Internal and External

Winter on a farm is an amazing time. Things are quiet. Everything feels internal. There is mystery, and with the mystery, a touch of anxiety, a shade of wondering if all that is unseen right now will become seen, all we hope for will be confirmed. Most pressing of these anxieties for me has been the question: Are the ewes pregnant? Is that just a full rumen, or are their bellies swelling with lambs? Is all the work of the past year going to pay off? Now, as the days lengthen, all those internal questions are being slowly answered, all the internal mystery is slowly making an external presence known: the ewes are dropping their udders. This happy news has had its other signs as well. Three of our ewes have made the interior exterior in a more literal way. About two weeks ago, Ross called over to me that a ewe was in labor. We were alarmed since this baby seemed to be coming about a month early. She lay down, grunting, and red protruding out of her hind-end. We started to monitor her very closely and prepared ourselves for all that could come with a premie lamb, very little of it good. But when we looked in on her an hour later, labor seemed to have stopped completely. This was a relief, however, we began to notice that every time this ewe lay down, more and more red was visible on her backside.  By the next morning, it was clear that this ewe had a vaginal prolapse. For folks unfamiliar with livestock, this is a condition where prior to birth, and sometimes during birth, the vagina pops out of the body. This sounds a lot worse than it is. While it can be life-threatening if untreated, it is highly treatable. You just pop it back in and use something to apply a bit of pressure to the area to hold it in until the lamb is born. There's a neat little device called a prolapse retainer or "ewe spoon" that is gently inserted once you put everything back in and you tie it to the wool.

It took us two tries to get it right. It happened that we had two of our friends visiting that day, both of whom were EMT's, which was handy. But no sooner did we get the first ewe put back together then we noticed a second ewe beginning to have the same problem. What was going on? We hit the books and called a few shepherd friends. There is some indication that vaginal prolapse is a nutritional problem, so we immediately increased their regular alfalfa and hay rations and added a bit of whole corn. In the meantime, Ross called on our farmer friend Tim to help catch and repair the second ewe. Her prolapse was worse. It actually looks like the sphincter itself had torn, so retaining the prolapse was highly challenging, especially considering that this girl was a Katadhin, and had no wool to tie anything on to. We ordered a prolapse harness that is designed for this very situation, but it hadn't arrived yet and we had to create a makeshift one in the interim. We called a vet, who suggested suturing her vagina closed, but the major problem with this is that you have to monitor the ewe extremely closely to cut the suture the moment she goes into labor, otherwise the lamb will not be able to get out and both could die. There is also the risk of further damaging the tissue through the suturing itself. We decided that we had her in a stable situation. Highly imperfect, but stable, and we didn't want to further stress or harm her. Finally, we had a third prolapse, just a day ago, this time it was another Katadhin from the same genetic group as the first, which is leading us to believe that the problem may be genetic rather than nutritional. Ross and I spent about an hour catching her, cleaning the tissue, and outfitting her with a proper prolapse harness. By now, we had the process down. I held her on her side, gently holding her legs up to keep her hind-end off the ground with her limp, submissive head in my lap while Ross gently picked off bits of hay, washed of the general filth, and gently pushed the prolapse back inside.

While we were caring for this ewe, we heard a flock of Sandhill Cranes nearby. We looked up, but did not see them right away. Then they suddenly appeared, high above in their characteristic wonky-V formation, making their way northward towards their nesting grounds in Ohio and Indiana. I thought about how these birds fly right over Atlanta every year, totally unbeknownst to the city-dwellers below. I thought how grateful I am for the work I get to do. As I sat in wet, fresh sheep dung, with my husband's gloved hands bloodied by being inside a sheep, I felt so grateful for the opportunity to be quiet and attentive to the world. If you're listening and looking, the mystery is revealed and the anxiety is lifted. Spring is coming.

A Brief Meditation on Gratitude on Thanksgiving Morning

We here at Manyfold have so very, very much to be grateful for: we've lived through our first year of farming on our own, our ewes are happy and healthy, our chickens are productive and funny as can be, I could sit down with our three dogs and have a whole conversation with them about how grateful I am for their work; the egg business is booming, even as winter approaches; so many good people have helped make our farm sucessful this year, to name a few: our parents who came out almost every week to help with chores in the dead of summer heat; our friends who buy our eggs, come out to workdays, and get excited about what we're doing; our neighbors who come out and lend a hand, buy eggs, and tell us how much they can't wait for lamb and cheese; our community without which we could not have cut our hay, built our chicken houses, re-roofed the barn, or rescued two of our dogs (Carter W. and Chip N., I'm looking at you!); our customers who keep coming back for more, and especially to our co-producers who inspire us every day. Without these farming folks this whole endeavor to provide good, clean, and fair food to people would be an absurd task. I am so grateful to call you among my friends. As I write this, I see that building a farm creates a feast of gratitude, from the people around us to the food on our plates: it is all conncected. We could not make food without the people who help us, and we would not have people to help us if we did not have food. If Garrison Keillor is right when he tells us, "gratitude is the deepest way we are happy," and I believe he is, then we have had a year of unbelievable happiness.

So, as you sit down to your bountiful meal today, consider for a moment how this food came to be. Consider the people around you and how they came to be among you. Focus your minds eye on all the connections present at your table and take pleasure in it. It will make you happy. I promise.

I leave you with the words of Wendell Berry,

Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

I wish you all the deepest pleasure of gratitude this Thanksgiving. Be well and eat well.

Press Clippings

I'm so thrilled! Apparently, a writer for the Atlanta Creative Loafing nabbed some of our eggs and decided to write about them. Glowingly. All I've got to say is that it's not us, it's the chickens. If you let these birds be themselves, then that's all you need to make a good egg. If you're in the area and want some of these "creamy, dreamy" eggs, you can start buying them the week after Thanksgiving at The Local Farmstand ,at Bella Cucina, or, through our CSA program starting up the first week of January.

What We've Been Up To

After the past few more intelectual/political posts I thought it was high time for just a plain old update as to what in the world we have been up to over the past few weeks. Here's a quick run-down: Haying. Making hay came late this year, so we only took one cut from two of our pastures (Southfarthing and Little Pasture). This took about a week longer than expected because about five passes in, our mower bit the dust. After taking it to the shop to see if it could be salvaged, it was pronounced dead, so, we needed a new mower. Trouble is, a new mower will run you about $7000 and after a litany of start-up costs this year, with still more essential stuff to get hold of (see below) we decided to put that expense off as long as possible. Fortunately, a neighbor down the road cuts hay and came out to mow for us for a tidy $175. Problem solved! Of course, the delay in mowing put us dangerously close to some rain. As the freshly cut hay sat in the field to dry, I heard little pitter-patters on my roof. For the second time in my life (the first being last year when so many farms flooded from an excess of rain), I prayed for the rain to stop. It only rained off-and-on for about 6 minutes. Blessedly.

