stock is suitably thick and rich I often then cook it down again to make a thick jelly that can be used as a concentrate and has the added advantage of taking up less space in the fridge! This can be added to green beans, rice, stews, soups, gravy…anywhere that you’d use a stock cube really. Then the bones are stripped again (including bits we don’t eat like the neck and wings) and Winnie benefits from a good dose of meat and bone in her diet.
This kind of thrift used to be taken for granted and not just on farms or in rural settings. All kitchens, big and small, were units of production and economy. What we now throw in our recycling bin would once have been sold to the rag and bone man generating income for the family, nothing would have been wasted.
While I can never lay claim to producing no waste (we still buy things from the store and they come in packages) we have dramatically reduced our food waste since we moved onto the farm. Our animals take up quite a lot of the slack, with veggies going to the chickens and grateful dogs receiving meat scraps and bones! But we also endeavour to create a menu that uses all of the meat thriftily and with as much respect as we can give it.
It may seem cruel or heartless to some people that we raise up animals, know and care for them, then send them to slaughter. And I admit it is not always an easy process, I’ve shed a few tears as we’ve sent animals to be ‘finished’ at the slaughter house. But the truth is I’d rather have it this way, I’d rather know the life my animals, and my family lead. I’d rather know where each piece of meat has come from, what’s gone into the processing and know that there has been as little waste as possible, honouring the life that created our food.
Each meal, each piece of an animal that we consume has a life attached to it, has a story. That’s the bare truth that many ignore or would simply rather not think about. But it is crucial for the health of our food chain, our children and for the animals themselves that we don’t turn a blind eye to the conditions most animals are raised and slaughtered in. When we make a conscious choice buy as ethically as we can, use the meat as thriftily as we can and treat the meat with the respect and care it deserves we are active participants in making our homes, our diets and our nation’s farms better, healthier and more nourishing than ever before. That is the story I want to be a part of.
Well it’s been a crazy busy week here, it feels like all we’ve done is dash from one appointment to another. Dentist, science club, naturopath, and of course the children’s hospital. A 3 1/2 hour session at the children’s hospital was needed to sort out Neirin’s cast (it might not be a fracture, yay!), which can come off for baths to let him move it and get some mobility back. I arrived at Wednesday night feeling pretty exhausted and very grateful to have a full day at home to look forward to.
It’s nice to be out and about but I love the feeling of not having to rush, no shoes and coats to get on, no hustling to the car, no worrying about portable snacks. Being home today has given me the chance to catch up a bit on regular chores and some processing work that needed attendance. After about a week in it’s cure our side bacon is looking rather fabulous, it has firmed up and has made that magical transition from pork to bacon. I’m looking forward to adding it to all sorts of foods and of course eating it as is.
After curing I soaked the bacon overnight to get out some of the salty water, it is sitting on the sunny counter drying out a bit before I bag it and freeze it. We have some ideas about a mini smoker this winter but until then the freezer it is. Next to it on the counter is one of our lovely chickens. The last batch went to slaughter last week, filling our freezer with yet more goodness. I’m cooking one up for our dinner, smeared in the rendered lard from our own pigs and just a nice dash of seasoning. It really needs nothing else.
Sorry if that is a bit of a raw meat overload for anyone, I know that’s not to everyone’s taste! But honestly, I don’t see it like that. To me this is the bounty of a year of hard work (and a decade of dreaming, planning, reading and searching), it represents security, warmth, nourishment and independence. To know that we have a year’s worth of meat in our freezer and that it all came from right here on our farm gives me a feeling of such accomplishment I really can’t help bragging.
There have been many times when I’ve doubted our course, I’ve wondered if it is just too hard, too lonely, too exhausting. I’ve wondered if we should have opted for an easier existence where we had leisure time each weekend to do just as we wished. But those moments are far out balanced by the ones of joy and pride. When I can roast a chicken we raised on our own pasture, when I can have the fun of curing our own bacon and the satisfaction of eating a truly home made meal, why would I want to do anything else?
It may seem terribly priggish of me to even question my good fortune, but I lay no claim to an excess of virtue or any great spiritual purity. When it is too hot or too cold or too lonely, I feel grouchy and sorry for myself. But then I have those moments of boxing up the eggs we sell, washing them carefully and nestling them in their cardboard crowns. I have a Saturday afternoon shredding cabbage for our very first batch of Sauerkraut, washing, cutting, salting and jarring up; pushing the jewelled shreds into the glass so that it looks like a little garden all smooshed up.
On days like this, catching up with the loveliness of just being at home, I know I would never trade this life. I am grateful for a day with no schedule but the one we set ourselves, for the abundance of food, for the chance to just be here.
I’m sharing another guest post over at Rhythm of the Home today, pop over if you have a moment!
Have a beautiful day.
Would you like to take a walk with me? There’s some chores to do but we won’t notice that, it’s such a beautiful day.
After checking on the animals (feeding, watering, cuddling) it’s time for a little walk around, taking in the view. Everything is bathed in red gold light, the air is fresh but not cold. The perfect day for a wander before breakfast.
The bees are being wrapped up for the cold season, despite the warm days we are still having. We know the cold weather is coming so we bask in every mild day we get. It is the golden season and we are loving it. Now our walk is done we can head in for a cup of tea before the busy day begins; looking out of the windows at the evolving day, knowing there is nowhere better to be.