Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Budget, why does thou vex me ?

Part of the budgeting process includes calculating the amount
of energy AKA body mass lost when a pig swan dives for its milk.

First a housekeeping item. Several of you have mentioned lately that you have had difficulties leaving comments. Might explain the increased number of burning brown paper bags filled with excrement found on our front porch lately.  So I messed around with my blog settings a bit and hopefully the problem will be solved...again. Please comment away so I can see if it works. Really I hope it does, the burning bags are drawing vultures.

So, for awhile now, 3 months to be exact,  Keith and I have been plugging away at our farms budget for 2011. At this speed we'll finish the budget right about the same time the year itself is finished. Why so hard you might ask ? Oh so many reasons,  just let me count the ways.

     1. We are not accountants and we do not even play ones on TV
     2. There is far less income to work with than last year thus the word "budget" becomes reality
     3. We still have to feed hungry animals and cannot work at desks all day
     4. We still have to butcher above animals in order to increase the income and address problem # 2
     5. We upgraded to Quicken 2010 and it is way over our heads
     6. We are selling many more products than a year ago which has increased income but
     7  Also increased all our expenses
     8. Due to number 6 we do not have data for the year before to guide us, its like a whole new
         ball of ear wax which by the way is not an ingredient in my new soaps contrary to rumor
     9. We have too much work to do to sit down and figure out how we can generate enough income to do
         all the work we have to do.
     10  We are not accountants

So there you have it the top 10 reasons our 2011 Farm budget is still a works in progress.

Now please a few comments, on anything at all. Lets see if this baby is working !

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who is sustaining who ? or is it whom ?


Hey !  Yes you. See that wooden box over there ? The one right next to you with the word  "SOAP" on it ? Yes, that's the one. Kick it over my way would you ? Hey, not so hard !  OK then, step...up here...umphhh...groan...THERE. I'm up and ready to go. Cute suit huh ?

In case you are new to this blog, well first I apologize, and second many thanks, but you  may not realize that I have  just mounted my soap box which means an opinion is coming. There is still time to bail if you click on that little "X" in the right hand corner of your screen. Otherwise you'll have to read on and endure.

Farming is full of trendy terms right now. Organic, beyond organic, local, all natural, grass-fed, free-range and of course sustainable. I've ranted before about the the organic label with its correct and incorrect use and its likely I will come back to it but today's word is "sustainable."
We've used it to describe our own farm for some time now and it is  used frequently by other farmers we know and even some non-farmer types which is odd but true. I recently read an insurance companies ad that referred to itself as sustainable. Truthfully, I have found the term confusing so I've done some research. The definition (from several agricultural sources ) is this:

A method of agriculture that attempts to ensure the profitability of farms while preserving the environment.

Funny. In my peacock sized brain, I thought "sustainable" meant simply the ability to support ones farm without outside financial assistance, Which is why I have felt so guilty, yes guilty for so many years because our farm was surviving due in large part to the income I brought in as a nurse. My husband, who was the one doing the majority of the farm work up until my "retirement"  from nursing 5 months ago, would be the first to agree, as would our tax man.

But in looking at that definition above, in no way does it imply that the financial resources a farm requires to operate must come from the farm alone. Once again I created my own definition and was incorrect.  (cue the song "You're so Vain" here) Or am I ? In the first three words , "A Method of Agriculture" suggests that it is in agriculture alone we can ensure profitability. But what if in those early years the products you produce, grow and hopefully sell are not enough to meet expenses ? Are you "less sustainable" as a farmer if you require additional non-direct-farm income in order to make the hay payment or buy the grinder needed to mix your own hog feed or heaven forbid, you accept assistance from government programs such as NRCS ?  

Moving on to the next section of "attempting to ensure the profitability of farms," I have to wonder about that word "attempt."  Pretty weak isn't it ?  Down right wishy washy in my opinion. Like, "OK, I'll attempt to be profitable but you can't blame me if corn prices go to high. "  Granted one farmer is not able to control all grain prices but that same one farmer can decide how he will deal with those circumstances on his /her own farm. Perhaps the pastured hogs will get less corn and  more of the other sources of less costly protein such as soy bean hulls , hay or raw milk if one has access to a nearby dairy and the means to transport the milk. Options.  We all have enough options to allow us to accomplish a task instead of  just "attempting" to accomplish it.  Attempt, such a defeatist word. No wonder farmers feel so low sometimes.   

