Friday, October 8, 2010

Help has arrived!

Sometimes, it turns out, if you just keep asking the universe, you find your pleas answered.

Meet Tiffany, the farm hand who fell from the sky in her Amazing Biodiesel Eco-bus House squarely onto Stop Sign Farm. She, her bus, her 2 cats, and her super good energy arrived a week ago today.

I have been yearning, wishing, fretting about an extra pair of hands around here, for the mundane and the colossal,
but was thwarted by lack of housing for any intern. Tiffany has been stressed to the breaking point in the crush and noise of the city, yearning for some breathing space and a nice big spot to park her house.

We found each other, we met, and a beautiful friendship is beginning. Her radio producing skills are of interest to Mark; the love for children she brings to her day-job - nannying - makes her an instant friend to Dylan. I suspect she will make herself indispensable in no time flat.

My advice: Keep asking - maybe a Tiffany (or a Stop Sign Farm) is just around the corner.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paella Fest - Looking into our own future

A couple weeks ago, Mark and I accompanied my mom and visiting pal Phyllis to a gala event at Vashon's Senior Center. There are senior centers and there are senior centers. Here on our little rock, we are blessed to have a centrally-located building filled with volunteers and laughter, hard work and classes, fund-raisers and charity works.

It's got its politics and warts, like any small town organization filled with retirees, but for the most part, our senior center is a vibrant and integral part of our close-knit community. My sense, from 8 years of island residence and 45 years of life, is that it is one of those rare elder facilities that folks in the community just gradually find themselves more and more a part of until, before they know it, they're serving on the Board, running Monday bridge night, and giving out scholarships when graduation rolls around. The Vashon Senior Center doesn't sit quietly in the corner of our shared life until the Age 65 bell goes off and one feels obligated to shuffle over and play pinochle.

So, while Mark and I were undoubtedly the whipper-snappers at the table, it didn't feel at all out of place to be breaking bread with this gang at a recent "friend-raiser" - an all-out Paella Fest ambitiously held outdoors in the driveway-cum-patio. Ambitious, yes - but the wisdom of the organizers shone through in the form of many, many canopies.

And a good thing too. Because, as 2010 has shown us repeatedly, Mother Nature is indeed a fickle friend. The traditionally dependable September balm was rudely shoved aside by a storm of nearly gale proportions. Most of the dressed-up seniors retreated inside to enjoy their feast and the Flamenco dancers warm and dry, but a few - including us pre-seniors - sort of reveled in the sizzle of the paella pans and the sparkle of the meticulously-hung fairy lights swinging in 40 mph winds and shining through curtains of rain all around us.

We helped, we feasted, we ferried dirty dishes through the weather to the kitchen. And by the time we went home, we were happily, gloriously drenched.

Whenever Mark is feeling old, I remind him that it's better than the alternative. And, looking into the future of an old age here in this community, I know it's true.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How does time fly by so so so fast?? No sooner do I commit to making sure I post 2 times a week than 3 weeks zip by. Argh!

So, here we are, deep into an early fall. Summer skipped us this year, I'm afraid, and the mood around the island is dark indeed. Folks here suffer through 9 months of rain, showers, drizzle, mist and every other variety of wet so they can pull out their shorts and flip flops in July and not unearth their wellies til October.

Not this year. 2010 brought a spring and summer so erratic in temperature and wet stuff just about everyone's garden flopped. And, since a lot of island folks move out here at least partially to indulge their love of I said, there is a general air of grump about.

However! Those of us lucky enough sport a greenhouse among our possessions are somewhat buffered from the wrath of Mother Nature and feeling mighty grateful right about now. As food gardeners (including myself) rip out the bolted and rotting remnants of broccoli and peas from their soggy beds, tomatoes, peppers, and basil keep coming on in the sanctuary of hooped plastic over at our place.

And salad greens are just beginning!

I think I have found the antidote to the Northwest's ubiquitous Seasonal Affective Disorder. Lots of green inside a bubble of gray.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Folk Fest Fun for Everyone

Hot on the heels of returning from Ashland, we dove into an event we'd been planning with a couple other islanders - The 3rd Annual Vashon Winery Folk Festival. Held this past Saturday and Sunday, it was a great way to celebrate music and Vashon. Folks from all around Puget Sound brought their lawn chairs and love of big bold reds and settled in for the day or weekend.

