"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Worst Job on the Farm (Disbudding)



Meet the littlest baby goat. Flopsy gave birth just a week or so after Polly, who lost both babies
Sad Day (Breeding Gone Awry)) because we didn't know she had got pregnant so early and also because she can apparently hide twins in her belly and still look like a caprine supermodel. After that sad day, of course I kept a sharp eye on the other goats, and so we had plenty of time to lock up Flopsy in the warm, dry mama barn when she began to show signs of impending labor.

Surprisingly, she only gave birth to one baby, this fine spotted buckling you see above. Flopsy has thrown triplets more often than anything else, although her first baby was a single buckling as well, the inimitable Storm Cloud. It seems that whenever a goat throws a single, it is always a big buckling.  Iris once  had a single buckling, Clove, who was so big and vigorous he was trying to stand up before he was all the way out.

It may be that this little guy is our only baby goat this year. If Iris is pregnant it will be quite a while yet - she is thin and shows no udder development at all. At nine years old, her fertility may be declining, which is fine by me. Iris has given us many beautiful babies over the years and produced an awful lot of milk. She has earned her retirement. I don't mind if we don't get more babies - the market for goats has been poor for years now, and we often end up eating them instead of selling them. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it wouldn't bother me to take a year off from butchering.

I'm going to try to sell this little fellow as an intact buck. He has a fair chance, I think, because of his lovely spots. If I knew for certain he were destined to be a meat animal, I wouldn't bother with disbudding him, but there is absolutely zero chance anyone will buy a buck with horns. Nor should they; a full grown horned buck would a dangerous animal during rut season. So, today we disbudded him.



Disbudding baby goats is a terrifying procedure carried out with a red-hot iron (or actually, copper, as seen on the model above). I used to pay the veterinarian to do it under anesthesia, but that became prohibitively expensive as the price I could get for baby goats declined. Also, the vet killed one of my babies by accident ( This One Really Hurts (Bad Year for Baby Goats)) and I figured if anybody is going to kill one of my babies, it might as well be me.

Homero built me a kid-containment box out of an old bookshelf and I bought a disbudding iron off the internet. Last year I borrowed a friend's iron just to see if I could handle the procedure, and it turns out I can. It's horrible, but I can do it. Last year I disbudded three babies and they all turned out fine - no brain damage - and as far as I know they never grew any scurs, either. This year's baby buckling is now disbudded and back with his mama, seemingly none the worse for the experience. I'll watch him carefully and check him early in the morning for any signs of brain injury, but I think I have successfully added disbudding to my list of farm tasks that I can competently do, unpleasant as it is.














Saturday, January 10, 2015

Seed Catalogue Season (Plant Porn)






My daughter Rowan started a garden a few years ago; a big garden, with the idea that she would have a booth at the local farmer's market. She got a business license and called it "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest." Yes, I know that name is already taken. I told her that - I have the cookbook - but she didn't care. And it doesn't matter, because her business has never actually advanced as far as selling anything. Pretty much all the success has been on the supply side, so far, not so much on the demand side.

One of the consequences of having an actual gardening business, even if it has yet to make a penny, is that you get dozens of seed catalogues in the mail. January is prime seed catalogue season; so far I think we have received somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen or twenty. Rowan and I both love seed catalogues - really, what gardener does not? Such a wealth of possibility, so much fun imagining the ultimate garden that this year - this year! - will be a reality. I'm sure some people get the same satisfaction leafing through Architectural Digest imagining their dream home, or Vogue, imagining their impossible wardrobe. I could care less about clothes or decor - give me plant porn.

While we were in Mexico, Rowan used my garden space and greenhouse, and when we came back she moved her garden to a friend's house. This year, we've decided to both use the garden space and greenhouse here at the house. Lord knows, I don't make full use of it. I'm sure there's enough room for both of us. We have a 10 x 12 greenhouse with shelves and a fenced garden area of about 800 square feet, or enough room for ten or twelve long beds. Last year I used four of the beds. Maybe together we can put the whole space to use.

Rowan and I have differing ideals, as well as differing abilities, when it comes to gardening. I have the time and the money; she has the muscle and the energy. She wants to grow a wide variety of interesting and beautiful, unusual edibles, such as purple pole beans and cheddar-cheese cauliflower. She looks for weird and rare varieties of garden staples, such as the beautiful Peacock Broccoli or the wonderfully named Frizzy Headed Drunken Woman Lettuce. Her main priorities in choosing a plant are beauty, oddness, and "wow factor." I have different ideas.

Seattle recently launched a very cool and innovative vision - the Food Forest . If you haven't heard of it, the idea is to grow a whole bunch of trees and shrubs, bushes and other hardy perennials that can provide food for local gatherers and foragers free of cost. I think this idea may have been a natural one in an area that so amply provides the wonderful hardy (if invasive) perennial the Himalayan Blackberry. Most Seattleites are accustomed to harvesting berries from roadsides and parking lots every August, and some of them (like me when I lived there) are not averse to seeking out neglected apple or plum trees and helping ourselves. I love the idea of the Food Forest and I hope it flourishes.

On my own five acres, I'd like to eventually have something similar. I want to create a habitat for as many edible perennials as I possibly can. Mainly because once established, a perennial garden is WAY less work than an annual garden. So far, I have a pretty good orchard, two healthy rhubarb plants, a nice little strawberry patch, and a thriving if small raspberry patch. And of course there are the wild perennials - blackberries, mushrooms, dandelion, nettle, dock, thistle, and clover. All harvestable edibles which we take advantage of to one degree or another. Here are a few perennials I'm still missing which I'd like to establish:

- an asparagus bed. In one of those catalogues above there is a special deal - 15 asparagus crowns for only $7.00. I have not planted asparagus yet because I don't want to wait three years to start harvesting it - but by that logic I never will. So this is the year. I will give over one of the garden beds to asparagus permanently.

- grapes. I've tried grapes here twice before and they have died each time, but that's because a certain male person who shall remain unnamed repeatedly mowed the vines down with the weedeater. I'm going to try one more time - I'll use a locally adapted variant of the Concord called the Lyn-Blue. It's an eating and juice grape, but I don't much care about the eating quality because my main interest is in the leaves.

