It can be hard to know your food.

Some discussion came up on the Local Bite Challenge that I am involved with, about how very hard it actually is to raise and care for livestock and then slaughter it for meat. It’s even harder when just starting out at this, I know because we are new at this. The conversation made me revisit all the feelings last Fall when we harvested our first chickens and pigs in order to eat more locally and know our food better. These are my own personal feelings, and of course everyone has their own feelings on this.

Last year was our first year raising feeder pigs.

pigs

They were adorable, and were so funny to watch. We gave them a nice life in the pasture and woods edge with lots of room to roam, organic feed, garden scraps, wild apples, pumpkins and squashes, and an awesome wallow. Everything a pig could want and more. All that said, we tried super hard to keep in mind all the time what we were doing. I knew it would be really hard when the day came, and so I can’t say how often I reminded myself, as they were growing, what they were for, and that they were very cute livestock, not pets. I was warned against naming them but I wanted to know them as two separate pigs not, “the pigs”, so they were Ada and Bessie. I figured I would name them by the alphabet like tropical storms, lol, then I will always easily know how many we’ve raised! When the day came we had a monstrous mess up with our hog loading area, ugh – hard lesson learned, for these green farmers – and ended up having the butchering facility come out and harvest them on the farm and then take them right to the facility. The month just prior to this we had butchered our first chickens, and between that and the hogs I felt like I was finally taking responsibility for my food in the way I have wanted to for a long time. Gone are my conflicted feelings over purchasing meat. Personally, for me,  yes, it was very hard to see, but I never want it to get “easy”, I don’t think it should be easy to take a life for food. What I also felt inside though was that it was the most honest way I ever put meat on to our plates.

Some greens with our white this time.

The Local Challenge that I am involved in is keeping me thinking. We already eat very locally but the great people in this challenge are full of so many great ideas that are making me think! I am looking forward to learning all kinds of new ideas from them! So far I have stuck with my exceptions but I’ve found a few more I didn’t remember to add to the list like peanut butter, chocolate chips, tea, vinegars, baking soda, and baking powder. This is in addition to my original list of: toilet paper, garbage bags, coffee, beer, rum and coke, sugar, mayonnaise, yeast, milk, cheese, and yogurt. Some of these I’ve gotten great encouragement from tje group to try making and I will!

So yesterday  I did the very local thing of hunting for greens on the farm. Things really showed signs of greening up, and it is amazing to see. I went and picked chives and garlic mustard to have with scrambled eggs, and found just what i needed…

greens

Another thing that showed it’s wonderful green-ness popping out of the ground was…

garlic

…Garlic! Looking forward already to those first scapes! Then in the Fall our ritual of dividing the Garlic, some to plant some to eat, and guess who always wants more for the kitchen! (Yea I know that means you have to plant more!)

Unfortunately Spring played a mean trick this morning on us, but that is Midwest Spring. It’s green and then it’s white, yet again.

this morning

In other things on the farm… it’s been a busy sapping season! Wow, so much Box Elder sap, and then it got too warm and I thought the season had come to an end, but now it is cold again for a few days so more is coming. Crazy good year for syrup.

sap

All this became a little over 2 and 1/2 quarts of syrup.

Box Elder Syrup

Here is one jar, notice the sugar settles at the bottom. I do not know if that is supposed to happen or not but I just decant it slowly into smaller jars and then I will dry the sugar in the dehydrator for use in baking.

cattle

The Cattle will be so happy to get out on pasture, so far there just isn’t grass yet, it almost looks as though they’ve decided that they will just lay down and wait for it! These amazing animals are so pretty, I love to take pictures of them!

chickens

Of course I don’t want the ladies to get bent out of shape so they came over for a photo op as well.

I have been doing research on our pond. Checking in with experienced people about whether or not Bentonite would be good to help us seal what seems to be a leak in the pond. It is everything we hoped would not happen when we re-dug it last year. It seems that the leak may be between the 5-9 feet mark so we are getting advice on best things to do. It does look nice to see water on the pond, but I wish we hadn’t lost 2 feet already since the big thaw.

pond

Hopefully we can seal the leaks and it will be ready to stock this year yet!