And now "Profitability."  Our farm has never been hugely profitable yet bills were paid and some luxuries were allowed.  My salary covered all the household expenses and then bought the things the farm needed that the farm could not pay for. We drove used vehicles and Keith's farm equipment was even more used. In the 18 years we have been married we have purchased just two brand new pieces of farm equipment. One Kubota tractor and one livestock trailer which was paid for with grant funds from the ever generous Frontera Farmers foundation. These are not complaints. These are facts. But when our methods didn't work we changed them. Sometimes the changes  were BRILLIANT (like selling whole hog carcasses directly to the back alley of fine restaurants ) while other times the changes we made failed worse than  those changes barked about by that hotshot politician from Chicago.

And in light of all that we decided the best way to become more sustainable and more profitable was for me to leave a job that paid financially very well but had taken me to a dead end spiritually. So here we are trying, "attempting" every day to be independently sustainable. Will we make it ?  Only Mud, Sweat and Tears will tell. If we mange to support our farm with no outside income are we "more" sustainable than those farmers who still must farm all day and perhaps work all night in a factory or all day for perhaps another farmer and then working a second shift on their own land ? Whose wives must teach or cook or nurse or God willing , write, to bring in more income ? I think not. Farming is hell and heaven all mixed into one wet and cold, warm and sunny day and in my opinion, again, if you are still getting out of bed each day thinking about how you can make your farm just a little bit better than it was the day before, you are indeed "sustainable"
And if all that is not enough, the definition of sustainable goes on to require preservation of the environment. Again, very subjective. How WE  choose to preserve the environment (through the very stringent standards of the National Organic Program) may not be the same way YOU choose to preserve the environment. To some gardeners a little bit of Round Up to control weeds is acceptable while to others it is frowned upon or even to others may be illegal to use on their farms.

Regardless of the buzz word you type on your farm products label YOU are accountable to that customer. who buys your product. Say what you mean and mean what you say verbally and in writing. But please think hard about what you put on those labels and be willing to defend with pride the words you have chosen to identify the farm you represent. Honesty and integrity are still the best buzz words of all.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Customer Appreciation

We do. Appreciate our customers that is. But, we don't tell them enough. You know how it is. In the early stages of the relationship you're overflowing with praise and thankfulness.

"You want to buy more bacon ? Really ? Sure I'll bring more. I can't believe you really liked it. I mean we like it but we weren't sure others would like it. Are you sure you like it ? THANK YOU so very much. You are SO COOL !"

And then some time goes by and those special customers, the ones who bought your products before your big farm name change, before you really even had labels on the food and you just marked "pork chop" on the white paper with a crayon, well you don't see them as often because you're sooo busy taking pork up to Hollywood for Hams (Chicago)

Then, one day, some of those customers who were your friends first and then bacon inhalers later, show up on your farm. And they bring their kids.

I'm not sure if its the pink boots or her smile,  but little Miss V
  looks quite at ease  sitting on the tractor wheel does she not ?
These future customers of small family farms and locally grown products  also enjoyed our dog Fannie. And Fannie ? Well she never said but I think she liked all the attention. Either that or the Xanax I gave her before our visitors arrived, was kicking in.

Need a good farm dog ? Great Pryenees love kids as much as they hate coyotes.
Several of these kids have been to our farm before as well as children of our other early supporters, (you know who you are) and we APPRECIATE your ongoing support of what we do. Maybe one day when you come to visit we'll be like those other family farms who give tours. Maybe we'll have a fenced in area for a petting zoo instead of the fruitless peacock chase across the yard, and maybe we'll even have a real kiddie ride or two. But until then we'll have to make do with the "do-it-yourself" rides.

Still, the most important thing..we appreciate our customers, the old and the new, we really really do !

