Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Autumn roars in

As if on cue, the winds swept in and the clouds descended on our little Puget Sound island a day and a half after the last of our fall events.  Sunday dawned bright and beautiful for cider-pressing with our pal David and cleaning up the debris still left from the farm tour.  Then Monday brought the fall weather we're more familiar with.

The rains may be upon us soon.

But, we would be grinches to complain - what a summer and early fall it's been.

In the swirl of farm-related activity, there's been a fair amount of regular life that's been taking place as well.  Our journey into the worlds of both middle school and homeschooling so far have been much less dramatic than we'd anticipated.  We are fortunate to count some of the best teachers anywhere among our clan.

Even though the rains and short days are just around the corner, I'd be lying if I didn't fess up that fall is actually my favorite season.  I love the cool dry days and the chilly nights, the culmination of all the planting and tending, the rustle of wind through falling leaves.

Here on the farm, of course, it means more work - witness these past few weekends!  Still to come is shearing, and slaughter.  We're building another shed to finally provide a home for hay and bicycles, racing against time to finish it before mud season.  But the work is good work, clean work, work that produces something tangible and solid at the end of the day.  Same goes for cooking down that bumper crop of tomatoes into sauce - feels so satisfying to click those containers shut and line them up in the freezer.

Many folks think of fall as a time of death - the trees shed their leaves, the plants in the garden die back.  But somehow it always feels like renewal to me.  Summer has offered up its plenty, now's the time to shut the windows and turn inward, to reflect, to prepare for the winter ahead and plan for the spring beyond.

Happy fall-

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stop Sign Farm rocked the Harvest Celebration Tour

A huge shout out to the veritable army of friends and family that all but guaranteed Stop Sign Farm's successful debut on King County's Harvest Celebration Tour!  We had pals meeting and greeting, cooking up mouth-watering dishes, pressing the first real apple juice a lot of folks had ever tasted, directing and answering questions, shearing sheep, answering questions about baby chicks and even playing fiddle!  Wow.

It didn't all play according to plan, but it wasn't far off and the results speak for themselves - Stop Sign Farm attracted more visitors than any other Vashon farm and I dare say many folks stayed far longer than they had anticipated.  Between delicious samples of hand-raised and expertly cooked lamb, fresh apple cider, beautiful sheep to feed, and baby chicks to admire, city folks with an eye toward whole foods and simple living had a tough time tearing themselves away.

But, it definitely took a village to barn raise this baby.  I am certainly blessed to live in this beautiful place, nestled in towering trees and bathed by warming sun, but I am even more blessed to have such a collection of amazing and uniquely talented and caring people just on the other end of a phone line, willing to jump in and create success out of chaos.

200 people came to our farm yesterday.  Maybe a few of them will buy their food a little differently this fall.  Maybe a few of the many, many children who frolicked and pet and tasted will understand what goes into the dinner on their plate.  Maybe a few of those families will try a hand at food production themselves.  Anything can happen.

It was a blast.  Can't wait til next year.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Saturday is the big day! Come visit Stop Sign Farm

SSF is on King County's 2009 Harvest Celebration Tour this Saturday, and we couldn't be more excited (or nervous).  Dylan reminded me this morning on the drive to school that we've been talking about being one of "those farms" ever since we first purchased our land.  

And here we are 36 hours away from becoming One of Them.

We've got an army of good friends willing to volunteer, a little bit of product to sell, lots of fun and games, and things to show and tell.  It'll be a good day.  If you're in the Puget Sound area and interested in the perfect way to spend a perfect fall day, grab your picnic blanket and head on over.  It's all here - food, drink, livestock, fiber arts, and music.

What else is there?

For a detailed look at the whole tour (including our info and schedule on page 14), and a link to the ferry schedule, check out King County's brochure.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September Stop Sign Fall Picnic

An unusually hot and absolutely beautiful early fall day provided the perfect backdrop for our 4th annual neighborhood picnic September 12.  Folks from all around our neck of the woods, as well as good friends from the city, showed up with delectable dishes and good conversation to share.  The music was awesome and the launching of yummy Ruind Brewing ales was well received.

With the setting of the sun, cool moved in and pal and neighbor Mark got his 2 fires roaring.  Musicians played well into the night, then packed it up to come sit in the glow of the big fire pit til sometime past midnight.

A shout out to Jan and Judith and Elise for all their help before and during the annual event. Their efforts meant I got a chance to talk with folks I hadn't seen in a while.  It was, as always, great to connect with everyone.

Still it's sometimes hard to know which I enjoy more - the picnic or the day after....

If you're in vicinity and you missed it this year - mark your calendar.  Saturday, September 11, 2010.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Living with chaos

One of the biggest life lessons, or failures, depending upon your point of view, of farming is living with near-constant chaos.

Most people complain of chaos in their lives - their inability to reconcile their iPhone calendar with their old-fashioned wall version, the weeds that take over their garden the second they turn their back, the social, academic, and athletic commitments that seem to truly dominate their lives.

But, let's take a baby step into farm life to truly appreciate life among entropy and the coping skills each family member is required to develop in order to refrain from killing any other members of the clan:

Back in a previous life, I had a house twice this size and a yard about 1/10 this size. Things had a place and I even had for a while, no kidding, a landscapey type person who showed up once a month to prune and trim with his crew b/c I was so afraid to touch the carefully choreographed landscaping gently laid down some 40 years previous.

This all seems vaguely hilarious now.

Tonight I write this with 50 baby chicks peeping atop spectacularly soiled newspapers in my 4X6 laundry room, which, as fate would have it, also holds my laundry facilities. My 2 cats and 1 Australian Shepherd keep watch, all, strangely, apparently concerned for the well-being of these chirpers.