Thanks to pals Shelley and Jan for helping and to Vashon Winery proprietor Ron Irvine for a great idea and a great venue!

Jan made sure summer flowers brightened up the place.

Happy gals enjoying good music, wine, and company!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Travelogue, summer 2010

It's tough, really, to convey what it takes to leave even a silly little farm like ours for a week. Lots of planning, good fortune, and the gift of a nana on board and good local people who know one end of a tomato plant and/or ewe from another. Priceless.

Here's to Nana and Camille, with
out whom our 1 week vacation to paradise would not have been possible in any way. Thank you for giving us the break from our daily chores, our rock, our life we dearly needed. We are restored! For now...

Photos and captions herein... More on Ashland a
nd the need to get out of the rain later....

View from our hostel room, evening...

Dylan catches me feeling satisfied after a long climb to Garfield Peak, on the rim of Crater Lake.

According to a talk Dylan caught as we were heading back to the car, Crayola has spent 60 years trying to develop Crater Lake Blue...unsuccessfully.

The countryside surrounding Ashland is more Northern CA than Oregon.

Mark checks in with work from the front porch.

Dylan's newly-invented sushi napkin fold, developed at Kobe Sushi Bar our last night.

Our lasting take-away - Dylan's new rock collection, the result of hours in Ashland's fine mineral shops....

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Proud mama moment

Congrats to Dylan and 3 island pals who completed 3 weeks of commuting and study at the UW! And to the other mamas who traded 3 weeks of island life for shuffling their increasingly exhausted 12 year olds to and from the campus. Each of our kids participated in a different class, with Dylan working in the fields of physics and astronomy 5 hours a day.

He was treated to many distinguished guest speakers, plenty of hours in the UW's planetarium, and even a nighttime tour of the university's 125-year-old observatory (and his mom got to go along to that - fun!).

After a casual potluck on the "front yard" of the physics and astronomy corner of campus, the last day's final presentations were held for the parents in the beautiful, dark, and silent planetarium, with each student informing us about a
particular constellation's mythic background and particular attributes - amazing!

Super proud of you, Dylan! (and thanks to Mark for holding down the SSF fort all the while!). Now, we're back to tomatoes and puzzles in our new
favorite place...

Monday, August 2, 2010

August light and the beginnings of bounty

It's been a long, cold spring that has stretched well into summer. But, that favored season is finally here. This fact, coupled with the existence of our beloved greenhouse, combines to bless us with sweet offerings few others on our little rock can claim.

Our pots of basil are brimming, our tomatoes are beginning to get heavy with fruit, and our peppers are developing. Meanwhile, in the open air garden, garlic, onions, and potatoes are literally bursting from the ground. The weeds bring us down, but yanking onions and garlic from the ground each night and rooting around for those stunning creamy fresh potatoes remind us that we haven't total
ly lost 2010.

But, yesterday was strange. The day dawned shrouded in a strange mist, a mist that stubbornly remained for the bulk of the day, eventually casting a strange glow over the farm even as it disapated. My various family members went off to their own magnets and I was left in the kitchen, prepping dinner and making bread while getting my daily Bourdain fix. I couldn't help but snap about 100 photo
s of that amazing light. Wow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Beam me up Nana!

I've probably not chronicled here the extremes of my mom's love for Star Trek. But, she is both a free spirit and a devoted Trekkie, even having braved a Las Vegas convention in her 70s. Her checks have images from the original series, she of course has taped every show of every Trek franchise at least once, and her TV is tuned to Spike more often than not.

The fact that her dedication has lasted well into her 80s is no doubt enough to set her apart from most of the rest of both the fan pack and the octogenarian crowd. This week, however, I dare suggest she's solidified her unique position as Most Devoted 87-Year Old Star Trek Fan. Ever.

Pictures are worth 1000 words. In this case, maybe 10,000.

You go girl!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spicy Thai curry for hot summer nights

I recently ventured into the Seattle Cash and Carry store, a restaurant supply warehouse, and must admit to a strange mixture of awe and recoil. On the one hand, much of its wares lift the veil on how most restaurant dishes really come together (don't ask). On the other, a little careful shopping with a keen eye on the ingredient list can reap some excellent finds - always cheap and sometimes just plain better than retail grocery stores can stock.