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Good Seed

Remember that movie "The Bad Seed " ? From the 1950's all black and white and so evil ?  Starring Eileen Heckart. Well it has nothing to do with this blog so forgetabouit.

These Good Little Seeds worked very hard one warm day to get the first garden seeds into the soil. Keith gave me this raised bed last year and do I ever love it. Wish I had 20 of them ! Last year I planted an entire salad garden in here (except tomatoes) and this year I plan to do the same. Located just outside our kitchen door it is very convenient for meal time in the summer.

I was amazed at the tenacity of the GK's. We had to pull up the old dead stuff from last season,

break up the clumps of manure and straw that had been composting over the winter

spread it out nicely

check on the sunning dog  Fannie, to make sure she was still alive

then plant the seeds. Peas, onions, spinach and radishes are IN !

Such a good day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cochon sweet (and salty) the memory

So OK, no more suspense, our Chef Mike Sheerin and his sidelick, our Red Wattle, were sadly not chosen as the winners of the Cochon 555 but it was not for lack of extremely hard work. I mean really ,just look at this unbelievable menu  Mike created out of a simple farm pig from Chatsworth, Illinois 

Mike and his crew worked like the crazed chefs they were trying to please the party goers as well as the judges and did so in the midst of extreme chaos, noise and general hooliganism.

And speaking of hooligans just take a gander at our friends Kim and Kenny Snyder who came to the party acting fairly normal but ended the evening looking like this,

Kim raises hogs and chickens and that is all I have to say about that

As opposed to Keith and I who started the evening like this:

But after a couple of drinks we too lost our reserve, got silly and ended up looking like this:

Special thanks to the executives at 3 Floyds Brewery for acting as
stunt doubles for the executives at South Pork Ranch LLC.
(Cary Grant in a tattoo and that is all I am going to say about THAT.)

So who won this grand event ? Why,  it was our friend Kim Snyder from Faith's Farm and her chef Mike
Fiorello. Read more here We were thrilled that Kim won as she works very hard on her small farm located in Bonfield and after all Keith and I would not have even been included in this grand event if she had not told Mike Sullivan, AKA The Reverend of Fat, that we had another heritage pig to fill in at the last minute for the farmer who was unable. Read about Kim's Farm here

Kim's chef Mike Fiorello melted our hearts (literally) with bacon laced ice cream pastry thingy that I would have sold my father for had he been alive ! And then out of no where I see this lovely gentleman holding a hunk of porky goodness and dang it all if he doesn't look just like dear old dad, with a shamrock on his lapel no less.

Thank you kind sir, who looks like me da gone now these
 20 years God rest his soul,
for being so happy about somefree  raw pork and
 letting me take your picture.

Other highlights included hobnobbing with chefs we already knew like the always grand Chris Pandel of The Bristol. Chris has been buying pork from us for over a year and was another contestant in the chef competition. We were also grieved that HE did not win but Chris handled the disappointment with real class as always,

What ? Me worry ?

Chris served, now get this, drinks made from , or through, different pieces of pork. Like the trotter infused
"pigtail". Get it ? Pigtail, not cocktail. I knew you were smarter than you looked. And for those non-farmer types who don't know what a trotter is the pigs foot. That is correct Chris created a drink that is infused with a pigs foot. You bet I drank one. And that was after I had raw oysters with a glob of caviar. Oink is me. Oh wait, that is "Eirin is me." Never mind.

Even knowing for a fact what has been "infused" thorough
our own pigs feet, I found this to be a grand drink all together.
The evening would no be complete without a very VERY special Thank You to the founder Brady Lowe. The Cochon 555 is just in its third year but has already gathered a tremendous amount of respect in the food and wine world. Keith and I were genuinely thrilled to be invited . Kim and I were lucky enough to talk to Bradys mother for about 30 minutes about her son, his love for good food and his support of the ever shrinking small family farm. What a special lady

Brady Lowe, founder of the Cochon 555
And so we bid adieu to The Cochon 555 Chicago. Its time to get back to the reality of farm life where the manure can be knee high and the animals might be chewing on you instead of vise versa, or is it visa versa ? Oh forget it.

