Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Its your fate but its not your fault

Told you. Millions of song lyrics in my head. The one above comes from "The Bare Naked Ladies" who are anything but ladies and do not perform naked. That I know.

And the point is...I make lists. Its keeps my insanity organized. I have farm to do lists, and household lists. I have Items to ask the Public Health Department Lists. I have grocery lists, customer contact lists, and a list of items needed to network my home and business computers. All of these items are on a MASTER LIST. It helps me plan a life that is often unplannable

Last week when grandaughter Allana age 6, came to visit she handed me...a list. I did not tell her to make a list, I have never sat with her and said "To succeed in life (or fail in a systematic way at least) one must make a list". Nope. She just showed up with a list of things she wanted to get done while at my house.

In case you don't read pre-first grader, let me interpret for you. Her list is as follows
1. Outside
2. To Catch a bird (baby peacocks)
2. Computer time
4. Sister (play with)
5. Wesley) brother to play with
6. Color
7. Book (she said we could read OR write one)
8. Trampoline (we don't have one but she said if we did she would play on it)
9 Vaccuum (She just likes to)
10 Tricks on swings (Yaya was a circus clown before she was a farmer)

So that prompted me to REWRITE the list I had for that day so we could be in sync with each other. Yesterday she said to me "Yaya, I will love you PAST the future" Now that is what I call an expert planner.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grounds in my Coffee

I love music. Carly Simon's songs are just a few of about ten billion that are constantly playing in my head. So when Keith and I were outside a couple of day ago, sweating like the oldies in humid 90 degree heat cleaning up our yard after the hundreth summer storm came through, I was surprised when we got a phone call from the Jankuns.  Not that it is so unusual to get a phone call , we have cell phones and land lines and we do get calls now and then, nor was it so  unusual that the Jankuns, fine photographers of Forrest Illinois  would call us. I mean they may be middle aged like us but they seem pretty tech savvy, or at least enough so to operate phones not to mention a few cameras. No, the part that surprised me was the content of their call.

They said, and I quote "We'll be swinging by your place in a few minutes to take some pictures because the clouds are just perfect"  WHAT ?!?! The clouds ?!?! Are perfect ?!?!?! Keith and I looked at each other and then looked up. Dang if those photography people weren't correct. The clouds WERE perfect. Gorgeous even. Once again we were so busy doing that ridiculous thing called work, that we did not even notice the Sistine Chapel just over our heads.

Now, you might ask, what does all that have to do with Carly Simon ? Well....(this is the spot where you raise your hand if you have heard this story before, thus excusing you from the burden of having to hear it again ) when I would sing Carly's song You're so vain I would always say there were grounds in my coffee, grounds in my coffee,  until one day my wise sister Mary, grammar Nazi even in high school, told me "hey GOOFASS, the words are CLOUDS in my coffee, not grounds !"

Hmmm, who knew. So I looked up at the sky, saw the clouds, thought of Mary, smiled at my ongoing ignorance and later thanked the Jankuns for pointing out the obvious. Something I often miss.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Walk this this way...

We were nervous and a little scared. We were afraid no one would show up. We were sure too many people would show up. We worried about too much rain and too much heat and I of course worried someone would fall down and die. Or at least get lost in the tall grass like some Children of the Corn victims.

BUT our first pasture walk proved a success in spite of the racket going on in my head. Thanks to the promotion and support of the University of Illinois Extension Office in Kankakee and the Graziers group of Kankakee and last but not least special thanks to my mother-in-law Lois Parrish. She mixed lemonade and ice tea, bought supplies and then hung out back at the farm in the shade of the tree with those folks who were smart enough NOT to walk around in 90 degree heat and 200% humidity.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bi-polar farmwife meets Rick Bayless

I was born in Rock Island Illinois and my first home was a shack of a farmhouse my parents were renting. My fathers first attempt at farming. It lasted 12 months. We returned to Chicago , home of my best childhood memories. Fast foward and I am now 17 yrs married to a dairy farmer turned dairy-hog-peacock-goat-chicken -bee farmer. I tell you this to explain why I love both the city and the country. Bi-polar in the best sense.

