November 2012 Archives

It's been a bad day. Our Polish Standard hen Pierogi had been slowing down for the past few months. Looks like she thought it was a good time to hitch a ride to the moon with Carrot. So, off she went. Godspeed, you weird and wonderful bird!

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The price of failure

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It's mornings like this one when I feel as though I, and any of the living things close to me, am being punished for some sort of cosmic wrongdoing. Silly, I know. But my heart has been weakened by the last few months of death, loss and destruction. This mode of thought just comes with the territory, I guess.

This morning I heard a small, angry voice within me whimper out "You did this" upon discovering one of my favorite does frozen in her final repose, another doe lying upon her and scratching as if to wake her from her slumber. I knew this moment could come at any time, for any of the animals living on this farm. It felt like a goat had kicked me in the gut all the same.

The voice was right. It was all my fault. I failed this creature. I know I did. She had been sick with a UTI and instead of taking her to a vet to be treated, I opted to try and help her heal herself with lots of fresh herbs known to remedy such an ailment and plenty of fresh water. I went out there three times a day to give her water through a syringe so I'd be sure she was drinking. She appeared to be improving, and was even eating. But this was a lesson in relegating trust to things other than one's eyes. I was a fool. All of that fussing amounted to nothing, and my sweet Carrot died in pain. She depended on me to take care of her and I failed.

I failed her.

I keep failing the things I love the most and it is the worst feeling. The price of failure on a farm is death. I'm unsure how to keep failures like this one to a minimum so that death only comes around once in a while, preferably when invited.

This holiday season, give the gift of a badass essential skill! Brooklyn Homesteader is now offering gift certificates for any of our online or farm-based workshops! We've been teaching for nearly 4 years at institutions like The New York Botanical Garden and 3rd Ward. We've taught private workshops during that same time as well!

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We're offering classes on beekeeping, sustainable gardening, backyard poultry, and more! We're adding new classes every week! Classes on mushroom foraging and cultivation, raising dairy goats and intro to herbal medicine! Year-long passes ($225/ 12 months) and couples certificates (half off yr partners!) available as well!

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All of our classes utilize strong visual presentations, hands-on activities and take-home references for continued study!

So help support the farm and give your friends and family members the gift of living a more sustainable, hands-on life!

Check out current class listings by clicking our Eventbrite button!

We make goat cheese here at the farm once or twice a week to ensure we don't waste any of the wonderful milk our 3 dairy goats give us. One of the ways we like to use the remainder that doesn't get smeared on crusty bread or spooned onto pizza is to make mac-n-cheese. Previously to owning goats, I hadn't been able to indulge in this dish, since I have problems digesting pasteurized milk. Now that I've got raw milk to make this tasty dish with, it's a little easier on my delicate constitution We eat it at least once a week now! For those of you with lactose intolerance, this might be a great recipe for you to try out.

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I'm a big fan of creamy macaroni and cheese, and often times the baked stuff tends to dry out kind of fast. That's why I prefer making a thick, savory cheese sauce and coating the pasta before topping with a buttery toasted breadcrumb mixture. It's really some of the best mac I've ever had, if I do say so myself!

Here's what you need to make it:

For Mac:
1 package of pasta such as elbow, penne, shells or orecchiette , cooked al dente.
1 cup of fresh goat cheese
1 1/2 cups of goat milk (or cow's milk if you prefer)
1/4 cup of butter, lard, duck fat or bacon grease
3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, grated.
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
ground black pepper to taste

For Breadcrumbs:
1 cup of panko breadcrumbs
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 tablespoon of minced fresh parsley

Here's how you make it:

Cook pasta before starting the sauce. Strain and place back in the pot it was cooked in, covering it to keep it warm.

In a medium sauce pan, over medium heat melt the butter or fat for the mac. Slowly add flour, whisking as you pour to create a roux. As the roux gets to a slightly golden, toasty color add the goat milk and continue to whisk lightly. Once incorporated, add the goat cheese and grated parmesan, and continue to whisk until smooth. Feel free to add more milk if the mixture is too thick. It should be a silky, creamy consistency but not runny. Season with salt & pepper, paprika and nutmeg.

In a small saute pan on medium heat, melt the butter for the bread crumbs. Add panko and salt and stir to get the breadcrumbs evenly coated with butter. Allow to toast, stirring often. Once evenly golden brown, add minced parsley and set aside uncovered.

Add sauce to the pot with the strained pasta and stir to coat evenly. Serve immediately in a shallow bowl and top with bread crumbs.

Enjoy!!

Joining Forces

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Hi ho friends.

I'm happy to announce that I am officially joining forces with Meg and Neil to build out the farm at Seven Arrows...

though the task of getting our half-acre vegetable plot whipped into shape before the ground freezes solid sometimes keeps me up at night.

