Apr 252018
 

We got home late, so they slept in the truck bed overnight.

This weekend we harvested the first of our own pigs since 2013. Gosh I missed them.

These piglets were born in Washington, Vermont, just about 30 miles away.  They rode in a hay-lined truck to Randolph, and spent the rest of their lives rooting and snoozing and companionably sniping at each other over the food dish and the special treats I tried to spread around so no one got too much at the expense of the others.  They are Saddleback pigs; a very old breed being rebuilt by the careful efforts of our friend Matt Whalen at Vermont Heritage Farm.

Sewer pipe makes a great feed trough.

The pigs spent the winter growing, rooting, napping, finding bricks, flipping tires, and unearthing the roots of the collection of trees they sheltered in.  Did I mention rooting?

In the deep cold of winter, they dug into round hay bales and buried themselves up to the nose.  They didn’t quite hibernate (how do you get the good snacks when you sleep through?), but pigs are a lot like people.  If they don’t need to go out in the cold, why bother?  It’s nicer in here.

Pigs make snow paths between breakfast and bed.

Some people may wonder if pigs are adapted to Vermont life outside in our winters.  Prior to our recent five-year gap, we’ve raised Fall pigs for over

I gave them a fresh dry new round bale–nose!

ten years.  They do beautifully, especially when an old-style, heritage breed is used.  Pigs suffer in the heat.  They have very few sweat glands, which is why lying in a mud hole to cool off is such a preferred thing to do on a summer’s day.  In the winter they just pile, lying lined up like a row of very large black and white hot dogs.

By spring, they were two (or three or four) times the size they had been when they arrived in November.  Jiggles in all the right places.  Tree roots exposed for our selective cutting next month.  Vegetation opened up and ready for a new seeding under the thinned trees.  The sky was blue, the Spring birds back.  It was time.

Mark and Matt believe in the importance of bringing a dignified end to an animal that feeds a family.

The pigs were killed on the farm by local itinerant (on-farm) slaughters, which is a term for a craft largely forgotten.  These fellows are amazing.  The care with which they treat each animal, their quiet calm manner, and their efficiency in skinning and eviscerating are all skills built ove

Neatly skinned and split carcass, hanging from a portable tripod they travel with.

r a lifetime watching their father and grandfather (who are legends in our area). I missed them so much, too.  Mark and Matt and I talk about what we see on farms and they tell me about sugaring and Mark’s recent trip to Florida.  They arrived at 7:30 am on the dot and were packed and driving away at 9:15 (that’s even with chatting).  They had taps to check and I’m sure many other things to get on with during a busy Saturday.

We cooled the pigs in the trailer overnight and Sunday morning, Cole Ward the Master Butcher came to cut them for us.  Cole is one of my favorite humans ever, and very literally a treasure to those who know him well.  He is kind, and thoughtful, and so, SO talented at teaching butchery.  We decided this time not to do a workshop as we have some times before, but Cole can’t help it.  He loves to cut and joke and tell stories about his days working a meat counter near the CBS Studios in L.A., and all of the personalities that came to buy meat from him.  We learn so much, every time.  A real butcher, a true master butcher, is that person with every recipe conceivable for each cut. The person who can tell you how to grill this muscle but not that one, and explain why your sausage won’t bind or your ground beef has crunchy “bone chips” in it (it doesn’t, but there’s a reason why the texture is wrong).  We’ve become accustomed to cuts only available when you cut your own animal,

There are not enough words to describe how important Cole is to passing on meat education and general love of butchery.

and it’s a darned good thing he’s been teaching us, because I’m not sure we could go back.

 

Chris and I spent the day trading off vacuum sealing duties in the cool basement, while a small group of friends and family chatted with Cole, tried to “out joke” him, and ate sausages with mustard.

Such a wonderful way to celebrate a life, thank you!

Tonight we ate some of the best–if not THE best–pork I ever had or raised.  Sure, that might be related to the long, long wait of the past five years, but I’d like to think this was in many ways a sign of a good life, from beginning to end.  Thank you fellas.  We’ll honor and appreciate you, every bite.

