If you’re coming into the kitchen as the weather gets colder (like we are), here’s our favorite go-to recipe for Italian sausage. This classic by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in their book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing never disappoints. Chris just made a big batch in bulk form this weekend, and all winter it will go into burgers, get mixed with veggies, and be added to hot dishes. If you add a little maple syrup on top, it’s mild enough to make a decent breakfast sausage substitute.
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, diced into 1# cubes
1 pound pork back fat, diced into 1″ cubes
1.5 ounces kosher salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (also works well with xylitol if you can’t do sugar)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika
3/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, chilled
Combine all ingredients except the water and vinegar and toss to distribute the seasonings. Chill until ready to grind.
Grind the mixture through the small die into a bowl set in ice.
Add the water and vinegar to the meat mixture and mix with the paddle attachment (or a sturdy spoon) until the liquids are incorporated and the mixture has developed a uniform, stocky appearance, about 1 minute on medium speed.
Saute a small portion of the sausage, taste, and adjust the seasonings as necessary.
The last few months have been eye opening, on pretty much every level possible. You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. I know that I am. It feels important to acknowledge this. I read lots of emails from success coaches and trainers and business builders and farmer types and various others. Many have just kept sending emails as if things weren’t challenging and unprecedented out there. As if we could ignore the world and just keep moving forward.
We can’t ignore the world. We shouldn’t. I hope that you are taking the time to pause and accept that this is a tough moment in time for us all. People are hurting, and people are scared. People are marching and people are dying. The world is changing—has changed—and it’s important to take the time to stop and notice. Whew. Let’s take a breath together. Again. Whew.
We can choose to act out of love or fear. We choose LOVE. Love is what we stand for.
At Howling Wolf Farm, we will keep moving forward, together, to build and celebrate the world we want to see. In May, we saw more than 30 of you as you came to buy out all the pork we had available. Your generosity allowed us to send a whole pig (in sausage form) to the Randolph Food Shelf to feed others in our community. What an expression of LOVE! Those pigs were processed and packaged at a locally-owned plant in our town that has blessedly been able to stay open and doing its work at a time when parts of the food supply chain have been interrupted all over the country.
So what did we do after our whole year’s worth of pigs were sold? We bought more, so we could feed you our Farm Family, with love, this winter. These are piglets from the conventional pork world, which we are honored to give a loving, outside life, and a happy home before they fill our collective freezers.
Somehow it’s suddenly summer and as soon as the pork shipped out, the lambs arrived! Our experiment to shift lambing later seems to be working very nicely, with about half of the lambs born out on pasture. Many started tasting pasture plants next to their moms on their first or second day, and all are strong and healthy and growing fast. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that a big part of *how* we protect the White River Watershed is through our land management with the sheep. I’m so excited to see all the red clover and grasses coming in—like a colorful illustration of the land’s love for what we are doing.
Speaking of what love can create together—the yurt is now raised and weather tight! We’ve got lots more to do to get it set up for guests (such as putting in the windows, getting the toilet and stove installed, and getting it furnished, but getting it out of the boxes and up on the platform was SUCH a huge step! A thousand thank yous to the friends who helped put it up (Nathaniel, Jon, Bruce, Todd, Emily, and my own Chris)! Thank you all so much for the words of encouragement and the faith in us. This could NOT have happened without you!
In Farm Meats news, we are just a couple of weeks away from having bacon and lamb back in stock (while supplies last!). If you are interested in reserving some bacon or lamb, OR putting a deposit down on a whole/half pig or a whole sheep, please email me sooner than later. I am coming to find that selling out of product is easier these days than it has been in the past. No complaints on my side, but I do encourage you to jump sooner than later!
And finally, it has felt like our expressions of love for others needed to GROW, not shrink, in these times.
We are planning to send another sausage-pig to the Randolph Food Shelf (a donation in any amount through our Crowdfund-A-Pig campaign will go toward the purchase, feed and processing costs of the pig—I waive my time, overhead costs and profit). The Food Shelf folks wrote just the nicest note about the generosity (of YOU!), and they were very, very grateful. Let’s do it again!
In response to the national wave of awareness and action in support of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, we (Chris and I) have become monthly Patreon supporters of the Northeast Farmers of Color (NEFOC) Land Trust. This organization helps BIPOC farmers access land, which has been challenging and often impossible through the public and private lending and farm support systems, and a long history interfering with BIPOC land ownership. Knowing how much of a challenge it was for us to get here to our patch of the beautiful world, we want to do whatever we can to help other farmers overcome these obstacles. We need more farmers in this world, not less. If this issue resonates with you, I encourage you to become Patreon supporters, as well.
The truth is that COVID knocked me back a bit. I won’t deny it. Maybe you’re feeling the same way. And the way forward to create the world we want seems extra hard with all the things going on. But maybe it’s not as hard as we think.