After eyeballing the fine print on a tub of Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste - 1 tenth (10th!) the cost of supermarket jars of similar paste and, it turns out, vastly fresher - I developed this very simple way to let it shine. No tricks here, just good ingredients and time.

It'll give you a good sweat on hot day - the way tropical climes work through blistering heat.

Enjoy ~

Thai Red Chicken Curry – the full-flavored, slow-food way

This isn’t something you throw together with cellophane wrapped factory produced chicken parts. Start with a whole, organic or at least free-range chicken and build a foundation for a truly rich, nuanced Thai curry. It’s not hard – it just takes patience.

This makes enough for 6-8 servings.


2 tbsp peanut oil, plus 1 tsp
Half of one yellow onion, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces and each piece smashed with the broadside of a knife
1 whole free range or organic chicken
2 C chicken broth or homemade stock
2-3 TBS excellent quality Thai red curry paste
3 cans coconut milk
1 pound crimini mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
1 bunch cilantro
2 tsp coarse sea salt
juice of 2 limes

Rinse the chicken and place it on a cutting board back side up. Press the heel of your hand against the backbone until it cracks. Then, take shears and cut up the back until you have split the whole chicken. Cut the chicken up into 6 basic parts – don’t worry too much about it b/c you’ll be taking the meat off the bone later.

In a deep dutch oven, heat the 2 tbs peanut oil and then sauté the onion and lemongrass until the onion starts to become translucent. Push it into a bank on one side of the pan and place the chicken pieces in the pan. Pour the broth into the pan. In a 2nd small pot, pour a tsp of peanut oil in and heat it gently, then add the paste. Once soft, pour the cans of the coconut milk in and warm and mix until the paste has dissolved into the milk. When the solution is relatively uniform, pour it into the chicken pot.

Cook until the chicken is still moist but mostly cooked through, about 40 minutes – turn chicken once or twice in the process. Using tongs, take chicken pieces out and place on a large plate to cool.

While chicken is cooling, throw mushrooms, cilantro, and salt into broth and simmer. The chicken will take 15 – 20 minutes to cool; cook the broth and its additions on lowest setting while the chicken cools.

Pull chicken off bone and tear into bite-sized pieces. Squeeze the juice of one lime into the broth and divide soup into bowls. Pass quartered lime pieces at the table.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First greenhouse work day

There's something about a greenhouse....


Not sure, but it sure smells good in there - like Life - and seeing all our happy plants in their own digs, away from the weeds and grass and livestock and general overall chaos that is swirling just outside acts as a tonic on the farmer's soul somehow.

Here's how the morning went: I spent about 2 hours organizing the space, with a few trial and errors before coming up with a sys
tem for all the plants I've been nervously but optimistically babying for some weeks now in the hopes that a true greenhouse may at some point materialize.

Then my wonderful boys came out and we gave as many tomatoes as we could their final potting up into tubs that will take them through the season, courtesy of pals Judith and Terry who had such tubs to spare and share.

Then, it was back to getting everybody where they needed to be. And there they are.

A thing of beauty.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Just in time for the heat wave!

But who cares???

If I don't burst into tears writing this post, it will be a miracle. Just four short months after purchasing the greenhouse, it is up.

Last night, pals arrived with work gloves in hand and appetites on hold as the day's heat was just ebbing. We got right to it and less than an hour later - voila. A bona fide, honest-to-goodness, real, live greenhouse. And shadecloth! It now being July and all.

Satisfied, if not more than a litt
le damp and sticky, we turned our attention to those growing appetites. Bruschetta with our budding crop of basil got slathered onto olive oiled slices of baguette and quickly consumed while I mixed together just-picked fresh herbs, garlic, and olive oil to brush onto a couple of NW salmon fillets and toss with creamy, just-dug baby yukon golds.

Out of the oven and gone lickety split inbetween kids making chocolate ice cream and grown-ups talking politics.

Thank you one and all for taking us into the next phase of this little enterprise and sticking around so we could enjoy your company.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Birthday in paradise

A belated thank you to Mark and Dylan all my bestest pals who spent an atypically gorgeous early June Saturday relaxing at one of my favorite places in all the world - Dockton Park. Dockton is an under-used jewel that on a fine summer day has something for any and everyone - play structure and swings for the little ones, beach, docks to walk out on and admire boats from, picnicking in the shade and sun-soaking on the lawn, even showers for rinsing off the sea salt after a kayak or some excellent hunts for teeny crabs.