Good night ladies
Good night Sir
Hit it sweetheart

Cue that Journey song here. You know the one about the lights
going down in the city.  What do you mean you don't know that song ?
Oh for crying out loud, its right there, that 8 track on my hi-fi, oh go to bed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is D'eirin me

I am of Ireland. At least that is what the ring on my finger says. See this little house ?

Todays "derelict" house in Ireland is my retirement home in the future

I Put a down payment on it last time I was in Ballyvaughan. I got a great deal being as it was inhabited by sheep and a donkey or two. Really, one day I WILL live in Eire at least two months out of the year. And since I could never stand to be away from the grand babies that long that will just have to go with me

O'Shaughnessy emblem at the gate to the chapel at
Kilmacduogh Castle ,County Galway

And see this cool gate above ? Yeah, its going on the gate to my front garden. Like my dead ancestors really need it anymore. Oh no ! Is that the time ? I have a party to attend. My rides here. Bye bye, Slainte' and remember...don't drink and ride.

Giddy up Danny Boy

Eating Irish

If I were in Ireland right now I'd be at this grand pub in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare and I would eating this:

Mashed turnips (grown locally of course) big slabs of rashers (Irish bacon) and a pile of dark green Kale all washed down with the finest pint of stout in the world. The pic above was the actual meal I ate at the Irish Arms last October when visiting with my nurse friends. Ah good times.

Saint Patrick ? Is that you ?!??!?

The Cliffs of Moher in  County Clare,  Ireland
Raising 600 feet out of the ocean. To see them is
to understand the word, "Awesome"
Aye, but it is indeed the day of Saint Pat. Of course I will talk only of Ireland today but instead of one long post you will instead get several today as we have too much going on here for the luxury of bum sitting for more than a few minutes at a time.  Stay tuned

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Pigcation

Enough about the pigs already ! Lets talk milk. After all this farm of ours would not even exist if it has not been for our first cow and strong milker, Kiki.

Alas Kiki has long ago gone the way of the dead animal truck, or was it the compost pile?  The family BBQ  of 2008 ? Or was she the one Keith buried but it was really hot and maybe she could have been buried a bit deeper but REALLY it was very hot and digging that hole by hand (and a shovel) before we bought a decent tractor was very hard even though it was late at night after the HOT sun went down and Keith was shoveling in his skivies and so maybe she could've been buried deeper and the next morning that one leg shot up out of the earth and we woke to find the our 3 boys playing Tether ball with a post in the yard we don't remember ever installing ? Was that her ?

Anyway, Kiki is gone but her memory and her sports abilities live on. Without her there would have been  no milk, no future calves and no dairy. No Grade A licensure, no sales to conventional Mega companies. No frustration with poor milk prices, no conversion to organic dairy, no selling of raw milk to customers who wanted it very badly. No loss of contract with Foremost, no loss of Grade A license because even though it is legal to sell milk in Illinois it is frowned upon by the government masses who feign education. No increase in milk sales, in our farms bottom line, in customer satisfaction . Without Kiki we'd probably be selling chemical supplements by the case to schools teaching children about nutrition.

Without Kiki we'd be less tired,

and less satisfied. And we are very satisfied most days. Especially on those days when customers like Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture take a moment to not only thank us but then ask us to speak to his class at the University of Wisconsin. A great 45 minutes of being able to tell our story and then answer questions from young hopefuls who want to do something akin to whatwe are doing here on South Pork Ranch. That is what Keith and I did this morning.

It was an honor Bill and THANK YOU for your support of this small family farm.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Generally speaking...about the Farm Store

"I went to a general store but they wouldn't let me buy anything specific "
                                                                     -Stephen Wright

Our farm store, the Spotted Wattle is doing well, thanks for asking. We bought the little building at the end of last summer. Keith and our three sons did all the electrical, insulation and other work like installing the two large freezers. I painted. They painted. I painted again.

We opened it for business in November.

Every day we learn something new about running the store. We have regular business hours but seems something always comes up where both of us have to be gone from the farm for awhile. Just as we were contemplating doing a self-serve deal, one of our customers came while we were gone, selected meat, weighed the meat and left appropriate payment.

