Friday, April 30, 2010

My bucket list

I often talk about my "bucket list", the things I want to do in my lifetime. The problem is I can never seem to keep a bucket empty long enough to fill it with a few dreams.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shrinking the Herd.

16 more days and dairy life as we have known it will change. The milk truck from Foremost will pick up their last load of milk from us on May 15. We are nervous about the loss of income, excited about the potential for increased income (as more customers are coming directly to the farm,) worried we will have too much milk, worried we won't have enough milk, etc...etc...

Mostly, we are optimistic. Except for the pessimistic moments. Hey ! You don't have to be a Gemini to have constant internal conflicts (Yes Jay, Allana, and too many others in our family, I speaketh to you) We solid Taurus folk are subject to roller coaster emotions as well.

One action we are taking is the decreasing of our milk herd by about 50%. To meet the milk needs of ourselves, our customers (current and future) as well as the needs of our rapidly expanding swine community, we predict we can do well with a herd of 10. For me , the downsizing of our herd  was just a matter of walking out in the field and taking a few pics, but for Keith...its a much bigger deal. These cows are a huge part of his daily life. Oh sure, I spent time with them when they were calves, feeding them their bottles, bedding their little yurts (that's Yiddish for House) and when they first left the comfort and security of their little poly hutches, we would write and make the occasional phone call but as time went by the calls were less and less. It happens to the best of friends.

They grew up, got bred, had babies and then got milked, and therefore bonded to Keith. He is the one who cared for them every cold icy morning and every searing hot summer night. They are far more than just cows with ear tags to him and selling them will not be easy.  Which is why we are focusing on the family farm websites and word of mouth to get them into good homes.

All have been born and raised on our Certified Organic farm.  All have been fed only hay and pasture (laced with a little organic molasses) since April 2009. So no grain in these cows for over a year. They are gentle and easy to milk and very used to daily human contact. They have never been given any hormones.  I have only posted four of our eight  cows currently looking for new homes. So if you or someone you know is looking for a great family milk cow or addition to your family farm or you want more pictures or you'd just like to see our cows up close and personal, please give us a call at 815-635-3414 or email us at We'd love to show you our special girls

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You

Two words that seem quite inadequate even when I wrote them over and over. So I'll explain more now. Today our thanks go out to Frontera Farmer Foundation as they have so graciously chosen our farm (along with several others) as a recipient of some of their grant monies for 2010. The following is taken directly from their web site:

The Frontera Farmer Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. The Foundation envisions a year-round interchange between sustainable farmers and consumers, including farmers’market patrons and chefs, in which seasonal local agriculture provides the foundation for sustainable regional cuisine.

    "Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture." —Rick Bayless, Proprietor of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
The Frontera Farmer Foundation was established in 2003 to attract support for small Midwestern farms. Rick and Deann Bayless, founders of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, along with the restaurants’ staff, created the Foundation out of their concern for struggling farmers and the importance of local produce to the vitality of Chicago’s culinary culture. Small local farms promote biodiversity by planting a wide range of produce, are more likely to operate using organic practices, and add immeasurably to the fabric of their communities. By their artisanal approach to agriculture, these farmers insure the highest quality of food.
Nonprofit organizations devoted to the growth of sustainable farming are becoming more prevalent and necessary due to the increasing dominance of large corporations in the agricultural sector. Without small sustainable farmers, great local cuisine is unreachable.

Keith and I are truly humbled and terrifically grateful to have received grant money funding  for our "Save the Red Wattle Project."  Purchasing a livestock trailer was the most capital of our capital expenses approved by the foundation in our grant application. For the past 15 years we have borrowed livestock trailers from two generous friends and neighbors, Ken Kurtenbaugh and Merv Kaeding. What a blessing those two were over the years and I'll bet they are as happy about the trailer purchase as we are !

                                 The trailer was purchased from a local dealer in Piper City, Illinois.
                 The mini-me farm hand  in the Spider Man hat was extra and paid for out of our own private funds.