We spent the day in lazy conversation and, of course, elbow deep in delicious, wondrous summer fare while the kids played and kayaked. Behold the world's most beautiful salad, courtesy of ex-pro chef Christy.

Thanks one and all for making it such a special day ~

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I guess tires get warm and a fellow feels cozy underneath the chassis.....

Monday, June 28, 2010

Trooper update

World's cutest goat at 6 days. Mama and boy doing great. Today was the first time we let them out in the "free range" pasture - Trooper especially likes the hill!

He frolicked, he tasted, he rested.

Life is good.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Farm Stand - What's fresh now

The rain has finally abated and suddenly it feels like time to get fresh again!

Right now at the stand we've got plenty of fantastic free-range eggs from happy (and, finally, we hope, safe) hens.

Garlic scapes! These delicacies are only available a couple weeks each year - and now's the time! Chop 'em up and throw them into stir-fries. Jan likes hers poached gently in a little white wine and butter - then you could spoon them over a silky pasta with a little olive oil and parm. Guests? Mince them fine (the scapes, not the guests) and fork-mash them into plain or herbed goat cheese. Don't let the season pass you by!

Oregano - use in place of dry to give your pasta sauces, salads, soups, and stews a little zing. Rub, then crumble over salmon before baking or grilling. Make oregano butter and place a dollop on pork chops when you pull them from the oven.

Rosemary - Ah, rosemary. Is there anything this beautiful shrub can't do? Dot the landscape, perfume the outdoors - and then take you from apps to dessert like nobody's business. Make a dipping oil from your best olive oil, a splash of balsamic, a tiny pinch of coarse sea salt, and a fistful of minced rosemary. Then fold some more into a paste with some garlic and butter and rub it over a chicken before roasting. Throw a sprig into your ice cold lemonade or chilled sauvignon blanc and, finally, pair just a pinch with minced lavender and make the perfect summer sorbet.

Bay - anywhere stale, jarred storebought bay can go, a fresh bay leaf will do it one better. Sauces, soups, stews, casseroles. Don't forget to remove before serving.

And, lastly - mint. Whether your cool one is tea or mojito, a couple sprigs of crushed mint announce to your palette: It's summer!

If you're out and about, you can find all this at our farm stand this week.

Buono gusto ~

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Life & Death (with a happy ending - I think)

It is amazing how this simple liquid is the elixer of Life. And a critical ingredient in our Story of the Day.

We have ventured into Goats. Or, goat - specifically, one Kinder goat we bought in February scheduled to kid in June. May or June. So, we've been watching her rather beadily these past couple weeks because she is waddling around with an udder the size of Manhattan but no indication otherwise of Anything Imminent.

This morning she presented a little mucus and immediately thwarted all attempts to catch her as she is the world's only goat compl
etely and thoroughly uninterested in humans. Or grain. She is The Goat That Walks Alone, apologies to Rudyard.

Well, we went about our day and I came home alongside my pal Judith to discover our Middy grazing grass with what looked to be a dead kid hanging out of her. I sprinted for surgical gloves and we tried to figure out what was going on. We called Mark to come home and our pal Tammy who knows goats and then the vet. The baby was blue and wet and cold and not budging. I tried to figure out what how things were stacked up in there but couldn't make heads nor tails of it. At some point Mark got home from my frantic call, attempted the same, and we decided the baby was done and now it was time to save Middy. She was frothing at the mouth, screaming, her tongue lolling to one side and her eyes beginning to roll back. It was a long, long (and bloody) ride to the vet's.

Judith heroically put my groceries away and spirited the boys up to her house and fed them. (hugs, Judith).

But, a funny thing happens in the hands of a pro: we lifted the hatchback of the - thank god, OLD - subaru and our pal the on-c
all vet Dana reached in and pulled a baby goat right out without so much as a ble from the mama. She did some minor karate chops on the little wet noodle and low and behold, he breathed.

And here he is. Bottle fed and warm-towel warmed, he's h
ere to tell the tale. Welcome, Trooper.