It took us a grand total of four nights to pick up and store all the hay. In that time, we also broke the arm of the tedder by hitting a fence post, the rake by running one of the hydraulic hoses through the PTO, and the bale thrower through one of the belts coming loose. We were able to fix everything without problem, but my goodness were we delayed. Thus, we baled into the night. Fortunelty, we had some help. The first night, Tim, one of our neighbors came by to watch the process and got wrangled into driving the truck with our trailer behind it so that RJ, our trusty employee (see below) picked up the bales and stacked them. We finished that first round swilling beer by starlight, filthy, tired, and deeply satisfied. Another week or so went by before we finished up, again, with Ross and RJ working into the night slinging and stacking bales into the hay barn.  Ross came home that last night after so much hard, hard work and simply said as he beamed at me, "we brought the harvest in."

Finding a good employee. With Ross' day job and my work on our local charter school, plus the day-to-day of keeping a house, we quickly realized that we needed some help on the farm to keep things moving. Somewhat dreading the process of finding a person and training them, I was happily surprised that help came almost immediately in the form of RJ, a former Serenbe Farms intern who has spent the last few years travelling around working on all sorts of farms in all sorts of situations. He's worked on livestock farms, vegetable farms doing pretty much every type of farm work imaginable, plus, he has tractor skills. He has been a total godsend.

Eggs. While we've been working on building our flock of sheep, we've also been maintaining a flock of chickens whose eggs keep the cash flowing for the farm. Sort of. We've been developing relationships with restaurants, retailers, CSA customers, and farmer's markets to make sure our weekly output of around 52 dozen eggs get sold. We hold a candling license, which involved going to a one day class and taking an exam that they gave the answers for (ask Ross about it sometime). Each week, we wash and pack eggs, label the cartons, and carry them off to market. It takes about two months worth of egg sales to pay for their certified organic feed, but they do, along with a touch extra to pay for the overhead of raising them, housing them, and paying RJ. The markets are a lot of fun. It's wonderful to be putting our name out there, getting positive feedback about our plans, and hearing how much folks appreciate access to pasture-raised eggs. It makes me feel like a real farmer, actually feeding people real food.

Infrastructure. This has been huge. A farm, however small, needs a certain amount of infrastructure to function smoothly. This is a long, slow process. The main infrastructure projects have been fencing, water, equipment, and structures. The fencing early this year came pretty quickly. Ross already had some good fencing expertise and was able to pick a good fencer to work with and we knew pretty much exactly what we wanted. Water, on the other hand, is still in the planning stages. We've got pretty much no experience in hydrophysics, so we went to our county extension agent for help. Unfortunately, we live in a county that is a whole lot more urban than rural, so our agent really lacks in some of the deeper areas of farming. So we hit the Internet and have been developing what we think is a workable plan. This is really what farming is about so much of the time: you've gotta be an expret in pretty much everything, and if you're not, you've gotta learn and make d with what you've got while you're learning. Our "make do" for water has been the use of a 200 gallon water tank strapped to a small flatbed trailer and a whole lot of pasture pipe that we use to fill the ewe's 40 gallon tank about 5-7 times per week (depending on the heat). For much of the summer, we made use of our hilly landscape and ran the water through the pipe with gravity, which is easier said than done. We spent a silly amount of time getting the pasture pipe to lay just right to get flow going, and eventually, after spending sometimes as long as 45 minutes getting water to flow, we broke down and bought a small pump and a car battery and I tell you what, a little bit of technology can go a long way to save time and relieve stress. It only takes about 10 minutes to fill the ewe's waterer now. Hopefully, soon, with a little more planning we will have a system in place that will keep us from having to spend any time on watering at all. Hopefully.

Alongside these two major projects we've been slowly working on getting the farm's structures sound. Our 150+ year-old barn got a new roof and a few new floorboards, joists, and rafters. We're working on putting new doors on so that we will be able to use it this winter in case of any early lambs. The hay barn also needed some roof repairs, and was completely filled with the junky detritus of old wood, random bits of metal, plastic, and various other items that invariably collect on farms in the name of the noble and industrious, if not flawed intention of "you never know when you might need it." The barns have been cleaned out in several rounds. We've taken about 4 dumpster loads (20ft-30ft) of junk out of the two of them, making room for our tractor, bush hog, and bailer, as well as about 500-600 bales of hay and room for some indoor animal housing.

Flock management. This takes up the bulk of our time on the farm. We rotate our sheep on pasture more-or-less daily, picking up portable electrified fencing and setting it back up in a new spot and calling the ewes to come enjoy the fresh grass, which is so much fun to watch as they eagerly trot into the new paddock, pronking, and baaing their little hearts out. This is the essential feature of our management. It works to keep both the pastures and the stock healthy and happy, but it takes a bit of work. These portable fences, while dead useful for management intensive grazing systems like ours, are also insanely frustrating to use. The slightest mistake in how you set it up or take it down can cause tangling, sagging, and twisting that can sap you of your time and sanity. Eventually, we plan to have a system in place akin to what many of the New Zealanders do. Once we are at full stocking capacity and have a sense of how we want the sheep to move across the pastures each season, we will set up permanent and semi-permanent fencing for paddocks that we won't have to set up at all. All they would require is opening a gate. . . someday.

Planning the creamery. A good chunk of our time has also been devoted to figuring out our creamery. We've been working with a gentleman in Wisconsin to help with design as we've studied the GA regulations, conversed with other cheese makers, and formulated recipes for some 5 or 6 different cheeses. It's a hell of a lot to think about all trying to balance out anticipated demand (how much cheese we can sell) with anticipated production limitations (how much cheese we can make) with overhead and capitol costs (which are rather a lot). We don't want to be too small and have to spend extra money later to expand and replace already expensive equipment, but we don't want to start out too big in case we overestimate our production capacity and/or demand that would keep us from paying the bills. We're at the point now were we are nailing down or floor plan and equipment lists, but it will still be some time before we are fully confident and ready to break ground. I'm looking forward to getting the ewes in milk this spring and starting to get familiar with our recipes, our milk quality, and our milk quantity. This will really be the litmus test for the farm: how good is our fertility and can we do what it takes to sustain a really good milking flock?  If we can do that, we can proceed, but until we do that, it's all a massive leap of faith. Fingers and toes crossed, prayers said.

sheep wrangling

Owen and Christine of Anthony-Masterson photography are an amazing couple who volunteer their skills to benefit the movement towards sustainable farming in Georgia. They've been out to the farm a couple of times now, and most recently, got some awesome footage of Ross wrangling our sheep for hoof-trimming. As we don't yet have a proper handling facility built yet, this process can be a little crazy, involving electric mesh fencing as a crowding pen and a shepherds crook. As the video below attests, this makeshift system has its problems, but such is the way of things in a farm's first year… humility and patience is the name of the game.

zen and the art of keeping chickens

Over the past few weeks we have been raising up our first flock of chickens. The little balls of fluff that arrived in a cardboard box at the Palmetto Post Office on a cold Sunday afternoon (the postal worker told me I had to come get them before 4:30 because she had a cake in the oven and had to get home to take it out–- how much do I love living in a rural community?!) and just last weekend we moved them out of the brooder house (i.e. garage) and into their permanent portable chicken house out in the pasture. They have just exited their awkward semi-feathered stage and are entering full-blown pullet-hood.