The grant came in the nick of time as grant money has a tendency to do. We had 15 piglets that needed to be weaned a few yesterdays ago. Once we acquired the trailer we went to work. Keith called the pigs. (Yes, they have cell phones) Spot , a crossbred whose entire litter died due to premature births, responded first. She has been a fantastic step-mom to our Red Wattle and Cross Bred piglets, nursing them when their "real" moms were tired of the critters.

After the babies were in site of the trailer, Keith lured them inside with feed. He made the venture easy with a nice walk up ramp. Bigger mama sows were kept from entering the trailer by a low wire that babies could walk under and sows would not go through.

 The piglets are 8 weeks old and big for their size most probably due to the fact they were nursing THREE mother sows. What a buffet they had !

The babies, each weighing between 30-40 pounds followed each other into the trailer without issue while the sows seemed only mildly interested.

After all 15 were loaded and allowed to wave good bye one more time to their mamas we drove them around the farm a bit, let them settle for about an hour inside the trailer, then Keith unloaded them easily into another large pasture of cross bred feeder pigs about the same size.

So thanks again Frontera Farmer Foundation. If we had not had the trailer we would've had to carry those big porkers across the lawn and into the other pasture. Which would've taken several hours or days or weeks.

For more information about the Foundation please click on this link

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Rest of the Story

If you are regular reader of my blog, skip to paragraph 2. If you are new to my blog or just have short term memory issues like your truly, start here.

Our small diversified farm has a Grade A Dairy which is also Certified Organic by MOSA. For the last 11 years we have sold the majority of our milk to Foremost Farms USA in Baraboo, Wisconsin. We have never signed any written contract with them other than the one that said we would not use growth hormones on our cows. That was easy to sign. We have never used hormones. All those 11 years we sold a small portion of our milk direct to the consumer who came to our farm. About 10% of total milk produced the first 5 years. Fact: It is legal to sell raw milk off the farm in Illinois. Over the last few years the amount of milk we sell direct to consumers who come to our farm with their own containers, has gradually increased to about 30% of our total milk produced. Fact: There is no state law in Illinois limiting the amount of raw milk sold. The field man who is an employee of Foremost but also is supposed to be the farmer liasson,  has known for many years that we sell raw milk. He in fact told us to "tread lightly" in late March and warned us that if  Foremost discovered our milk sales to private customers we'd probably get a 30 day notice to quit. No one from the main office of Foremost in ELEVEN years has ever contacted us about our off farm milk sales, until earlier this month.

On April 14 we received a letter from Foremost telling us "Foremost Farms cannot condone the practice of selling raw milk for direct consumption due to the very real risk of food-borne illness. These sales also put Foremost Farms at risk for actions by the various regulatory agencies should food-borne illness be traced to your farm as a result of your raw milk distribution and/or sales. For these reason, please verify in writing by April 20, 2010, that you are not selling and will not sell or provide raw milk directly to consumers or small artisan processors." 

So there you have it. Stop doing what the State of Illinois says you can do. I called Dan Belk Director of Procurement at Foremost on April 15. He was polite and cordial. I wanted to know why our selling milk direct to consumers was suddenly a problem after 11 years. He said "It was not brought to our attention until recently". I asked where I could find the written policy from Foremost regarding this issue. He said "There is a policy our there but not about raw milk. Our bylaws say you cannot sell your milk to anyone but Foremost." I asked him where those bylaws could be found. He said he would send me a copy. He did. Under the section of Membership , this sentence was highlighted (By Mr Belk ? His staff ? ) They must be currently delivering their milk to or through the cooperative.  

Please note blog readers, the bylaw DOES NOT state that the member (farmer) cannot sell their milk to anyone but Foremost. Hmmmm I'll bet someone in that corporate office will get that changed real soon. Be warned fellow Foremost Farmer Members. That milk you've been providing to your elderly aunt to save her a trip to the store might just not be "allowed" by Foremost in the near future. And hey !, what about that milk you "deliver" to your own kids in your own kitchen.?  No, I don't think I'm being overly dramatic or paranoid. I think I'm being very realistic about the possibility of losing even more control over what belongs to you and your family. The loss of basic rights never starts with a big parade and loud sirens, it comes in through YOUR back door and oozes up your back steps and into your own kitchen before you even hear the screen door creak.