The phoenix of order arises from the ashes of total porch chaos.

Our pals Jan and Rich rented a power washer this past weekend and I had mentioned that we'd like to get in on the action. Saturday was crummy - yet one more day in this dismal June of temperatures in the 40s and 50s (yes, I said 40s) and rain, rain, rain so I assumed that the deal was off - wrongly.

Suddenly Saturday afternoon I discovered that Jan and Rich had been hard at work on their place and pretty soon now we'd be in possession of said machine. I had switched gears and merrily had winter comfort foods like bolognese and stock burbling on the stove while my son and his pal enjoyed a Voyager marathon in the den. Power washing the porch seemed but a distant dream.

Now, you have to appreciate the state of my porch to understand why coming into a time-limited power washer induced no small amount of panic among my insides. My pals on the island are smiling knowingly now. As of Saturday, our front porch had pretty much evolved into an outdoor closet, with every manner of useful and not-so-much items littering one's entry. There was a tiny path from driveway to door that welcomed both inhabitant and guest alike into our home.

It was ridiculous. And humiliating. It had taken us many months to grow it into such a state.

But, enter power washer. And a 10AM deadline.

We fell out of bed around 7:30, half and hour behind schedule already according to my precise timetable laid out on the kitchen counter the night before, and got to serious work.

And by golly, it just wasn't that bad. Not the way most guys would choose to spend the wee hours of Fathers Day, but hey - by 9:30 we were done, I spirited the machine back to its rightful owners, and now we have this back. A real, live outdoor room that is once again a joy to spend time in and no longer an embarrassment to stand behind when a car pulls up.

It's the little things, I guess.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


It may not look like much, but this little beauty represents a giant leap for SSF. For the last 4 years, the only outdoor water for our 5 acres has been from house or the wellhouse - so it was long hoses and hauling for most H2O-related tasks.

But now! Behold the indescribably beautiful "frost-free"! This one lives in the small space between the almost-greenhouse and the chicken coop, handily supplying future plant starts and thirsty hens with this singular life force.

It's twin is installed in the garden (of course). Ready to attach to the equally-wondrous drip irrigation system Mark designed and ordered and is currently installing - with timers!!!

20th Century technology finally arrives at Stop Sign Farm. Yay!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Warm breezes and progress

This morning is the first of 2010 that I can do this on the steps of my front porch. I won't pretend it's balmy - I'm sitting on a towel to keep the damp away and I'm wearing my trusty, ever-present blue vest - but it's downright pleasant out here and a relief to take my morning coffee outdoors...finally.

Crisis has its silver lining, namely moving the projects that are hovering near the bottom of the pile right smack up to #1. Thus, finishing the large chicken run so we can finally plant landscape plants again and say good-bye to the perennial bird poop on the porch suddenly found itself Urgency #1 when eagles and raccoons made Stop Sign Farm their favorite neighborhood bistro. So: done. Done! With electrical tape top and bottom to give the raccoon his appropriate welcome and bird netting above to give pause to hungry national symbols. And while I miss the sweet peckings of curious hens, moving ever closer to one's feet in hopes of spare treat, I can't pretend this long overdue separation of Human area and Animal area isn't welcome.

Mark got lots done on getting water to the almost-greenhouse - the almost-greenhouse whose plastic skin won' in the cold weather (argh!). He was knee-deep in standing trench water laying pipe yesterday and by week's end, I do believe we will have irrigation to both garden and almost-greenhouse. Plus, it's almost worth the trials just to get to see him in Mucks and Carhart overalls. Who'd ah thunk it? I'll sneak a photo later today and slip it into my next post...


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When nature becomes the enemy


It's turning into a tough spring here at SSF. We have practically wrestled our majestic national symbol into letting go of a half-eaten - and still alive - hen, been on high alert for a couple of neighborhood dogs that enjoy prowling the area, and once again find ourselves facing at least one raccoon that's missed the memo on his or her nocturnal-ness.

The last two weeks, we've become the cafe du jour of a local bald eagle and his mate. I would be lying if I didn't admit that they are indeed majestic close up - but their sheer size on close inspection - especially when you're fighting over a living part of your farm - is daunting and, frankly, infuriating. These birds are mammoth and completely unafraid. Bald eagles are actually supposed to be "opportunistic eaters" - AKA scavengers, only hunting when necessary. But a free-range chicken farm a mere 500 yards from the nest is too convenient to ignore, I guess.

