February 7, 2012

NOFA Winter Conference

This year's winter conference held by the Northward Organic Farmers Association in Saratoga Springs was an exciting time for Windflower. We received a farm scholarship that allowed our workers to fill the conference weekend with the classes of our choice. There was a wide range of topics covered, from raising livestock to medicinal herbs as well as homesteading skills and growing hops. They kept us well-fed with organic foods donated by dozens of local farms and businesses. It was cold outside, but no snow like last year.

I specifically enjoyed my class on using a European scythe. Great fun! The demonstration includedin learning to use the smithing tools necessary for sharpening the blade and how to work in a group to get a hole field done. Now, I'll admit that I'd rather mow a field with a tractor, but just collecting all these bits of old-fashioned knowledge thrills me. I own a lot of old tools and have them because I know how to use them. Maybe I can add a scythe to my collection soon!

NOFA is also a fun place to meet people. I enjoyed my meals with various farmers (including a mushroom grower who appeared in the Fall publication of Edible East End) We shared laughs, ideas and coffee, then parted ways for more classes. Even with all those people I ended up meeting a guy who long ago worked for Ted when he was in business with a farm down the road. It was only a year before my time there, but we had tons to talk about. Like most if the conference attendees, he was there with the prospect of starting his own farm, and NOFA has sort of a stereotype that a farmer is someone who owns a farm. I chatted with him about my philosophy of who a farmer really is and he seemed encouraged knowing that he didn't necessarily have to invest everything he owned in a piece of land just to earn the title of farmer. My husband is an electrician that works for a company, but he's still an electrician. Owning a company or business isn't what makes your proffesion. I've worked on Windflower for seven years; I'm a farmer. And without second class farmers there would be a shortage of skilled workers and farms could never grow the way our vegetables do.

December 14, 2011

Winter Share and Europe

I’m tapping my feet to the beat, 107.1 Country is playing the latest honky-tonk. Caffeine is pulsing through my veins, a chill is in the bones, it’s 8:55. If I get to work early, I like to take the time to relax until work starts. I call it my ‘office work’ time, doing paperwork, reading another paragraph or two from the book I’m working on. Then I get out of the truck, and the bright, clear December dawn is banishing the sharp morning chill, replacing it with the feel of a sun-warmed face that peers off in the distance towards the tunnels. You lift the plastic up, like someone curiously lifting the cover of a new car, to see how the greens are doing since you planted them months ago. They look like something from Jurassic Park, especially the kale, which clearly belongs to the Mesozoic and not our era. Luckily, they’re healthy, lush, and ready to harvest.

We’re quite proud of the greens this year. We planted plenty, and got lucky with an exceptionally warm September, and hopefully you’ve noticed the bounty! Today we harvested December’s spinach, kale, and choi. We already bagged your apples on Monday (to the soundtrack of the Lord of the Rings. Two of three of us are in a re-read, it made sense). The Chuckies, as I call them (the two Vermonters) bagged root crops on Tuesday, and tomorrow we’ll all descend on popcorn bagging and a little more greens harvesting. Friday we’ll pack the boxes with everything and load the truck. From there, Ted takes over as driver, and you’ll enjoy a nice view as you open your (perhaps) first present of the holidays!

In the back of my mind as I work, I rehearse to myself a million questions. Did I get those tickets yet? Hosts confirmed, languages being studied? Because yes…the rumors are true. I’m going on a four month sabbatical from Windflower, from home here in Washington County. The first leg is Turkey, there I’m visiting old friends from college for several weeks, then going on to WWOOF. WWOOF (pronounced just like woof, like a dog) stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It’s an international organization with branches throughout the world. The premise is simple- hooking up farmer-hosts with volunteers, who receive room and board in exchange for labor and experience/knowledge.

My first stay will be in Turkey after visiting friends. I’ve made arrangements with a dairy farm an hour outside of Istanbul. The supreme irony is that I’ve grown up my whole life in Washington County, the premier dairy county of New York, and never worked on a dairy farm. My first experience on one will be thousands of miles away, across the ocean, in a world apart.
My second leg of the trip will be to visit a friend in Germany for a few days. From there I move on quickly to my next host, in the land of Brittany, in the west of France. My host farm is a homestead engaged in market gardening, in a small village nestled in a part of France known for its Celtic language and customs, descended from 5th-7th century Briton Celts fleeing from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England. The farm is near to a region fabled to be the gates of Hell, but hopefully my part will not turn out quite that way. It’s about ten or fifteen kilometers away, apparently a mist-filled region of rocky hills and valleys where travelers have lost themselves for thousands of years. It adds a bit of adventure to think that if I miss the right bus stop I might be in Hell!

After about a month there, I’ll take a ferry trip across the Irish sea, landing in Cork. I’ll spend a few days in independent travel in Ireland to see where some of my family came from, and then I head to the region of Gweedore. It’s a region of four or five towns in the far northwest of Ireland famed for retaining the old Irish culture and language. Partially because of this, it’s the center of traditional Irish music, and contains the hometown of Clannad (and therefore Enya). The farm raises rare heritage breeds of pigs and cattle for slaughter and sale, along with growing vegetables for home use.

From there I take a bus to the airport, and return to my home. By then, home itself will be an exotic destination, I think. Always it’s such that when I come home, I have new eyes to see the world with, including my own!

November 19, 2011

Diary of a Homesteader


Thanksgiving conjures up thoughts of warm houses, pumpkin pie, and roast turkey on a table filled with family. But it also brings another thing to mind. A past-time ever older than the Pilgrims who held the first rendition of this holiday: hunting. Some might romanticize the Native American hunt and its ties to life and land, but hunting in our era is no less romantic. As soon as your sitting in the woods in the cold, surrounded by the elements, nature has control. You can't stop the wind from carrying your scent or make the deer run into your clearing, you just have to wait and watch while everything runs its course around you. Squirrels make a whole lot of noise and are rather careless about being heard while they hunt for their own winter food supply. Birds peck at seeds in the trees above. Geese move from field to cut corn field, flying in their classic 'V' formation overheard. And moving too much willed have the crows gossiping all over the woods about who's sitting under that tree down by the gully. You become a rather small part of the whole.

Though it was only recently that I decided to acquire my hunting license, I have enjoyed the bounty it brings whenever my husband gets a deer. It is not my intention to gross-out anyone who hates the idea of killing an animal or to enrage those who do not eat meat. Each gets to make their own choice and I hunt happily knowing that deer have lived quite free and exciting lives. They've fattened up on corn and soy beans (and lots of Ted's lettuce) then roamed through forest and field making sure they cross every road along the way, stopping in the middle to say hello whenever you are driving.

Deer can populate the countryside with as few as 5 to as many as 100 deer per square mile. Only 10-15% die due to hunting. See, nature has set up a way of balancing wildlife populations on its own through the harsh Northeast winters. Only a small portion of deer will have enough to eat over the winter months (creating a population threshold) and so a hunting season is offered just before the worst of the weather. In a sense, the meat that would go to waste is getting a chance to feed people. Most of the deer my husband and I have tucked into the freezer give us 75-100lbs of meat. It comes out to less than $1 per pound because we had to buy the liscence. Fortunately, for the weak of stomach, there are taxidermists who can cut and package the meat for you. And as for the often criticized taste of game meat, I promise that if you ate chili or tacos or stew at my house without knowing my deer hunting secret, you'd never know the difference.