Category Archives: farming

And just like that…it’s Fall!

Chopping peppers for the freezer. That's a bowl of foraged wild grapes there too.

Chopping peppers for the freezer. That’s a bowl of foraged wild grapes there too.

I guess in New York after Labor Day has passed, Mother Nature decides it’s time for fall, no matter what the calendar says. I vividly recall showing up to college over 10 years ago in late August from Phoenix and being mortified that our dorm didn’t have AC. I didn’t realize people could actually live without it. My roommate, being from the area, informed me that in a week or two it would cool down, and sure enough, it did.

Today I dressed in layers. I even put on a knitted hat when we went out to run some errands. I love it, since fall is my absolute favorite. I like it even more now that I live somewhere where leaves change color, you can have beautiful potted mums outside, and pumpkins and squash abound at the farmer’s markets.

For me fall also means rest. Summer is so short here that we are really gung-ho about living to the fullest for three months. Then add in the fact that I had my first table at a farmer’s market for my own farm this year, and that Chris was gone for 7 weeks (leaving me to take care of all the house stuff), and I was a very busy lady.

Now that things are slowing down it’s hard to find the motivation to get back outside to put everything away for the winter. I know it’ll get done, I just wish I could get back some of that, “Yay, it’s spring, let’s get this garden started!” umph back.

Now I want to sip tea, knit, and read on my couch surrounded by my two dogs. I want to roast veggies and make soups. I want to linger a bit longer under the covers in the morning too.

Making grape juice from the wild grapes. We turned it into jelly.

Making grape juice from the wild grapes. We turned it into jelly.

Overall I feel decently prepared for winter. I’ve made a lot of jams and jellies, stocked my chest freezer with veggies and fruits, and I’m already thinking out Christmas gifts. October will bring the last of the outdoor work, and the last push at procuring emergency supplies. They say we’ll have a very cold winter.

My DIY plans for the fall/winter are: making soap, some freshening up of paint inside the house, sewing new curtains for the kitchen, lots of knitting, and making citrus curd when the midwinter citrus is in season and ready to ship.

What are your plans? Are you sad to see summer go?

My NOFA Conference Recap or A Brain Full of Thoughts

Farm postings. There is no shortage of internship or education opportunities, that's for sure!

Farm postings. There is no shortage of internship or education opportunities, that’s for sure!

This past weekend I went to the annual winter conference for NOFA-NY. Last year was my first time at the conference. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship this year, and as long as I remain in this area, I plan to go each winter.

In two-and-a-half days I learn so much stuff that come Sunday afternoon I am forced to pass out for several hours. Seriously. My brain has been bouncing from cover crops, to pests, to beer making, to botanical drawing, to herbs…and on and on.

I am always amazed most by the people there. I see familiar faces of seasoned farmers who are still trying to learn. This is exciting and reassuring. It means there will always be something new and interesting to learn with farming, and that no matter how long I do it, I’ll never know it all.

It’s great to hear veteran farmers talk about things they screwed up, or new things they just figured out, or issues with land and/or water. It makes me feel less alone and less frustrated.

I also love to see the range of ages. There were some teenagers there, up to people probably in their 80s. In one session I sat next to man about my father’s age who was dressed very well and said he was a gardener who went a little overboard and ended up starting a CSA. That is damn impressive!

There are people who are just barely dipping their toes into the water of farming. Even though I feel really behind the curve, I realize I’m not. I have some land, and some knowledge, and a lot of gusto, and I think that’s what counts the most.

Being there also gives me a lot of hope. It’s so easy to get negative about the current state of food and farming but being surrounded by over 1,000 people who have their lives invested in turning things around makes you realize that all is not lost. We will eventually right this ship.

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Swing your partner round and round!

I got to try contra dancing for the first time too. I’ve done Zumba before, but contra dancing seriously whooped my butt. I was sweating like crazy and it was a heck of a good time.

I’m planning my seed order now. I’m still going to give it a few weeks though. It’s hard to keep myself in check though and not get overly ambitious. As soon as the weather starts to look a little less bleak I’m going to go out around my property to scope out some new growing spaces.

