Monday, May 30, 2011

It's all about food

My husband just informed me it's been a week since I blogged, so what have I been doing? Mostly I've been busy with final edits on the book, tweaking sentences, writing captions for photos, and double-checking the bibliography.

We've been getting a ridiculous amount of rain lately, so the yard, pastures, and garden are all soggy. Only about 20 percent of the garden is planted -- sweet potatoes, onions, beans, strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus. I have 50 heirloom tomato and 60 pepper plants sitting around waiting to be transplanted. It is really not a big deal that they're a bit late getting into the garden because they won't start producing anyway until it gets hot enough, which means early August most years. One year I planted tomatoes at the end of June, and they produced fine. We are still harvesting more than enough lettuce, which was planted last fall in low tunnels. We removed the tunnels in April.

Because I've been so busy, we actually ran out of chevré! I can't remember the last time we had no chevré in the house in May -- maybe 2002? Anyway, I'm making chevré today!

Lately we've been talking about how excited we used to be when we had a single meal that was homegrown, but now almost all of our meals are homegrown, even through the winter. It's a pretty surprising accomplishment for someone who was a vegetarian with a brown thumb nine years ago. Tonight's dinner will be salad, grilled lamb chops, corn on the cob, and ice cream. Last night's dinner was queso blanco with pasta and marinara sauce. Saturday's lunch was quiche. We've actually been having a lot of quiches lately. Today's lunch was an odd one -- corn fritters and smoothies -- because no one thought about cooking until we were all starving, and it was after noon.

We're about to open our last jar of canned pears, and we're running low on frozen raspberries. There are only two packages of frozen green beans left, although we still have a lot of corn in the freezer. The chickens are laying a few dozen eggs a day, and if we milk all the goats, we can get seven gallons of milk a day for making buttermilk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as ice cream and cream soups and other good stuff.

And with the garden, the cycle starts again. As we are running out of fruits and vegetables, it's time to plant and nurture and harvest to put up food to last for the next winter. Why do we keep doing this? As my daughter said this morning, "Once you get used to homegrown, you just can't find anything in the store that tastes as good."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Goat classifications 2011

We had about a dozen of our goats classified today. That means that a judge came to the farm and basically scored our goats against the ideal. The goats are scored on things like length of bone, front end assembly, head and breed character, feet and legs, neck, skin, ribs, chest and heart girth, fore udder, rear udder, teats, and more! Total possible score is 100, but I don't think I've ever seen a score much beyond 92. After all, no goat is perfect. If a goat scores 90 or higher, they are "Excellent," 85 to 89.9 is "Very Good," 80-84.9 is "Good+," and so on. Of the eleven goats classified today, we received ten VG and one E!

Maly PG Annie Oakley scored 90.4! Last year, she came so close to "E" with an 89.8 as a three year old. Does should improve with age, although sometimes things start to break down, such as feet, legs, and mammary support, especially as does go beyond six or seven years of age. Although Annie does not carry the Antiquity Oaks herd name, she was born here. Maly is the herd name that my oldest daughter Margaret had for her herd. When she went to college, she sold all of her goats to me. I didn't have to buy them all, but I have to admit that she did a great job breeding, and I wanted to buy her goats!

Our first homegrown master champion, ARMCH Antiquity Oaks Carmen *D scored 89.9 today at age 7, which is exciting. She is a good example of a goat that keeps improving with age. This is her highest score yet. It's hard for me to believe she's already 7!

And although Antiquity Oaks Giselle didn't score as well as several other goats, she wins the award for "most photogenic" today. Her score was 87.7, which is still a "VG" and quite good, but you get to see her picture instead of the other four goats that scored 89-point-something because their pictures didn't turn out as well. And unfortunately, I totally forgot to get a picture of Pinkerton, the buck who scored 89.2.

So, why do people have their goats classified? It's very educational, and you get a second opinion on your goats. It also makes it nice for potential buyers of kids to have that second opinion. It's not just me saying that a goat is good in a particular area. Buyers can actually look at the goat's scorecard to see how they were scored on each individual area.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What's up?

It might sound impossible, but I've been busier than normal lately. In addition to cleaning the milking parlor, planting the garden, and milking goats twice a day four days a week while my daughter is taking summer classes, I'm also working on final edits for the book manuscript. Part of that process is deciding what can be cut because I ran out of space. So, earlier today on the Homegrown and Handmade site, I posted a bread recipe that was cut.