Maybe we just need to keep taking the next step forward, one after the other and finding moments, tiny and large, to find Joy and Love wherever we can.
Does the world feel a little unsettled right now? Yeah, me too.
I don’t have kids at home (OK, our kid is 22 and has a job that he is not able to do from home, so there’s THAT extra feeling of stress in our household), BUT I know that life has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated. Many of us are working at home (hey, like farmers!), and trying to find ways to keep some structure for our families. Even those of us without kids home from school are thinking about our parents and our neighbors and the uncertain future of the next few weeks or months.
I’ve been reading a great book called The Obstacle is the Way, about turning times of difficulty into triumphant results. It’s really helping me take the challenges that we are facing and look at them with a different eye. How can we do good in the world? How can our “separation” become a kind of “better togetherness”? How do we build community when we have to socially distance?
By sending double the love out into the world in our words and actions.
I have a friend who just did a one-day food drive for the Food Shelf, to help shore up struggling families. Local stores are holding the first hour or so of the shopping day for the most at-risk folks, so they get to shop with the fewest people and [hopefully] the least danger. I’m seeing online art classes pop up and live yoga classes, and on-farm videos and lamb tours (sorry, our lambs aren’t coming for a while yet!). Restaurants are delivering, people are buying gift certificates to help businesses through the economic downturn.
Our challenges are where our greatest creativity can come from.
I’ve been thinking a bunch about how to support folks in food need within our community, since food and community are what we’re all about. I was going to save this idea for the classic Fall holiday time, but I think we should start now.
Our annual batch of pigs are scheduled to go to the butcher on May 7. I would love to send a whole pig directly to the Randolph Area Food Shelf and I could use your help. I don’t mind waiving my time to raise the pig, but I would really appreciate any assistance in covering the cost of purchasing the pig, feeding it and getting it processed. We will likely arrange to put it into a variety of easy-to-cook cuts like sausage and chops so people can get fresh, hot meals on the table quickly.
Getting high-protein pork into the hands of families can really help keep them healthy, feel full and reduce stress. And taking action to help others helps everyone feel better through empowerment and kindness, and all the wonderful human things we lean on each other for.
Oh! And I found this recipe in The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat, by our friend Cole Ward. It’s a special recipe for pork hocks from the Tuscany region of Italy. I think food is the most classic way to create connection between the shared circumstances of people going through life, don’t you? P.S. I think this recipe sounds delicious as a roast or chops, too.
Pork Hocks (Stinco di maiale al forno)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Brush hocks with salt dampened slightly so it adheres to the
meat; rub in minced garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
Place a metal baking rack or roasting rack into a shallow pan. Place the pork on top, and pour red wine (ideally, Chianti!) into the bottom.
When the outside of the pork gets crispy, lower the
temperature to 275 degrees, and continue to cook until the internal temperature
reaches 145 degrees.
Goes nicely with side dishes of turnips, lentils, or beans.
A friend of mine recently said, “When our foundations shake and we feel unstable, that’s when we grow. That’s when we find out what we are made of.” I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between 2019 and 2020. For me, 2019 was full of new ideas and directions—so many that, as another friend described, felt “like drinking from a fire hose”. The sheer amount that I read, experienced, grew, and shifted in 2019 makes me feel like an almost entirely new person (with the same brain and memories—just a very different perspective on them!).
For those who follow along with our Facebook or Instagram social media, which is sometimes better and certainly more up to date than my longer blog posts, you might know about some of the things we experienced and [mostly] accomplished in 2019 to move our farm forward as a business in service to you and us and our Central Vermont community. It was a heck of a [Fire Hose!] list:
I initiated, conducted and successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign through iFundWomen to establish a yurt for stylish and comfortable on-farm stays. For the campaign I worked with a coach to refine my message; mapped out my participants; developed the budget; determined rewards; recorded, edited and produced my own video; and assembled all the social media materials to send out. The biggest, hardest thing I did? I learned to make direct requests to people. Nothing to hide behind, and the most exposed I’ve ever felt in my life. Wow.
I attended a seven-day-long, “farm MBA in-a-week” program called Ranching for Profit (RFP). RFP is based on the premise that just because we know how to raise livestock, it does not mean that we automatically know how to run a business that raises livestock. Believe it or not, dear friends and customers…we do want our farms and ranches to be run like businesses. Businesses exist to serve customers, and healthy businesses are constructed in such a way that the actual owners can step away without a gap in service, and can enjoy themselves without burning out or going bankrupt. We want our farm business to be that…for you, for us, for everyone. We want to be around in this community for a long time.
As a result of taking RFP School, I ended up reading at least 16 business and financially related books in 2019. It’s amazing how many audio books and business podcasts you can absorb while you move sheep fence.