- hazelnuts. I have one thriving and beautiful hazelnut bush which flowers abundantly every year but which never produces any nuts. Obviously it needs a pollinator, but that is hard to come by as I don't know what variety my bush is. I'll have to buy two or three separate varieties of hazel and plant them all; that will assure that one of them at least will fertilize my well-grown bush. I hope.

- plums. Similar issue with a lovely Greengage Plum I planted years ago and which flowers every year but which has never set a single plum. I need top look up what the pollinator is and plant one.

I also have a yen for a few non-edibles this year. Looking through the catalogues, there are some great deals on trees - trees which do not produce food but which are still beautiful. We have a severe lack of trees on the property and personally I think it is the civic duty of everyone who has room to plant a few trees for posterity. I'm gong to try a couple of big old fashioned weeping willows and a couple of paper-white birches. And, of course, this year's Christmas Tree.













Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sad Day (Breeding Gone Awry)



A likely looking buckling: Storm Cloud
To keep a buck or not to keep a buck is one of the major questions I struggle with. There are advantages and disadvantages to keeping your own buck  (see, for example,The King Must Die (Goat Breeding and Divine Kingship)) but the main advantage is not having to frantically search for a buck to rent every year, which can be a major hassle ( New To Farm Life: Unwelcome Drama in the Goat Breeding ...).  Accordingly, I have usually kept a buck around.

The next question is whether or not to let your buck run with the herd. Most goat folks will say not to do this, and after the story I am about to tell you, I have to agree. I have changed my mind. I always let my bucks run with the herd, truthfully because my fences have not been up to the task of keeping them separate. A buck who wants to get at does in heat is a very difficult animal to contain. Some people say a buck will harass the does until they are thin and sick; or that he will keep breeding a pregnant doe until she aborts. I haven't noticed that to be the case with my bucks. What any buck WILL do, however, is breed a doe at the earliest possible chance.

Nubians are generally seasonal breeders, meaning that they will not go into heat until the days begin to get shorter and the nights to get cooler, usually in early September around these parts. But if a doe goes in to heat early for some reason, no buck is going to stand around metaphorically twiddling his thumbs. He's going to blubber and pee on himself and strike ridiculous poses and breed that doe the second she'll stand still for it. And apparently, Polly went into heat in July this past summer.

The reason that you don't want your does pregnant in July - if you live in a place with wet, cold winters - is that you don't want baby goats born in January. They have a distressing tendency to die. Especially if the weather has been very wet and chilly. And most especially if you weren't expecting them, and therefore were not able to pen the mama goat up in the dry barn, and instead she gave birth in the middle of the night in the cold wet pasture. Then what will happen, 9 times out of 10, is that when you go outside to do the chores, you will find a couple of dead kids and a mama goat with a drum-tight udder.

Which is what happened here last friday. Homero found them. Twins; a buck and a doe, beautifully spotted and perfect, but cold, flat, and dead. I'm certain the poor little things were born live and just never stood up to nurse. If I had been there, they would almost certainly both be alive. I felt just awful - this is my fault for being lazy and slack about fencing, and not keeping good notes about when my does were bred, and not keeping close tabs on the mama goats regarding signs of pregnancy. Although to be fair to myself, it is often very difficult to tell when these large bodied Nubians are pregnant until the udders fill up a day before kidding.

It also so happened that when Homero came inside to tell me about the babies, I was just finishing up packing for a long-weekend vacation we were taking to Victoria. For the first time in years, we were all going together, all five of us. I had arranged for friends to take the dogs and we were simply going to leave the large animals with extra hay and water. There would be nobody at home at all to care for Polly.

Polly was fine - the birth didn't seem to be hard on her at all - but she would lose her milk if no-one milked her. Of course we didn't want her to lose her milk for OUR sake - that would make this breeding season a dead loss - but I was also worried about just leaving her to dry up on her own, without supervision. The vet said, when I called, that most times they will dry up just fine on their own, but they should always be watched for signs of mastitis. We were supposed to leave to go catch the boat in just a few hours, and the tickets were non-refundable (of course).

Desperate, I put the word out on the Facebook Farmer's group. I said I know it was an insane request, but I had to try - could anybody take my goat for a few days and keep her in milk for me? To my surprise and relief, no fewer than three other goat owners offered within minutes. My neighbor M., who was already caring for my elderly dog, was one of them. So we bundled the goat, the stanchion, and a bag of alfalfa pellets into the van and brought them all over, gave her a crash-course in milking, and thanked her profusely. Then we went to Victoria and had a perfectly lovely time.

I bitch a lot about technology but it really is wonderful to be part of this Facebook group of local farmers and neighbors. Ten years ago I would have been shit out of luck, and would have stayed home milking my goat while my husband and kids went to the Royal B.C. museum and the bug zoo without me. Being part of this community is a privilege and a responsibility - surely it is my turn next to help in any goat-related emergencies.































Monday, December 29, 2014

Old Christmas Trees, Old Christmas Trees...



Here is a terrible picture of my four goats and the cow attacking a christmas tree. Most people don't think about ruminants eating evergreens, but they do. Just try to plant one in their pasture and you'll see! This time of year, they are subsisting solely on hay, except for every once in a while when the sun comes out I can bring the goats out for a nibble of whatever they can find around the yard. I'm sure this tree was a nice change of pace for them, something fresh and interesting.

It's not my Christmas tree, though. As always, we bought a live tree and it is still up, covered with decorations, in our living room. It's high time to get it outside, but I probably won't get around to that for another few days. Our property is still severely lacking in trees, despite the four Christmas trees and dozen or so fruit trees we have planted. I have a master plan to create a mini-forest of ex-Christmas trees over by my husband's shop, but that will take a good many Christmases yet.

No, this tree is the result of a post I put on my Facebook Farmer's group saying I would happily pick up your Christmas tree if it were outside and not too big to fit in a Eurovan. I got two trees yesterday and I will probably pick up a few more this week. I'm thinking that after the goats turn them into skeletons, I may stuff them into the chicken coop to provide some natural roosting areas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas 2014 (Musings and Menus)




Preparations for Christmas this year are just about done. The presents are all bought and wrapped, the tree is lit, the house is decorated and plans are firmly in place for who we are visiting when. I've enjoyed the run-up to Christmas this year. The girls helped me decorate and seemed to enjoy it - I wonder how many years I have left of making snowflakes and decorating cookies with them? We staged a small Christmas piano recital for family and friends, and we went to Vancouver to go see the lights in Stanley Park. 