These birds are so much fun. I've spent an unusually large amount of time just watching them. I can watch them for hours, given the chance. I find myself saving chicken-related farm chores for the very end of the day so I can take my time with them and just watch them. It's hard to describe the mesmerizing effect they have on me. It's not that they're doing anything particularly interesting, I mean, they're chickens, not The Bourne Identity, and yet somehow, I find them just as riveting. So when I came across this article by Peter Lennox titled Pecking Order at the Times Higher Education website, I began to understand their hypnotic power over me. Lennox writes,

Watching chickens is a very old human pastime, and the forerunner of psychology, sociology and management theory. Sometimes understanding yourself can be made easier by projection on to others. Watching chickens helps us understand human motivations and interactions, which is doubtless why so many words and phrases in common parlance are redolent of the hen yard: "pecking order", "cockiness", "ruffling somebody's feathers", "taking somebody under your wing", "fussing like a mother hen", "strutting", a "bantamweight fighter", "clipping someone's wings", "beady eyes", "chicks", "to crow", "to flock", "get in a flap", "coming home to roost", "don't count your chickens before they're hatched", "nest eggs" and "preening".

It's really, really true. There is something about watching these feathery creatures that clarifies the human condition. These birds elicit a zen-like inner calm. It's as if the chicken, a creature so utterly and helplessly in-the-moment, transfers a part of its most central nature to its watcher; this central nature, is bound up in the fact that,

Humans got the mental wherewithal to try to control everything; the chicken's future rested on being tasty. Chickens are thus relieved of an enormous responsibility, making their lives simpler. They don't have to organise the whole world, or attend meetings to discuss policies "going forward"; they don't have to invent the future continually - it just comes when it comes.

It is therefore a serious relief to watch chickens. They serve to remind me that the great responsibility of "inventing the future", which is precisely the thing I am finding myself constantly engaged in as I build this farm, is all a bit silly. The "I'm running a business here" mentality I have been know to affect melts away in the chicken house as does (quite blissfully) the time I could be spending doing other things. When I watch them, I am learning, among other things,

competition without co-operation is nonsense; you can't win by simply eradicating all the opposition - that's a pyrrhic victory. In life, winning really isn't everything - it isn't even anything. Taking part is all.

Reward and risk go hand in hand. The top cockerel has to take the biggest share of both. A flock can manage without a cockerel, but a cockerel without a flock is nothing.

A flock can keep you warm, inform you about dangers and advantages, and provide you with companionship; but you have to work at it.

Everyone should have a place in the pecking order. Strive for your place in life, not someone else's. Someone else's bread isn't necessarily tastier than your own. Envy will cost you dearly.

Don't let "flock-think" smother your own opinions; give yourself space to be an individual. Common sense is useful, but it's not always right. The society you're in may prompt you to behave badly, but only you can change that.

I can't wait to start entertaining requests for hosting corporate retreats at the farm with required chicken watching. . . Go read the article and start spending time with chickens. It's good for you and it's good for business. And of course, in the meantime,, you can enjoy watching them here:

if you can't explain it with a crayon, it's too complicated

The farm phone line has been ringing off the hook for the past couple of weeks, getting our ducks in a row on everything from a tractor and livestock trailer to getting electricity running properly (we've had to move an electrical pole!) to meeting with architects for the creamery to trying to pin down where all the sheep are coming from in the Spring. In the plus column right now is that our chicks are coming and fencing is starting on Monday. We also got our farm truck, which is very, very exciting because now we can move stuff around! However, despite all of the intense excitement, one thing sent my adrenals into hyperdrive: money. Getting hold of it, and understanding what the heck to do with it is just a massive, essential, pain-in-the-ass. We've been using GoogleSpreadsheet to develop a 4-year cash-flow for the farm. While spreadsheets are a fantabulous tool, we found that sometimes they add too much complexity to the situation. We got to the point, about mid-week last week where neither of us were at all sure anymore of how the farm was going to support itself. Panic ensued. We moved numbers around, tweaked things here and there on the model, only to realize that all of a sudden we had unknowingly increased the number of sheep we needed to be sustainable to 600! We totally exceeded the capacity of our land. In all our projections, we lost sight of the ground itself. We totally lost control.

This red-flag brought Ross to say, "you know, if I can't explain it with a crayon, it's too complicated." So, we had what we dubbed The Crayon Meeting. We closed the computer, grabbed a marker, a white board, and a calculator, and ran our cash-flow.

We both felt better. We know, completely and totally that these numbers are generally very unlikely to be anything close to what is really going to happen, but what it did tell us is that we aren't crazy and that the business can run without dying: it's possible. We always knew this intuitively, but the numbers had to reflect this intuition on some level. They do, and I feel like I can breathe a little easier. It was, however, a big wake-up call to the reality of the potential loss if this doesn't work. It's a terrifying thought, one I can hardly entertain. But for me, that was all the more fire underneath me to see to it that is doesn't. I'm carrying Joel Salatin's words around with me like a talisman: you will never regret self-abandonment. Lines from Wendell Berry's The Wild Geese flow through my mind:

Geese appear high over us, pass and the sky closes. Abandon as in love or sleep holds them to their way clear.

It is abandon that will hold me, that will help me to find the way though this. Abandon, according to my trusty dictionary, in its most literal sense, means to give up control. There is such an element of all of this that is totally out of our control. Project and run numbers though we might, we will be wrong. But that is in no way a reason to panic or a reason to say no. This may be the biggest leap of faith I will ever undertake. I could turn inside out with nerves. But underneath the nerves is this unyielding sense of purpose; a kind of unseen, unknown, totally felt thread that I am following in the dark.

This month's issue of Culture Magazine offers a short little story that calms and soothes me when I'm feeling frayed. It is totally sappy, totally the stuff of a Hallmark Family Movie of the Week, but it works, and I see myself inside of it, and I feel better:

Cindy Callahan: sheep farmer, cheesemaker, employer, mother, grandmother, former attorney, nurse, and co-fonder of Bellwether Farms in Sonoma Co. California.

I live on the ranch. The alarm goes off at 4:45. I get up, get my clothes on, brush my teeth, fill my carafe with coffee, and head down to the milking. I'm not a people person; I'm an animal person. We have 34 acres. We used to live in a very large house in San Francisco. One day my husband saw an ad for a piece of property in Sonoma. So we drove out to see it.

It all started with a crazy idea. People thought we had a business plan, but we didn't. In the beginning, we thought we'd raise steer because we like beef. A livestock advisor came out to visit and said that for every steer you could raise five sheep on the same land. I'd never even seen a sheep, except in pictures. With the ram, nature took its course. I sold lamb to friends until the number got to be too much. I called up Chez Panisse. They were our first commercial customer. . .

People said, "that crazy woman from San Francisco thinks she can milk sheep." They'd come in from the fog –we get a lot of fog down here– and they'd stand in the milking parlor and just watch. "I had to see it to believe it," they'd say.