We recently received another batch of turkey poults, which I want to blog about. Today and tomorrow morning, we are in the midst of doing our monthly milk test with the goats, and on Sunday, we are having about a dozen of our goats classified with AGS. An AGS judge will be coming to the farm and basically giving our goats a report card to score them on the various parts of their conformation. We only have about a fourth of the garden planted, so we need to continue with that while also working on other projects that I'm looking forward to sharing with you -- like the area we're creating in the basement for making soap, storing wool roving, and shipping orders.

I go through this every summer -- when I have dozens of things to write about, I have no time to blog!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

White Feather lambed

Jonathan came inside Monday evening before the sun went down to tell me that White Feather had two fluffy lambs. White Feather is one of the two ewes I bought eight years ago, which means she's nine now, so I'm not planning to breed her again after this year. Wasn't it sweet of her to give me two lovely ewes to fill her footsteps? And it was tough to get pictures of them because they were so friendly. They kept coming up to me, and I had a nice cuddle. Baby goats may be cute, but lambs win the award for best cuddlers. And I really need a new camera. I've been using my cell phone, and out of a dozen photos, this one is least blurry. Both ewes have black bodies with white face and leg(s) with the big black spots on their eyes -- one of my favorite patterns.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Slipping through the cracks

We use an old water trough as a brooder for the first two weeks.
For those of you who have said, "You're so busy. I don't know how you do it all," the answer is that I don't do it all perfectly! While working on the book this past winter, a lot of things slipped through the cracks. Normally, I spend January and February perusing gardening and hatchery catalogs and placing orders. It is just not something I think about during March. In April, I suddenly realized that I had no seeds started in the basement, and there were no turkey poults ordered, so I frantically tried to correct the situation.

Of all the seed potatoes sold by Seed Saver, there were only three varieties not sold out by the time I placed my order. So, I decided to try Nicola, a new one for us that looks a lot like a Burbank russet, but hopefully it won't be plagued by some of the issues that cause russets to not do very well in organic situations. And we'll plant some of our own potatoes that we saved from last year's crop.

The turkey situation was not much better. I called several hatcheries, and the earliest I could get a turkey delivery was the first week of May. Some were already sold out for the year. Good news for heritage turkey enthusiasts, but not so good for us. I decided to try Narragansetts this year. They are the only breed of turkey recognized by the American Poultry Association that we have never had for dinner. We tried to raise them five or six years ago, and they all disappeared one day. It was a very discouraging experience, although I don't blame the breed. I'm sure it was not a predator, because there were no feathers anywhere. And it would have taken a pretty big pack of coyotes to eat twenty young turkeys. So apparently they just all took a hike and probably got lost in the woods, never to be seen by human eyes again.

We like to get turkey poults in early April because we get the largest live turkeys by Thanksgiving. Get them any earlier, and the males start to reach sexual maturity and begin killing each other. Although two or three additional weeks of growth on the turkeys before Thanksgiving would have been nice, I can't beat myself up about it, because it's not going to do any good. The poults arrived last week in the best condition I've ever seen, and so far (knock on wood), they're all still alive, which is unusual for poults, because they don't usually handle the trip that well.

And if you're wondering why we don't hatch our own turkeys, it's because they don't hatch early enough in Illinois to be a good size by Thanksgiving. Our turkeys hens do hatch poults, but not usually until June or July. And if we collect eggs and incubate them, we don't usually get them hatched much earlier than that. We don't mind small turkeys, but customers do. However, I usually save that topic for a November post.

For today, I'm just trying to accept the fact that although I can do a lot of stuff, it may not all be perfect, and that's okay.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tough choices

My mother always told me, "Never say never." And I try really, really hard to follow that advice, because when I say "never," it's almost as if I've just bought myself a ticket to do whatever I just said I would never do. And at some point, I'm pretty sure that I said (probably more than once) that I could never butcher a doe. But I find myself with a doe that seems to have little practical purpose in this world.

Viola the la mancha finally freshened for the first time a few months before her fourth birthday. She seemed to be a great mother initially, and she was producing more milk than her babies needed, so we were milking her almost daily without ever separating her from her kids. But then the problems started. After our first milk test, she got mastitis. It's understandable that she wouldn't want her kids to nurse because I'm sure it was painful, but even after she was over the mastitis, she would often refuse to let them nurse. She also has a bad habit of jumping fences, so she'd decide she wanted to be in another pasture and jump a fence -- not a problem that her kids couldn't come along, or so she thought.