Now about the 6 day warning we were given, in all fairness when I told Mr Belk that our fieldman verbally told us we'd probably get a 30 day warning, Mr Belk agreed to extend the deadline from April 20 to May 15th. We appreciated that. It gave us 30 WHOLE days to downsize our herd by 50% and find good homes for  good cows. 30 Days to figure out how to replace our monthly income from Foremost which averages about $2500 a month. 30 days to find an independent lab to test our milk so we can maintain our standards of low somatic cell counts and high percentages of butterfat.30 days to tell our story (Special Thanks to Tim Jones and Chris Walker from the Chicago Tribune for the excellent story they did about raw milk and our farm which is in todays edition. One side note. That Chris Walker did a fab job of running backwards in out pasture over rocks, holes and cow piles just to get good video of Keith who happens to walk very fast.,0,2185455.story

We also have just 30 days to double our raw milk customer base to make up for the lost revenue from Foremost. That task has to be done without formal advertising since the State of Illinois says it is legal to sell raw milk but illegal to advertise it .( Don't ask. Don't tell. Our government is so good at that little mantra aren't they ?)

But enough whining ! 30 days is better than 6 days. Keith and I have a diversified farm so our revenue is not limited to the dairy. I have an off farm job for which I am extremely grateful.We have tons of meat in our freezers, dozens of eggs and gallons of milk in our frig.We have the support of family and friends Our situation does not even begin to compare to the pain that the State of Wisconsin has slathered all over hard working Farmers Max Kane ,Scott Trautman and their families

But, be warned fellow dairy farmers. If you sell milk to another company and all you have is a verbal agreement , be careful. Ask for a copy of those bylaws.READ THEM. Ask for clarification of them. Become a member of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Touch base with your attorney and your farm insurance agent. Dig into those Illinois State Laws. Education is the best defense. And when you are done with all that, grab a big tall glass of cold fresh raw milk , sit down for a spell on your back porch and enjoy the labors of your very hard work.Don't forget to thank the cows.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One Mean Mother

The Chicago Tribune sent National Correspondent Tim Jones  to our humble little pig/cow/nutcake farm this afternoon to interview us about raw milk issues in Illinois. While he is compiling his notes and we are waiting for the Tribunes photographer to arrive, I thought I would post some new pics of Lady Anne, the MEANEST mother in town.

Now, if you know my kids, you have probably heard that I was the meanest mother on earth. But one look into Lady Annes eyes and it becomes clear who is meanest.

 Would you try to get this little babies away from her ? Me neither. Not without a good suit of armor.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We do not sell pasteurized or homogenized milk.

Yeah. I think that says it all. Our milk is not homogenized* Our milk is not pasteurized**. Our milk is in its most natural and nutritious state and the picture above is not just a shot of our milking herd. It is also an ingredient list. The ingredient list is as follows...Grass.  Well, to be fair, there is also water in that grass.

So there you have it. We do not sell pasteurized or homogenized milk. If you would like to know what we do sell please call us at 815-635-3414

* Homogenized: Milk with fat particles broken up so that the cream will not rise
* Pasteurized: Milk that is heated to control microorganisms

Monday, April 19, 2010

Running on Empty

I've been in an accident. Yesterday afternnoon about 5 pm I ran head head on into a brick wall. I did not see it coming. There were no flashing warning lights. I had worked an extra shift last Wed night then my 12 hour weekend night shifts. I slept a little Sunday morning and gotten up about 1:30. Visited with two sons, and one daughter in law, checked on new baby pigs and then Keith and I went for a walk west of our house where this picture above was taken. That is when I hit the brick wall. Don't see it ? Look harder, its right there.