I used to be a clotheshorse in Manhattan. I was a single nurse, living on the East Side. I spent my days off at Bonwit Teller and Lord & Taylor. . .

I always say I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I say if you have a dream, pursue it. . . I was 51 years old when I did this.

(copied with apologies to Culture Magazine and Cindy Callahan of Bellwether Farms, you've inspired me, I've only copied part of the story, please don't sue me)

I say I'm 26. I've been a scholar and a teacher. I've seen lots of sheep live and in person, herded them, worked with them, sent them to slaughter, and sold them. I know what curd is supposed to look like before you cut it. If Cindy Callahan could do all it takes to be in this business at 51 with what experience she had, I'll be damned if I can't do it too.

temple gradin: the movie

This evening, after supper, Ross came running out of the bathroom yelling "oh my god oh my god!" I thought he had broken an arm or something the way he was shouting. Turns out he had been reading the most recent copy of Vanity Fair and came across an add that neither of us ever expected we would in a million years see:

Holy frijoles, folks! The coolness is of the extreme. Temple Grandin is one of the most amazing people I have ever known about. Her writing has deeply influenced my relationship with animals and has grounded me with sound reason in the feeling I have always had about how we ought to treat animals. She is as close to Dr. Doolittle as we have yet gotten, and thousands of times more profound. She is one of a very small number of people who has actually accomplished real good in the difficult path to ease the suffering of animals, especially the animals we eat. She has done so, not through the angry, sometimes violent, or else sappy, paths of arguments based on cuteness, but because she has provided the world with an inescapable rationale for why ending the suffering of animals is important. She has written many books. I highly recommend all of them.

Apart from her amazing work, she has lived quite an amazing life; one I will be glad to get a picture of in this upcoming film. From the trailer, I'm hopeful that they've done her justice.

Disturbance and Rest: a Weekend with Joel Salatin (or Death for Breakfast, Sex for Supper)

I don't even really know where to begin as I write this. Perhaps the beginning is best. In March, Ross and I attended the Georgia Organics annual conference. It was an amazing event filled with workshops, networking sessions, fantastic food, and Michael Pollan as the keynote speaker. All and all it was a very stimulating weekend, however, the most important information I got while there was a bit of advice from Dennis Stoltzfoos of Full Circle Farm in Live Oak, Florida. In his session on disaster-proofing your farm via mob-grazing to stimulate the creation and proliferation of organic matter on your field, he said simply, "take the time and the money and go see the master, it's worth the investment," the master being Joel Salatin. Some of you are thinking "what the heck is she talking about here? Mob-grazing, organic matter, Joel Salatin? What is all this?"

What it is, is everything.

Soil. Black, dirty, dirt. Organic matter is the thing Stoltzfoos kept coming back to in his talk. Every question he seemed able to answer with the magic words "organic matter." I watched farmer's eyes widen as they shook their heads. The answer to so many of their problems was just so simple and staring them in the face. Common modes of raising livestock typically include spraying herbicides to keep weeds at bay. Farmers pay to deworm their animals. They buy fertilizer to keep the grass growing. In times of drought, they sell off every last steer to a feedlot. But through the proliferation of organic matter on a field, a farmer will see higher yields and fewer gray hairs. Organic matter will hold water like a sponge, virtually drought-proofing your fields, improved nutrient cation exchange capacity, no tillage is needed to maintain it, it maintains the nutrient content of grass at a high level, it can keep you from buying hay, from buying fertilizer, from getting sick animals, the laundry list can go on and on. The question is, how do you get this good stuff and, more importantly, how do you get it where it needs to go.

Poop. Poop is perhaps the most prolific source of organic matter we have, and yet all we seem to do is throw it away. Farms have tons of the stuff. A cow sheds around 50 pounds of poop per day, nearly all of which sits on the ground, dries out, and washes away with a couple of rains (or else washes into a toxic lagoon near the feedlot). Meanwhile, a farmer might spend $15,000 or more on fertilizer in a year. So you see the conundrum. Farms would benefit from organic matter, they have plenty of access to it, but are unable to incorporate it into existing soil so that the nutrients don't disappear. So, they buy-in fertilizer because they can think of no better way to keep the grass growing and the cows fed.

Not Joel Salatin.

Salatin solves the problem of the need for fertility and organic matter through two simple and yet ingenious ideas: mob-grazing and chickens. Imagine for a moment that you are watching the Discovery Channel. You are watching a program about the sub-saharan plains, there are images of lions, elephants, giraffes, and wildebeest, or perhaps water buffalo. Now the herbivores in this scene, the wildebeest and water buffalo in particular, have another creature that likes to hang out with them: birds. What are those birds doing there? They're eating. They're eating all the bugs and grubs and worms that love to live in poop. How do they get to these tasty morsels? They take the poop and rifle through it, scattering it about until they've found every last little larvae therein. Now imagine the vast landscape of the African plain. Imagine the herds of wildebeest, of water buffalo, of zebras and antelope moving across that plain. How are they moving? Are they scattered all about? No. They stick together. Do they wander back over to the grass they've just eaten when there's plenty of fresh right in front of them? No. They always move forward, never returning to where they've just eaten. What we have observed in our imagined Discovery Channel documentary is the very thing that is the secret to healthy soil, prolific grasses, and in short a sustainable, zero-input system that actually enhances fertility and regenerates life. Joel Salatin has made to mirror this exact system with domesticated cattle and chickens.

Now, the concept of rotational (keeping animals from eating the same grass twice at the same time) and mob-grazing (giving animals many small sections at a time) has been around for a while. Really, the credit for the idea goes to a Frenchman, Andre Voisin who cooked up the concept of rotational grazing, and South-African farmer Ian Mitchell-Innes, who expanded Voisin's idea into mob-grazing. I also have to give credit to the New Zealanders, who took these ideas and ran with them, creating a wealth of models and equipment for these techniques. Salatin (along with the amazing Greg Judy, Allan Nation, and others) has taken these ideas one step further. Salatin does not let his cows have the entire pasture in one go. Instead, he gives them small sections at a time (with the use of temporary fencing) and moves them onto a fresh section every day. The cows do not return to that section for several weeks to several months. Then, three days later, the chickens roll in. Literally. Eggmobiles, filled with a couple hundred chickens pour out onto the field and start clawing and scratching and pecking their way through the cornucopia of cowpies. These birds kill parasites and flies, fertilize (both in spreading cow manure and in depositing fresh chicken manure), and create another low-input means of income: eggs, which come from chickens who eat 70% of their diet from the goodies in the field. All this is accomplished in one fell swoop.

(eggmobiles in action)

Now you can begin to see why Stoltzfoos called Salatin "the master". But it doesn't stop there. Every enterprise on Salatin's farm is set up to mimic natural processes, or to use his term, halons, conveying the idea of interlinked, stacked circles. I can go on and on about the awesomeness of what he does and has created. I highly recommend reading up on his website, and anything he has ever written is well worth reading. Indeed, most folks have heard of him in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, where you can get a terrific description of what Salatin does and a sample of the deep philosophy and political resonances of his work.