It looks like I’ll be growing mostly greens and herbs. I will expand my bees as well. If you are interested in following along with any of it you can “like” the farm’s facebook page.

~reading~ Equal Parts Terrified & Excited

When I was visiting friends in the city we were talking about books and I mentioned all I ever read anymore are books about farming and food. This isn’t 100% true, but pretty close.

A couple weeks ago I breezed through a book on microgreens in just two days; on my night stand is a book about garlic, in my living room there are books about bees, farming and cooking; on my couch is The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman.

Yesterday I told a friend/coworker that the more I read the more I feel like I just don’t know anything. Also, not 100% true, but sometimes it feels that way.

I want to start “farming” this fall. I put it in quotes because I certainly won’t feel like a farmer. I think that would take years, to be quite honest. I just want to put something in the ground. Much like having a kid, I feel like there’s never a good time to do any of this, but if I just do it, I have propelled myself forward.

I’m trying to also be frugal, but wincing at the costs of some of the things I will probably really need. I need to start very slow, as I am certain many mistakes will be made along the way.

In the meantime, I’m reading everything I can fit into an already busy schedule that relates to what I want to do.

It’s awfully weird to know that within the next year I get to begin doing something I’ve wanted for some time, while also knowing I will have days where I cry my eyes out with frustration and exhaustion. It’s also weird knowing you will have failures, but have no idea yet what they will be.

A friend of mine in college used to say that I’m like a cat…I always land on my feet. I really really hope that it still holds true.

Facing Reality

Dream farm drawn during a workshop exercise at the NOFA NY conference.

I’ve found that along my path to someday be a true homesteader/farmer it has really helped to learn from people who are currently doing what I plan to do eventually.

It’s one thing to get a book on how to do something, and it’s another to learn it from someone, even if learning that skill makes you realize how much you don’t want to continue doing something.

For instance, I’m used to the idea of year-round farming through my work with KFF. Michael has given many talks on winter growing and I’m used to our farmer’s market which operates all year. Because of this I just assumed I would take the same path.

All it took was 30 minutes of cleaning the dirty roots of scallions in a very cold washing shed one Friday to realize I should reconsider. As my hands were wet, and bright red from the cold, all I could think was that I really wanted to cry….a lot. I was in pain and uncomfortable and really hoped that every bunch would sell at market the next day to make it worth it.

I can’t say I will never grow anything in the cold season, but I certainly have a different perspective on it now.

A similar thing happened while reading The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball. She talks a lot about their dairy cow and the daily chores that go along with having a dairy cow. Being honest with myself I realize that’s not something I want to deal with.

Part of me wishes that none of this were the case. It makes me feel foolish and weak, but there are certain aspects of who I am that I fear will never change, at least not easily. Waking at 5a.m. to milk a cow in the dark and freezing cold of winter sounds like something I would easily get immensely frustrated with. I’m glad I can acknowledge that part of me.

At the NOFA NY conference I was in a workshop and at one point we broke into small groups and had to draw our dream farm. There were no parameters. You weren’t supposed to think in a logical sense, you were supposed to go with what you would want if there were no limitations.

So I put aside any thoughts regarding “what we could afford” or “where the land might be” and just went with my ideal situation. In the end half the land was going to be for pastured animals, mostly pigs. The other half would be filled with vegetables, flowers, our home, a barn, a commercial kitchen, orchard, bees, and more. The property would be flanked by water and have a forest in the back where I could cultivate mushrooms.

As we went around and discussed our farms it occurred to me that what I really want is like a homestead on crack. I want enough land and the means to fully sustain our family, with enough room for a small CSA operation, value-added products, and enough pork for charcuterie.

This was a very important exercise in “truthiness” (thank you Stephen Colbert!) as well. It showed me that I don’t necessarily want to supply 100s of CSA shares, I’d rather put the time and energy into Chris’ meat business with some other products on the side.