Keeping count? That's 53 animals in my 1500 SF house - but we've forgotten the rabbit, which is perched in a cage at the bottom of the stairs and not quite in the dining space or kitchen. 54.

Outside, my lovingly built up and partitioned and peppled up front yard is assaulted daily by, we think, about 30 hens and 1 admittedly very fine and unusually genteel rooster.

Keeping count? That's 85.

Meanwhile, down in the pasture, the baaing is near incessant. We have fat and happy Icelandic sheep wondering when exactly we'll be showing up with the next bucket of grain to lure them to this evening pasture or today's Lazy Man dinner - a few flakes of platinum-priced Timothy hay. Right now, between lambing and harvest, our sheep count 14.

Keeping count? We're butting up awefully close to 100.

So. What does 100 animals or thereabouts look like? It's easy to focus on what it looks like outside - animals about, landscape under attack, the need to build and move fences.

But, that's only half the story.

100 animals looks a lot like livng with total chaotic meltdown up there in the "big house."

Can't do laundry, the house smells like chicks, the entire contents of the laundry room have been emptied into the den (the 10X12 den) and elsewhere. When you live in a small house already, moving a whole room out for a few weeks to accommodate newcomers looks like bedlam. Dog fur roams freely, it's tough to vacuum, let's not even discuss what the dust holds. And we're dumping cloudy chick water into the toilet each night. What passes for normal...not so much.

Still, turning your house inside out can be frustrating to be sure, but it can also be illustrative. Tempers run hot. Fuses are short. It's not just Mom who gets irritable when the house is upside down - although she may be the most honest about the cause. But, here's a weird thing I've learned: chaos, as much as I hate it and always will, has a place. It breaks down normalcy, it pushes limits. It forces the frustration and the grievances that a perfectly tidy house, and life, can sweep so easily under the area rug.

Don't be afraid to get messy. Sometimes chaos is the only way to sanity.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chick Report

The chicks are almost one and a half weeks old and the pin feathers are popping out. Laundry has taken something of a backseat here at SSF, and we're discovering the joys of wearing clothes a little longer and digging out long-forgotten items to don for the day. Thrilled with their progress, I remain hopeful that we'll be relocating these lovely little ladies to their insulated outdoor abode soon. Very soon.

But, check them out! Aren't they just beautiful? (OK, the heat lamp makes good photos problemmatic.) Nana and her houseguest took a quick trip to Victoria over the weekend and were just flabbergasted when they returned at how in just 3 days the chicks had really morphed from fuzzy fragile fluffballs to robust little birds. We haven't lost anyone since the 3rd day and they seem active, vocal (!), and healthy.

So far, so good. 50 again? Not sure....

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Own a Vashon Dreamboat!

Heck - own 12!  Yes, for the single price of just $20, you get 12 stylishly nude Vashon dads - all commuters - set amidst articles of their own personal interest and against the backdrop of bucolic Vashon in summer.  Shot by a spectacular photographer!  Such a deal.

A lot has been written about the newly-launched Vashon Dreamboats calendar, but I have just have to pipe in with a couple observations:

First, I absolutely have to applaud the courage and sense of whimsey these guys mustered to do this, not to mention the tenacity and aplomb of the 3 gals who made it happen - especially in the face of some disappointingly predictable small-town prudishness.  (Although, as I read the comments attached to the Tacoma News Tribune article, I see that small towns do not hold the copyright on prudishness.)

Second, I can't remember when something this fun and silly - and then well done to boot - last happened 'round here.  We have a tendency to take ourselves a wee bit serious here on this island.  We have also been known on occasion to talk virtually any interesting idea right into the grave.  I'm thrilled this actually came to pass.

Third, we need the money.  Our small school district was disproportionately hit in the budget-cutting process, finding itself with a funding gap equal to many districts several times larger.  We are in a painful position.

Finally, and this gets a little lost in the fun and games of this great project - as inventive and creative as Dreamboats is...why do we have to get this inventive and creative to keep teachers in the classroom and supplies on the shelf?  Where are our priorities?  As my GGF Shelley says on her Examiner.com blog, I sure wish our legislators would demonstrate half the courage as our own island dads and make sure our kids get the education they deserve.

Thanks to all the amazing folks behind and in front of the camera for caring and sharing and baring!  Stop Sign Farm was proud to be a sponsor.  Order your Dreamboat from Amazon today!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Motorcycle Sunday

Every August, sleepy Vashon comes alive with the rumble and roar of hundreds and hundreds of vintage and unusual motorcycles.  The Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiast club, or VME, holds their annual ride here, and if you get up early you're in for quite a treat.

This year, finally, I didn't forget.  I got up at 7:30, kissed my party-pooper family bye, and headed to the dock to capture the sight of a 300 foot ferry filled to the brim with hogs.  The crystal clear morning down at our farm on the south end of the island became mistier and mistier as I drove north, finally socked in completely at the dock.

I wasn't disappointed as I parked my car where it didn't belong and bought a long tall coffee from Wanda.  The dock was almost eery with fog and birds and near silence.  I couldn't help but shudder at the cool quiet solitude I knew was preceding an imminent deafening storm.

Soon enough, the boat was unveiled between the misty curtains of Puget Sound, and there they were - hundreds of hogs lined up to invade our peaceful rock.

I took photos then, almost getting hit in the process, then headed to town to witness the traditional line-up of these beauties down both sides of our main street.  Amazing.  Bikes from the 50s, from the 70s, experimental contraptions that almost never see the light of day, sidecars.  It's all there.  

Estimates preliminarily say over 3000 bikes drove onto Vashon that day.  A slam-dunk record by far.  I believe it.  It was hard to to capture and remains hard to describe...