Recently we had the opportunity to spend the whole day in Chicago as we attended the Frontera Farmers Foundation Benefit. As recent recipients of one of their grants, the foundation asked us to participate in their day long Farmers Market and grand fund raising dinner. We donated pork shoulder which was made into the most tasty BBQ I have ever tasted. Executuve Chef Richard James developed the recipe ( "I know Baaaar-B-Que !" ) and chef Bill Otis AKA "Grill Bill" was assigned to dish up the BBQ sandwiches.

For 3 hours we stood side by side with Grill Bill  (wearing the cap) while he not only served up our meat but then told the hundreds of Famer Market attendees all about our pork. Keith had spend about 10 seconds telling Bill about our product BUT Bill listened with both ears and by the end of the event he could inform the long long line of people how the Red Wattle was rediscovered in Texas, how it was being raised by us, the exact amount of milk it gets every day and why the meat was superior in taste. Some folks came back to our station 4 and 5 times.

Richard James, Frontera Chef who turned our pork into little pieces of heaven.
(And taught me how not to shake hands like a nerd)

We also got to meet the 14 other famers picked by the Frontera Foundation, (Hello Samantha , Greg and Renee !) sample their wares, learn about their farms and their ways. So valuable. In the midst of the activity I noticed a woman going very quietly from table to table making sure all the details were being tended too. Such as removing each dead blossom from the gorgeous floral arrangements on the wall and replacing them with fresh blooms. Turns out it was Deann Bayless herself. Gotta love those detail oriented people. Events like this one would never happen without them .

Myself, Deann Bayless of Frontera Restaurant and Samantha Sexton of Natures Choice Farm

Towards the end, as the crowd started to thin, Rick Bayless, award winning Chef-Restauranteur, cookbook author and TV celebrity came to our booth to sample our pork. He pronounced it "Fabulous". Keith stood still and just beemed. I collapsed on the beautiful Terra Cotta floor in fit of giggles and peed myself. (not to worry, Attends were in place).

Later, after the Farmers Market debri was cleared, all of Ricks staff who VOLUNTEER all their time for this fund raiser, set up the restaurants for a very formal dinner and silect auction. Other staff took "the farmers" outside for a special meal of bacon and bean cassolet (satisfying, so satisfying) and even more special, time together as farmers and chefs to talk about food in general, the loss of family farms in particular.

       Keith (on right) discussing pasture raised pork with Frontera Farmers Benefit attendees

But, it still wasn't over. After watching a couple hundred MORE people arrive at Frontera for the final sit down dinner, we were led back into the dining room. Rick Bayless stood in front of us farmers, spoke of his love for fresh, honest, non-mass produced food and then introduced EACH of us by name and farm, thanking US for what we had done to promote the family farm. It was very humbling

Thank you again to Rick Bayless, all his staff, chefs Bill Otis and Richard James for their part in making our pork shine. To Deb Silverstein for her many communcations back and forth with me and  to the Frontera Farmers Foundation for believing in our farm and granting us the funds we needed to save the Critically Endangered Red Wattle Hog

And very special thanks to Marty and Kris Travis of Spence Farms
 who introduced us to this special movement of producing chemical free, local food for those talented chefs and restaurant owners who really care about what they serve and how it is grown. The line between city and country blurs more and more each day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Farmers on the Loose

In a few short hours our farm will be swarming with farmers, future farmers , retired farmers and farmer lovers. We are hosting our first ever pasture walk, co-sponsored by the Kankakee Graziers Group (just a bunch of grass loving farmers in Central Illinois) and the University of Illinois Extension. Yes, as a matter of fact , I do have an agenda and yes, it is in writing. I yam what I yam. But the agenda is very short and very flexible and basically says "Welcome. We will walk, we will talk, we will eat" Farmers are very good at all those things.

We are hopeful the weather will stay clear and not too humid. We had enough storm activity last night. Take a look.

The storm came in from the Iowa and rolled in quite quickly. The clouds were magnificient.