 

 

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Apr 172018
 

One of my favorite family visitors feeding a lamb in 2017.

OK, I’ll own it.  I’m a sucker for lambs.  I wait every year to see what colors they’ll be and how many each ewe will have, and how strong and amazing they’ll be (they stand in minutes and often jump around within hours…it’s awe inspiring).

Lambing season isn’t all sunshine and roses, despite the pictures that end up on Facebook.  Sometimes lambs die and sometimes they struggle.  Sometimes the moms reject them and sometimes it keeps me up at night.  Years like we’re having this year, it seems like spring will never come and the green grass is so far away.

You know what gets me through that?

Visitors!

Everyone loves to see the lambs and when we moved out of town to our new home, it felt like we should create a new opportunity to share happenings with friends, family and neighbors.  Thus our Lamb Open House event was born.

Come join us Saturday, May 5!  We’ll have refreshments and barbecue and activities…and lambs too!
P.S. And please register to help us plan! Thank you!

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Apr 012018
 

New leaders at Howling Wolf Farm.

It’s been more than eighteen months at the new farm, and there is much to share.  After the emotional roller coaster of finding and making the right location happen, we spent the fall of 2016 rushing around to get ourselves and the animals settled before winter.  And then we mostly collapsed.  Most of our friends and family forgave us for the withdrawal, and even came to share a little woodstove-and-chat time.  The door is still open (and will continue to be) for all.

Times of great change happen.  I think the past several years have been times of great change for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons.  Our extended family has had tragic losses and some (one might even say, sacred) reemergence, healing and transformation.  The farm has helped us heal and grow roots–already–that we never seemed to have developed at the old place.  Maybe it’s the regular wind up here on the hill; we must develop those deep roots to stay upright. A good lesson on so many levels.

In 2017, we spent much time just experiencing the farm through seasonal changes.  There’s so much more to understand about the wildlife and the forest and the farm’s potential, but it was a good start.  I wrote a whole bunch (270 days) of haiku.  We tried a Kickstarter campaign, which was ultimately unfunded but absolutely successful in other ways.  I wrote a three-part series about our fifteen-year journey to the farm for On Pasture.

We hosted the first of our annual Lamb Open House events to meet neighbors, moved sheep every day through the grazing season, picked a ton of blueberries, cooked up barbecue for our adjacent buddies at the Jacob’s Court mobile home park, and held an end-of-season farm workshop & dinner.  And we’re finally back into raising pigs!  All along, 2017 was about testing parts of this new life to see what fits and what doesn’t.

We have many plans for 2018, including events spread from June to October that showcase different aspects of our skill sets and the farm’s offerings.  We are building a pig roasting pit and starting to develop a gathering area around the pond.  The sheep flock is expanding and we’ll be running water pipe around the pastures to increase our capacity to include cattle in the mix.  We’re documenting everything that we can.  We’re still not sure whether 2018 is Yurt Year, but our aim is to really start digging in and sharing the farm in new ways to new people.

Much to do and say and love about the changes afoot.  My recommendation: subscribe to our newsletter to keep up!

Jenn

 

 

 

 

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May 162016
 

The sheep are getting a snack again.  I have a view from my office window and have been working at home a lot this Spring.  This affords me a clear view down to the sheep pen and

As I write this, a neighbor is visiting with treats. Thank you!

As I write this, a neighbor is visiting with treats. Thank you!

coincidentally a front-row seat to who’s visiting today.

There are Martha and Emily, two neighbors with short-legged, big-personality dogs.  There’s Mary who buys carrots on sale and comes in to distribute whole bags at a time.  There are the teenagers who seem to know every lamb by name and watched some births real-time this year. Lindsay and Sarah even picnicked this Spring on round bales with some friends from around the corner; spreading blankets and eating granola bars on top of the plastic-wrapped marshmallows.  Earlier today I watched some visitors put one of my lamb jackets on their dog and take its picture. I had to look twice—I thought a lamb was out of the fence!