Obviously things do change and flux over time, and I know in reality the property we may get might not have water on either side, or a forest, and we may never be able to afford a commercial kitchen, but it’s nice to have a vision to work toward and a way to keep my wandering mind in check.

These are the kinds of things I’d really rather come to terms with now than to end up with a bunch of sheep I don’t know how to care for just because they are cute and I can make yarn from their fleece. Believe me, mistakes will be made, but I’m just hoping that being honest with myself will prevent additional ones.

Beyond Surreal

These beautiful sweet potato vines are now covered with a whitish silt.

A few weeks ago over 40 people from all around the region came to Kilpatrick Family Farm for a NOFA event where Michael was educating everyone on winter production.

We went out to the field in Granville, a huge field by the Mettowee River, where he grows a portion of his crops. It was such a beautiful day and everyone was just amazed by all the crops.

They were especially wowed by how great the brussels sprouts looked. Man oh man they were really spectacular. They would’ve sold so well this fall and winter. Now they’re still standing but ruined by tropical storm Irene. (Click here for a full article with photos.)

I saw the field when I went to the farm on Friday. The only way I can describe it is that it looked like its soul was gone. Does that even make sense? It looked sad. The muddy, still-drying ground looked like almost like a compacted clay substance and everything had silt on it.

Even though it was a warm sunny day, it just looked so sad. Even worse, some of the stuff looked completely fine, but it isn’t safe for consumption. It will have to be tilled. To add to it, you could smell the putrid stench of rotting hay and straw bales that got soaked in the flooding.

When I was leaving I forgot to even say goodbye to Michael. I was stunned and in a daze. All that food, and money, and effort just gone. All those families who enjoy it so much won’t have it.

But you know what? Everyone has been so nice and understanding and feels so bad. One CSA member at market was almost in tears because she felt so bad. People have already said they’ll stand by the farm no matter what. It’s overwhelming (in a good way) to hear the kind words from customers.

This is why eating local matters. More than any of the other reasons I could ramble on and on about…it really matters to know the people who feed you for times like these so you can boost them up and let them know you care about them and their families.

Also, because in the midst of all this, I was without power and Michael extended the offer of having me stay at his farm. He just lost over $80,000 worth of crops and he was offering hospitality. The people at Purdue or ConAgra certainly aren’t extending those offers my way, nor would I even notice if something hurt their production.

Things will get better though, I know this. I’m completely undeterred by this as well. I will always want a farm. I’m stubborn and I tend to work more with my gut than with my head anyway. This is just another thing to tuck in the back of mind but it certainly doesn’t put me off of the idea of farming.

If you live anywhere near any of the farms that were impacted by the storm, please please help them in some way. Even if it’s just buying some of their products or by saying a caring word. If you live in NY please consider taking part in NOFA’s Locavore Challenge as well.

For the Love of Bees

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When my mom got remarried my stepdad used to tell us how he had kept bees and I honestly thought he was crazy. He talked about how he’d been stung a few times and how the bees would just walk around on him. Crazy, right?! I had no idea why anyone would want to do that.

Like most people, I used to be pretty cautious of bees. I can’t say I was ever scared (spiders are a whole other story though) but I didn’t like them anywhere near me if I could help it.

That changed last year when I went raspberry picking. The bees were all over those bushes but I was determined to pick several quarts of berries so I just stuck with it. I had to gently reach in around them and let them keep working. Being that close to them for such an extended period of time made me realize they don’t want to sting, they just want to do the job they were born to do.

When I’m in my garden I see the big fat bumble bees floating from flower to flower. Everything in my garden is pretty close together so as I’ve been harvesting they often end up pretty close to my face. I always try to excuse myself and work around them. I say silent “thank yous” in my mind to them.

I just found out that a farmer friend of mine is going to let me keep bees on his land in the spring. I’m elated. I need to do a lot of research and prep in these next few months but I can’t wait until next year when I’ll have my own honey.

Wow, my own honey! It seems insane to even type that. I absolutely can’t wait to bottle it next year.