Our customers...brilliant !

Other store issues included the following
     What to stock ?
     How much ?
     Should we sell items for other farmers ?
     What are the rules and regs for this ?
     Do we even want to know the rules and regs for this ?
     What about risk and liability ? I could drop burger on my feet.
     Do I need a permit ?
     Should I buy items from others on consignment or buy them outright ?
     If I don't sell the 20 lip balms I just purchased will my family accept them as Christmas gifts ?
    Should I test, use, bake with , everything I sell so I can honestly promote those items ?
    If I keep eating and testing everyone Else's products will I ever lose weight ?

And the most important question.   How do I keep the floor clean ?!?!?!?

To date we carry a fair variety for a dinky on site farm store. Specifically, our own certified organic meat, all natural lip balms, certified organic corn meal and wheat flour, pasture raised turkey, Aztec Blue Corn Meal, All natural popcorn and soap made by yours truly.

Free range eggs from two area farmers. Emily Jones and the McWilliams family
Find them at and

In future blogs I will continue to take pictures of items we sell and give you contact info about the local farms in this area, their services, their products and their visions.

Now, if any of you have had experience with running a farm store, the kind that is located on your own property, please share your findings with the rest of us. What kind of restrictions did you find with your county and state authorities ? Which items sold best ? How did you market your store ?  And of course,  How did you keep the floor clean ? 

Thanks a million.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cochun 555 The Red Wattle meets his Maker

On our last show...the Red Wattle was chosen and taken to Chenoa Locker . Reminded again about  the bacon fame that could be his, he was humanely slaughtered and prepared per Chef Mike Sullivan's directions. Remember,  there are two Mike's in this play. One (Mike Sullivan) is the co-coordinator of Cocchon 555 along with Brady Lowe and the other is Mike Sheerin the chef who was given our RW to prepare. If you are just tuning into this blog you can read more about the event we are preparing for here

Yesterday, very early yesterday, we travelled west to pick up our hog at 0630. We then headed northeast to deliver our cargo to Indiana. We had an address. We found the address. But it looked like a brewery. It WAS a brewery ! The 3 Floyds Brewery and the guys there were prepared for us. !  Specifically Andrew Conaway was our host and official hog recipient. But first a side bar.

A big shout out to blog friend Brian who has been working on building a pub like bar in his basement (for some time I might add. They apparently work slow on the east coast ) While touring the 3 Floyds Brewery  I kept thinking of you Brian and how the decor in this not so little Brewery in the Midwest might inspire your decor. Your wife however...might not agree.

So the beast was unloaded and then escorted to the prepatorium

Ah ribs...and loin..and baaacooon....

Mr Conaway then gave us a private tour of the brewery as well as the pub where great food is being managed by Chef Mike (Sheerin) who sadly we did not get to meet yesterday but yet the day was still quite grand as not only did we get to see this very fun vat (oh how I love signage) ,

we were able to see the pub INSIDE the brewery,

with its authentic concrete floors and real old seats. The best kind of bar seats where the vinyl is all soft and pre-shaped by all the bums (I'm talking about peoples behinds, not making a comment about their socio-economic status) before you.  The art work displayed throughout the facility did in most cases require an over 21 crowd but was still of great talent. I wanted so badly to take this one home

for my own Irish family get togethers but once again when I asked Keith to hoist me up to the wall so I could grab it,  he feigned deafness.

At the end of our tour we were sent home with a fanTABulous gift. A gift I choose not to tell you about as I am selfish that way and plan to drink..I mean all to myself.  Slainte'  !

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cochon 555..A farmer, a chef and a Red Wattle hog walk into a pub...

Cochun 555  Red Wattle wannabees. Summer 2010

Yesterday I sprung the news that was sprung on us. We've been chosen (again thank you to Marty Travis Kim Snyder and Michael Sullivan ) as one of the farmers who will pair up with one of the chefs in the Cochon 555 chef and wine competition. I'm still putting all the pieces together in my Abby Normal head so bear with me as I work to get all the facts straight. Oh wait ! Someone with ALL their faculties already did that and created this fanTABulous ** website. You may leave for a moment and check it out. Be sure to come back.