(Joel's herd) So, long story short, we took Mr. Stoltzfoos' advice we went for a visit. Acres USA puts on two intensive workshops with Joel each summer. Early on a Friday morning, around thirty people came rolling up to the farm, ourselves included, ready to meet the man, myth, and legend. Now, I had heard a lot about Joel through the grapevine, not only about his ingenious practices, but a lot about his personality. I was beginning to get the impression that he was some kind of religious zealot with unwavering opinions about pretty much everything, who, despite being a great farmer, was arrogant and backwards in his social attitudes. This estimation could not be farther from the truth. Now I can see if all you've ever known about Joel Salatin is from his books and articles, you could begin to develop a negative view of him. He's strong-minded, doesn't namby-pamby around, and speaks authoritatively; as if he's absolutely convinced he's right. Apparently, some folks find that tone off-putting, but the fact of the matter is that he's passionate, he's blunt, and he is usually right. Joel is someone who has to be taken as a complete package. When you hear him speak, he speaks his mind and he speaks his truth; his tone is passionate, and with that passion comes an authority of opinion. One sees upon meeting him, however, that surrounding that fire is a pure kindness. Joel Salatin is far and away one of the kindest souls I have ever met. His family and the folks that work with him are equally kind. Never had I experienced such hospitality, especially in a group: smiles, favors, and a general sense of absolute ease. I think that part of the kindness that exudes from Joel and everyone around him is a genuine respect for all living things. Joel calls himself a "caretaker of creation" and he takes that role unbelievably seriously. Joel understands the place of every blade of grass, flower, worm, maggot, bacteria, fungi, chicken, cow, tree, newt, dog, rabbit, corn, bean, bee, pig, and person on his land and therefore respects each one in kind. He knows that no one thing can function without the other: without the maggots, the chickens would have one less thing to eat, without the chickens, his cows would get sick, without the cows, the fields would suffer and plants would die, worms couldn't eat without the cows or chickens and so they could not enrich the soil that feeds the cows and chickens, and then people couldn't eat either, and without the people who would do all this important work? Who would create these systems that mend the land, and without these 30 visitors, who would there be to continue the work? He sees humans as co-creators with God, who work not only to sustain the land and the life it supports, but to improve it, to regenerate it.

Joel says that he is "in the business of redemption." He really is. He spoke about ponds and how they "build forgiveness into the land." He's right. Nature is a hard and harsh place. Nature sends droughts and things wither and die as a result. But having ponds tides you, and all the wildlife and wild plants, over. Ponds soften the blows of nature, as does an abundance of organic matter in the soil, as does maintaining polycultures. Joel said that if we had invested the same resources we used to transform the plains into corn and soybeans into building thousands of ponds, we would have Eden. I think he might have a point.

I worry for those who shun the religious and spiritual language of Joel Salatin and farmers like him. I don't think there's a farmer out there who is doing good work and healing the land who is not moved to feel that he or she is somehow doing work that is connected to a higher order, that somehow sustains and redeems the spirit. In whatever guise you cast it, there is a something there when you do this work. Joel is bold enough to call it by its name.

I overheard him at supper one of the nights we were there say to someone ". . . the ecstasy of an angry farmer." I don't know what the context was, but that's Joel: his anger is a powerful, inflamed manifestation of absolute love; love so passionate that it transcends into ecstasy. And it is infectious love. You get a taste and suddenly it's all you can think about: getting more. For a week after I left Polyface I dreamed every night about Joel and his farm. I completely re-envisioned my own farm, adding new ideas into the mix, struggling with new understandings of what this work means, personally, politically, socially, ecologically, and everything else under the sun it touches. I felt that I could do so much more than I initially set out to do, that it was my responsibility to do more. I told Joel that the most important thing I learned with him was that it is okay to be bold. I think we live in a world that is too concerned with breaking the rules, especially when those rules don't make any sense. I think that as a girl I was taught, wittingly or unwittingly, too often to stand back, do as I was told, and to put my own thoughts aside; to abandon myself and my convictions. But such behavior does not benefit me or anyone else. Such thinking only ever allows things to stay the same. After I cam back from Polyface, I was moved to pick up my copy of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The line, "do I dare disturb the universe" washed over me again and again. Prufrock, who is the epitome of inertia and the embodiment of inert creature that is the modern man can't bring himself to do anything for fear of it all. He is afraid of changing, of having any effect, of touching anything in the world around him and so he fails to do anything at all. It is the absolute opposite of Thoreau's plea "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."

(freshly killed chickens, served up for supper the following night) Joel began the session with the slaughter of some 20 chickens that would be our supper the following night. Will such an act disturb the universe? I think so, but isn't that the point? I think he started there on purpose; to shake us, to wake us up to what this business of farming is really about, in case we had any doubts. Indeed, the day ended with a demonstration of rabbit breeding. In that blink of an eye, as the buck fell dramatically from the doe, I thought to myself, this is what we're here for: to protect, nurture, sustain, and participate in life (i.e. sex) and its destruction (i.e. death) which somehow sustains life. Joel knew we needed to be unabashedly disturbed into this realization: we are here for the express purpose of disturbing the universe. Anything else would be a wasted life.

(rabbits and chickens symbiotically cohabiting in the Ricken House) Joel furthered this idea in more ways. Up in his woods, we sat and listened among his pigs, who roamed around paddocks tearing habitatingup brush and lolling in dirt: hog heaven. Joel showed us a 5-acre wood where he lets his pigs roam in the fall to hunt for acorns and root for tubers. He spoke of how in the old days, before Europeans came and the wild herds declined, animals would run through the woods, stamping out brush and scrap leaving room for the healthy trees and low grasses to take firm hold. He said how there were more forest fires then that furthered this cleaning out. He told us about how his pigs mimic this ancient process and that their disturbance of the woods one month of the year helped them to heal the other eleven. He told us that the idea that humans ought to keep their hands off nature was junk. It's true, he readily admits, that humans have done too much to disturb the natural order, but that we are an inherent part of the landscape, and how when we take up our rightful place, we can be not only be disturbers, but we can learn to use that disturbance, coupled with rest, to heal. Disturbance and rest could be Joel's motto, indeed it should be the motto of all grass farmers. That's the very principle of the thing: livestock eat the grass down a bit, tearing things up, and so long as they are not allowed to return to the same spot before it has recovered, the land, well, recovers. The rest the grass gets after being disturbed makes it grow back stronger, fuller, and healthier than before. You can take this idea and apply it to all kinds of things, not just farming. Joel, to the justifiably derisive laughter of a few women in the group, likened it to childbirth. He said, "what is childbirth if not a really big disturbance?!" one that brings about new life.