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Last week, my stint as farm manager at Brooklyn Grange came to an end. I'll miss my partners, apprentices, and interns dearly, but I'm ready to move on out to the land, building soil, raising bigger critters, and FINALLY getting to use a broadfork. Once I make or find one.

By December 1, I'll be a regular over here at Seven Arrows helping lay the foundation for a bomb CSA program next season.

Here's to tilling up those beds!

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So long, big city; hello, suburbia, again.

The Horror of Chickens

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Yesterday was a day of realizations. Ones that I just happened to have nightmares about as a tried to sleep last night. I'm not even sure how to properly word how I feel about it, but I'll give it a try.

The day started out like any other. I woke at sunrise to let the dogs, chickens and goats out of their cozy housing. I fed and watered everyone, laid down clean bedding and milked the goats. We have a chicken wire partition between the older hens and the young chickens I decided that now was the time to start co-mingling them. A few weeks ago, the ducks were moved to the rabbit house, as the young chickens had begun bloodying them. Ducks have only one defense, run. When confronted, they simply do not know how to fight back. I had to admit I took some satisfaction out of knowing these little bully chickens would learn quickly what it feels like from the other side of things once introduced to the big girls.

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So, I let them out to get their pecking order squabbling over with. Stevie has been training with the chickens and while she's doing very well, she still has the inclination to try and play with them when they start flapping around and making jumpy, spastic movements. Pecking order establishment pretty much ensures a lot of this. I cannot blame her for finding them entertaining, but it's something we're working on. Her kill instinct is low, but dog play is just rough enough to end a chicken even if that's not her intention.

The big hens seemed more interested in foraging outside than picking on the little guys very much. There was a little bit of the typical laying of coop ground rules taking place, but certainly nothing excessive. With that, I came into the house to take care of some desk work so that I could work with Stevie in the afternoon. (By the way, Peach is living with the goats and is doing great! Our horned goat Hershey's keeps her in check.)

After emails are sent and business is taken care of, I wandered back outside to get started. I opened up the coop door to see how everyone was and to clean up waterers. Stevie accompanied me as always and behaved herself nicely as I put clean straw in the nesting boxes and scraped poo off of random corners of the coop.

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Suddenly I noticed that Stevie had taken a real interest in something on the ground near the chicken wire divider wall. I walked over to stop her, thinking she was sniffing one of the young chickens. My stomach dropped at what I see. I pulled Stevie away briskly and have her sit, which she does obediently. On the ground is a young brown leghorn, dead. Her skull and neck picked clean of feathers, flesh and all. It was like something out of a horror flick. The young bird must have been cornered by a bigger girl, tried to stick her head through the chicken wire to "escape" and became stuck. Whether she died panicking or from being picked at, I do not know. The crudeness of either scenario makes me quite ill to think about.

I picked up the small carcass and carried it out to the compost to bury. I went back in to check their feeders. Still half full, with spent grain left in their trough. They didn't do this out of hunger. Stevie actually seemed as disturbed as I was by the discovery and began sulking as she followed me around. I gave her a pat on the head and said "Good girl." I didn't want her thinking I blamed her for this.

I've seen chicken cannibalism twice in my life now, both times it was just as vile and sad, but it's also strengthening my resolve to be the best farmer possible. I know this is not the last time I'll stare into the face of a dead thing that I once cared for and wonder if I'm out of my league. I can live with and conquer those thoughts, I suppose. I worry most about becoming immune to the brutality of dying and living. Not acceptance, it's not caring that scares me. Regardless of how I continue to process this information, any chicken caught cannibalizing on this farm will become supper. Zero tolerance. In the meantime, I'll do all I can to fix whatever might be causing it. (I'm boosting the protein in their diet and increasing their rations to see if that helps.)

In Brooklyn, I viewed my chickens, and farming for that matter, differently than I do now. I saw my backyard chickens as sweet, innocent things that needed coddling and protection from me so that they could do the thing that I needed them to do. In part, that is true. But in the animal world, the concept of innocence is non-existant. A chicken will brutalize or consume one of it's own just as it would an insect or nest of baby mice if chance or circumstance dictate it. Hell! If I died in their coop, I have no doubt they would pick my bones clean! They are opportunists like all living things. If it fits into their beaks, it's food.

This. This is precisely what I am going to remember when it's culling time. I'll never feel guilty about eating a chicken again.

From our Facebook event page:

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"After two weeks of extensive post-Sandy clean up here at Seven Arrows, we still have more to do. We're quite close to completing the task of removing fallen trees, moving debris to dumpsters and restoring the farm and retreat to it's original state. We could use your help getting there!

We'll also be cultivating our farm garden beds at this time, so all hands on deck! Will you come to assist us?

There will be rooms available for all who come for the weekend to help. You will be fed delicious vegetarian meals as well! All you need to do is show up with work clothes and work gloves and we'll take care of the rest.