Then there are the people walking their dogs who wave but don’t stop.  The multi-generational family from grandparents to baby who stopped to introduce themselves as new in the neighborhood.  One longtime resident brought chairs so that she and her granddaughter could watch the lambs in comfort.  There are the cars that creep by with faces looking out the window and the shy smiles and waves.  Last weekend we hosted a Girl Scout troop.  The Randolph Police cruise the neighborhood multiple times each day and a little part of me thinks they do it to check on the lambs and not just because it’s their regular sweep schedule.

The sheep have always been a sort of ambassador service for us.  I’m an introverted outgoing person (I promise this IS a thing!) and I’m not good at dropping in or going to parties where I don’t know people.  My family is even less outgoing.  What better way to meet people than talk about the sheep?  Their sweetness, their pushiness, the ability to name them after friends and family and fun inside jokes.  The sheep have created novelty and amusement for many, and a social entry point for us.

A fine picnic spot.

A fine picnic spot.

Now we have a farm under contract.  It’s not a done deal, but signs are pointing in the right direction.  This means that we’ll be moving to a new home later this summer, which is very exciting and hopeful, and a little more bittersweet than I expected it to feel.  Originally we thought we’d move in to this little rental and just be here for six or eight months before buying a new place.  Turns out, life had some other plans for us, and that’s OK.  We’ve met some lovely people and they’ve really helped this neighborhood feel like home.  There’s so much to be grateful for here.

Thank you all.  We’re only moving a mile away so even if it’s not convenient to walk the dog by us every day, hopefully you’ll still come visit from time to time.

And bring some carrots.

Jenn

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Apr 222016
 

Since we are in Poetry Month and Mother’s Day is right around the corner, here’s a poem that I wrote about my mom after visiting her one day last spring.  She doesn’t know that I wrote this.

Mum in her natural element.  She also makes kick ass Elderberry juice.  I can get you in touch with her if you want some.

Mum in her natural element. She also makes kick ass Elderberry juice. I can get you in touch with her if you want some.

Love you, Mum.

–Jenn

 

Spring Afternoon

 

Carefully

She picks her way

Her deliberate pace

Not the result of fragile floral stems

Or wooden cane worn smooth

Under her lined palm,

No.

 

She stops,

Smiles that joyful smile

Radiance bursting through.

Pain is gone,

Shadow is gone,

Sorrow is gone.

Chased away by

Elderberry blossoms,

Ella’s daffodils,

Seven Sisters roses,

Crocuses in the lawn grass,

Japanese plums celebrating Spring’s

Lovely pervasive fragrance

Surrounded by the hum of bees

Industrious with pollination.

 

That pace

Embodies ecstatic celebration of

Tender life in bloom.

Persistent artistry in every

Mahogany bud revealing

Cream-colored petals,

Delicate yellow pistils, the

Elemental beauty.

 

She pauses to breathe it in,

Gloriously brilliant,

Nearly blinding in her

Dreamlike rapture, a

Resounding bloom.

 

JJC 05/10/15

Updated 4/11/16

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Feb 242016
 
Relaxing on the lawn at the end of a successful grazing season.

Ewes and ewe lambs relaxing on the lawn at the end of a successful grazing season.

Somehow we turned around and now it’s February, 2016.  For those keeping track (and wondering what the heck we’ve been doing), we’ve been busy. Seriously, it’s looked a lot like this (and no, this is not our farm).

Since last June we’ve written our business plan twice, had a farm under contract then terminated it, applied for a land trust farm opportunity, secured a whole host of support letters, did some leased-land grazing, were featured on Vermont Public Radio, sold lamb and barbecue, and waited.  In late January, we heard that the land trust option wasn’t going to work out and several new farm choices arrived within the week.

The experience of the last ten months (starting with the Slow Money event in April) has been revealing.  We both feel that the Universe is in our corner when it comes to bringing us what we want, and its been presenting us with real variety to evaluate.  Back in 2012 we looked at a place with a great house and little land; then we progressed to enough land with an unfinished house; a terrific barn and land with a workable house but an unworkable purchase price; and a delightful turn-key operation with a fantastic grazing system already in place.