I enrolled in the follow-up program to RFP, called Executive Link (EL). I now have a farm board of advisors, and I serve on their boards. We are all shaping up and changing our businesses. We are learning new tools to help each other through individual and collective challenges and decisions. We have three board meetings a year, with dedicated homework in between each, and travel trips to visit each other and share more professional development. Most importantly, we keep each other accountable.
I traveled to Wyoming in July as part of EL, and to meet other graduates of RFP from across the country. I can’t overstate this–many of you who know me well know that I work in agriculture professionally—most farms and ranches in this country are not in a healthy position financially, socially, or personally. Connecting with these amazing folks from across the country both energized me and also showed me how far I still need to go to have a healthy business. It was good to see how far the journey might be, and it strengthened my resolve to get us there.
I restructured our farm and home cash flow through a new system called Profit First. In the first quarter, my farm profit was $19.27. That’s OK; I’ve never actually had any profit before! The mental shift that I went through just to accept that I could have profit was worth the time and money spent on RFP and EL.
I drafted a two-year plan to grow the farm business to a point where it will support a full-time person. When I posed the question in early 2019, I didn’t even know whether this might be possible; now there’s a path forward.
We hosted six on-farm events in 2019, from a womens’ grilling class to a five-course on-farm dinner to a meat cutting workshop.
I hired an accountant and bookkeeping company to help keep me properly advised and moving forward successfully as my business grows. As a person who had done my own taxes for the past 38 years, this felt like maybe THE craziest change, but I need to focus on putting my energy and time into the best places for my skillset and the best result. I should be telling you all the story of the farm, and making connections with YOU instead of doing my taxes…right?
We welcomed 26 lambs to the farm, with close to 20 of them receiving names through our crowd-funding campaign. Welcome Mable, Myrtle, Lydia, G.O.A.T., and Baarya Stark, just to name a few.
I have begun to spend multiple mornings a week working on my business. From developing better lists and systems, to planning out our yearly cash flow and strategizing around enterprises to build up, these focused mornings are about laying that foundation for the future.
While visiting another farm last summer I learned about Tentrr, which connects campers to sites similar to AirBnb. We are in communication with Tentrr to have a site set up and renting as soon as May.
We established the first year of a long-term relationship with another women-owned farm nearby to triple our outdoor, heritage pork offerings while keeping our dollars and your food from piglet-to-plate within a 20-mile radius. Talk about reducing those food miles!
After the successful yurt crowd funding campaign, we were able to construct the yurt platform and order the yurt itself. It arrived in late December 2019 (to cap the year!), and is wrapped and waiting in its shipping boxes to be installed in May, with a tentative June rental start date.
This list isn’t there just to make myself feel better about how exhausting 2019 was (it was!), it’s about taking a few moments to look back at what happened when the foundations began to shake. It’s about celebrating that the combination of new ideas and action can change lives and situations. It’s about deciding what the right course is and refining that through habits and routines and systems, we blossom with creativity and joy. It’s about really owning our mission: Celebrating Food, Family and Farm in the Heart of Vermont. It’s figuring out what we are made of.
For me, 2019 was about changing the way that I think. The last twelve months have taught me that I’m ready to grow beyond who I have been and how I have functioned. I might be a [mostly] solo farmer blessed with a kick-butt grilling partner and in-house musician, but we can’t limit ourselves to just US. The answer is in the team. We’ve got to overcome the self-limiting cultures of farming and Vermont, and all the things that make us assume that working alone is the best and only way to be. I’m developing systems for each of our farm enterprises to make sure that our business serves our customers and community, whether I have enough hours in the day, or not. It’s not about me; it’s about finding ways for Howling Wolf Farm and Randolph, Vermont to thrive for a long time to come, which will allow Jenn and Chris to be part of both.
So here’s 2020, and we’re looking forward. I loved the new ideas of 2019, and I’m pretty grateful for the foundation shaking opportunities. That said, 2020 is the Year to Make It Happen. This is the year to strengthen new foundations, where we establish our two types of farm stay. This is the year when we crank up the pork and lamb availability. This is the year when we jump on AirBnb Experiences and start to offer farm visits and workshops to bring passionate visitors to the farm so they can really understand how well-managed grazing can save the world, and how connecting with and buying from local farms is one of the most powerful, real-life actions possible. This is the year we refine systems. This is the year we increase the art offerings on the farm. This is the year we take time for ourselves to better understand and create what others are looking for in agri- and eco-tourism. This is the year that we really start the journey.
I’ve long maintained that we truly started farming in 2000; the first year that we sold pigs to other people and did more than raise livestock (poultry) for ourselves. Twenty years later, I think we are actually stepping into our role as a solid farm business serving our community.
I didn’t expect it to take this long, but I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer. Thanks for sticking with me on this journey. I promise it’s been worth the wait.