As with all storms that roll across the open plains to our west, moving east, we are often torn between doing the wise thing (basement ! Now!) or the slightly risky thing ("hey, go bring me a cup of coffee, lets sit out here and watch this thing"

Son Jason tried to hold the storm back, but alas his efforts were for the naught. It rained, again, anyway.
P.S. No farmers were hurt in the filming of this mini-drama.
P.S.S. When we finally went inside we discovered a message from our caring daughter Raven warning us about the approaching storm and perhaps we should take cover. Good to know someone has some brains in this family.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fly-By Ethics

Eleven years ago we were very proud of the fact that through God's blessings, our hard work , and a small grant from the "Bank of Mom" (my mom had died, and left each of her children approximately $10,000 a princely sum considering the life long finacial struggles of my parents) we were able to start our own Grade A licensed Dairy. My husband Keith had worked for other dairy farmers for many years before this, so to have our own dairy was his long time dream come true.

We took that license seriously. We followed the rules as outlined by the Public Health Department of Illinois. Our "deficiencies" were rare and small and corrected as they were identified. We watched the findings of our milk sample testing closely and made adjustments to the way we milked, the way we cleaned cows, the way we fed cows as needed.

Now, suddenly, IDPH wants nothing to do with us. They have said "your permit is worthless. Tear it up" Odd but true. No, we did not break any rules, our standards have not decreased but it seems whenever a farmer dares to think out of the box, well...our goverment gets a little nervous. We would prefer to be surveyed. It keeps you on your toes, makes you accountable. The solution in my pea brain would be to develop a program  in Illinois for raw milk licensure. How better to keep raw milk production clean and safe for the public.? Public safety. Isn't that the current screaming mantra of the public health officials ? Seems a much more logical solution instead of the current "Don't ask, don't tell, don't survey" approach they are taking.

It would be so easy for Keith and I to become slack in our milk production. Cheaper too. But then we would be admitting that the only reason we ever followed the rules and regs was because we had to, not because we felt it was the right thing to do, i.e.situational ethics. To be honest we did consider that, but we knew it would be wrong, for the people we serve, our raw milk customers. In fact we have UPGRADED some of our procedures and made them more evident to our customers, In the milk house we have posted cleaning logs for our tank. Customers can clearly see when our milk tank was last cleaned, by whom and with what  detergent. We have also posted very clear directions on removing milk from the tank to help ensure consistency in accessing our milk. The first step is WASH YOUR HANDS.

Since Foremost no longer picks up our milk they are no longer testing it. We have therefore contrated with Daily labs of Peoria to test our milk. Results will be posted for our customers to see. Again, not required since we are no longer licensed by the state but the quality of our milk is important to us regardless of IDPH's apathy.

In the near future we will be developing a newsletter which will outline pros and cons of raw milk. The best consumer is a well informed consumer. We will also post forms to lodge complaints or makes suggestions for improvement . I once was very opposed to those who would call their farms "Beyond Organic". Now I understand a little better as we work towards being "Beyond Grade A"

Monday, June 14, 2010

You kids get out of the kitchen !

Some brillant farmer thought it would be cute to have a few baby goats around for the grandkids. So we borrowed a Billy Goat last fall from the Loan-a-Stud-Program run by our niece's husband Jeremy in Watseka. Baby goats were produced. A couple of weeks ago one very tiny "kid" as baby goats are called, fell into my makeshift duck pond, an old water tank buried in the ground. The tank was filled with smelly green water. I pulled him out, chastised him about swimming without a life preserver and the frieky little thing jumped right back into the water. A lame suicide attempt since I was standing right next to him. I pulled his slimy self out AGAIN, then covered the tank with an old wooden door.

Problem solved. Until mama goat decided this baby did not smell like her other two babies and turned her back, and udder, away from him. We thought she would get over it but she did not and baby started to decline sooooo out came the pop bottle with the feeding nipple and baby goat was fed by Keith or I.

This is always very cute and fun for about 3 feedings and then the kid decides YOU are mama and begins to follow you every where. The following part is not so bad except they have a tendency to eat every living thing they see when out of their pens. Your garden, your flower beds,your new Ford Transit Wagon,  you name it a baby goat will put it in its mouth.