New life is what Joel Salatin is about: creating life on his farm, breathing new life into the art and practice of farming, and he is a happy, happy man for it. The last thing Joel said to me before I left was this: "You will never regret self-abandonment." It shook me. I had just learned from Joel that one ought to be bold, that I should not ever stand back, do as I was told, or put my own thoughts aside; I must not abandon myself or my convictions. And yet, here was this assertion, this advice, this wisdom: "You will never regret self-abandonment." Self-abandonment is to do just that, to abandon one's self, one's power, position, rights, desires, ambitions; to give up to the control or discretion of another; to leave to one's disposal or mercy; to yield, cede, or surrender absolutely a thing to a person or agent. Surrender. Lines from Eliot's The Waste Land rolled through me: "The awful daring of a moment’s surrender." "You will never regret self-abandonment." It brought me to tears as I rode home.

Then spoke the thunder D A Datta: what have we given? My friend, blood shaking my heart The awful daring of a moment's surrender Which an age of prudence can never retract By this, and this only, we have existed Which is not to be found in our obituaries Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor In our empty rooms D A Dayadhvam: I have heard the key Turn in the door once and turn once only We think of the key, each in his prison Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus D A Damyata: The boat responded Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar The sea was calm, your heart would have responded Gaily, when invited, beating obedient To controlling hands. . .

(A hillside with pastured poultry houses fanning up it. Notice the fence line between Joel's property and his neighbor's. The grass is indeed greener on this side.)

The Benefits of Boredom

Since Spring of this year, I have spent most of my Wednesdays sweating and getting dirty on the farm. Being on the farm one day a week keeps my weeks grounded as I plough through GIS maps, charts of per-acre milk production, and try to contemplate the concept of cash-flow analysis. Put plainly, working here among the vegetables keeps me aware of the much harder work that is still ahead of me, as well as its benefits.

Last Wednesday, Brandon, Natalie, John, Jordan, Jen, and I spent the morning in healthy competition picking blueberries. Paige divided us into two teams. The goal was for each team to pick at least 40 pounds of berries. Awesomely, the two teams gathered a total of 96 pounds of fruit! Now, one blueberry typically weighs under an eighth of an ounce, so for each pound, a body has to pass its hands across some 200 individual berries. So for a total of 96 pounds, we collected a whopping 19,200 blueberries; that's around 3,200 berries per picker. The point of these calculations is not so much to illustrate the volume of fruit collected, but moreover, to draw attention the the intensely simple and repetitive nature of the work. The first farm I ever did any kind of work on was on a high school field trip to Nicholas Donk's farm in Athens. I remember feeling so excited that I was going to get to work on a real organic farm for a day! This was at the beginning of the renewed interest in organic farming. The first Whole Foods had just come to Atlanta and Carlo Petrini's name was for the first time on the lips of more than a small handful of Americans. Beautiful changes in agriculture were afoot in the world! I recall, however, my disappointment when all we did was pull up the remnant stalks of Jerusalem Artichokes and dig around for any leftover tubers. I had expected so much more. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was certainly more than dead stalks and a handful of dirty roots from a plant I had never even heard of, much less eaten. It was boring. I wanted something sexier, I had this feeling that farming was somehow much, much more interesting than this. The truth, though, is that is isn't. Sure, there are great wonders in the biology of the formation of a tomato, huge challenges to growing the perfect carrot, and a vast, dynamic, and wonderful world that unfolds on a farm. But the day-to-day is simple, quiet, and just plain boring. You're planing seeds, one row after the other, the same motion, the same intention; you're weeding, grabbing, tugging, removing roots from the ground; you're harvesting blueberries, looking for the ripest, pulling apart branches, and plucking every, single, berry, 3,200 times.

But, there are benefits to this boredom. When we were picking last week, occasionally (or sometimes more than that) we would sample the product as we went. As I repetitively picked, a berry would call out to me, asking to be eaten then and there. Each of these sampled berries possessed its own unique qualities of flavour and texture. Some were just plain soft and sweet, others firm and tart, still others were shriveled and had a slightly fermented taste, but every now and again I'd hit the perfect one: soft, with the skin taut from the juice within, deep blue, and with the perfect taste of blueberry. This was no ordinary blueberry, this was the idea of blueberry. It is the flavour those folks at Jelly Belly aim to capture in their blue bean. It's sweet, but also more; like when you bite into a cardamon pod and you get this overwhelming, heady experience of flavours that are all floral and sweet: nectar and burnt sugar, jasmine, with the slightest hint of fresh, wet soil; at once earthy, but somehow heavenly. Ah! I wax poetic. It is this moment, the opportunity to experience such a blueberry, when farming transcends the boredom. There is space to meditate in the boredom; after an hour, I could close my eyes and the image etched in my mind was the berry. While working, there was nothing I was responsible for but blueberries, and surrendering to that one thing silenced my mind, allowing me to pay attention to what is wonderful and romantic and sexy about picking blueberries and giving me space to know the perfect one when it crossed my path and to know why we bother to pick at all. The repetition and boredom opened space to play and imagine for us. One of my co-pickers told me that he could see himself in the old days, as a migrant worker picking for pay, and for a time, could nestle into what such a life was. I imagined myself as a bird, flitting about the bushes, hunting greedily for the best, fattest fruits efficiently, but also peacefully, as if this is the only thing there is in the world to do; a practice that is becoming as elusive as that perfect, ripe berry.

I was reading an article in the New York Times last week that helped toconfirm my theory that this kind of work is not only good for the mind but may also be good for the body beyondthe benefits of exercise. Theauthor, a cancer survivor,describes the odd feeling he had when he would feel better and return to normal life after treatments. He calls itthe "post-treatment letdown." He describes chemotherapy as"the professional yet intimate laying on of hands each day" and writes that during hislengthyresting periods between treatments he"reveled in the most minute of details: the black pads of my dog’s feet as smooth as a baseball glove, the wet-cellar smell of a vintage science fiction paperback, fireflies winking and waning at dusk… I wasmuch more interested in discerning the small miracles embedded in each moment than I was in catching the 9:03 Midtown Direct to Penn Station. And there was a part of me that was disappointed when the time came to once again catch that city-bound train." As I read this article, Irealizedthat I wasexperiencingthe same kinds of momentspicking blueberries, planting melons, or weedingonlyI wasn't sick, I was working. The author lamentslosing the stillness his treatmentallowedhim. "Don’t get me wrong," he continues, "I was glad I felt well enough to return to work, glad that I felt strong enough to navigate the hurly-burly of New York City. But in returning to work, I was also trading in a certain depth of perception. Cancer and surgery had slowed me down, made me look and listen, smell and touch with the eagerness of an explorer entering uncharted territory. Midtown Manhattan doesn’t quite encourage that kind of dawdling." Most of us have lives that don't allow much dawdling; theonly time we are allowed to stop being busy andreflect for a moment is when we are sick. The sick are allowed to slow down becausehealing requires it. We feel betterwhen we rest, not onlybecauseit allows our bodies to heal, butit allows our minds to shift away from immediate and pressing needs andgive pauseto gainthe "certain depth of perception" that perhaps also works to heal.

As an aspiring farmer who knows how overwhelmingly busy this work can make a person, I am learning through my work at Serenbe Farms how to use theboredominherent in farming to my benefit. Because of my Wednesdays on the Farm,when I think of my own farm and imagine themonotonyof milking 300 ewes, the tedium of watching for flocculation and coagulation of milk, the repetition of carefully turing 400 wheels of cheese by hand, every day, I am neither discouraged nor intimidated. I know that there are benefits in thatboredomthat few other vocations can provide.