Today we found out who OUR chef was to be, the man of the hour who will take our Red Wattle to fame and fortune or at least into a few hot ovens of high quality. His name is...Mike Sherrin of Trenchermen Restaurant in Munster, Indiana. Prior to  that he worked at Blackbird in Chicago. Rather than totally butcher up his resume you can read about him here

And if you would like to see him in action then check this out

Tomorrow we pick up our Red Wattle who is just patiently hanging around Chenoa Locker sans hair. Other than that he is pretty intact. The contest requires that the chef work with the WHOLE hog, unsplit with head and feet in place.  This is a very good thing as those of you who know us from long ago (last year) know that Keith and I have a habit of misplacing our pig heads. Its like me mother always said,  "Donna Marie, you'd lose your head if it wasn't attached to you ! " Thelma O'Shaughnessy, the profit. Who knew ?

We'll leave very early in the morning to head west to get Mr Wattle and then travel north up Rt 55 and over east on Rt 80 and into Hoosierville a suburb of Whoville, and then place him in the capable hands of Chef Sheerin. After that we hustle back to begin our weekend job of grand parenting. But first has anyone else noticed how familiar Chef Sheerin looks or is it just me ? Did I go to high school with him ? Naaaa, he's about 22 and I'm...not. Oh well, I'll figure it out or I'll forget about  it. Its a 50/50  kind of thing.

Stay tuned for more about Cochun 555.

Now about that annoying * mark. The word fanTABulous is in honor of my daughter-in-law TAB who has a birthday this month and by the way starts culinary school in May

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Knock Knock...its me, opportunity.

The Critically Endangered Red Wattle Hog. To save
him is to eat him
So I'm sitting on my very comfy couch  in my sorta red but not quite cinnamon colored robe, reading the latest edition of Scientific American  thinking how happy I am that it is Wednesday and I do not need to go anywhere thank the heavens because even though it IS only Wednesday we've already had this really really crazy super busy week with too many meetings and too much rain which caused all this mud that makes doing chores that much harder, when I hear knocking on the door.

I will admit...I considered pretending I wasn't home.

The knocking continued. I stood up and plodded my way to the kitchen door. There was friend and fellow farmer Kim Snyder of Faith's Farm. She was very excited. " 175 pounds...They called...dropped out...farmer...they need another pig... you have  pig ?!?!...A heritage hog...its big really big... going to call right back...its big this thing...gotta know now...big...Keith said you to talk to.."

After throwing enough ice water in her face to get her to complete a  few sentences,  her phone rang.  "Yes Michael, she's right here."  (See, the ice water worked. A common misconception is the need to slap a hysterical woman. I find that action to be overkill and not as much fun as the shock of the ice water trick.) Back to the phone. Enter Michael Sullivan  AKA  The Reverend of Fat. Really that's what he said his name was. Turns out he was one of the coordinator on this years Cochun 555 event , THE pork event of the year. Read more here  Briefly the event involves 5 top chefs, 5 heritage hogs, 5 top wines, tons of media and lots of fun.

I knew nothing of such an event. Never even heard of Mr. Cucucachu or his 555 porcine friends. Turns out though that our friend Kim knew about it as she had been asked to deliver one of her heritage hogs for the event. This morning after dropping off that hog at the Chenoa locker she dropped by our house to buy some milk. As she was leaving her phone rang and a very upset and worried "Reverend" called to tell her one of the other farmers who was supposed to provide a hog for the event was suddenly unable to and, here's the really good part, did she know anyone else who raised heritage hogs ?

That is why she turned back around (livestock trailer and all) and ended up banging on my back door at the crack of  dawn . (8 am for me is indeed the crack of dawn. I may be awake at 6am but I do not begin to compute until 10 am and the coffee pot is sucked dry)  So, long story abort...I agreed to the request, honored to be asked even if we were runners up. Keith and I went to the barn , picked out the perfect hog with nice wobbly wattles and a "winning !"  smile that would make even Charlie Sheen proud, and escorted him onto the trailer.