Finally while on a quiet walk on the farm I took this picture. It seems like a good way to end a post.

tree

Here’s hoping tomorrow will be a green day not a white day!

Local Bite Challenge

I have joined a challenge. The Local Bite Challenge with a group of people on Facebook. If any of you “Local Bite Challengers” are reading this, hello to you!

http://evergrowingfarm.com/2014/03/local-bite-challenge.html

I love that in this challenge everyone’s definition of “local” can be their own as well as their own parameters on how to implement, how long to participate, how or if you budget and the biggie…what will you allow for exceptions? Although everyone is setting out on their own way of doing this, the bottom line is that we will all learn from each other and we will all be helping each other toward a common and important goal and how cool is that?

I thought I would make today’s post a very brief look back at how we personally got to the place we are at now.

When we began in December of 2012 it was to raise a few Highland Cattle for beef. About then I started working for myself and realized I would have the flexibility to put time into living more sustainably and knowing our food. We took the plunge and raised two heritage breed feeder pigs, organically, (but not certified), and put 6 chickens in the freezer, had a new calf arrive, and purchased another cow with calf, and a bull. We will have our first steer slaughtered this summer, have fresh eggs daily, and a freezer full of pastured pork. Until we have the beef our variety has not been huge but we do just fine eating what we have and cook creatively to avoid boredom. I froze huge amounts of fruits and vegetables, and re-learned how to can. Between all of that and all the food I dried last year I did not have to buy any produce at the grocery store this year, and yes, we do eat fruit:) It was limited to strawberries, raspberries, cherries, rhubarb, and peaches which didn’t feel limited to me at all. So this is all to say for us local is really local, as we raised almost everything we ate this Winter and so far this Spring. I learned to make pasta (which I need to improve at) and all of our breads, buns, corn chips, crackers, and pretzels, although, the last few don’t get baked as often as I’d like. However, even this was a new way of thinking to appreciate those treats when we have them rather than expecting them to be around all the time. Eating seasonally starting making so much sense. I had come to expect to eat the same fruits and vegetables year round, often without it mattering how many miles they had traveled or that they were loaded in the truck before they had opportunity to even ripen. I have instead found a rhythm to the seasons. We enjoyed the arrival of lettuces, radishes, beans, and broccoli in the summer, and then the appearance of beautiful red strawberries followed later by fresh tomatoes in mid July and throughout the hot days of September. As it got really cold there were cabbages and squashes and pumpkins. So yes, we didn’t eat lettuce this winter or one fresh tomato, instead we ate the meats we raised, and the fruits and vegetables we put up that were raised by us and our neighbor (we do trades). It’s been an amazing almost year and a half. We are now approaching Spring, this time still newbies, but not as new as last year. Soon the brooder will be set up, the chicks will arrive, the feeder pigs will be picked up in May, and I have my seeds picked out and my starter plants started. The rhythm of the seasons continues and I am ready for all the fresh garden goodness.

As I begin to preserve food this year I will do some things differently. I now know just how much bbq sauce, ketchup and tomato sauce we need. I also know that no one needs as many pickles as I made last year. I learned that some things I canned, I should have frozen, and some things I should have planted more of etc. It will be exciting to go into this years food growing season having a better idea of what we need and like.

So my parameters? Local is pretty local for us, and I feel lucky that we have the space and opportunity to do this. Apart, from my exception list, local is a few miles. Clearly though my exception list does have things that go well beyond that. Am I involving budget in this? Not really, by eating mostly our own food, our budget has changed dramatically, I consider it more a way of life than a budget really. How long do I want to participate? A lifetime:)

I do have exceptions and I will rethink some of these due to this challenge. What are my exceptions?
toilet paper, garbage bags, coffee, beer, rum and coke, flour (although ours is locally grown and milled), corn flour, sugar, mayonnaise, yeast, milk, cheese, and yogurt. We don’t have a dairy cow, or should I say I am not wrestling a highland with horns into a head gate daily. Of course there are random items that do get purchased when needed like laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo etc.