I very suddenly felt so bone weary I thought I would lie right down in the cow pasture in which we were standing and take a nap. I was Dorothy in the poppy field. Unable to resist the pull of heavy sleep. I turned to Keith , mumbled something about "goodnight", crawled back under the electric fence and stumbled upstairs back to bed. I slept 13 hours. This left Keith with all the evening chores. THIRTEEN HOURS ! What a waste of time.

What happened ? Well, the answer is simple. I work much harder than most women and I don't work near as hard as the majority. I juggle work and farm and a little grand kid care and some elder care. I handle paperwork and deadlines, family events and yardwork. I have even been known to go to church, on occasion.  I do laundry, dishes, make lots of  farm related phone calls to folks like the Illinois Department of Health and I fake a lot of meals but I'll be honest, I haven't dusted in weeks and the toilets are completely on their own.

I am woman hear me snore. THATS what happened yesterday.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kitchen Complete

First , a brief milk update. No letter from Company A to cease and desist the selling of raw milk, no contract to review (requiring we do not sell raw milk if we sign with them ) from Company B. The milk truck from Company A continues to pick up our milk every other day and direct to the farm consumers are still coming on those days the milk truck does not come. We wait with raw milk infused breath. Its not "baited breath" because we don't sell fish.

 Now , on the lighter side. The remodel/facelift of the kitchen in our 120 year old farmhouse is complete and I could not be happier. The cabinets are the same as they were when custom built around the 1940's. Deep, wide, solid and with new paint. The old cabinets were white and the new are chocolate brown. New hardware from Menards. Cheap but stylin'. The backsplash is Italian tile bought at clearance price from BJ's liquidation in Kankakee. Since it was a closeout deal it did not come with any bullnose tile so trim was done with simple quarter round painted the same shade of brown.

The wall words above the sink came originally from Jethro Tull and were put into vinyl by a talented woman I found on EBAY at about 1/2 the price I would have paid elsewhere. That particular phrase had been running around in my head for the last 35 years. Finally it has found a home , leaving room in my crooked cranium for other really important song lyrics like "Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy " (too late) from the Eagles 1972.

To the right is a new work table I bought from IKEA who by the way also provided the most excellent butcher block counter top. IKEA is fabulous for so many things. You have to install, and or assemble their items yourself but one can save a ton of money. The wood countertops were 25% less than those I found online of the same size and quality.

The floor was my big splurge. The old floor was just a plywood sub floor painted green to match the green ivy wallpaper. It was always chipping and needing touch ups. The new floor is by Armstrong and is super strong vinyl. Everything from filthy dirty men to filthy dirty steers end up walking on my kitchen floor. It had to be durable, washable and mildly attractive, much like me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Pig of a Different Color

Some people get letters in the mail (if you're lucky), some people get bills. Some people get invitations to parties or flyers about meat sales. BUT, if you have a friend  in Palm Springs named Jay, you might get a pig.
Not just any ole' run of the mill garden variety pig, but instead a great big hand-painted colorfully decorated ceramic pig with a handy little (not so much) hole in its back, say for a plant, or coins, or wait, I know ! Its going to be the best ice bucket for cold drinks I've had. Unless you have a better idea.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs.

 No new news on the raw milk front. No copy of a potential contract to sign from Company B, no letter to "cease and desist" the selling of raw milk from our current milk buyer , Company A, so instead we just farmed.

Today that meant sleep for me in the am since I picked up an extra shift last night, and a trip to Watseka for Keith to visit his mom in her new apt. In the afternoon I worked in the office on accounts receivable, accounts payable and accounts confuseable, (the ones I forgot to enter earlier and now I have no idea where I should post them.)

When Keith returned we visited the hogs and attempted to measure them for approximate weights. Its done by taking a cloth measuring tape and measuring the hogs length and girth just behind their front legs. Then you enter the measurements into this formula. Length times girth times girth divided by 400. You have to give them a  brief but tender little hug to get the tape around their girth. The crossbred hogs don't stand for this much, they don't go in for the touchy-feelly stuff. The Red Wattles not only stand for the measurements but ask for more hugs as you leave the pen. Of course this might be because our boar Mad Max is entering his adolescent period and he is all about the PDA * right now.