So, a week spent readying a nice spacious area, complete with 8-foot fence and a couple of swaths of bird netting overhead to deter predatory avian swooping, and we were feeling a little better yesterday - even if we could count at least 6 missing hens lost to who knows what these past couple weeks.

And then today, washing vegetables at the kitchen sink, what do I see but of course a raccoon, taking advantage of the contained birds and somehow finding a weakness in our fencing.

This is now the 4th or 5th time in just the last few days I've been and acutely felt my helplessless in the face of a predator just doing its job at the expense of our farm. It's too much.

I never thought I'd find myself - a lifelong advocate of gun control and a sworn non-gun-owner, feeling I have little choice but to give up what I do or buy some kind of gun. In my own defense, I have always believed that guns have a place - just not a place where there are kids (which includes my farm) or close proximities, like urban areas. One visit to Montana and I knew immediately I would never live there without a firearm at the ready. In that wild state, full-scale predators can literally - and do - show up on your doorstep.

So, I guess in some small way, I'm experiencing Montana on a micro scale. But the reality is, I have animals I'm responsible for, animals I've placed in a certain environment - and to ignore their safety is irresponsible not to mention horrific.

So, pellet gun, .22, or??? Ugh. Would that I ever thought I'd be facing this dilemma. But, it has to be done. I can't stand the prospect of continually looking up - as I have so many times this past month - to see a killer in my midst and have no way to protect those in my charge. Mark has gallently rushed out with bow and arrow, but that's a one-shot-deal at best. It's not the answer.

And, no. I won't be shooting any bald eagles. My plan is just to put my girls away where the eagle can't get to them, then deal with the raccoon - a cute cartoon character to city kids, but a true villain out here - more aggressively.

The less bloodshed the better. But my poor girls deserve to be safe in their own house.

The less fun side of farming.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Meet your meat, part 3

Lately I have reading and thinking about and cooking meat. I am re-reading Bill Buford's HEAT, an amazingly engaging and thoughtful book about food, cooking, and, well, meat. Just before that I whizzed through a small memoir by a chef who cooks for Italian billionaires on their $8M yacht for a summer. Both these books have strong connections with Italy so I am thinking about food and farming through something of an Italian lens.

It's common that I become reflective about meat in the Spring because that is when lambs are born, and most of those lambs are destined for the freezer. It is the time of year when people stop by the farm and light up at the sight of babies frolicking, only to drop their eyes and murmur some question about the sadness of it all.

It is the time of year when I contemplate what it means to eat and what it means to eat honorably.

Here is what I think is sad: I think it's sad that we've come to - actually been in for a quite a while - a time in our culture when it's rare we even think to purchase animals as the sum of their parts to use as food. Most of us rarely even roast a whole chicken. For us, in North America, our recipes call for ridiculous collections of breasts and thighs. We're used to it - it's how we cook, how we shop. "6-8 skinless, boneless thighs" the magazine says. "2 breasts, bone-in, skin removed."

What happened to buying a chicken, flattening it against your cutting board, and using all of its parts to make dinner? Did folks develop specific preferences for thighs and breasts and then supermarkets began supplying our dinners that way? Or did processors and groceries predict that they could make more money from "specialty cuts" priced as such and these specialty cuts evolved into the way we thought about chicken?

I don't know. But, a while back I volunteered in my son's Humanities class to help replicate the mummification process used by the Egyptians. My son's teacher is a gleefully creative man who looks forward to this process of decay each Spring. It helps to have a few grown-up types around to make sure the teams of 6th graders don't out-gross each other too much.

But, the first day revealed something surprising to me. We had a straightforward task: take a packaged supermarket guinea hen out of its shrinkwrap, rinse it, then pour salt in and over it, and seal it in a ziplock bag. Nothing to it.

Except these kids - these country kids, who live or have been on a farm of some type - were absolutely beside themselves at the thought of touching a raw supermarket hen. I mean, this is about as sanitized a piece of meat you're ever going to come in contact with, and keeping the squeals of both girls and boys down to a dull roar was by far the toughest part of the day.