2014 Christmas Altar

Because we finally sold the property we have been trying for many years to sell, we have a little extra money this year. Which is a good thing, because my husband LOVES to shop for and buy Christmas presents, and often we have some friction around much we ought to spend vs. how much we (ahem: he) actually end up spending. This year I was able to mostly relax around it and let him go to town. 

I can't help, however, contrasting Christmas in the U.S. with Christmas in Oaxaca. Sure, people here go to parties during Christmas season, and many of us go to church, but if we are honest we have to admit that Christmas, for Americans, mostly revolves around buying gifts and exchanging them. That is not the case in Oaxaca, where we have spent more than a couple of Christmases, most recently in 2012.
Christmas 2012 in Abuelita's house


Christmas in Oaxaca begins on December 16th. For the nine days leading up to Christmas, there are Posadas, a celebration, a reenactment of the journey of Mary and Joseph before Christ's birth that moves from house to house and involves pinatas, singing, and food. Although parish-based, Posadas truly are open to everyone, including random tourists who are brave enough to accept a waved invitation. 

Aside from the posadas, there is a nearly endless string of parties and visits. Everyone wants to entertain at Christmastime, and pretty much everyone does. On Christmas eve, the neighborhood Posada finishes its nine-day journey at the local church; there is a big street festival and mass is spoken, and then everyone heads home for a big, late dinner. And then that's it; that's Christmas. Christmas morning is for nursing hangovers and - eventually - cleaning up. Gifts are reserved for Epiphany, on January 6th, and are pretty much just tokens.

In many ways, Christmas in Oaxaca is a lot less stressful, not to mention expensive. The holiday is much more about events - parties, mass, going downtown to look at the decorations, visiting family - and much less about spending money and gifts. Of course, it is still expensive and stressful to entertain visiting family. The average American family might be totally aghast at the thought of hosting three or four different families, sequentially or simultaneously, and feeding them all and being gracious for weeks on end. Or at the thought of throwing six to eight parties during the Christmas season instead of one. Personally I'm thankful to not be hosting any parties at all.

I am, though, doing Christmas eve dinner. Just here at home, and the only invited guest is P., Rowan's ex-boyfriend, who is leaving Christmas day on a greyhound to go back to the mid-west from whence he came. We love P. and will miss him, and are glad to have him with us. So I'm only cooking for six, which is fewer than the number of people  cooked for every single day last year, when P. and the cousins Alehida and Shidezi were living with us. But of course it has to be special.

I asked Homero what he wanted for Christmas eve dinner, and he said "Roast chicken, but not like you make it. I want it like my grandma makes it. And also the noodles she makes. And the potato salad."

If there's one thing I think all us wives can agree we don't like to hear about our cooking, it's that "it's not like Grandma used to make." Especially if Grandma happens to come from an entirely different country with different, unavailable ingredients. At least I have the advantage of having eaten Grandma's Christmas eve roast chicken. It is, indeed, delicious. I think I can come up with a pretty good approximation. Also it is true that Grandma herself showed me how to make her guajillo salsa, which is, as Homero says, "good enough to make you eat the tablecloth where it spilled."



Abuelita's Guajillo Salsa

20 or so guajillo chiles (dried California or New Mexico chiles are good substitutes)
3 cloves garlic
large pinch whole cumin seed
tsp. white vinegar
salt

Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle. Also heat a kettle of water to boiling. Wipe with an oiled napkin, but do not let any oil remain. Tear open chiles and shake out seeds. Toast, turning often, until they become highly fragrant and begin to emit fumes - about 1 minute. 
Put toasted chiles into a blender canister and cover with boiling water. In the same hot skillet, put the peeled garlic and turn until blackened in spots. Also roast the cumin seed until toasty-scented - about 30 seconds. Add to blender canister, along with vinegar. Allow to sit and soften 1 hour. Blend on high for a few FULL MINUTES, until as smoothly pureed as it will ever be. 
Pour into a small saucepan and simmer to reduce. When finished, the salsa ought to coat the back of a spoon. Serve with roasted chicken and potato salad. 


















Saturday, December 20, 2014

Windstorm '14 (Repairs)

Last week there was a major windstorm. They were building it up in the media for a week ahead of time - "likely the biggest windstorm since the great storm of '06," that kind of thing. The Pacific Northwest in general is not known for it's extreme weather - quite the opposite, in fact. Steady, gentle rain is pretty much our speed. We seldom have thunderstorms, and whenever there's more than three inches of snow everybody gets all in a dither. Major storms are relatively rare events.

However, we, here on our little ridge above the water, do get quite a bit of strong wind. It's quite ordinary for us to get steady strong wind for days at a time, and gusts that feel close to violent are commonplace all through the winter. We've been approached by a local wind energy group about putting a major tower on our property, one that would power fifty to eighty homes. That ought to give you some idea of the kind of wind we reliably experience (that won't happen, by the way. We were seriously considering it, but then our shortsighted county slapped a moratorium on all windmills larger than those required to power a single home).

Since we have lived here, there have been - oh, I'm going to say three major windstorms. One of them, back in '07, picked up our heavy duty trampoline - Rainbow's finest model, probably weighs 250 pounds - and threw it against our roof, knocking a fair sized dent in it. Another windstorm picked up our calf hutch and sent it sailing over the state highway and into our neighbor's field. Since then there's been only minor damage to shingles on the barn.

Last week's windstorm shredded the extra-thick corrugated plastic roof of the field shelter and chicken coop. I'm not sure if you know what this stuff is - it looks like corrugated tin that shacks are roofed with in Oaxaca and Hoovervilles in Depression-era musicals and other poverty-stricken areas, but it's made of clear plastic. It's quite thick and strong, and expensive, too, at about $20 per 4'x16' sheet.  We screwed it down onto the rafters of the field shelter and chicken coop, and it works pretty well. Until there's a major windstorm.