After that we wandered into the sows pasture to check on status of still pregnant Lady Anne. Baby pigs were all snuggled in the hogcienda, so we fed the sows their grain for the evening. We walked about 50 feet over to the little hog shed to see if perhaps Anne was making a nest in there. That's when big sow Spot came running at us, thinking she wanted more grain Keith tried to get her to follow him but she took off the other way at a dead run with her overinflated udder flapping in the wind (She's fast I tell you). Crazy pig, I thought. Just then I heard expletives coming from the husbands mouth. I looked up and down our lane and their, far far way in the neighbors yard were our 15 little piglets. Even more shocking, they had the neighbors dog cornered on the top step of the porch. Poor little 100 pound ROTTWEILER didn't know what to do. No wonder mama sow Lassie, I mean Spot ,was upset.

Keith took off running while I sorta walked faster towards the pickup, thinking I could cut them off at the pass. But before I got down the lane, Keith had reached the neighbors yard, yelled at the piglets like the misbehaving children they were and they came running back up alongside the pasture and into the main pasture with their mammas. Bad pigs.Baaaaaaad pigs. We fed them grain to keep them home. They were counted by the mommies and they settled into a big pile to take a nap.

Keith went immediately to the internet to check on pricing of hog fencing. Seems the electric fence that contains our 1200 pound cows and horses just ain't strong enough for the little bitty piglets. If only someone had warned us about this...10 or 12 more times. We might have caught on earlier. Maybe.

*Pigs Dig Affection

Monday, April 5, 2010

Raw Milk Renegades , the sequel

First of all the pin. It amuses me therefore I have it on my blog, but I do not for a moment think raw milk is the answer to all the illness in our lives. No one food product can heal on its own. I do however, believe raw milk is a great PART of a healthy diet and I also believe that as adults we have the right to ingest whatever food we choose to , be it raw milk, 100% grass fed beef, Java Stout beer (which is great with the beef) or a great big plastic wrapped Twinkie. This is still, although sadly a rapidly changing, America.

Which brings me to our issue with the company who buys our milk, or I should say, the issue our milk company is having with us .To recap, for the last 11 years we have shipped milk to company A. They pick up the milk every other day.On the off days we have several people who buy raw milk from us directly following Illinois State law. They come to our farm with their own containers , fill them and then drink the unpasturized, non-homoginized milk in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. Renegades, all of them. Recently milk company B made an uninvited visit to our farm suggesting we sign up with them as company A was planning to stop buying milk from dairies in our area.

The catch; company B tells us we must sign a statement saying we will not sell raw milk to private customers. Even though it is legal to do so in Illinois. Even though there is not a single proven case of raw milk related foodborne illness in Illinois, even though farmers have the right to sell products from their farm as a manner of making a living. Even though the conventional milk company pays us only 1/3 the price our private customers pay us.

.We asked for a copy of this written contract over 10 days ago. We have not received it.

Today a representative from company A called to inform us the head office was now "aware" of our selling raw milk and they wanted us to stop. Company A has never in the past given us anything in writing telling us it was against their policy to buy milk from farmers who sell raw milk off the farm. In fact, Company A, who again we have been selling milk to for ELEVEN YEARS, has never asked us to sign anything related to raw milk sales. Nor have we ever hidden the fact that we sell raw milk since it is legal to do so.

The representative went on to tell us we should expect to receive a letter in the mail very soon which would give us 30 days to stop selling an important farm product that has been proven to be very healthy for both children and adults. A product that provides needed revenue for us. A product people want. A product that Illinois State Law says we may sell.