The weird thing was, this Red Wattle was in a pen with 20 other hogs and when we came into the barn he just walked up to the gate like he was happy to be Dead Ham Walking. We opened the gate, he sauntered down the barn aisle and even took enough time to pause at the end of the trailer, turn and wave to his friends left back in the barn !  I told you it was weird.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Farmer Pirates and Dancing Cowboys

Apples without pesticides or fungicides,
 take longer to mature
and ripen. Good things are always worth the wait.

A night to remember.  Last night at Station 220 in Bloomington Illinois miraculous things occurred. The first annual meeting of The Central Illinois Sustainable Farmers Network (CISFN) took place. More than double the expected number of farmers showed up to meet old friends, greet new friends and eat a meal that was out of this world. The meal evolved through the efforts of many local farmers sharing their produce and meat, all raised with hard work and a dedication to growing food with massive taste benefits and minimal harm to the land. A meal put together through the sweat and worry of  chef  Ken Myszka of Epiphany Farms, who jumped in at the last moment when desperately needed. A meal that combined tastes of  paper thin radish peels and pieces of pork belly, maple syrup with carrot cake and honey crisps. The kind of meal where you are dreadfully sad when the last plate is served as you know you could easily eat one, five, ten more of any of the courses.

And now a word about the servers and cooks we did not see. Men and women who did not get the fame of the microphone but whom without their services a meal like last nights would never had made it out from the farmers truck, into the kitchen and onto our plates complete with the flowing circle of Aronia berry juice perfectly framing our dessert.

So many people coming together to focus on one thing, the small family farm.

The evening was already perfect but then an introduction was made. While listening to his resume being shared at the podium, our guest speaker hung his head. His well worn hat tipped low, he wrung his hands ever so slightly around his note cards. It was obvious to this other small farmer that our man of the hour was not so comfortable in the recitation of his life medals. The introduction went on for some time, appropriate since our guest had in his very young middle aged life, already accomplished some amazing things. They are discussed here:

When Mr Miller spoke everyone listened. He is the rare  individual who walks the long, often muddy, usually heavy but then again often rewarding walk of the small farmer. He started HIS speech by pushing the attention in another direction. Pointing to the Sugar Shack King, Will Travis of Spence Farm in Fairbury Illinois, he said "The future of everything we care about in this room is right there in that young man. " He went on to talk of many OTHER farmers stories from across the country. "Small"  farmers who were making HUGE differences in their own neighborhoods ways of looking  at and utilizing food grown sustainably by "their" farmer.

He reminded us about the rest of the planet where every four seconds a child dies of hunger. The elegantly served goat meat and pasta in my own belly rolled over in guilt and I thought of the many opportunities that had passed by to share our  wealth of food in our own community.  Something to put at the top of our "To-do " list which contained far less important things like updating our assets sheets for our tax man

And he chastised us for not knowing our neighbors across the fence. " We need to allow our farms to be part and parcel of those who live around us."  And he encouraged us and made us smile when he said " Living the life of something you love is the sexiest life you can live."  12 hours later I am still giggling about that one. Wondering how to incorporate it into our farm slogan. South Pork Ranch where raising the Red Wattle hog is sexy !  That should generate some community interest.

He told us of the Japan's Ministry of Agriculture who visited his own farm in Oregon and his pure laugh out loud joy at seeing Lynn working with real horse power. The kind with a tail and a mane. He downplayed the importance of such a visit and the passing of the real food baton reminding us that,  "The answer is scale." More specifically , "The farm should be no bigger than what you can get your arms bigger than your embrace."  I looked down at my own short arms suddenly realizing why I was so tired lately. At that exact moment my husband , sitting behind me, reached up and placed his hand on my shoulder. Strong words I won't soon forget, as long as I write them down on some post-its and stick them up all over the house and the barn and in my notebooks and on my blog. Nope. I won't forget them.

He filled his time with real stories about real people and a few stories of questionable nature like the snake who knocked on the side of his boat looking for another drop or two of Jack Daniels. Anyone with half a brain knows snakes prefer Jamison. Ever since driven out of Ireland they've missed it terribly.