Next on the agenda… Mead, and learning to make yogurt and cheese. Now if I could just get our “trading neighbor” to get a dairy cow:)

So glad I found the challenge, I’m looking forward to new ideas and new learning!

Some green and some white

 

real green

Some green…

white

…and some white. We have one foot in each season right now, but you can smell Spring in the air and it’s amazing. This Spring in particular is even more welcome than others, this winter started early and the snow that fell never melted, it just kept adding up. It’s felt Wintry for 6 months now, and people at this point are very grateful to see 40′s and sunshine, it’s really boosting morale and the weary winter weather attitudes that have been part of the last couple months, pretty much since that unknowing Ground Hog came out of his hole in February.

pond

The pond we re-dug last year has been filling beautifully, or it did so during the big thaw when everything was melting and running. Now it’s lost about 4 inches. So, I find myself reading about Bentonite. This would get spread on the top of the water, and then wherever the water is draining the Bentonite should get sucked down into, and swell and seal the pond. I believe it to be ghastly expensive though, very sadly, and so I’m a little afraid to confirm it because I don’t know what else we can do, so for now I will keep reading more information on it before we decide what to do.

Since it is still cold enough to need warm comfort food, I made some beef stew with beef from a local farm, carrots and potatoes from the neighbors storage, dried juliet tomatoes, the last of our garlic, local corn I froze last year, dried morel mushrooms, our tomato sauce, herbs and veggie broth made from a winters worth of vegetable parings that I kept adding to as I cooked. It was a good warm ourselves up meal, with some just made cheese crackers. Turns out my new ravioli cutter I got for my birthday is an awesome cracker cutter too.

cheese crackers

beef stew

It’s nice to see things not covered in white. There are little signs… the hydrant by the barn works again, the chickens prefer to be out than in, hubby started burning the prairies, and finally this very happy site of true Spring!

sap collecting

What does Spring sound like? … Plink, Plink, Plink

Midwest Springtime

Not exactly what some areas of the country call Spring but this is ours…

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It’s the time of year when our very small creek gets to pretend it’s a real river! The large amounts of snow we still have continue to melt and at the warmest times of day this little creek swells it’s banks.

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The animals are finding actual grass! While there isn’t much that is green yet, it is still a welcome sight to see something other than snow! The bunnies are not the only ones looking for free forage…I’ve been peeking in places looking for tiny signs of green. Looking forward to collecting anything green to eat very soon, I am sure my bunny friend here is feeling the same way!

A year ago February I started “Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. When I started it I couldn’t put it down and then Spring hit and almost everything went to the wayside while the garden was planted and tended, a new calf appeared, baby chicks were cared for, and piglets were arriving. Then there was the busy summer of food processing and preservation which extended well into the Fall, which brought us to chicken harvesting time, and pigs going to market. As it became winter, my efforts turned to making many hearty meals to keep us warm, keeping the fire stoked and doing some expansion of my business, really granola. Ironically, I picked the book back up in February, a year later and finished the book all at once, again not able to put it down. I realized that we had coincidentally done much of what they did in this book. Their goal was to eat locally for a year, and ours a slightly different angle, of wanting to feed ourselves from what we could raise here, our own little animal, vegetable experiment, that yielded our own small miracle! We were watching a dvd the other night about foraging and learned things we never knew about that we have and will look for on the farm. The foraging guide explained, as he literally nibbled leaves off a branch, that all they get at the store these days is grain, beer and dairy, and I had to laugh when his wife added, “and deoderant”. I thought about this and in fact that is pretty close to what we are buying at the store, although I would add coffee to the list. Close to two years ago I went on a couponing kick, under the direct tutelage of my older daughter who is a pro. I was buying shampoo for less than a dollar and dish soap for a quarter, and I built up such a supply that cleaning items and personal care items won’t have to be bought for another year yet! It is pretty amazing and freeing to not have that always, “I’ve got to run to the store” feeling to pick up this or that several times a week, often going in for this and coming out with bags of that, just because I was there, and it was convenient. A couple of nights ago, we sat down to a delicious meal of scrambled eggs cooked with our own salsa, cottage bacon from our pigs, collards from our garden, applesauce from our wild apple trees, large slices of homemade toasted wheat bread, and a corn salad that could hardly have tasted fresher had it been summer!