It’s been about six weeks in our crowdfunding campaign, and we’ve had some ups and downs. Wow, it was an amazing start. Right away folks jumped on. Lots watched our kickoff livestream, and we had a couple of big rewards chosen. It was energizing. And then I got busy at work, and didn’t keep the campaign in the forefront of people’s minds so much. It slowed down.
We got to 10% and then to 12%…and we’ve been stuck there for a while. When I’m up on Facebook promoting it, we have supporters choosing rewards. When I don’t, we don’t. I totally get it: energy flows where attention goes.
The scary part is what’s next. All along, my iFundWomen coaches and community have said, “the direct ask is how people get funded”. And that terrifies me. Asking for help terrifies me. I’ve written about this before; feeling like I’ve evolved so much as a human and adult that I’ve grown to ask for help and not expect to do everything myself. Maybe I have in lots of places, but not this. Not money. Money is personal, somehow. Money is wrapped up in value—valuing oneself enough to think that other people will also find value in you. I was never very good at asking for a raise, either. Overdeliver on value and hope they noticeand reward that, that’s been my motto.
The funniest part is that the yurt crowdfunder isn’t a donation situation, and it doesn’t come from the furthest recesses of my own hopes and dreams. It’s actually an embodiment of the values of our customers. When asking our customers last year about the things that they (you!) like about us, and why you even ARE our customers and supporters, we heard this:
We want to know that the animals we eat have had lives and been cared for.
We want to know that the land has been cared for.
We want to be better at preparing the meats from your farm (how can we be better cooks and grillers?).
We want to belong to an extended family and a REAL farm.
We want Vermont to stay in farming.
When you read that, it pretty much sounds like FOOD, FAMILY and FARM, doesn’t it? Cool. I think so, too. What you want and what we are—they are the same thing. We are reflections of each other, and that’s why we’re drawn together.
This campaign is an extension of that food, family and farm concept, and we have not been seeking handouts based on a random idea or simply seeking well wishes. Buying rewards through our campaign is pre-buying a future vacation or experience for you and your loved one(s), or a retreat for yourself. We do have a donation option (which several folks have chosen, thank you for being so sweet!), but most of the rewards are based on a trade of value. Overdeliver, we hope. That’s the point, anyway.
Yurt stays—the most logical of rewards in a yurt-funding campaign! Of course you might want to stay in a yurt, on the farm. A weekend might be perfect for a getaway. A week is better for a real detoxification from the hustle and bustle. A month could get that novel you’ve always been planning to write completed (and we don’t mind splitting into two two-week stays, either–we’re flexible like that). Yurt stays also make an excellent option for a wedding gift, an anniversary gift, a group retreat or reunion, or a valuable prize in a raffle.
Grilling workshops are all about the food, and people who love to eat and cook. We know we love to eat and cook when we teach those workshops, and standing around with a group of people who also love to eat can be a transformational and bonding experience. At the very least, a tasty and filling experience, even if you’re not going for the spiritual or communal aspects!
On-farm dinners are for the eaters who don’t need to cook everything themselves, but just want to enjoy the space. If you have haven’t seen the pictures of the farm that I’ve posted nearly every day for the last several years, this is a special spot. The view of Randolph, the wildlife, the apple and locust trees…we feel very lucky to live here and we want to share that experience with you, because it’s better WITH YOU.
Music. We offered a musical playlist for a few reasons. We have friends near and far without a lot of money, but with plenty of love and well wishes. Are these friends going to make it for an in-person visit? Possibly not any time soon, and the budget’s not there anyway. So how do we make that connection with extended family? Music, of course! As you choose a musical reward and listen to a playlist *I* have personally curated, we are connected. You make us smile and we make you smile, and BOOM—we are joined through time and space, and right next to each other again like old times– an audio hug.
Finally, we’ve offered lamb naming. Originally envisioned as a way for barbecue friends to tease Chris (and they DO love to tease Chris—aww, FAMILY!), the lamb names have become an extra way to enjoy connection. Some lambs are named for beloved grandmas and uncles, some are named for their final destination (the dinner table). Regardless of your relationship with the food you eat (or don’t eat!), here’s a way to join your own hopes and sense of humor with a real animal on a real farm. And you can come visit it if you want, too. We even made a slideshow to share pictures of the named (and still available!) lambs!.
We’ve designed the yurt campaign to reinforce the things that you’ve told us you love about us, and created rewards around them. Now the toughest part (for me) comes:the direct ask. My coaches have said over and over, “you have to ask directly.” So I am. Between now and the end of our campaign, June 21 (SOLSTICE—the farmer holiday!), I will be asking DIRECTLY. I’m asking everyone I know. We know you want to support us, and we NEED you to do so.
Yes, we could get a loan for the yurt, it’s true. But loans and debt are the death of small farms, and we already have enough of those (the loans and debt). That’s why we’re trying something new, and it’s so scary. It’s frankly easier to go to a faceless bank and ask for a loan that might end your business than to ask friends and family you know love you for an honest exchange of money and value. How messed up is that?