The wind just peeled it off in little pieces. There's still a strip of it screwed down to each rafter, but the rest of the sheets are torn into tiny particles which are strewn all over hell and gone. Not only do we have to re-roof the sheds, but we have to hike all over the property and roadside picking up seven hundred little pieces of plastic. If I can find any, I'm going to reroof with corrugated tin. What the hell, we already look like a third world country around here.

HURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2009

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's.....


A flying calf hutch!

We knew the windstorm was coming. We took precautions. As usual, we parked a car next to the trampoline and chained them together (this is since the trampoline hit the roof year before last). We brought in the kiddie pool (which we have fetched from the neighbor's field once already), loose tarps, anything like that.

But it just never occurred to me to tie down the calf hutch. For those city folks among you, a calf hutch is about nine feet in diameter and maybe four feet high. Weighs perhaps 100 pounds. Looks like a UFO as it is gliding silently over three fences and across a state highway.

It's back. And tied down. There's another windstorm predicted tonight.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smoked Salmon for Christmas (I finally Did It!)



When I was a child, there were a few special packages we always waited for at Christmastime. Several of my relatives sent good gifts every year, but the packages I remember best are the ones from my stepsisters' grandma and the one from my mother's friend April. When they arrived, we would all gather around to unpack them reverently.

Grandma sent canned goods from her own garden and kitchen. What I remember best are her dilly beans, spicy and garlicky and beautiful in the tall quilted-glass jar. They always had a place on the Christmas table. April sent canned goods, too - beautiful jewel-toned jams and - most wonderful of all - tiny bottles of fruit flavored liqueurs from her raspberry and blackberry patches. Mom used to let us taste the liqueurs by pouring a little into a teaspoon. We thought they were magically delicious.

Ever since I moved up here and began learning to can and tending a garden, I have entertained fantasies of sending out packages at Christmas, packages that my friends and family would exclaim over. For seven years in a row, I have failed to do so. Not because I don't have canned goods - I usually do, though it is true that there are never as many jars in the cabinet come December as you imagine there will be, when you are bent over a hot stove in August. I am already out of salsa, if you can believe that. No, I have not sent out my packages out of sheer laziness and disorganization. Good intentions, it turns out, won't get you to the post office.

This year I was determined to overcome my natural sloth and fully intended to send out canned goods. I set aside little jars of cajeta (New To Farm Life: Cajeta is Love), lemon curd, and dilly beans. The beans were pilfered by my daughter Hope, who has a passion for all things pickled, and there are none left. The cajeta didn't turn out well; for some reason it turned out not like caramel sauce but sort of like milk-fudge. It's not bad in coffee, but it's not of a quality that I would give as a gift. That left lemon curd, but only three half-pint jars, and I have six people on my package list.

Luckily, we had an abundance of salmon this year. Not only did I buy a few fish, as I always do, but just recently a customer of Homero's who works at some sort of fishery gave him a tip consisting of two gigantic sides of Alaskan King. We ate some fresh, and it was the best salmon I've had in ages - rich and buttery and deliciously fat. I told Homero "whatever you do, keep that guy happy!"

I started smoking the salmon just as a way to preserve it. A couple years ago I canned some king salmon, with the help of friends who loaned me their pressure canner, and it was good, but not as good as smoked salmon. It occurred to me that smoked salmon is not only a universally appreciated gift, but also considerably less bulky and expensive to send than food in glass jars. Not to mention that, as much as we all enjoy smoked salmon, we are unlikely to eat ten pounds of it in a year.

My "little chief" smoker is missing a rack, so it took me three sessions to smoke all the fish. Two sides, cut into generous filets, made twelve good sized packages. Last week I got myself together, hunted down addresses (in some cases calling and asking) and sent out five bubble-wrap lined manila envelopes with salmon inside. I'm so proud of myself. I finally did it. I know my friends and family were happy because they all called to tell me so. No promises, but I think I may make smoked salmon my signature gift. It's hard to let go of the image of multiple, tiny, jewel-toned jars, but salmon is easier.

Since I don't have a vacuum sealer (I should probably get one if I plan to make this a yearly tradition), I borrowed one from a neighbor and gave her a package of salmon in trade. That leaves six packages in my fridge. I'm sure a few of those will be taken as hostess gifts to parties and gatherings this year, and I know my sister is getting one under her tree (sorry, Jen, for ruining the surprise), but that still leaves us with plenty of delicious smoked salmon to keep us going until next summer.


Aimee's Smoked Salmon

Cut a filet of king or sockeye salmon into approximately 1 lb pieces. Salmon will lose a lot of weight in the smoker and smaller pieces will just seem measly. In a large non-reactive pot or bowl, combine a gallon of water, 1/3 c. sea salt, 1 c. white sugar, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1/3 c. soy sauce, several slices fresh ginger root, and 1 tablespoon (or to taste) sriracha. Make sure there is enough brine to completely cover salmon pieces. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning, prepare smoker according to directions (I use soaked alder wood chips). Smoke salmon to desired doneness but at least 6 hours. You will need to dump ashes and add chips at least four times. I smoked mine for almost 9 hours because I like a fairly hard smoke. 
























Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hunger a the Holidays (Repost from The Frugal Girl)


Today I am reposting this excellent post from www.theFrugalgirl.com on childhood hunger in America. As often as I feel I don't have enough money for all my wants, I have always had enough to feed my children. And I am lucky enough, as the frugal girl points out, to have grown up in a household that ate together and taught me how to cook. I have knowledge of nutrition and knowledge of how to cook, and access to healthy food, and all of those things are privileges and blessings.

The Frugal Girl has some wonderful suggestions below for how to talk to your kids about hunger and also some ideas about what to do about it when your children inevitable want to help. This season, I am giving thanks for all my blessings and for my ability to assist my community. Best wishes to you and yours now and in 2015!