Our son has rolled his eyes at us a bit (“another farm?“), but looking back I can say that I’m glad we’ve had these experiences.  We want a finished house.  We don’t require a fabulous barn or extensive infrastructure.  We want to live near town, but feel rural.  Deep down, I want to develop my own grazing system and document the transition from fallow land to productive land. It must be affordable. These experiences have separated out the chaff.

Earlier in the process, I admit that I fell in love a lot.  Some portion of love needs to be there in order to bring what you want to you, but I mean that I really fell in love.  One farm in particular was hard to walk away from; I think I’ll always have a little ache (maybe until that ache is filled with THE farm) for that one.  My brain and my heart have now merged into what I think of as a positive pragmatism.

Today, I feel like I’m progressing more on faith that it’s going to work out.  Despite the dramatic eye rolling, it feels like we get closer and closer.  People are in our corner rooting us on.  The support letters written last fall were humbling and bring me close to tears when I think about them (thank you again, dear supporters in Vermont agriculture).  This is a little less love and a lot more tingle.  It’s coming.  Maybe it’s here.  I hope so.

No matter where we are and what happens, the sheep are due to start lambing in April.  I’m looking forward to that, wherever we are.

–Jenn

 

 

 

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Jun 152015
 

Have you  ever written a business plan?

Making friends with Excel is an essential part of the planning process.

Making friends with Excel is an essential part of the planning process.

Currently, I am working on the third one of my career.  The first was for my undergraduate class in Ecological Entrepreneurship.  It was fun; a plan for an edible landscaping business called The IncrEdible Yard (I dare you to use that name!).  I knew nothing about edible landscaping, mostly it was a cool exercise to collect surveys at the Vermont Garden & Flower Show, make charts, and think about the neat idea.  It wasn’t real.  Even now, I know just enough about gardening to keep tomatoes and peppers alive but not necessarily bear fruit.

The second plan was in 2005.  I took a 16-week course (now it’s 10 weeks) called Tilling the Soil of Opportunity, a business planning course specifically for agricultural businesses. That was when I first joined UVM Extension, but I took the class as a farmer because I felt that I was ready to take my farming to a new level.  I had been playing around with chickens, turkeys and pigs for about six years.  I wanted a barn, I wanted recognition.  I wanted respect as a farmer.  I did the numbers, even taking a whole week off from work to work through spreadsheets.

And the numbers said, “Don’t quit your day job“.  Actually they said, “This is a totally foolish thing, you should go back to school and make more money“. So I did.  I spent five years working on my Master’s degree part time so that I could make more money.  Along the way, I went from a person with textbook experience in Animal Science class to a person who has learned from hundreds of farms doing what I want to do.  I went from a person who loved the idea of rotational grazing to a person who now knows enough to teach it.  I realized that the old farm-ette location would never be satisfying to realize the true working farm dream.  I learned what I do, and do not, want to do.  I learned a lot about myself.

Most amazing in this transformation has been what Chris and I want together.  For a long time, there was tension between barbecue and farm; “my” thing and “his” thing, and it was almost a competition between us.  Maybe it was the transition out of the old house, maybe it’s just been this process of letting go and finding ourselves in an open future…but something between us has evolved.  Like any evolutionary process, we are something new.  Now the barbecue and the farm are not competitors, but complementary aspects of the success of our new life. We each lead enterprises of the new life, but they support each other like we do.

Here I am, writing a business plan for the next twenty years of our life.  It’s real, and it’s us.  It’s totally different than the last plan, and I can’t think of a better place to put our love, energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and faith.

Thanks for reading,

Jenn

 

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May 202015
 
No, not this Risk.  Photo Source:  The internet.  Please don't sue me.

No, not this Risk. Photo Source: The internet. Please don’t sue me.