Thank you for liking, sharing, and most importantlyfinancially supporting this yurt campaign as we strive to Celebrate Food, Family and Farm in the Heart of Vermont. It’s not just a tag line. It’s who we are.
I don’t know how you were raised, but I feel like I had a typical rural Vermont upbringing. My parents were (and are!) fiercely independent, and self-sufficiency was one of my primary lessons. There wasn’t a thing I couldn’t do, or learn, or be responsible for.
And that’s how I conducted my life, for about 48 years.
I was (and still am!) an avid lifelong learner. I love learning new things and have wide and varied interests. I studied martial arts. I took pottery classes. I took voice lessons. I got a Bachelor’s degree in one topic and a Master’s degree in another. I learned about competitive cooking, became a certified BBQ judge, and how to bake and work with desserts semi-professionally. When there are conferences or trainings in areas I have any interest in at all, I tend to go. I always use my available professional development money at work every year. I decided I wanted to farm and took business planning classes. I’ve attended more than 300 workshops and on-farm events, as an organizer and attendee, and have learned something from every one.
And I was raised to do it myself. One of my earliest memories is my Dad saying, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself”. I took that to heart. I gained all these skills so that I would be a useful employee and a useful human, and capable so that I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone else. I pushed and pushed. It’s a wonder that my friends still talk to me, given that my drive to push meant that I have not been as available or as good a friend as I’d like (and I recognize that my farm life interferes with that, too).
After about 35 years, I recognized that I had a problem. I worked at a nonprofit and was always behind on the bookkeeping in favor of other projects that I had brought on myself. We had a very capable and wonderful office assistant, who took over that work. The day that the bank statements came in the mail, she had everything reconciled and turned into our Executive Director. Previously, I had taken weeks, if not the whole month to get them to him. Gently, she reminded me she could do other work to help me too, but my grip was too tight. I could see the problem, but really had no idea how to change. There was too much work to do to stop and show anyone else.
When I was 42, I became the supervisor of two people. I was grateful to have such nice, capable and easy people to supervise, and felt we worked well together. I still did what I did, and when they offered to help, I said, “Thank you but I’ve got it” (even when I didn’t).
When I was 46, I received another in a long line of annual reviews that said, “you do a great job, and you’re an asset to our (university extension) group” (which felt wonderful!) and then the gut punch “…but your teammates tell me they are worried about you, and frustrated that you are not sharing more of the workload, like you don’t trust them.”
For years, I had just handled things. I had said yes because I felt like I needed to *protect* the team, and that by NOT passing things to them, I was actually being a good leader. I thought that shielding my team was a good thing, and suddenly the light began to dawn on me that despite being a supervisor, I was still gripping all the work, the thoughts, the responsibilities too tightly. Ten years after the first conversations about this, I had learned nothing about REAL delegation, trust or supportive leadership.
Now I knew I was doing it wrong, but I still didn’t know how
to do it differently. The old habits
were SO ingrained. The volunteers at my
annual conference asked, “Can I do anything to help?” and my answer, “No, that’s
OK”, which always led me to be the last person cleaning and packing long after
everyone else had gone home. The
birthday party or Thanksgiving guests who asked if they could do dishes to
help, or chop the vegetables.
What I didn’t realize for a long time is that my friends and family and teammates still asked, but even when I said no, they ignored me and quietly helped anyway. Dishes were magically done during the birthday party. Cheese and crackers and veggies were suddenly on the table during the pre-Thanksgiving festivities, and signage, boxes and display tables were packed and loaded onto a hotel cart after the conference.
Even though I didn’t allow
myself to look to the team, the team was there.
Still I didn’t get it. I thought I did. I even wrote a long blog post about asking for help and how important that is, and how so many people helped us get to the farm. We are still so grateful for that, and many people did help us (and still do), but deep down in my heart, I still thought that this whole thing (the farm, our life, my job), is entirely on me.
And then lightning
In February, I had the great privilege of being able to attend Ranching for Profit School. For more than 30 years, RFP has been the premiere educational experience for ranchers (livestock farmers) around the country (and other countries, through their partner schools). I was excited to learn more about how to make my farm more profitable, and also to better understand what helps other farms be more successful, as graduates of this program clearly are.
Before the School started, we had some reading and pre-work to do at home, and were expected to come to the School with the answers completed for a 50 question test of what we had learned. We arrived and were placed into assigned table/teams, with people who would become our “board of directors” for the week.
The group exercise with the homework involved us discussing
every answer to the 50 questions with our team, to decide on the right answer,
and then scoring our personal answers and the group answers against the correct
answers. We then went around the room
and each table announce their highest individual score and then their team
I had the highest score at our table, which made me feel pretty good. I did feel a little bit like a ringer, that it had more to do with my extension job experience and the opportunity to learn from so many people and in so many places, but I admit that it made my ego feel pretty good about itself. Apparently, I was pretty smart.