These are 11 and 12 year olds. What do they think they've been eating? And where have they been while mom or dad has been frying up dinner? How can kids out here on this island of groovy little farms be so totally disconnected from the food they eat?

It's a little discouraging. There may be a food revolution out there, with micro farms like ours popping up across the land and an explosion in the vendors at farmers markets...but most kids still think their hamburger arrives in its bun essentially by magic.

This year, we expanded our non-supermarket food acquisition by purchasing both a quarter-side of beef and an entire pig with a couple other families. The challenge? Well, you have to cook a lot of different things - not just steaks and chops, because cows and pigs are not composed of steaks and chops. And when that delicious bacon is all used up, it's time to make sausage out of the ground.

But, this cow and this pig were raised by hand, in the open air, on pasture. They didn't get sick, because they didn't stand around in what we'll euphemistically call "muck," and they died quickly and well.

And all who went in on this deal agree: The best tasting beef and pork - ever. Ever. Somehow, too, it does feel more...honest. That our meat is all of one animal, rather than the choicest cuts of many combined. It somehow says, this is what nourishes us, all of you, we thank you. We do not pick the chops and turn the rest into dog food. Outside of North America, with the exception of Great Britain and Down Under, this is still the way many people approach their dinner. It is most definitely the way Italians and French, although the results are quite different, buy and cook just about everything. Buy or grow it whole, break it down, treat each piece with respect, and enjoy it.

Small food counts when its fresh green and luscious tomatoes. Definitely. But I think it counts - in every way you can imagine - even more if you eat meat.

Buono gusto.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What happened to Spring?

It whizzed right by and suddenly summer is afoot although today it feels a lot more like January than June. It has been a rollercoaster of a couple of months, with new animals arriving and new challenges arising at every turn.

Describing the current state of Stop Sign Farm the other day, I paused and finally said, well, it looks a bit like someone's garage threw up all over us.

That pretty much sums it up.

After a year or more of feeling like progress was progressing along, we've gone back into a kind of construction mode, trying to take the farm to the next level. Just as our chicks were hatching out of the incubator, we were faced with the sudden opportunity to acquire 23 young laying hens - a real time and effort saver. That necessitated a little heavy lifting and rearranging of coops but hey that was just fine because at the very same time we'd also scored a commercial greenhouse from an island farmer who was moving and selling it all.

The greenhouse, in addition to needing to be dismantled (how come we dismantle, but don't mantle?) also required 240 electrical to run its heating and venting systems. Which required a long, deep trench. Which required a tractor.

Enter our pal Jake, who putt-putted over on his big blue rig and made all manner of wondrous things occur - the long, deep trench, the new hen area, wood waste to the rescue of the exceedingly disgusting sheep pen, and even a little pot-hole filling to boot.


So, All hands on deck to take down, transport, and ... not quite put up the greenhouse. Yet. But, it's getting there. New lambs upon new lambs came into being throughout April until 6 fuzzy babes were frolicking about.

Greenhouse, greenhouse, greenhouse. Not that trench-hopping doesn't deserve to be an Olympic sport - I mean, it sure is fun, but ... greenhouse greenhouse greenhouse.

And, oh yea, that garden. Where is it? Well, it's hard to see under the 3-foot tall pasture grass that takes over the second you turn your back. Luckily, it appears that garlic, onions, and potatoes are hardy souls indeed. We took a couple hours away from greenhouse fretting and shaking our fist at the weather - always too windy, rainy, or sunny to actually work on the greenhouse - to fight back nature and reassure our baby crops that mama and papa have not run off to the city and abandoned them forever. Although...

Lest we feel that the greenhouse might be in danger of completion and our farming selves facing some possibility of success, we simultaneously discovered that our new hens have taught our old hens - now all totalling over 50 - a wondrous trick: how to eat eggs! Turns out, eggs are quite delicious and full of protein and are, well, right there! No need to tire oneself out with all this endless foraging - no ma'am!

Setting aside the sort of grim yuckiness of the act, one can understand the attraction of such an easy and healthy meal. As a long-term evolutionary strategy, however, it does appear to have some vulnerabilities.

So, that's been an interesting challenge to face: observing and identifying the worst offenders, putting them in the brigg, and hoping for the best, along with very frequest egg collection. So far, our fingers are crossed and we're cautiously optimistic.

Onward. More soon.