Jenn and I are finally trying to buy a farm, which has gotten me thinking quite a bit about risk (no, not the Risk pictured above). Before we decided that we wanted to own and operate a farm, my perspective on risk related to property was limited to a modest mortgage for a house and some land. Now, as we find ourselves looking at a property that would suit our vision for the future, I realize that buying a farm is quite a different from buying a house. Land is expensive in Vermont. And if, as we are, you are seeking open land for grazing livestock, it’s even more expensive. Add to that mix a house that is livable and necessary outbuildings such as a barn, and you’ve practically doubled the cost of that “modest mortgage.” Buying a farm means taking a risk.

At age 44, I figure I’m looking at twenty more years of work before I want to retire. Do I want to take on a big debt and a second job? Or would it make more sense just to ride out the next twenty doing what I do and clock out when I reach 62? We’d pay off our current debts and retire. Low risk, nice and safe.  I’ve realized through this soul searching that every pivotal or significant thing I’ve ever done that has made my life better, has been risky. I’m not talking about “drive fast and take chances” risky, I’m talking about big picture risk.

Jenn and I married when we were 20 years old, which was a pretty risky move. I know plenty of people who married young and watched their marriages fall apart because of it. 2016 will mark our 25th wedding anniversary! At 27, we decided to have a child (about is big a risk as any person can take). He’s healthy and (for a teenager) pretty happy. In my 30’s I quit my low-paying customer service job and went to grad school in hopes of finding a better job – a massive financial risk for us. Going back to school allowed me to find good work in a field I’ve now been in for the past thirteen years. I don’t regret a single one of these decisions. In all cases, our decision to take risks paid off. I believe that risk, when well considered and practical, is worth it.

My philosophy on life has long been rooted in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” It is the final stanza that I can most easily apply to my past, present and future:

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

The most rewarding parts of my life have involved risk, and though I’m mid-way to retirement, I’ve realized that I want to continue to do more and expand my horizons over the next twenty years – I want to continue to follow the road not taken. So we stand on the edge of taking a big leap into a large property and a new second career that will require a lot of energy. We’re working every angle we can to find funding to make this happen, to make sure it will be sustainable for us, but in the end – it’s still a risk. And I believe with every ounce of my being that it is the right choice. Wish us all luck, my friends. We’re getting ready to leap!

Thanks for reading,

Chris

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Apr 282015
 

The time has come where Chris and I are moving forward on finding our new farm.  We aren’t sure how that’s going to end up, but it means that we are now actively looking.  The first one, naturally, was the farm  that initiated this major change in our lives starting two years ago.  It’s finally for sale (well, actually it’s not again, but that’s a different story) which meant that we had a chance to visit with the current owner, look through the house and walk the perimeter.

Hill farm

A little snapshot of a view similar to my great-grandparents’ hillside farm.

It got me thinking about the many hill farms in Central Vermont and what they’ve seen over seasons and years. Coincidentally, April is Poetry Month nationally, and statewide, and our little town does a whole month of poetry-related activities.  Last week was a Farmer Poetry Reading hosted by the Black Krim Tavern, a local restaurant run by farmers.  If you make it to Randolph, you must eat there.  I’m serious.  Last night, we ended with a public poetry reading at the Chandler Center for the Arts. I love my town.  At this time when we have the ability to resettle anywhere…I just want to stay here.

That said, here is one of my offerings, inspired by the wisdom and patience of farm(s) on the hill(s).

Jenn

The Farm on the Hill

Patiently it waits
Apple trees dying one by one
Dropping limbs to weather and neglect.
Stone monuments to the old timers
Persist through the bare Spring forest, their
Verdant green stones running in crooked vessels
Over the top to the Old Stage Road.
Just wakening, the hay fields are tired of brief visits to cut and bale and
Take away, leaving lichen and wild strawberry and smooth bedstraw.
Stripped to bare beam bones, its heart stands proud
Nestled down behind Mom-and-Pop maples
Letting the wind howl and sweep and
Sing to its lonely ache.
Enduringly it waits.