Our team score was HIGHER. And as we went around every one of the other tables, their team score was higher than any individual high score. This time, the metaphorical gut punch went straight to my core.
Maybe I had talked myself into thinking I had the best ideas and didn’t need anyone, because I was so headstrong about being self-sufficient. Maybe if I hadn’t been so good at going it alone (see: high score), I might have figured this all out sooner. The Answer is in the Team. No matter how smart or capable or successful we are alone, we are MORE as a TEAM.
I spent the week practicing with my team. I didn’t push. I asked. I asked for their ideas and suggestions about the case study problems we were solving together. I asked if they could share tasks we were doing (when my default would have been to just jump up and do them). And on the last day when we worked through specific challenges for each farm, my teammates offered ideas and suggestions to each other and to me with a perceptiveness that I can’t begin to describe. I learned to trust the team in a way that I have never allowed myself to be before, and just as importantly, I got to practice it for a week.
After the School, I enrolled in a follow up program called EL, which is a year-long commitment and a lot of work serving on a board with, and for, another group of farmers. I needed to do that to keep myself moving forward, but I think deep down I need to keep practicing what it’s like to build and trust a team. I’m working harder on it in my job life; trying to talk less and listen more, actively passing things (with trust) to others to handle them. I’m trying to loosen the illusion of control that I’ve been clinging to, because the team is bigger and stronger and smarter and more capable TOGETHER than I am alone. And when I forget that, I have a meeting with my EL board, and they remind me.
Now I’m practicing. I’m practicing at work when I pause and say, “Yes, here’s a job that would really help me out, thank you.” And I’m practicing when I work on developing farm systems that can be performed by other people if I get sick or have to be away. I’m practicing when I hold back my vision of a thing and ask for others’ visions first. I’m practicing as I redesign my farm and life to be something that incorporates the strengths, skills and passion of the people around me. I’m practicing as I work to develop a life that I can leave for a while to spend time with friends and family.
Recently, I came across a quote by Stephen Covey, well-known author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I once felt dismissive of authors writing about personal improvement, thinking they were get-rich-quick people, and therefore not to be trusted. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right place in my life to appreciate the message. Covey says, ‘Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.’
I have been proud of my independence, but I think I’m
finally ready to build something greater than any one person alone.
Winter quiet brings a space for thinking that I never seem to have time for during the busier seasons, so I’ve been mulling about the meaning of family.
If you come from a relatively small birth family like mine (no siblings), the word family has a little more flexible meaning than it might for other people. In our life, family is who shows up and cares enough to use precious vacation days to come from NY and camp in our back yard; or people who send us news clippings and Craigslistings of used yurts; and people who randomly ship paleo/low carb cookies that Chris can eat. Or people who drop by their famous pepper jelly with an extra Christmas cactus (his name is Ernie–by the way—the cactus, not the person). Or people who buy frozen geese as a joke and name lambs after football quarterbacks just to annoy us.
Family is about creating connection. It’s not even necessarily about the length of time spent together; it’s about a feeling, locked in, that’s there and solid. It can be a week or a month or five years, when you see each other and the warm glow is still between you. A quick email, a texted heart, a momentary online exchange; it’s just nice to know each other is still out there.
A farm is a different kind of a business than others, often because it’s a physical, biological place and not just a building or cloud space. Farm businesses can move to new locations; farmers can relocate. But a farm is embedded in its town; it protects the watershed from flooding, it hosts wildlife for hunters and visitors, it produces food, fiber, and fuel for its neighbors. A farm is almost its own member of the greater town family. I get how people sometimes talk about a farm having a life of its own; they certainly have their own personalities! I think ours somewhat resembles a few people I know (who shall remain unnamed!)…a little run down, a little rough around the edges, but waiting for a bit of love and care to bloom.
We are part of a greater community. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that, when we talk to the people we see every day online or in person, but our community includes all the people that we think about and don’t see as often as we’d like, and those people we probably should reach out to. It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s Resolution (I don’t ever actually achieve those, do you?), but I did set an intention this year to reach out to people I think about, more. When someone crosses my mind, I am trying to send them an email, text, card, message. What caused that person to cross my mind? Were they thinking of me? Does it matter? Were they in need of someone, anyone stretching a hand (virtual or otherwise) to them? If we can be that for them, I think we owe it to ourselves to try.
Because these invisible threads that connect and bind us, these relationships of birth/adopted/friends/besties/family-by-any-name…they are what hold us together when everything else goes down.