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The thawed out cold corn mixed with red jalapeno bits, green pepper, a bit of cider vinegar and honey, and parsley tasted like summer! This all was washed down with the best apple juice ever, yep you guessed it, from our wild apple trees.

While I wasn’t trying to do an actual year long local eating experiment, I realized when I finished the book that we had done just that. This though will be a life long experiment, because I can’t go back to the old way…why? Because I can’t, because I won’t, because it’s what feels right.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’ve been asked several times what I am doing to celebrate. Well, it’s been a busy granola week, and so tomorrow will be a “me day”. I will plan my garden, order my seeds, read, knit, change the litter in the coop, put hay down in the chickens Spring-swampy wet run and plant lettuces into my hay bale cold frames. Although they were a fail in the winter, they will be good enough for the milder days of Spring. It sounds like a perfect day to me. Over the weekend we will try out a new local BBQ spot for a birthday meal with family.

All is good.

“Mud Season”

I got an interesting reply to an inquiry I made to a Co-op up north. They felt they surely would want to sell my Granola but it would be best to re-connect with them after “Mud Season” because until then no one who doesn’t have to be up there stays! This was a great answer. I marked down on my calendar to call them in May, after Mud Season.

We actually are at the edge of a pretty muddy season as well here. The driveway waffles between a skating rink, and a swimming hole depending on the day. The snow has been melting quite a bit but there was so much of it there is still plenty of snow cover yet. The driveway looked like this yesterday…

driveway

I’ve been hunting for little tiny signs of green. What these tiny signs bring is hope and thoughts of warmer days.

see green

see green2

They are all signs that Spring is definitely on the way. Another sign? Our neighbor asked for our plant list today. He has a wonderful greenhouse business and we trade his organic starter plants for Pork and sometimes some babysitting too. So tomorrow after deliveries I will figure out my plant list. We will also set up our amounts for Winter Storage shares of Potatoes, Onions, and Carrots for next year. It’s a great time of year coming. We’ve switched the clocks and it’s lighter in the evening and I love it! Just another sign of summer evenings to come.

runaway

I was out cleaning the chickens waterer and this handsome young fellow, fondly named “Runaway” by our Grandson,  came to say hello. He was quite curious about what I was doing. I’m loving this little guy’s shaggy bangs!

local lettuce

So we had a salad! This lettuce was at our local market and was grown by someone one town away from here. They are growing it using aquaponics, (water from a fish tank circulates through a grow bed where the plants are grown). I decided being that this lettuce was grown locally and fresh lettuce looked delicious I indulged and supported this new local business. It was wonderful eating a lettuce salad with some local blue cheese on it!