All of this begs the question "Why don't you sell ALL of your milk direct to customers ?" We would like to, but our dilemma sits with Illinois State Law which states we can sell raw milk but we cannot advertise that we sell raw milk. What ?!?! Let me say that again. What ?!?! I can advertise my raw ground beef but not our raw milk ?  Seems the "Don't ask, don't tell " mentality isn't limited to the military. And what about this blog ? It appears I am practicing free speech, but what if every time I write the oh-so-frightening words RAW MILK in the same sentence as our farm South Pork Ranch, it is considered "advertising ?" The law, as written ,does not offer any interpretation of "advertise." I suppose I need to put a new item on my to-do list for tomorrow. Call the Illinois Department of Public Health and ask for some clarification.

We have options. Several of them. Once we make a decision on which path to follow I'll update you. Oh man, will I ever update you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

On Kindergarten Time

I am back from vacation. Well rested, centered and in touch with my inner goofy child. All because of 24 hours spent with two granddaughters. We started  this tradition last year, taking a train trip together for no other real reason than to be together. Yes, we are "together" when they visit at my house but being the task oriented maroon I am, (maroon is not mispelled, we just like to pronounce it that way. It makes us even more maroonic than normal) I have learned that going away is the best way for me, and those around me, to relax.

So the 8 yr old, the 5 yr old and the 50 yr old rode the rails from Pontiac to Springfield. My goal was to not have any goals other than get them there and back safely. So often, as in every day, my life is on a very strict, and usually self imposed time schedule. But that tires everyone out. Especially those nearest and dearest to me who have to always hear me say "Come on ! Lets go ! Times a wastin !" or other deep deep thoughts.

Thus, I tried hard to disconnect my internal clock and just enjoy what we were doing. Instead  always leading, I tried to  follow my girls lead instead. For instance, they of course wanted to eat at McDonalds. We walked 1/2  blocks from the hotel to McD's. It took 15 minutes. We saw a HUGE bull snake and we watched it slither across the road, into bushes and under a rock pile. Then we stood there a few more minutes waiting for it to return. It did not. We discussed its size, its color, the way it moved and how we all knew it was not a rattle snake. Then we walked on top of the curb trying to balance ourselves without falling off. The 8 year old was best, I was 3rd best which would be another word for the worst.

 We ordered food and then....we played with our food. Allana announced that the french fries were X's and the chicken McNuggets were O's and we played tic-tac-toe, but only for a minute because the girls then decided they wanted pepper on their fries and they wanted to have a contest on who could eat the most pepper. I started to say "you won't like that" and was ready to warn them "pepper will make you sneeze" like any child died from sneezing, but I managed to shut up and watch.

Nicole hated the pepper on fries. Allana LOVED IT SO MUCH YAYA IT MAKES ME HAPPY ! So I kept my mouth shut and watched her eat lots of fries with lots of pepper. When we got back to the hotel I put out a huge obnoxious makeup kit I had bought and said nothing. The idea came from my friend JM who did the same with her little ones recently. Immediately they wanted to play with it. They seemed quite surprised when I said YES. So they made up me ...Check out those lips...
 And then they did each other. Over and over. Again, the lips...
 My instinct was to lecture "Don't make a big mess" or "Be careful of your eyes" but again I watched. The most amazing thing happened. When one child would come close to the others eyes with a lethally loaded make-up brush, the other would close their eyes. How cool was that ? Sometimes I think we get so caught up in constant directing and teaching and warning that we fail to step back and observe what they have already learned.

Next to the hotel was a Cracker Barrel restaurant. I thought the rockers would be a great place for a photo so I forgot my goal to watch more and lecture less and told the girls "sit in a rocker together and I will take your picture."  Nicole said , and I quote, "how about we each sit in our own rocker so there is no fighting?"  Brilliant. Just brilliant. Later, when the girls would want to run ahead of me, because for no good reason that is why because (they talk that way sometimes and on this short trip I tried not to correct them because that gets annoying don't you know that is why because) I would walk real fast to keep up with them. Usually I would say "slow down" or "stay by me" instead, I walked fast, kept up with them to keep them safe from stuff like big bull snakes and got a little cardio workout at the same time.

The moral of the story is this.  They are little a very short time. Play more. Worry about pepper less.