Wow, what a whirlwind summer! I don’t know about you, but based on all the things I have scheduled in the next two months, I keep having to check the calendar to make sure it’s only July. 🙂
I’m guessing that your lists are just getting longer, too. It seems like we work harder and harder to make time for vacation, and in the meantime, the stress ratchets up. Whew!
Sometimes, dinner can be the perfect getaway without all the fuss.
When Chris and I were competing on the New England barbecue circuit, we gathered financial support by offering “Competition Practice” dinners to our friends, family and coworkers. We would cook a full complement of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket using all of the rubs, sauces, injections, and presentation for competition, and serve it for our guests, just like they were judges.
We even brought them grilled appetizers and desserts, and asked them to give us feedback about what they liked and what they didn’t–“real time” judging wasn’t something we generally had the option of.
Sometimes we packaged up the meats and brought it to sponsors’ homes (or in the case of the night before Tropical Storm Irene–a mid-construction house on top of a mountain–we’re still thankful we did not accept the invite to stay the night, because the road was gone the next day!).
Unlike a competition with judges and “one-bite wows” and a long drive home if the scores didn’t go our way, these dinners were a wonderful opportunity to connect with the people who loved our food and supported us. There was no pressure and a short time commitment; just an afternoon with friends and full bellies and lots of laughter. If something needed a little more sweet or a little less heat, they were there to tell us.
We loved these dinners. They loved these dinners. At the end of dinner, we all felt more full—not just our bellies, but our hearts. These dinners were special, and they led to a lot of trophies and happy memories.
We knew we wanted to recreate that experience for friends (old and new) at our farm.
And we are!
Take a breath and enjoy the summer, if just for one evening. That To Do list can wait!
Would you like to spend a summer evening enjoying a unique culinary experience with a fine view?
Let us take your dining world to new heights!
Join us for an over-the-top grilled and smoked dinner hosted at beautiful Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph, VT where we’ll treat you to some of our finest barbecue specialties.
We’ll be serving a “meat-forward,” seven-course tasting menu celebrating some of our competition barbecue team’s most successful competition dishes, including our award-winning flank steak-wrapped scallops, Kansas City style ribs, brisket burnt ends, and even smoked cheesecake–all paired with just the right side dishes to make them even more exciting.
Bring your appetites, and your own alcoholic beverages! We’ll include coffee, tea and non-alcoholic options.
The meal will be served with the backdrop of our gorgeous hill farm overlooking Randolph Village.
****************************** For more than 13 years, Chris Sargent and Jenn Colby, and our talented team of friends and family, competed in Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned barbecue competitions throughout New England as Howling Hog Barbecue. During our career, we won more than 45 awards at barbecue and grilling events, becoming one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams.
Please note that due to the nature of the menu, substitutions are not possible. Foods may contain wheat, sugar and trace amounts of MSG.
Do you want to try grilling, but find the choices of fuel, cookers, and timing overwhelming?
Are you an experienced griller ready to step up your game?
Are you a food lover looking for a fun Saturday spent hanging out and eating tasty treats right off the fire?
Chris Sargent, pitboss of Howling Hog BBQ, will spend the day teaching the tips and techniques he and his team used to become one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams during their career.
This four-hour class will include an overview of grilling basics, including: types of grills, fire management and food safety; as well as the essential tools every serious griller should have. Then Chris and his teammates will dive into four award- winning recipes that will demonstrate the essential skills needed to elevate your grilling game. Recipes will include “Rob’s First Place Flank”, “Curran’s Lime & Honey Wings,” and more!
With the gorgeous backdrop of Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph, VT, come enjoy a day of grilling, learning and sampling some epic food.
One lucky attendee will win a “schwag bag” of assorted rubs and seasonings.
Limit 12 participants, sign up today!
About the instructor: Over 13 years (2004-2017), Chris Sargent and his team of exceptional grillers and barbecuers won more than 42 individual awards, competing against some of New England’s (and the nation’s!) most talented teams.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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