After the meeting I stood in line to get our worn copy of Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows signed. When I reached out to shake Lynn's hand he grabbed it, pulled it towards him and KISSED IT !  He then thanked me for all the hard work we were doing on our farm. Just the day before Keith and I were talking about all we do, why we do it, should we do it, can we stay solvent doing it, without killing ourselves while doing it and then someone comes along and out of the blue thanks you for doing it.

And you are able to get up the next day and do it again.

THANK YOU Mr Lynn R Miller. Thanks a million.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another piece of the story

                                                So as promised or perhaps threatened,
                                here is another little bit from my book.
                                  Your comments are most welcome.

She rolled over in her crib seeking out the puddle of warmth her body had just made made . Hoping to lie in it a bit longer despite hearing the brisk click clack click of the nurses shoe heels coming down the linoleum hallway, faster and faster. This meant Sister Bertrand would be getting Clare up this morning, Sister Bertrand with her tight face and  long bony fingers and very fast trot. She was the head nurse, the boss lady , the charge nurse, her title changing depending on which student nurse was doing the boot licking.The Sister nurses never called each other any other name than the ones they came to Suffering Heart with or at least none that baby Clare had ever heard.

Sister Bertrand was not mean, she was just quick and abrupt. Sometimes she would rush too much and pinch the child's hand in the cold metal crib rail or pull their hair when combing through the rat tangles the nights tossing and turning had left . She didn't intend these hurts. She would always apologize, her apologies as quick as her step. "Sorry !" and again "sorry" as she pulled a child's gown over her head roughly enough to make ears feel like they might be ripping loose. She was horrible at shoes, jamming the toes into the stiff white leather before she would loosen the cotton ties. Baby Clare had learned at a very young age to curl up her toes tightly against one another thus lessening the likely hood that one would get caught on the side of the shoe, pulling it backwards.

But this morning Sister Bertrand was different. She was just as quick, just as abrupt but when she took baby Clare from her crib dropping the rails with the usual loud CLANK of metal on metal she did not immediately yank off Clare's dressing gown exposing her to the frigid barely morning air. Instead, she pulled the tiny girl close and laid her cheek on Clare's head. So brief that Clare was unsure what was happening but just long enough to smell the familiar Breck Shampoo in the wisps of brown bangs that had escaped from under the Sisters rigid head piece. She knew it was Breck because her sister Diedres' head smelled the same whenever she came to visit. Clean and flowery and soft. That was the way Deirdre would describe it to her much younger sister.  "Isn't my hair clean and flowery and soft Clare ? My friend Michele gave me this Breck stuff, so much better than the castile soap junk mom always buys."

Clare wondered where did Sister Bertrand get her shampoo ? She had heard them through the vent in the wall above her crib always complaining  about the harshness of the soaps and shampoos at Suffering Heart but she had not heard anyone talk about the Breck. She had heard them complain about all sorts of things like the food and the lack of shoes for the other children and the bread that was always delivered after breakfast instead of before as they so clearly had told Mr Denunzio who obviously did not listen. Clare enjoyed listening to the voices through the thin wall that separated her ward from the Sisters lounge.

Just as Clare felt herself leaning into Sister Bertrand, her tiny body full of ache for the warmth of human touch that lasted longer than it took to put on a pair of shoes, Sister Bertrand pushed Clare upright and away from her. She finished Clare's hair, pulling over an uneven section of fine blond hair with a bobby pin she'd been holding in her mouth, and put her  diminutive charge down in a folding chair next to the child's crib. "Don't move !", she instructed. She yanked the soiled sheet off the bed with enough force to cause the plastic coated mattress to lift off the springs underneath. She replaced it with a clean sheet, smelling harshly of bleach and  institutional detergent, snapping it into straightness, mitering the corners, and then placed Clare back into the crib . And then surprising Clare for the second time that morning, Sister Bertrand placed her hand on Clare's cheek and reminded her "Stay clean for five minutes will you ? " Removing her hand , she pulled up the metal crib rails until the loud click of the locking mechanism was heard, reassuring the Sister  that this child would be going nowhere.