Shelburne Farm

Ross and I are up at VIAC this week finishing up some cheese chemistry courses. We took a most welcome field trip after class today to the beautiful Shelburne Farms. Let me preface by saying that the farm is located in an exceptionally beautiful area of Vermont along Lake Champlain. The weather also helped to greatly enhance the already-present beauty. Everything is this vibrant, living shade of green. The very wealthy or very lucky (perhaps both) have homes set on the hills, which gently roll into the Lake, framed by a view of the Adarondacks. The cool, bright afternoon was the antidote to a day spent sitting in a cramped, dim classroom looking at slides.

The Farm itself sits on 1,400 acres of Vanderbilt family land. It is committed to farm and education programmes that encourage sustainable agriculture, and according to their website, they aim, "to cultivate a conservation ethic in students, educators and families who come here to learn." Right up my ally. We went to meet their cheesemaker, Nat Bacon, and to see their facility. They milk 125 Brown Swiss ladies who are fed on pasture. They turn their milk into a variety of cheddar cheeses that are really nice. The facility is great: one huge, rectangular vat that can hold 3,000 pounds of milk, a couple of other make rooms, a packing room, and one gigantic aging room, and that's it. It was cool to see cheesemakers using the things we have been talking about at VIAC; the importance of pH and TA measurements, moisture and salt content, records, hygiene, the whole bit. Nat stressed record-keeping and how the chemical properties of the cheese affects how they plan to age the cheese and when they will sell it. It's such an intensive process to get a really good cheese and get it consistent in taste and texture every time that it really is impossible. From this necessary impossibility, Nat taught us an especially amusing and practical lesson in marketing. They make a cheese called "Tractor Cheddar":

The label reads: Strong or unusual flavors that keep engines running! Taste and texture can vary greatly from block to block. The engine this cheese keeps running is the economic engine of the farm! This label demonstrates exactly how you sell your "mistakes" so as not to waste them. Sure, it's not going to win any prizes, but chances are that somebody out there likes your funky cheese, so why not keep the wheels of your operation turning as much when you fail as when you succeed? It's an interesting idea.

We spent the evening enjoying the formal gardens (with some HUGE hostas) around the inn and ate a lovely meal made from local meats, vegetables and cheeses from the farm, and excellent wine; all while we watched the sun set over the lake and disappear behind the mountains. What else is there?

It's here. . .

The latest in the Quatrano-Clifford empire is here, at long last. . . Ross and I are up in Vermont at cheese school this week, but you can be sure that the Tuesday evening we return, we will be dining at Abattoir. I'll post a review. . .

Starting to Make Sense.

It's been seven, count them, seven months since I last wrote anything of substance. Inexcusable, I know. Especially when you consider how seven months ago I wrote the words, "You all will be hearing a great deal more about my teaching adventures in coming posts (which will be much more regular, henceforth)." Ha! But remember what else I said seven months ago, about how we're finding our way? Well, over the past seven months the way is finding its shape in some pretty awesome ways. We are shaping what we want to do with our lives here. It's no small potatoes and these things take time. Ross and I have been some incredibly busy bees with big, bright plans. Let's dive in, shall we?

I will begin in January: On January 20th, two very important things happened: we got a new president, and I got to work. I watched the inauguration with some 20 high school students on my first day of my teaching internship. This internship is largely to blame for the long absence of posts. I've never done so much, so fast, in such a short space of time in my life. To call it draining would be an understatement. For 10 weeks I got up at 5:00am, taught three 90-minute class periods of English, finished up around 4:00pm, went to class twice a week until 7:00pm, and often did not get home before 9:oopm, in time to grade papers and revise lesson plans. Fun, right? I was exhausted by the end of it. The first thing Ross said to me when I finished was that I was never allowed to do anything like this ever again. He's right, and I won't.

Throughout my masters programme, I learned a huge amount about teaching, what children need in order to learn and grow, and they myriad ways they are and aren't getting those things. But what I learned about myself was equally important. I cannot work a "day job." The parameters of normal employment, and frankly working for someone else is simply not my cup of tea. I don't do well with other people's rules and expectations when those rules and expectations don't make any sense. It drains my spirit. I often joked during this internship that I was loosing the will to live; but really, it was only a half-joke. The moments I had with my students that really lit me up inside did not outweigh how sad and disheartened I am with the whole framework of how we educate. Don't misunderstand me, there are brilliant teachers and terrific schools; I am the product of both. But it  seems to me that there are better ways. To put it more simply, in this programme I was handed the box and told how to get inside the box. I was not told how I might get out of the box and take as many kids with me as I could. . . which is what I want and what many of them need.

The point is, I came home every day and felt deflated, no matter how awesome the lesson went. Maybe I missed some key aspect of the art of teaching, maybe the skills to find they ways to love it every day in this context would come with practice over months and years, but I'm making other plans.

Sheep. Let's talk about them. Antoine de Saint-Exupery (yes, that Antoine de Saint-Exupery) said, "If someone wants a sheep, then that means that he exists." We agree. There is something about them that just feels good and right. Plus, they taste good, and more importantly, so does their milk: so we're gonna make cheese. When I start talking with folks about these cheesemaking plans, I typically get one of four reactions: 1)wow, that's awesome, I love sheep's milk cheeses! 2) You can milk a sheep?, 3) There are sheep's milk cheeses? or 4) Oh, so you're going make goat cheese! That's awesome!

In point of fact, the best cheeses in the world are made with sheep's milk cheeses (Roquefort, idiazabal, manchego, roncal, ricotta, feta, shall I go on?). Sheep's milk has the highest butterfat per litre content of any ruminant. Therefore, sheep efficiently turn grass into the highest quality of the stuff you need to make cheese with the least amount of waste (whey). Also, because of the high-quality and rich taste of most sheep cheeses, they fetch the highest prices. Plus, lamb, the natural by-product of dairying, is delicious.

At the advice of a fantastic cheesemaker in New York we met at ALBC a few years ago, Ross and I have been attending cheese school up at the University of Vermont's Institute for Artisan Cheese, meeting all kinds of farmers and cheesemakers, business planning, researching, and experimenting in the kitchen. We know a lot about milk chemistry now, and we're pretty darn excited about it.