We try to ask ourselves–what kind of family are we cultivating? Is it a place where lots of perspectives are welcome, and there’s something to learn from everyone? We hope so! Is it about creating hope together and strength and connection? We try. Is it about being perfect? Absolutely not. I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately, and let me be super vulnerable and up front here: I haven’t always been a very good friend. I once got fired from a wedding, and I totally deserved that. Thankfully, most of my dearest friends have forgiven my failings, but not everyone has. Life is long, and we’re not perfect–I’m certainly not! So, let’s forgive ourselves and try to do better, together.
Thanks for being part of our family. We wouldn’t be here without the support from and belief of all the people who thought we could do this, and continue to send us good vibes and high fives and visits to take a class or buy some farm products. We are all in this together, and I love that.
And, exciting news! I was just interviewed on the Small Farm Nation podcast about getting our farm started up and the journey that got us here. And about being a woman farmer and some other neat things about my farm experience. Please give it a listen, and thank you again, family!
We are grateful for this year, and especially for YOU.
We know it’s the time when lots of folks look around and find gratitude in the things they have, which is wonderful, and something we all should do much more of, and not just in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
As we’ve trucked along this summer, particularly starting in April and May with our on-farm events, we have had so many reasons to be inspired and thankful and grateful and hopeful about what our farm is growing into, and what it means for you and for us.
We have a vision to “create food, family and farm in the heart of Vermont”. Yes, OK, that sounds like a canned tag line in some ways, but it’s the absolute truth. We love food. We’ve strengthened our existing family and found new family through sharing, cooking, and competing in food. Farming in the way that we do, caring for the land as an ecosystem and a place for connection and education, allows us to create an outdoor classroom for students of all ages. Our farm is simply the embodiment of the idea that home is where your heart is. For us, that’s literally the Heart of Vermont, Randolph.
In 2018, we set out to test some ideas about sharing this vision with more people, and new people. We want to grow the family! And people responded, like:
Deb & Gary who saw an ad for our grilling class in the local Front Porch Forum listerv and just thought it sounded like a fun thing to do.
Kathi, Al and Mary Lou who were each looking for a short getaway from an ordinary evening at our on-farm BBQ dinner.
Sue and Jenny, who came to our pop-up Village Idiots concert and BBQ dinner.
Barb, Billie Jo, Cat, and Didi, who shared teaching and learning and digging and looking at soil through magnifying glasses at our Land Listeners workshop.
Keegan and Isaiah, who came visiting as Randolph students, and are coming back as friends and farm helpers.
Rob and Gus and MB and Susan and Dave, who all came to help with farm tasks and events.
Ellen and Stuart who brought their grandson to see the lambs at our Lamb Open House, and Lori and Sarah who walked FANCY up the hill from our overflow parking area.
AND non-event friends who just wanted to see the place and what we do, like Siva and Darshon and Stephen and Francie and Dave and our guardian angel, Doug, who keeps an eye on sheep and the wildlife on the lower 40!
We love you all.
We tested all sorts of events this year, trying to offer a variety of cooking, eating, and educational experiences. We are grateful that each event brought old friends and new, and that everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves and feel welcome.
As we look toward 2019, we’re dreaming up a new schedule (with dates to be finalized early in the new year). Lamb Open House will kick off the events season in the spring, with bouncing baby lambs from Lovey, Dot, Dulce, Brady, and the rest of the crew. We’ll be offering at least two grilling classes, with one focused on tailgate foods and one aimed at building women’s confidence in grilling (with a special award-winning female grillmaster!). We plan to host at least one on-farm dinner in mid summer, possibly a plated Saturday dinner or a Sunday asado. If all goes well, we’ll host at least a couple of farmer workshops around livestock and land management.
Do you have requests for particular events, or ideas about how we can better serve YOUR food, family and farm needs? Do you know someone you think would enjoy attending an on-farm event? Please encourage them to sign up for our email list, so they can be in the know about farm happenings!
Thank you all so much for the kindness, community and appreciation you’ve shown us this year, and we are looking forward to more fun, hugs and great food in 2019.
Jenn and Chris
P.S. AND watch for news about our 2019 yurt crowdfunding campaign, coming soon!
I’ve had customer-friends mention over and over how hard it is to make choices these days that they can feel good about. Whether you are feeding yourself, your kids or your grandkids, it’s tough.
Plenty of people might be telling you what to do or buy or wear or eat. Eat meat, or never eat meat. Only eat vegan or never eat vegan. Paleo, keto, vegetarian, organic, commercial, packaged, raw, local, or covered in BBQ sauce. My gosh, I feel for folks trying to make the best choices for themselves and the greater world. It’s not easy.
And I have no interest in making you feel bad about the choices that you do make. There’s enough of that, frankly. I’ve been there, and though I feel like I’m in a pretty good place nutritionally, socially and ecologically now, it’s been quite a path to get here.
