Today is the last day of September and the first day of Stop Sign Farms’ official life, having turned our first dollar from strangers, selling the fruits of our labor, or, more accurately, the fruits of our lovely ladies’ labor. A chair, a cooler, a hand-made sign, and an umbrella were our “farm stand” and three unknown entities, most certainly neighbors, put money in the jar and took a ½ dozen eggs out.
It feels good somehow.
Today I also waded ankle-deep into canning, a process I have always regarded as magical and mystical and frankly dangerous. I’ve admired others who can but felt intimidated and overwhelmed by the process. But after hearing friends discuss it and reading Kingsolver’s spectacular “locivore” book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I decided to dip my toe in by beginning with the most idiot-proof substance: tomatoes. Or, actually, tomato sauce. Tomatoes are so acidic, it’s tough to keel over from your mistakes, so this seemed a logical place to begin. The jars cooling on my kitchen counter keep popping, so I think we can claim success.
It’s easy to forget, but we’ve come a long way in the 18 months since we plucked 3 young hens generously shared with me by my friend Shelley down into a chicken wire concoction surrounding a Freecycle dog house. Those girls won my heart in about 8.2 seconds and I was hooked. The vineyard would have to wait: Here comes livestock.
Fast forward a year and a half. We’ve scored a real coop on same Freecycle, having to cut it apart and reassemble it, with improvements, to transport it (very nearly necessitating divorce in our household). We’ve built a real chicken run, my mom and our housesitter adding the netting “roof” while we were away. We spent a backbreaking summer building a sheep fence, getting 6 sheep, managing to complete their lean-to in a sleet storm, already minutes into what passes for winter here. We acquired 2 more sheep, AGAIN with the Freecycle!, and went on to move fairly painlessly (for us) through the lambing season with the crisis-less birth of seven babies. About February we’d lost hope that our ram was just interested in snuggling when we finally, joyfully caught him the act, raising our hopes that new life might actually grace our property. And indeed it did, coming in fits and starts and with very little help from us. A first season passed with no vets and no deaths. A good start.
Meanwhile, we jumped on the day-old chick bandwagon and had a downstairs shower full of peeps as the winter rains thrashed our windows. For a very, very long month already chronicled here, these fluffballs lived in a giant cardboard box in our shower, in our 6X7 bathroom, in our 1500 SF house until it felt to me as if everything within a 20-foot radius of that box was covered in a fine dust of chick manure. We grieved for the losses, caused by their unusually-cold flight during an Iowa snow storm, and watched them sprout feathers and personalities. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more, bought some chain and a hook, and hung the heat lamp in the new and improved coop. A new cardboard box, with low sides and a nerve-tweakingly low heat lamp, and the chicks were officially farm animals.
We lovingly recruited 2 friends from Seattle to help keep our sheep healthy on a quarterly basis. They swear they relish a day on the farm with their kids, 7 and 5, and we almost want to kiss their sheep poop-encrusted boots for the day of sheep wrangling that results in trimmed hooves, vaccinations, and worming. After we declare the ruminants good for another three months, we cook together and enjoy the rest of the day while our kids run wild in the joy of open space and a forest to call their own.
And now Thanksgiving dinner in the form of turkeys purchased from our local feed/friend guy lurks in the chicken coop. They wouldn’t so much lurk as lounge except that minutes after being set free in the run, one of the two pushed past us and out the gate to demonstrate their impressive flying skills – sure to wow anyone accustomed to mere chicken abilities – unfolding condor-like wings and soaring to a nearby Madrona…only to come up short on the landing part of the flying equation and plummet straight down to break a leg. Thus, our two turkeys pass their days inside, our injured but coping hen kept company by her commiserating companion. After consulting all the available experts, including gratefully accepting a site-visit by my turkey-raising pal, I am placated that my dinner is not suffering, but the situation’s irony is nonetheless not lost on me.