Some days I can toss him back into his pen (oh yes, very gently, like a feather on a gentle breeze) and then RUN AWAY where he cannot see me. He'll get distracted by the other kids in that area and forget about me. But a couple of days ago he snuck through the fence and very quietly followed me right into the kitchen. Pictures were taken before the offending goat was handcuffed and led away.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Get Off Our Farms !

Again, our government, the same one whose duty it is to serve and protect us, is interfering with a farmers right to make a living for himself and for his/her family. Every week I hear of a farm who is being invaded by uninvited government officials in the ruse of "public safety" even though no illness has been reported and no claim has been filed. Please take a few moments to read about the Herschberger Family in Wisconsin

It is difficult to believe that small farmers like us, with a few freezers full of fresh, farm-raised meat and a few less stainless steel tanks filled with raw milk, could actually be percieved as a threat to the mega-agri businesses. But apparently we are. Instead of spending the very hard earned tax money we send our government on slightly more important issues such as terrorism and of the prevention of thousands of illegal aliens crossing over our borders every year, they chose to spend this money harrasing, inspecting and invading the small farmer.

GET OFF OUR FARMS (unless of course I invite you and then prepare yourself for a treat of homemade oatmeal cake and a tall glass of ice cold raw milk. And if you are really lucky, I'll send you home with a free sample of 100% grass fed beef )

Stay up to date with the insanity through the Farm to Consumer Defense Fund    and Illinois ARMS (Alliance for Raw Milk) on  Facebook!/group.php?gid=248552160447&ref=ts

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Back Alley Girl

My mother, in her pre-Maxine voice told my father in 1967 "get  me out of this God Forsaken city !" She was referring to my beloved Chicago, hard as it is to believe. Thelma Lucille Durham "Dusty" had grown up in the Mountain Dew littered countryside of Southern Indianna and she had grown tired of big city life. My father, his father and his father were all products of Chicago and loved the city wholeheartedly, but Donald Geoge loved Dusty more, so he moved us to the then dinky burb of Warrenville. But this little girl always missed the noises, sights and sounds of a a city alive with adventure and GREAT FOOD.

Yesterday, I was back downtown again, this time with little sis Mary. As the oldest 2 of the 6 O'Shaughnessy holigans,  we remember our first home town fondly and whenever we have a chance to make the two hour trip ...WE GO ! Once again I had another delivery to make to yet another new restaurant (new to us) and because only 100 pounds  of pork shoulder were involved, instead of our usual whole hog (with head attached please) , we girls felt butch enough for the job. So off to Frontera we went. 

Once we found the restaurant it took several tries to actually get into the alley to make the delivery. First it was blocked by another delivery truck ,(really ? in Chicago ? at midday ?) Then when got turned around with the one way streets, designed I am sure by more than one of my wayward Irish ancestors. When we finally get into the alley another truck is coming out so we had to back out again. "PEOPLE, I got pork shoulder here all the way from charming Chatsworth, Illinois !" They were not impressed, I still had to back out.

Finally we got to the delivery door, met the famous Hector who unloaded our coolers faster than we could get them inside to him and off we were again to park and eat. Of course we ate at Frontera Grill, our first time, and we not dissapointed. The service was too wonderful and basically surreal being as just hours before I was having my legs rammed by 5 huge disrespectful hungry hogs. Now I had a quiet, polite gentleman bringing me more ice tea IN A WHOLE NEW CLEAN GLASS. So much better than the slurping drink I had that morning from the hose after filling up the rubber pig watering pans. Thats me. Just one big oxymoron.

We ate, we lingered, we met Deb Silverstein (Frontera's Test Kitchen Director  who was gracious and friendly even though I know she was horrendously busy.) Then it was time to get back to the land of milk, honey and manure.

With myself at the wheel and Mary grasping the map, it becomes a familar scene. She and I over the last 35 years have logged a huge amount of road time together (the area between Sioux Falls and Wall Drug always the worst, unless it was the time we couldn't find our way out of the evil Dublin) and although we often still get lost, we always have fun doing it.