Teaching kids about hunger (even when they’re not hungry)

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This post is brought to you by SheKnows and Unilever Project Sunlight .
Having enough food has never been something I’ve needed to worry about. As a kid, I’m not sure it ever even really occurred to me, and even in our leanest adult years, Mr. FG and I have always had enough to eat.
IMG_5054It might not have been 5-star restaurant food (and we certainly have had stages in our life where we almost NEVER could afford to eat out), but we’ve never gone hungry, and by extension, neither have our kids.
This is a place of pretty great privilege…to have transportation to a clean, affordable, nearby grocery store and to have the time and skills necessary to prepare meals from cheap staples.
using up leftovers with salad
I don’t think this is necessarily bad for my kids (Who wants their kids to be without privileges?), but what’s important, I think, is for them (and us adults too!) to be able to SEE the privileges we have for what they are.
Usually, seeing people with fewer privileges opens our eyes a bit.
This is especially the case when we see individuals rather than an amorphous group of hungry people. When we hear people’s stories and look into their eyes, most of us will indeed be moved with compassion.
For instance, when Lisey was about 7 or 8 years old, her children’s news magazine had a story about a family in Haiti who had so little to eat, they resorted to making dirt cookies. She brought the magazine to me and said, “Mommy, if I ever went to visit those people, I would want to bring my bank and give them some money.”
(Since we loved her compassionate response but couldn’t personally bring her bank to Haiti, we helped her donate to an organization that brings livestock, seeds, and training to impoverished people in Haiti.)

Hunger Here at Home

When I watched this SheKnows video about hunger in America, I felt those same stirrings of compassion that Lisey experienced.
Hungry families aren’t just a statistic…they are real families, with stories that made me cry, and they live in neighborhoods all around us.
Though we (and I include my own family here!) tend to think mostly of hungry people who live in far-away countries, the sad truth is that 1 in 5 American kids come from homes that don’t have food security.

How do we make our kids aware?

The people over at SheKnows had a great a idea: give kids a poverty-level budget and have them go try to buy healthy groceries to last for a week. Check it out:
Seeing the small amount of food that can be purchased with $36.50 is a great object lesson for kids, who so frequently learn by seeing.
I think it’s also helpful for kids to know people who work to relieve hunger. We have a family friend who helps to feed hungry people in Nashville, and as we pray for him and give to his ministry, this helps to keep hunger on our children’s radar.
And, of course, I think there’s value in faithfully talking to our kids about food and pointing out what an enormous blessing it is to have so much food available to us. I know sometimes it seems like kids aren’t really listening, but they do absorb a generous portion of what we say.

 Room for Growth

Though we’ve made efforts to help our kids be aware of the hunger that’s around the globe, we could definitely do a better job of helping them (and ourselves!) see that child hunger exists on a more local level too.
Project Sunlight, a movement that works to build a world where everyone lives well (and sustainably) has some great suggestions about how to get involved in fighting hunger here at home.
Share A Meal  Sustainable Living  Unilever Project Sunlight USA - Mozilla Firefox 11222014 125533 PM
My favorite is the idea to partner with local organizations. I’m a big fan of localized aid because I think these organizations often have a really great feel for what the community’s needs are and how to meet those needs.
Inspired by watching the above videos, I found a food pantry/community aid organization in our local area, and I’m going to take my kids out and have them help me shop for some food to donate.
Would you consider joining me in the #ShareAMeal challenge?
The #ShareAMeal site has a food pantry location tool to help you find a food pantry in your neighborhood, or you could also take one of the other #ShareAMeal challenges.
If you feel like there’s just no room in your budget to help the hungry, could I encourage you to take a look at your food waste?
Why?
Well, the average American family throws away about $1500 worth of food every single year. Imagine what could happen if we all bought only what we needed, used it wisely, and then put our saved grocery money toward helping to feed hungry people!
To give you an idea of the possible impact, check out this picture of $1500 worth of food from One Hundred Dollars a Month. SaveitSunday-Food-Waste
If we shaved our food waste by even 25-50%, we could feed so many kids! Every little bit helps.
If you need some help getting started on food waste reduction, here are my top ten tips to stop food waste. Give ‘em a try, and share some of your savings with hungry kids in your neighborhood, city, or town.
_________________________
I’d love to hear from you! How do YOU educate your children about hunger? And I’d also love to hear of ways that you help the hungry in your community.
_________________________
About SheKnows’ Hatch, the Hatch Hunger Project and Unilever Project Sunlight:
SheKnows’ Hatch teamed with Unilever Project Sunlight to help families build awareness and take action around child hunger in America. The facts are startling: 16 million kids living in the United States don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That equates to one in every five children – enough to fill 18,000 school buses and 223 football stadiums. On average, those who live in food-insecure households have only $36.50 to spend on groceries every week. That means that 80 percent of children may not understand the everyday struggle their peers – many of whom could be their own friends or neighbors – confront when there’s not enough food on the table. The Hatch Hunger and Project Sunlight video and workshop aims to create empathy by showing kids what it means to shop for healthy, filling meals for an entire week on a thrifty budget. It teaches important math and teamwork skills. Finally, it is about action, empowering kids to have a positive impact on their community to Share A Meal with a family in need and donating food and canned goods to local food banks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday (Fencing Never Ends)

ONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2008

 First of all excuse the weird format, Blogger is giving me headaches and I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure it out right now. This is me, Aimee, in 2014, writing an introduction to the throwback post from 2008, which follows. This time of year six years ago I see I was dealing with escaping goats, and today we are still dealing with escaping goats. Fencing issues never end. 
Recently, we came into a bit of cash and I decided the best use of it would be to finally buy as many cattle panels as my heart desired - or as many as the feed store had in stock, which turned out to be 34. I believe that will be enough to address our fencing issues once and for all; or at least the two smaller pastures. The cattle panels have been lying on the trailer with which Homero went and got them, waiting for good weather and my energy level to coincide. That hadn't yet happened when, this afternoon, Homero saw the goats had escaped the sacrifice area by hopping over a droopy area. 
Actually fixing the fence to the specifications I desire will have to await another day - right now there is a patchwork of panels covering various droopy spots and in order to fence the whole paddock we will have to remove and re-place all the panels. But today, we did more spot-fixing and the goats are contained. For the moment. 




Nobody I know has the troubles I do with containing their livestock. Remember the chickens that almost started a neighborly feud? Remember when Xana kicked out a window of the barn and cut herself to ribbons? The piglet in the bathtub episode?

Well, it's happening again. The goats are escaping. The twins were out yesterday, bleating to get back in, and tonight when I got home, four goats were out. The twins, Xana, and Iris! Iris is not a leaper, which makes me think they must have mashed the fence down somewhere, but it's too dark to see. I'll have to wait until morning. 