After our second milk test, she had her second bout with mastitis, which had me thinking that I wouldn't breed her again if this was going to turn into a chronic thing. And now it seems that she has pretty much weaned her kids at just over two months of age. We're milking her twice a day, and she's usually filling up the bucket. We've never had an older doe freshen for the first time, so maybe she just doesn't like kids cramping her style? But we let moms raise their kids on this farm, and if she doesn't want to do that, she doesn't really fit here. However, if her history with mastitis, which pops up when she does NOT have kids on her 24 hours a day makes me think that she doesn't really fit on a farm where the kids are bottle fed and does are milked twice a day from the day they freshen.

And she didn't get pregnant until she was almost four years old. She is small for a la mancha because her dam was copper deficient when Viola was in utero and when she was nursing. In fact, Viola's mother died when she was only two months old, and I was afraid I might lose Viola, which is why I didn't even try to breed her to freshen as a yearling. She was just too small, even to be bred to a Nigerian buck. Now, however, I wouldn't want to sell her to a farm where she would be bred to anything other than a ND buck, because although she had no trouble giving birth to her babies, they were half Nigerian, so purebred la manchas could easily be two or three pounds heavier.

And it's kind of tough to sell a goat as a pet when she has a habit of jumping fences. I suppose if their fences were tall enough, she wouldn't be able to jump them. She is a crazy-friendly goat. But seriously who would want a goat like this?

Goat for sale -- didn't freshen until almost four years of age due to copper deficiency as a kid. Weaned her kids at two months. Had two cases of mastitis in the first two months after freshening. Loves to jump fences. Occassionally has a kicking fit on the milkstand.
Did I forget to mention her random fits on the milkstand? She usually loves to be milked and plows into the milking parlor ahead of every other goat, but every now and then, she throws a fit. And when a big goat throws a fit, it's not pretty. Other than the fact that she actually produces milk, she doesn't have much going for her. How can you sell a goat like this?

What do you do with a problem like Viola?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New website is up!

It still needs work, but the new website for Homegrown and Handmade is up! It has a Blogspot address for the time being, because all of the short and easy "Homegrown and Handmade" URLs are taken, so I either have to do something that is not a dot-com, like or something really long like In fact, the phrase "homegrown and handmade" is so popular, there were not even any of the shorter URLs available with Blogger, which is why I have the crazy, long URL that I do.

If you're wondering whether or not you want to "follow" the new blog and website, I don't plan to be duplicating information from here and there. The new site will contain a lot of unique info, such as the schedule for the book tour this fall and videos related to the book.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Planting seeds

Although it's spring, and we're planting lots of seeds in the garden, I'm talking about planting metaphorical seeds. Anyone who knew me in high school or college has to be incredibly shocked when they see the person I've become -- growing my own food, weighing less than I did in high school and college, almost never wearing make-up, more concerned about who made my clothes instead of who designed them, never watching television other than a once-a-week movie from Netflix. I've changed in practically every way imaginable.

When my first child was born, I would drink a two-liter bottle of soda every day -- caffeine-free though because I was nursing my baby. I remember buying $50 designer jeans in high school in the late 1970s! (That was a lot of money back then.) I thought, "What's the big deal?" when garment manufacturing jobs started going overseas in the 1980s. I ate out more often than I ate at home, and a home-prepared meal was likely to be something from a can or a box. I never got any exercise more strenuous than walking to my car. I was heavily addicted to television. What happened to me?

Me at age 20, standing in the middle. The woman sitting,
third from right, was the knitter. Boyfriend is on the far right.
I was lucky enough to have a number of people come into my life -- some for a very short time -- to plant seeds. The four months I spent in Nebraska on National Student Exchange at Kearney State College definitely represented a fork in the road for me. I had a boyfriend who was diabetic, and it was the first time I had ever heard anyone talk about good nutrition. I grew up believing that all food was created equal. Just eat whatever you want, and you'll be fine. It was just fuel, right? Although I didn't change my diet at all -- and felt sorry for my boyfriend who had to watch what he ate -- the seed was planted that connected health and diet.

Another person I met during that time was a woman knitting a pair of mittens from wool that she had spun. Like most people, it had never crossed my mind that human beings could spin yarn from wool. At that time, learning to spin wool became a goal. It was a goal not realized for almost twenty years, but the seed was planted when I was in Nebraska.