But really Chicago, what happened to Racine Ave ?!?! One second its a ligitimately  paved street and the next its like your driving your Canostoga Wagon into the deep mountain passes of Appalachia with potholes that could swallow up my 1000 pound sow Lady Anne.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

10 weeks and counting

I am always setting goals for myself. A very bad habit.  Well, sometimes its good, but too often it keeps me from enjoying the NOW. Like my book. I set a goal for it to be finished by my birthday May 17. It is 3/4 done. New goal :complete by end of summer and have ready for some grammar nazi to review. (Mary and Tab, I am putting you on notice). Then it will be sent off to those I trust for content review .

In the meantime I am in the midst of another goal. (I like to overlap them just to keep the stress levels high.) My horse Nora and I leave for professional training with Chris Cox in just 10 short weeks. My summer goals with her include lots of saddle time and ground work time Much like needing to clean your house before the Merry Maids invade. This last week she and I have done well. She is willing and able whereas I am willing but more like Cain than Able.

Nora, age 7 on left with sidekick Doolin the miniature donkey on the right.

This week I have ridden both bareback and with my saddle. Next week I will try both those methods with Nora as well. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Good to the Last Drop

Our calves love milk. No, really they loooove milk. Yes, they drink it raw just like we do. Never, do they walk away from a half empty bucket and say "Thanks, but that is enough for me right now." We start the babies on bottles. First we hold the bottle for them a couple days. This gets them used to us, the Human and gives us an excuse to stay in one spot for  afew moments. Then we move them to the calf hutches where they continue to drink milk from a bottle placed in a bottle holder on the side of their hutch.When they are about three months old they graduate to a bucket.
They like the bucket. They like to put their whole head in the bucket. Sometimes they will even blow bubbles with their nose in the bucket.

They have been known to go to extremes in order to get ALL the milk they possibly can. Such as prayer.

Even when the bucket is as empty as my brain on any given Sunday morning, they will not give up. I understand. I am the same way about Dawn Smiths Angel Food cake.

 When the last drop is all gone and The Human removes the milk bucket and the calf is waiting out the 20 minutes before its brain tells its stomach it is full, the calf will console itself by sucking on most anything close by. Sad but true.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Artsy Fartsy

Not the most sophisticated of terms but still "Artsy Fartsy" is just one of those sayings I grew  up with. My mother often used it to describe my father who indeed did have some professional training as a graphics artist. He tried many times over to make a living as an artist, but starving was not his style, (imagine a cross between Santa Claus , Mickey Rooney and Chris Farley) so he worked in many other jobs over the years (maintenance man, policeman, roofer, welder, sand blaster, ammunitions plant worker etc...) all the while keeping his fingers stained with paint. While working at his full time jobs, he also had his own screen printing business and truck lettering operation. He tried to sell his oils, mostly landscapes, but he often underpriced himself and ended up losing WAY more money than he ever gained but he loved the art world dearly and he never gave up the dream of being known as "an artist". He may not have known it then, but that is exactly how we all still think of him today.

So, having grown up with paint and markers and crayons and colored pencils and lots of odd shaped brushes, I like to keep them around for my grandchildren too. Maybe, one day, one of them will attach "artist" to their list of accomplishments.

Future artists Nicole 8 , Wesley 2 and Allana 5

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Never ever, EVER say never.

I used to say I would NEVER drive a van again after our four kids were grown. I planned to buy a fast little two seater roadster when I hit middle age, just like my very good bestest friend Liz Daley in Dingle, County Kerry.

I used to say I would never buy a white car. I mean really, can you get any more boring than white ?!?

I used to say I would never buy a NEW car because everyone knows they depreciate the minute you drive them off the dealers lot.

So today my husband and I bought this...

Is it a van ? A car ? A truck ? A wagon ? Inspector Clouseau's car of the future ? We're not sure but we know it will carry SIX killed and chilled hogs to the restaurants we sell to. And that makes us happy. Thank you Ford for this creative little vehicle. The Transit Connect. I love it because it makes me want to drive on the left side of the road.