For now, I'll have to lock them in the big barn (and hope that Xana doesn't just kick out the other window!). I'm terrified of the highway that fronts our property. It's pretty well traveled at all times of night and people speed along at 65. The goats could all get mashed flat, and not only that, they could cause a dangerous accident. 

The lady who owns the buck I bred my does to this year is sending her husband tomorrow morning to help me get the fence working. Homero gave his consent for me to seek help elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, after a full day of failed-fence-fixing in the rain. I won't repeat his actual words here, but they were along the lines of "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quick Updates

Recent developments -

- The turkeys are processed and ready for pickup. In light of the way they were getting picked off (Predator Problems (Facebook Farmers)), I decided they would be safer in the freezer than in the barnyard. Last year, there was a local guy who processed them for $10 a bird, but he has gone out of business and nobody has replaced him. Luckily, a neighbor of mine belongs to a co-op that rents out the equipment, and she was kind enough to host a processing party. Homero and Rowan went (I was in Seattle with the girls at a gymnastics meet) and the turkeys look great. We haven't weighed them yet but my arm says about 15-18 pounds each. They are all sold already at $4/lb, so that makes back our expenses even without thew two the coyotes ate. A success.

- All animals are in the sacrifice area. A little late in the year, but finally all the hooves are off the big pasture. I was worried about whether or not the ponies would share their shelter with the heifer, but it looks like they have grudgingly decided to do so. The goats - only 4 of them right now - sleep in the calf hutch.

- Breeding season is in full swing. I think my ladies are all pregnant - probably including Ba,bi, the bevy - but I'm not sure. Haboob the buck has been in with them for the last six weeks and I've seen him doing his duty - or trying to. The does don't seem to like him much (probably because he is so small) and he spends a lot of time chasing them and taking flying leaps. But I definitely saw him close the deal with Iris. Last week we sent him off to a neighbor's farm in exchange for a lovely basket of farm produce. Here's hoping her does like him better than mine do.

- The work in the crawlspace  (It Never Rains But it Pours (When is Enough Enough?)) is just about done. Homero, with Rowan's help, did about half the actual work, saving us lots of money. However, in the course of events, about half the ductwork got removed and needed to be replaced and we had spent literally our last dollar paying the workmen. We had to wait for payday to buy new ducts, not to mention propane, and in the meantime the weather took a turn for the seriously cold. For about 10 days we had to huddle in one room at night with the space heater. But all's well that ends well - now I can be relatively certain that my house isn't going to sink into the ground or go sliding down the hill anytime soon.

More later - getting dinner on the table.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Throwback Thursday (Bad Business)



We've been dealing with a lot of house issues lately (another post on the crawlspace will be forthcoming soon) and as I look back to 2010, I see that we were dealing with house issues then, too. Really, when have we not been? In 2010 it was the roof. When we bought the house in 2007, we had hired a local company, Joosten's roofing, to do a complete re-roofing, as the farmhouse had a truly ancient shake roof on it that ought to have been replaced years before. 

In 2010, when the roof began to leak in various places, we called the company back and asked them to address the issues... that didn't go well. Our attempts to communicate with Mr. Joosten devolved into screaming and racial slurs. You can read the story below. Unfortunately, this story did not have a good outcome. We never did get Joosten's Roofing to address their crappy workmanship  and we never did get satisfaction in the form of a lawsuit or anything else. The best I could do at the time was a scathing report to Angie's List, which brought their overall rating down a full letter grade. Take that, you bigoted bully! 

The details: when the roofers removed the old shake roof, there was a lot of rot underneath - the plywood and even many of the rafters on one side of the house had rotted. But instead of talking to us about this, they simply laid new plywood down and covered up the whole mess. Obviously, this didn't last. There were more problems - flashing that was improperly installed and which allowed water into the attic around the vents and ruined our attic insulation.... gutters which were taken down and not reinstalled... really you name it. Below read my letter (though nothing came of it, it's still a good letter) and please don't ever do business with this awful man!



Late Fall, 2010

For anyone who lives in Skagit or Whatcom counties: Please do not hire Joostens roofing. Not only did they do a shoddy unprofessional job, but when my husband asked them to come back out and inspect the damage, they told him "take me to court" and hung up on us.

Given that response, I wrote a letter to the better business bureau, and I forwarded a copy to Joostens roofing. Their response to that was to call my husband on his cell phone, start yelling racial slurs at him, tell him to "go back to Mexico" and threaten to "sic immigration" on him.

Yeah, I know! We were both just totally aghast. I have never personally witnessed such vicious, blatant racism. Oh, I know that much worse happens every day, to all kinds of people - I just hadn't actually heard anyone SAY such things out loud. When I myself spoke to Mr. Joosten, he started talking about how I must be a liberal and he was a conservative and that was "the difference." I reminded him that racial discrimination is illegal for conservatives as well.

I was so angry at that point that I couldn't keep speaking to him. I wrote this letter instead:

Mr. Joosten
>
> this letter is inform you that we have filed a complaint with the
> Whatcom Sheriff regarding the threats you made to my husband on the
> phone yesterday. You are on record. Frankly we are both shocked by
> your bigoted, offensive, and bullying behavior. The idea that you
> would "sic immigration" on a client whom you believe to be
> vulnerable and without recourse rather than address that person's
> complaints speaks volumes both to your business integrity and to
> your personal character. I invite you to reflect on your actions.
>
> I still willing to talk with you about how we can come to an
> agreement regarding the damage done by your poor work. Please feel
> free to call me directly at 206-xxx-xxxx (I doubt my husband is
> interested in speaking with you). However, don't call if you want to
> shout at me or insult me or otherwise harass me: only to calmly
> discuss resolving the professional issue.
>
> If you do not choose to resolve this privately in a very short time
> frame, we will relunctantly be forced to contact our attorney. Be
> aware that if we do so, your racially charged language will become
> part of a racial discrimination suit. If that is the case, we will
> also be contacting all relevant offices that regulate fair business
> practices in Washington, such as the department of licensing and the
> Attorney General's office.
>
> Sincerely,
>
> E.D.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday (November Blues)


Apparently, I have always hated this time of year.


MONDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2008

November Blues




Nothing works on the farm. The electric fence is still broke, despite two temper tantrums on my part and a first class marital spat. Homero didn't agree with me that an electric fence is supposed to deliver shocks EACH and EVERY time you touch it. He declared the fence fixed even though it delivered only a low-grade buzz that was rather more stimulating than painful, and then once every three minutes or so, a fat jolt that made your arm fly involuntarily up in the air. Currently (no pun intended), the shock-box has been taken down and apart to see what the hell is wrong with it, and I doubt it will be put back up before spring.

Unless I secretly hire someone and risk a major fight in favor of a working fence.

I had four yards of drain rock delivered, a week and a half ago, and it is still in a big pile doing nothing to solve the mud problem because I hurt my back and can't spread it out. Homero says he will do it "soon." Maybe my back will heal "sooner." I don't think I bought enough rock, anyway, because the mud is OUT of HAND. It is well over ankle deep, and it is getting pretty difficult to traverse some areas without losing a gumboot. All in all, the farmyard is a wet, stinky, disgusting swamp, and nobody wants to be there, animals included.

I haven't closed the pig in his pen since it started raining. It would be inhumane. He sleeps in the barn with the goats, making himself a big old pile of straw (compost) and digging a kind of trench in it to bury himself in. He's really a very cute pig, and nice as pigs go, and I'm starting to feel bad about eating him. Though I did buy a book yesterday called "Home Sausage-Making."

The catch pen, which was meant for the pony, is the wettest part of the yard, oddly and frustratingly. Rain pools right under the roof, and it's useless as a pony pen. The poor pony would be standing in water up to her knees. But, like the alpacas, she doesn't like to go in the barn, so she stays out in the rain. 

The alpacas are the saddest, most bedraggled looking things I've ever seen. 

The white rabbit escaped and is gone. The brown rabbit is all alone, and seems miserable and lonely. I'm projecting.

No eggs in quite a while.

I hate this time of year.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Predator Problems (Facebook Farmers)



Last year, we had good luck with turkeys. We never intended to raise turkeys, but a trade came our way (Turkey Trade) and we acquired four half-grown turkeys in exchange for one goat. We ate one, sold two, and donated one to the food bank. I decided pastured turkeys were a great return on investment - and also extremely delicious - so this past spring we upped our investment by 50% and bought six Standard Bronze poults.

All went well until just a few weeks ago - the turkeys all grew quickly and turned into handsome animals of about fifteen or eighteen pounds. I think they were all hens, although I wouldn't swear to that on a stack of bibles. Through Craigslist and Facebook, I had already sold four of them. But then one of them disappeared. There was no sign of "fowl play" (ha ha) - no feathers or blood. There was simply one less turkey.

My Facebook Farmer's group informed me that turkeys are known to wander. In fact, our turkeys had wandered over to the neighbor's a couple of times and had to be retrieved. But they had wandered as a group. Turkeys, at least mine, tend to stay in a pretty tight formation, and I thought it was unlikely that a single turkey had decided to strike out on his/her own.

Then, two weeks later, boom - another disappearance. Same modus operendi - simple vanishing, without a trace of violence. Once again, I went back to my Facebook Farmers. I suggested a coyote, as being the only local predator I knew of capable of carrying off a twenty-pound animal. Plenty of people responded, but with varying opinions - some people agreed that coyotes were a likely culprit, but others said that they would leave a big mess of feathers and blood. Somebody suggested bald eagles, which I discounted not because I think an eagle incapable, but because the turkeys disappeared at night. Again I heard that turkeys wander and I ought to check with the neighbors. And, as always, several people voiced the opinion that humans were stealing my turkeys.

Every time that someone in the group posts that anything has gone missing - apples off a tree, baby chicks, tame rabbits, pumpkins off a porch - the assertion surfaces that it was stolen by people. Personally, I find the idea that hordes of my neighbors are prowling through the dark looking for vulnerable apple trees or sneaking into unsecured barns to steal chickens patently absurd. It's been my experience that my neighbors are far more likely to bring me produce or game meat than they are to take it away. As a matter of fact, in my entire lifetime, I think I have been the victim of burglary twice or  maybe three times, whereas I have been the recipient of totally unsolicited generosity hundreds of times.

So, I've learned a couple of things about my Facebook Farmer's group. Although a valuable resource for those who are willing to sift and verify, there is a lot of suspicion and ignorance. I could learn a lot more about the telltale signs of various predators from five minutes on the internet ( http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/18670/poultry-predator-identification, http://www.avianaquamiser.com/posts/What_killed_my_chicken__63__/) than by asking for advice form a random collection of farmers. Some of them are probably well-informed and right, but how could I tell which ones?

As it turns out, my initial suspicion about coyotes was almost certainly correct. Not only does my google search confirm that coyotes and foxes often carry off birds and leave little trace behind, returning again and again to the same place as long as birds remain vulnerable, but my neighbor (he of the hotel-sized-house, or the HSH) called me night before last to tell me that he had seen two big coyotes in my field, and has shot at them, but missed.  Furthermore, when I decided, yesterday, to walk the pasture in a grid pattern looking for evidence, I found one fresh, well shredded leg bone and a small neat pile of guts.

Clearly, my flock is not well protected. I never know exactly how many chickens I have at any given time, but today I made a point of counting, and there are fewer than there ought to be. And the ones that remain are looking thin and harassed. I think I have a pack of coyotes who have decided that my farm is their snack bar.

Normally, the poultry is locked in a coop at night, but lately I have been leaving them to roost in the open main barn instead. This is because the weather has been unrelentingly awful, raining like mad for a couple of weeks on end. The chicken coop, which is just the space between my two barns fenced off and roofed, has terrible drainage and right now it is just a sea of liquid mud. The chickens would be utterly miserable in there. There is not even any land dry enough to feed them on. They have roosts, of course, but they can't stay on them all day. In this weather it would be inhumane to keep them in the coop. Ducks, maybe.