Although I had read Walden previously, I read it for a literature class when I was in Nebraska, and somehow at that time, my brain processed it differently. Maybe it was reading it more than once. Maybe it was reading it after a geology trip to Colorado (pictured above). Maybe it was meeting the woman making the mittens. But whatever the connection, I finally "got it." I understood what Henry David Thoreau was saying. The designer clothes were not really important. Old habits die hard though, and I do recall buying a Gucci handbag a few years later. But the seed of simplicity was planted.

I earned my bachelor's degree from Eastern Connecticut State University, and my first New England boyfriend had a mother who was a Cordon Bleu chef. She was the first mere mortal I ever met who could really cook. I loved my mother dearly, but she either boiled or deep-fried everything, seriously everything. I loved my boyfriend's mother's cooking. She had her own restaurant, and I was lucky enough to help out a bit. Knowing her, I learned that cooking is something that anyone can learn. You can prepare delicious food in your own kitchen. It doesn't have to come from a box or a restaurant. She planted the seeds that gave me the courage to try things in the kitchen that most people never even consider -- like making cheese.

My parents planted a vegetable garden every year that I can remember, although I never helped. I don't remember ever pulling a single weed or picking any vegetables. My idea of gardening was overly simplistic. I assumed that you just plant seeds, and they magically turn into kitchen-ready vegetables. Although I had to learn a lot on my own, my parents planted the seeds that growing your own vegetables is possible.

I remember visiting my grandparent's farm when I was a little girl. All of the animals were running around together in fresh air and sunshine. I grew up believing that that's what all farms were like. Because of my grandparent's farm, the seeds were planted that made me believe that animals could be raised naturally.

Although I grew up in town, my parents would buy a calf from a rancher they knew. Sometimes my father would take it to the locker to get it butchered, and sometimes he'd shoot it and bring it home and butcher it in our garage. I was absolutely horrified as a teenager. "Why can't we just buy meat at the store like everybody else?" I asked my mother. And she responded, "Because you don't know how it was raised." She didn't elaborate, and I didn't ask any questions. I didn't know why it mattered, and I didn't care. But that comment stuck in my head, and one day in January 1989, when I was a new mother, I read an article about factory farming. I understood why my mother didn't like to buy meat at the grocery store, and with no alternatives for locally grown meat, my husband and I became vegetarians and decided to raise our children as vegetarians. My mother planted the seed that sometimes it's okay not to do the same thing as everyone else. It's okay if people think you're weird.

I was talking to a conventional-turned-organic farmer in January, and I asked him why he switched. "It didn't work," he said bluntly. "Conventional doesn't work." He told me about walking around with a pistol-grip syringe in each hand, injecting sick pigs with antibiotics daily. Then he told me about a conversation he overheard between his grandfather and his father. His grandfather said, "I don't understand why people think they can spray poison on food, and it's not going to hurt them." That thought lingered in his mind for decades as he grew up and followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a conventional farmer. One day he sprayed his field and forgot that he wasn't supposed to go back in there for a few days. That night he woke up gasping for air, barely able to breathe, thinking he was going to die, and he heard his grandfather's voice. He knew why he was sick. He knew he had to stop spraying poison on his fields and injecting his pigs with drugs. His grandfather had planted the seeds that decades later caused him to reject conventional agriculture.

Some people think there has to be a big a-ha! moment when you suddenly see the light and change your life, and it can happen like that if someone gets a life-threatening disease, but more often, it's the culmination of a lot of little things. So many people have come into my life and presented me with a new idea or a question that seemed insignificant at the time. But today I can see how all of those little seeds that were planted have grown into this beautiful garden that is now my life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Who can you trust?

A fear and frustration of anyone who does any public speaking or writing is that your words will be taken out of context. It has been on my mind for the past week as I contemplated whether or not to write this post. But I finally decided to do it because this topic is too important to not write about it. What is so important and controversial?

Anyone remember back in 2007 when Tyson started advertising antibiotic-free chicken? Did you notice how those ads disappeared? That's because Tyson was lying, and they got called on the carpet by Perdue and then consumers. Like many advertisers, Tyson was splitting hairs with their advertising claim because their chickens were being fed medication on a daily basis -- just like Perdue and other commercial chickens -- but technically the drug is an ionophore, not an antibiotic. Although Tyson admitted no wrongdoing, they quietly settled the lawsuit with Perdue in 2008. The consumer lawsuits were ultimately lumped into a class-action suit, which was settled last year. I'm sorry to say that if you bought Tyson chicken from 2007 to 2009 thinking it was drug-free, the time has passed for you to get your coupons and cash. So, why am I telling you this?