Vibrantly the farm dances
Celebrating the cycles of life and season
Watching the tottering steps of new lambs
Feeling the warm gush of biology as each pass of cattle over the pasture brings
Clover and trefoil and dandelion and spiders and earthworms and
Dung beetles and rabbits and foxes and coyotes and boblinks.
Laughter rings along the jeep trail
Carrying vitality on four-footed backs, in the glint of a grey-blue eye,
A tiny hand, and size two Bogs.
Sparks start meals of meat and cheese and home-grown harvests.
Four generations stretch and grow a
Labyrinth garden in the old cellar hole,
Pear trees,
Raised beds,
A hammock hung between Mom and Pop,
Thanksgiving at the trestle table,
Cows and calves,
Goats and chickens,
Organic matter holding water for the
Fifth generation.
Purposefully it dances.
Vigilantly the farm watches
Fall seep over the familiar comfort of its curves.
With cold comes expiration like the
Quietus after sheep came and trees left, then
Sheep left and cows came.
Anxiously it watches.

Sagely, the farmer watches
Cold retreat like an exhausted soldier
Revealing green life and heat from bunched crowns.
Emerging re-costumed to take up this dance, a slow waltz
Not a fast jig to be danced and done.
A partnered pair unfolding together
Devoted to the promenade.
Gratified, the farm puffs out a dewy breath
And
capers on.

JJC 4/20/15

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Apr 212015
 

A few days ago, I wrote an article for the New England Barbecue Society’s newsletter in the National Barbecue News that talks about the time we barbecue competitors put into practicing the craft. It was inspired in part by a comment made by Andy Husbands, the Chef/Owner of Boston’s Tremont 647 (and member of the Wicked Good Barbecue team). Andy said:

“it’s funny, people ask for ‘easy recipes’ especially easy BBQ recipes from Chris [Hart] and I, we have to tell them it’s not easy, things of quality are not easy they take practice and skill, but the practice is fun and rewarding.”

Practice takes time, but when the food comes out tasting fantastic, and you executed your technique perfectly, it’s worth it.

I often find myself thinking about time and food. Like everyone our life is busy, with the demands of work and home leaving little time to relax or to stop and take stock of where we are. It is hard for many of us to find the time to slow down and savor the moments we’re given. I am grateful that by jumping into competition barbecue a decade ago, I embraced a style of cooking that by its very nature takes time. A big brisket or pork butt could take 10 hours to cook. To cook it right, attention must be paid throughout the process. It’s not just about me throwing it in the oven or in the crock-pot and walking away (and don’t get me wrong, sometimes taking that approach is just right). Instead, it’s about giving the craft of barbecue my undivided attention and my valuable time.

Beef brisket, smoked for eight hours.

Beef brisket, smoked for eight hours.

I do this in part because I believe the animal that gave its life for me to eat deserves my respect, but also because I believe that it is worth it for me to take the time to do it right. Fast and easy is not nearly as rewarding as slow and challenging is. By rushing our cooking I think we lose a lot of the goodness in what we share with our families at dinner time (literally and metaphorically speaking). For example, when you par boil a rack of ribs so you can cook it fast, all of the stuff that rises to the surface is goodness – you have literally boiled the flavor out of the meat. And when we feel that cooking for our families is a chore that needs to be “gotten out of the way,” I think we lose sight of why we cook – to feed the ones we love. I believe that there is great good in the act of cooking food. Food is love.

Home made smoked stock.

Home made smoked stock.

One of the best examples I can think of (beyond barbecue) that demonstrates the benefit of slowing down and cooking it right, is found in making stock. Stock (slowly cooked bones, vegetables and other goodness) is useful to the cook in so many ways. The key to making it right, is to cook it very slowly. When Jenn and I make stock, it sits in a pot on our stove at as low a heat as possible (keeping it above 140 degrees for food safety, of course) for days. That’s right, kids – DAYS. I generally cook my stock for a minimum of four days. The key is the low temperature and the occasional replenishment of water. In the end, after a lot of time, I’m left with an amber liquid that holds the very essence of goodness, a perfect reminder of how good it is to slow down and cook for my family. To take the time to do it right. Because it’s worth it for the ones you love.

Thanks for reading.

Chris

PS: I wanted to include a stock recipe with this post, but the cookbook I used as my reference for stock was lost when we moved out of our old house. I promise I’ll get a recipe for ya’ll sometime soon! C.

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