But something needs to be done, clearly. If I do nothing, the coyotes will likely eat my entire flock this winter. As far as the turkeys go, I think I will probably just butcher them immediately - they are full sized - and keep them in the freezer instead of the barnyard. But I need to finger out how to secure the coop and make it habitable before I lose the rest of my chickens.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mushroom Show





Last weekend we went to the annual wild mushroom show, hosted by the Northwest Mushroomers Association (click the link https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northwest-Mushroomers-Association/189323751142082 for their Facebook page). The last time I went to this show was back in 2008 ( Mud and Mushrooms). It's really a wonderful event. In addition to beautiful displays set up on long tables around the room, they also have areas for more in depth investigation. There is a "touch and smell" table:




Paloma at the touch and smell table



















And a table with microscopes and slides for looking at microscopic structures. There is a kids table with coloring and crafts and instructions on making spore-prints. There are artist's tables with beautiful and intriguing works of art made out of or on the subject of fungus. One lady, who is a professional scientific illustrator (a career choice I sometimes regret not having pursued) was selling a lovely little booklet full of illustrations of slime molds, with accompanying haiku. In the kitchen, they were offering tastings. And of course there was a table offering books, posters, T-shirts, and what-not. 

And memberships.  Rowan and Paloma and I were so enchanted, I decided to ask about membership in the society. I have been interested in mushrooms, in a general way as part of my larger interest in herbs, plant medicine, and foraging, for many years. I can identify some three or four varieties of edible (and otherwise interesting) mushrooms, but I am very far from being knowledgeable. I would love the chance to learn more, especially if it is something I can do with my kids. 

Family memberships are only $15, regardless of the number of people in your family. That gets you a newsletter, attendance at lectures and identification clinics all year long, and the right to go along on mushroom hunting forays led by experts. And a nice discount on merchandise, which we promptly put to use at the merch table. 

Mushroom season is probably about over this year. I picked and ate all the field mushrooms in my yard three weeks ago. I didn't go out to the back of the pasture to look for shaggy manes, but I'm sure they are done already. I have a meeting set up with a local forager to buy a few pounds of chanterelles tomorrow... and then that's it until next fall... unless there's a morel-picking foray this spring, that is!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Weather Weirdness (Charts and Graphs)


The weather changed about two weeks ago from warm and sunny to warm and wet. Well, of course it has cooled off - enough so that I have broken out the winter blankets - but it is still pretty warm. T-shirt weather for me when I go let the goats out to graze. I'm still drinking my coffee iced; I haven't switched to Americanos yet. There has of yet been no sign of a frost.

Two weeks of rain has turned the barnyard into poo-soup, and when I go out to do the chores in the morning I definitely have to put on galoshes. The dog comes with me, and is banished from the house until her paws dry off. The sky has been low, grey, and glowering, which has an effect on my mood. It hasn't been very pleasant, weather-wise, but neither has it been cold. Today, a friend posted a link to a weather blogon her Facebook page, and it was very enlightening. So far, Pacific Northwest Weather this year HAS been unseasonably warm - record-breakingly warm, in fact. But the record - highest average low temperatures - is not one that people generally pay much attention to. The following is chart heavy, but I found it very interesting.

A note: as much I am unsettled by weird weather, tending to real out and imagine catastrophic climate change on a human time scale, I am nonetheless grateful for this year's odd warmth. We will not be able to use our furnace until all the work is done in the crawlspace. and that isn't projected to be completed until mid-November. So as far as I'm concerned, let the frost stay wherever it is now!

Reposting from Cliff Mass Weather Blog (link below)

****UPDATE****** I don't know why the cut-and-paste job below is cut off on the right margin. I can't seem to adjust it in my editing platform. However, if you click on any of the graphics, they will show up whole and legible in a new window.

http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-extraordinary-minimum-temperature.html



Something amazing has been going on this fall, and for some reason the Ebola-crazed media hasn't picked up on it.   But that is why we have blogs.  Gardeners know something weird is happening.Vegetable plants are not dying.   Tomatoes are still ripening.

There are movies about this issue.

Here are the temperatures at Seattle-Tacoma Airport during the past 4 weeks, with the average high (red) and lows (blue) shown.   Only ONE day in that entire period has seen the temperature dropping to the average low.  For most days, our minimum temperatures have been 5-10 degrees above normal. Our minimum temperatures last night were close to the average maximum for the date!
UPDATE MONDAY MORNING:  Here is the latest 4 weeks.  Our low temperatures the last few days have been around the NORMAL HIGHS.  And yesterday broke the record daily high at Sea-Tac Airport.

And this is not Seattle alone, here is the same trace for Bellingham.  Same thing.  Bellingham cooled to 59F last night!
Or Quillayute on the coast.   Mega-warm.
A plot of the minimum temperature anomaly (difference from climatology) for the western U.S. over the past month shows that our regional is RED HOT, with minimum temperatures 6-8F above normal on average.

A close-up over Washington State shows some areas are 8-10F above normal.


And the latest NOAA Climate Prediction Center extended forecasts show no end in sight
to the warmth:


Now why is this happening?   This is an important  question because one can expect some folks in the media and advocacy groups to start saying this is a "sign" or "consistent with" global warming due to mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases.  There is no reason to think that is true.

There are two main reasons for the warmth and they are both associated with the anomalous atmospheric circulations we are having.

Reason #1:  a persistent area of low pressure over the eastern Pacific.  The figure below shows the sea level pressure anomaly (difference from normal) for the past month.   There is an area west of us with pressures well below normal.   Such anomalous low pressure is associated with stronger than normal southerly and southwesterly winds over us that blow in warmer than normal air.
Here are the wind anomalies near the surface for the same period...look closely you will see they are southerly over us. It all fits.

This is probably the major cause.   Then there is something else, something I have talked about in previous blog:  the warm water BLOB off the coast.

Below is the sea surface temperature anomaly map for the past week.  You see the orange and red colors off the coast that indicate temperatures 2-4F above normal?  The BLOB still lives.  So air passing over the eastern Pacific  is exposed to warmer than normal water.  Me like BLOB, BLOB is good.

As I noted earlier, the BLOB has little to do with global warming but was produced by anomalous high pressure over the Pacific last winter and year.

So our ridiculously warm temperatures this fall are being produced by an unusual combination of high pressure a year ago that produced the blob and low pressure this fall that is bringing up warm air from the south.

There is no reason to think that these circulation anomalies are caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.  And remember that the eastern U.S. has been colder than normal.

Well, time for me to go out to my garden to harvest some more red tomatoes.