I’ve mentioned before that I considered being a vegetarian, because I thought it was the responsible thing to do. It never stuck with me, although I certainly respect friends and family for whom it’s become a way of life. For me, meat and dairy were foods that my body needed, but more than that, I’ve continually looked back at what my ancestors regularly ate. Given my mostly European background with a little Native thrown in, meat and dairy feel pretty central to the menu. And interestingly, if you look at Scotland, England and New England, they are pretty grassed places (around the obvious trees). Perhaps that’s a part of why grass-based farming has such a pull for me? Hmmm.
I might get accused of being biased (I do admit that I am, we all are, but I try to be up front about it!), but in my line of professional work, it’s really important that we try to evaluate all the information coming in with as neutral an eye as possible. I’ve read plenty of research articles about how meat and dairy produced through confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are more efficient uses of water, of energy, of transportation, of feed per ounce of end-product food. I get it, we can produce food really fast and really “efficiently” in CAFOs. But are we looking at the big picture? Are they the best choice?
I’m not here to bash CAFOs—there are plenty of people around who can do that. And, frankly, the large scale vegetable crop farms aren’t really much better. A whole lot of our collective diets these days come down to processed versions of corn, wheat, soy, and rice. With a side dish of potatoes.
So…how and where did I end up at peace as a farmer and eater? And how can you?
My suggestion: Use soil as your lens.
It all goes back to the soil, which I admit is a pretty funny thing for me to say (as an animal science, not a soil science, person). I’ve come to embrace that soil is the foundation from which everything else flows. Not just water and food, but economic development, civilization, communities, every product you can ever think of.
There’s a really neat book called Dirt by David Montgomery that describes how civilizations rose and fell based on their soil (as soil was lost, the civilizations died away). Building soil through natural systems took thousands of years of weathering rocks, followed by creatures living and dying and eating each other and leaving manure and repeating the cycles over and over again to add organic matter/soil carbon as a structure to grow food in. Increasingly, research is showing that we can create the organic matter side through good farming.
There are basically four rules to healthy soil:
Keep disturbance to a minimum—whether by plow, or animal hoof, or tractor tires or fire. These are all types of soil disturbance, and expose bare soil to the air where its carbon is lost. A little can be OK. A lot…makes soil wash away.
Keep it covered—like a blanket or a sponge, making sure something exists between the sky and bare soil (ideally plants!) means that water gets caught and held; something that’s increasingly important since we don’t know when the next rain is coming in lots of places.
Biodiversity is key—different plants feed different soil creatures, have different nutritional needs, thrive under different conditions (like heat or wet), have different root depths (some are really deep!), and produce different nutrients and chemicals. Growing a single crop of anything means that it’s a less stable system unless the conditions are just right for that one thing.
Living roots—we may not think much about this, but moving around minerals, breaking down manure (the dreaded thing no one wants in the water!), and feeding all those soil creatures, is able to happen because living roots are down in the soil. When we see a bare field with no greenery popping through—that means no living roots.
All the choices we make can do one of three things—build up soil, break down soil, or keep soil as it is. At the very least, we should try not to make things worse!
Wow, you might say, how can I make good soil choices, when I’m not a farmer?
Think about what plant the food you are buying comes from. Does it come from a bush that blooms year after year (like a blueberry or elderberry bush)? Or does it need to be tilled and replanted every year or two (like a strawberry)? Does it come from a tree, like a walnut, or does it get planted in a hill like a potato?
When you think about soil as the filter, these choices become a lot less about vegetarian vs. meat eater and a lot more about how each food was produced. Beef maybe isn’t so great when it’s fed a bunch of corn produced by tilling the same land year after year. Then again, neither is tofu, if the land those soybeans were grown on has been treated the same way.
On the flip side, a grass-fed animal leans heavily on a perennial grass system. Perennial systems are simply systems that last for multiple years. Whether than means grass, fruit bushes, nut trees, or the rhubarb plants in the corner of the yard, these are all examples where the soil is minimally disturbed to produce crops. Their living roots cycle (however slowly) even in cold weather, they grow with a diversity of plants around them, and they maintain a cover over the face of the soil.
Does this mean organic or local are good or bad? Does it mean supermarket food is? Is grass-fed always a good choice? Is tillage always bad? Are small farms infallible and big farms terrible? Whew, take a breath!
I’m not a big fan of extremes. The world is full of decisions and information; this is a simply a new way of weighing our choices.
My advice is to take a step back, think about whether the food you eat comes from a perennial or an annual system, and make the best choice you can. If you want to support improving the soils near where you live, that’s an extra motivation to support perennial farmers in your community. We’ll help build soil in your little civilization, which will have lasting benefits beyond the meat, milk, veggies or fruits you buy. If you’re already a fan and supporter, thanks on behalf of all of us!
Most of all, be kind to yourself and your food-buying habits. We’re all on a journey–learning new ways to look at the world–and that’s OK. Let’s keep learning together!