So I have become interested in knitting. My neighbor’s Mom is the most productive knitter ever, she makes hats in what seems to be a second and neck warmers in flash, she is amazing. This sparked my interest in homemade gifts next year. I remembered my one stitch from a girl scout badge I think but it had been forever. I decided I am knitting something for each person on my list this year, so I’m glad I decided this in March and not October, ha ha! A knit item and some home canned foods make a great gift and so I am planning ahead. I headed to a Variety Store for yarn and needles, and began practicing with small needles and fat needles and nubby yarns and smoother yarns but once I got the feel of it there was something else missing. There was no story to the yarn. Once again Craigslist to the rescue. I did a search for knitting supplies and there it was. Another FIG moment (fate is great). I found a woman who is moving to Mexico. She is a knitter, but not only that, she used to have sheep and she had so much beautiful wool from her Sheep! She was such a warm and interesting woman and this wool needed a new home. She met me in the doorway wearing a knit sweater with a rainbow of colors and it was 2 hours before we realized how long we had been talking and sorting through her wool. This wonderful woman was just another stop along the way in my journey, that started over a year ago. Since I started my business and we began our journey into homesteading I have met amazing people. This is someone I will keep up with. She is leaving to start new in Mexico and she is happy her yarns are with someone who appreciates them. As I looked around her perfectly organized tiny single flat I wondered what it will be like for her to just leave the place she lived for so long and start brand new in Mexico! I am excited for her, and am the happy owner of a lot of beautiful wool! She even fixed my three projects that were at a stand still, one with a dropped stitch, one with a crisscrossed stitch and one where I needed new yarn attached!

wool 2

wool 1

…and now my wool has a story.

Nope I’m not confused!

san marzanos

Winter has begun to get very long, and a taste of warmer days is a special treat. Now you may thing I am quite confused when you look at this above photo but these pretty San Marzano Tomatoes were actually hiding in my freezer. Once thawed, you can slip the skins off in one piece. This is the first of them that I have gotten out this winter already. Until now I’ve been using canned and frozen sauce I had made. These whole tomatoes were a last minute save at the end of the year, I just couldn’t can anymore and my neighbor said to just rinse them well, cut off the tops and freeze them. Wow, couldn’t have been easier! We have been enjoying Tomato Basil Soup, literally tomatoes pureed with an immersion blender and then a cube of last years frozen Basil. It tasted like summer so intensely I felt like I had flashbacks to Summer warmth, when I put it in my mouth.

tomatoes cooking

This is a combination of red, yellow and green tomatoes (the green tomatoes are actually ripe, they are called Aunt Ruby’s German Greens). It smelled fantastic!

tomato bisque 2

This Soup was Tomato Bisque since we had a little cream leftover from making homemade ice cream for guests last week. It was delicious! The fresh micro greens on top from the neighbor were perfect.

tomato basi garden soup

This was Tomato Basil Garden Soup with our chard and local corn, all from last season. My best friend and husband had to go out east suddenly last week for a funeral.  I left this in their fridge so they would have a hot soup when they got home. I know they both bring lunches to work, so I made them an extra big jar!

peels

After making all the tomato soups, I had a lot of tomato skins left. Each time I pare a vegetable I grab my freezer bag of bits and pieces and add on to it.

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This bag is my veggie broth collection bag. It is filled with onion ends, carrot peels, tomato skins mushroom stems etc. When it is full I will make veggie broth and strain it. My freezer is loaded with turkey broth, chicken broth and pork stock, and soon there will be lots of veggie broth too.

frozen tomatoes

The exciting news, is that I have sooo many more of these pretty tomatoes in my freezer!

raspberry sorbet

Now despite the frigid temperatures, a wood fire can get you warm enough to enjoy Summer Sorbet! This one is raspberry, I also recently made Peach Cherry. They taste like summer and are a great treat!

Now for a complete opposite photo, I thought I’d show just how the snow is stacking up here!

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Not sure if you can tell but this was taken on a county road. Since there was no one else on the road I got out and took this photo, I was trying to indicate that they snow on this road is higher than my car in places!

zoey

This Senior dog would appreciate some soft green grass and even ground one of these days! It’s been a long winter!

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It does continue to be very pretty though.

Last night we sat down to a beautiful roasted whole Chicken, a bowl of squash, a bowl of broccoli. Also a bowl of asparagus topped with the tiny last crunchy bits of the Jowl Bacon we opened a while back. It was all ours, every bite, and it was all delicious and comforting food. I looked at the table and couldn’t have been more proud of the changes we have made and the success we have had at feeding ourselves this year.