Because it's just another painful example of how corporate America will say anything to get us to fork over our hard-earned cash for their products. And they'll do anything to increase their profits, because that is the only thing they care about. But, as they are quick to point out, it's not their fault because legally corporations only answer to their stock holders, and they are responsible for turning as big a profit as possible.

Food giant Dean Foods, which has gobbled up dozens of smaller dairy companies, has been caught conveniently avoiding the truth and stretching the truth. When Dean bought Silk Soy products, they quietly stopped using organic soybeans without changing the labels, other than to omit the word "organic," and it was months before consumers noticed that they had been duped. In their organic dairies, they've been caught buying conventionally raised, drug-fed heifers as future milkers, even though it's prohibited by organic standards. And now they're fortifying their "organic" milk with DHA Omega-3, which is synthetic and illegal under the organic standards. And what really fries my bacon with this story is that if they kept their cows on a grass-fed diet, their milk would be naturally high in omega-3s.

And it goes beyond organics. Does anyone remember the McDonald's class action lawsuit in the 1990s when McD said they were now frying their french fries in vegetable oil rather than lard. Vegetarians started eating the fries before learning that the new "secret ingredient" in the fries was tallow, which is beef fat. We were vegetarians at the time and starting eating the fries. The only thing I've purchased from McDonald's in at least ten years was a cup of coffee a few years ago when I was desperate to find a WiFi connection, and a sign outside a McD's boasted WiFi, so I figured I could buy a cup of coffee and check my email. Wrong! After I bought the coffee, I asked how to get connected, and I was told I'd have to pay for it. Want to guess when I'll set foot in a McD's again?

And it goes beyond food. When we moved into our house six years ago, all of the appliances were brand new except for the dryer, which we bought in 1993. As of today, all of the appliances have been replaced -- some twice -- except for the stove and the 1993 dryer. And in the last two years, the cost of a refrigerator has gone up $400 -- yes, the exact same refrigerator that only lasted 20 months!

I am so fed up with Big Biz, I could rant all day with one story after another. And although I don't have an answer about what to do with appliances, I do have answers for food. We can't rely on labels, government inspectors, or lawyers and lawsuits to protect us from anything, whether it is ingredients we would prefer to avoid or deadly pathogens. We have to take responsibility and do what we can. Madison Avenue has done a splendid job convincing us that our time is too valuable to be spent gardening or cooking. We should relax in front of the television (so they can convince us to buy more stuff that we don't need). Of course, we can't all grow everything, but farmer's markets are becoming more popular, making it easier than ever to know your farmer.

Yes, a person could lie to you about how they grow their crops, but in my experience most of them adamantly believe that they're doing what needs to be done, and rather than lie to you, they'll try to convince you that you don't really need organic spinach or pork. And if you're a savvy shopper, it is easy to spot the fakers. A couple of years ago, I asked at a farmer's market stand if they sprayed their vegetables, and rather than answering my question, the man said, "Pesticides kill bees," and gave me an explanation that would mean no one could use pesticides. I just walked away, feeling insulted and thinking that I should have started questioning him. But if you frequent a farmer's market, you can get to know the people and learn who you can trust.

I've been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but the last thing I want is for people to take away the idea that it's hopeless, and you should just keep buying the cheapest food possible, because you don't really know if organic is organic or not. I want this post (and the blog and my book) to motivate and empower you -- to help you believe that you really can take control of your food choices. You don't have to be a master gardener. I'm not. You don't even need a yard. When we lived in the Chicago burbs, we rented a community garden plot. According to the National Gardening Association, 5% of those who garden -- two million people -- have a garden at a friend's house. And it doesn't take a ton of time. The average amount of time spent gardening every week is less than five hours, which is not even an hour a day -- far less than most people spend watching television.

But if you have a legitimate reason for not gardening or shopping at farmer's market, you can at least start cooking something from scratch. I started baking bread 23 years ago, back when I was drinking two liters of soda a day. Little things add up, and if you keep adding little things, at some point you might find yourself on 32 acres in the middle of nowhere growing the majority of your own food organically.

And if anyone has ideas on how we can get back to appliances that last twenty years, please share!


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