However, at this point, I feel the need to add an explanatory note. A lot has been happening over the past few months and years that to an outsider, may seem like an odd trajectory; that somehow, Ross and I are scattered or directionless; winding along a meandering path of un-connected dots. All this, this is a winding road: me the medievalist and English major turned camp counselor for a wilderness school turned farm intern turned teacher, now writer, entrepreneur, farmer and cheesemaker; and Ross, who appears even more disconnected: the computer geek/ technical theatre buff/ urban designer/web-content consultant and trainer/farmer. Every time I tell my story to a passer-by I feel so self-conscious; I feel like I look scattered to them, directionless. Quite the opposite. I want to make good food, and I want to teach through that context. I want to think every day, make connections, solve tremendously complex problems, and remain, as ever, deeply intellectually and spiritually stimulated. And yes, this is a very medieval thing to do. My friend Brandon, an intern on the farm here for the year issued a similar complaint to my own. When he told one friend his story of how he came to want to be a farmer, the friend told him, "You are a polymath." For Brandon, that makes him feel, not directionless at all, it makes him, "feel like a farmer. "

Lately, I've been feeling a push to explain what I'm doing to folks, to somehow make my choices, hopes, and aspirations into something that makes sense to them. Really, the path I'm on, my way, it's mine, and to quote Brandon, "it makes sense to me."

spring. . .

spinach cake Spring is coming, if you're quiet, you can hear the sun in the soil. . . shhhh. . . we walked through a grove of pink lady slippers today. . . we're eating herb salad and green cake. . . things are happening. . . more, very, very soon. . .

Farm Restaurant, Calgary, Alberta... Canada

Quick post. Just got back from a trip to Calgary, AB, and found the most awesome restaurant in the city, Farm: Farm-to-Table with a cheesemonger in the back. The cheesemonger actually came first, and she started the restaurant. Anyway, completely awesome: * Lamb Sweetbreads with Tomato Chili Aioli (the whole thing was just a spoonful) * Pickled Lamb Tongue - Housemade * Clear Soup: Braised Lamb with White Beans & Root Veggies * Duck Breast, Celeriac Puree, Brussels Sprouts, Balsamic Reduction * Colston-Basset Stilton

All paired with a great array of wine and sherry.

Finding Our Way

So, during the long absence of posts, the Dirty Way has been gettin’ cleaned up and gettin’ its act together. Ross and I had an epiphany shortly after we came back from Arkansas. This wasn’t working. There was something about isolation we learned in Arkansas: it’s not good. Isolation makes a person a little wacky in the head, and not in an endearing, Jack Sparrow sort of way, more like a scary I have a shotgun now-get-the-hell-off-my-land way. Ross and I realised that though we craved freedom, peace, and quiet, solitude was not at all what we craved. It is an easy thing to mistake solitude for peace. We realised all this while visiting a farm south of Atlanta called Serenbe. Actually, the farm is a part of a a larger community called Serenbe, based on principles of community, design, and environmental ethics that are pretty amazing (all without being a “commune” or land-trust). We spent the morning with Paige, the farm manager, tending to seedlings, “weeding out” the smaller plants to allow the bigger, healthier ones to grow uninhibited.  As we drove away, Ross and I both said: the hell with everything else. This is what we want. We don’t want to be interns, we don’t want to wander: we want to settle. We want to be in a place, to get to know exactly where we are, through and through; a place to orient from, a place to call home. We decided that community was a part of what we want for our lives: to create it and to be a part of it. Transience is not a feature of genuine community participation and creation. So, we are building our home at Serenbe and we are orienting from it. Ross has taken a job for the present, using his technology skills to meet people, make connections, put food on the table, and generally to have a good time. I am enrolled at Emory University getting my masters in teaching. Yes, teaching. You all will be hearing a great deal more about my teaching adventures in coming posts (which will be much more regular, henceforth). Some may argue that it is a long leap from farming to teaching, but I could not disagree more. In farming, you are raising and cultivating plants and animals for the survival and perpetuation of human-kind. In education, you are raising and cultivating children for the survival and perpetuation of human-kind.  The two are inexorably linked. And believe me when I say that education is a dirty job. It is at the core of the dirty way.

In essence, over the past five months we have closed the doors; we have begun to give shape to our path.

Brooding and Hatching

Sorry for the absence of posts, gentle readers. Ross and I have been scurrying around the country looking at different farms and different opportunities. We just got back from a week-long trip to Eureka Springs, AR to visit Patrice Gros at Foundation Farm. What a terrific little farm. Really. Patrice runs an excellent no-till very successful and tightly organised vegetable production. He grows some of the happiest, most beautiful basil I’ve ever seen. We spent a morning with him mixing up granite dust he got from a local quarry to prep his beds. It was a lot of wet, cold, messy fun. Patrice and his family were really great. Patrice’s wife Karen is a francophile who runs a small catering business, so the food they fed us was a real treat (see recipe below). It is always wonderful to stay in someone else’s home and receive the same level of hospitality you would give to your own guests. And their two children are precocious, bright, and generally wonderful. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Little Portion, a Catholic-based monastery just outside Eureka Springs. It is a beautiful and peaceful place. The members there run a small farm complete with a meat-poultry operation. They work with Patrice and house some of his interns at the monastery in exchange for a bit of work on the farm.A year ago I would have cut off an arm to work here, but. . . something just didn’t feel right. I think the tension of self-reflection I was feeling was palpable to everyone around me. And it didn’t help that Eureka Springs is like a bigger, scarier Gatlinburg, TN. I’ve been in a kind of black-hole of unknowing for the past three or four weeks, a brief but strong dark-night-of-the-soul kind of experience. Every day I have changed my mind about what I want to do with my life about four times. I have taken to writing Ross little notes with the prevailing career path of the day written on it. We thought maybe after a few weeks we could count them up and see which thing I felt like doing more times than the others. Sometimes, instead of writing a sentence about what I wanted to do with my life I would write a quotation or a maxim that would express how I felt: things like, “the job never started takes longest to finish” when I felt stagnated by my possibilities and their possible successes and failures. The popular Nelson Mandela quotation came to mind many times, you know, the one about our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. I even took to reading my horoscope almost daily. I felt the overwhelming reality that I could go anywhere and do anything. Many people might consider this a good place to be, a “world of possibilities.” In reality, such a world is too much. It is pathless. I have come to understand that the closed doors are as are are as important, if not more so, than the open ones. The point is, I am in a very different place now than I was a year ago, or really have ever been in my life. For many years I believed that it was in my best interest to live a life separate from others. I believed that the world was somehow broken, full of stupid people with stupid ideas and misguided motivations that was constantly damning itself. I still believe that; the part about stupidity. What I no longer believe is that I have to somehow separate myself from it. I thought it would be great to have a farm somewhere out in the woods where I could be self-sufficient and left alone. But after being on a farm, not even that far away from a city, I see just how isolating that life can be. It is less fun and way less romantic than it sounds on paper. I mean, this is the dirty way, after all. It’s about getting down in with the nitty gritty, the unpleasant realities of being a person in this world, absorbing them and separating the ones that must be from the ones that don’t have to be at all (i.e. we will always eat meat, but there doesn’t have to be factory farms; there will always be death, but there doesn’t have to be murder; people will get hungry, but they don’t have to starve, etc.). Arkansas taught us something really important: a farm cannot be a island. You cannot be isolated out in the boonies, by yourself. You need other people for yourself for the success of your farm and for the awareness ad prosperity of agriculture as a whole. People need to know where their food comes from. They need to see it and be near it. Isn’t that what food is all about; bringing people together, getting them to talk, creating community?

So we are busy little bees, sitting in our lair, brooding, hatching some very big, very different plans. . .