We recommend taking the Seastreak Ferry from Battery Park or 35th Street to Conner's Highlands. Check out the schedule here.

If you have any questions, please post to the wall!"

I do this funny thing where whenever I get a recipe right, I start putzing around, creating dozens of variations on it. Granola, being exceedingly easy to make, is one of those foods you can tweak and change without fear of completely ruining it. I've made probably 30 different granola "un-recipes" in my time. In fact, I've never made a granola I wouldn't eat with gusto. Especially this most recent grainy incarnation containing creamy peanut butter and dutch cocoa.

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Ingredients:

6 cups of rolled oats
1/2 cup of millet or quinoa
1/2 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
1 cup of flame raisins or dried cherries
1/2 cup of organic peanut butter
3 tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of maple syrup
1 teaspoons of sea salt

Here's how you make it:

Preheat your oven to about 375 degrees. In a deep baking dish place your dry ingredients, keeping the dried fruit aside for later. Mix until evenly distributed.

In a medium bowl, mix peanut butter, cocoa and maple syrup together before incorporating the olive oil. Once the mixture is smooth, pour it over the grains and mix until the oats are all lightly coated. Spread the uncooked granola evenly in the dish and place in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and stir before placing it back in again to continue baking. Repeat this step as many times as needed to get the granola evenly toasty. I find that it usually takes about 40 minutes to get it just right.

Once the desired consistency is reached remove the granola and let it cool partially for about 5 minutes. Then mix in your dried fruit and allow to cool completely.

This can be stored in an airtight container for 2-4 weeks, but you'll probably eat it all first. We enjoy this with goat milk or yogurt with sliced fruit!

Hallelujah! We have emerged from the darkness, finally! 13 days without heat and power was starting to take it's toll on me, as seen by some of the pictures below. I did the best I could to stay busy. Since I couldn't get on the computer to write, I spent some time gardening when it wasn't freezing cold and wet outside. I also played catch up on some Kickstarter thank you notes (those of you who pledged will see these soon!) but I have to say, it's nice to be back in the modern age.

Pardon all of the images...A lot of Instagram worthy stuff happens in the span of 2 weeks!

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Still no power...

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I'm sitting at Carton Brewery right now...the closest place with power and wifi to where the farm is. The've been kind enough to open up their tasting room to neighbors to come juice up their devices and check email. It's quite nice here, the air is filled with that boggy smell of wort bubbling. It's warm, and the lights are on. I feel a bit feral in this room after a week of living in the dark, no music, no creature comforts save for a few woolen blankets and pots of bean and venison stew.

This week in darkness makes me realize that I am certainly no luddite. I miss the convenience of electricity and technology but I sure as shit would like it if I could come by it on my own terms, because counting on someone else to provide it for me is the pits!

Fingers crossed that I have power soon. My final manuscript for the bee book I've been working on for over a year is due. After that, I start figuring out how to avoid this sort of scenario in the future.

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As modern folks, many of us have that one website that we click to habitually for updates. Maybe you're addicted to friends Facebook status updates, or a message board of some sort. I've got a website of my own that I'm hooked on. It's the blog of author and young farmer Jenna Woginrich. Her homestead, Cold Antler Farm boasts a small flock of Black-faced Scottish sheep, two draft ponies, a menagerie of poultry and rabbits, working dogs and two dairy goats. She's been documenting her journey as a beginning farmer for years now, hosting events at her Washington County paradise year-round. She's got an impressive list of DIY books to her name. Jenna's been a huge inspiration to me, she's a force to be reckoned with.

Jenna's writing stands apart from many of the other homesteading blogs out there, which is why I love it so much. Her depiction is a romantic portrayal of farm life, sure, but she articulates her day to day life in a way that lacks the fluff and polish that some other blogs fall victim to. It is more robustly appreciative, even through the hardships she inevitably faces as the solitary steward of her farm. The boils and scars are all there for us to see. It's fascinating and there is much to learn from her experiences. So check out her blog, read on below. I'm certain you'll be clicking to check in on her as much as I do.

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I've always been very impressed with your ability to juggle the daily maintenance of your farm, a full-time job (up until recently, when you took the courageous leap into self-employment) and manage to be a very prolific writer. Do you have any advice out there to the folks who struggle to find the time to follow their passion and also keep their everyday life in check? Possibly even some organizational tips?

I think my own secret to success is 100% unadultarated stubbornness. I made up my mind I wanted a certain type of life and went for it, blinders on. My advice is simple: prioritize what matters most to you as far as goals go and make sure every single day you are doing something to work towards that. If you want to be a farmer, for example, plant a seed today. Maybe in a few weeks you'll have a started plant you could sell to a coworker? See, that there is farming. It is possible in the middle of an apartment or on 500 acres. The proximity to land has nothing to do with it, your drive does.

As a writer, what do you think was the most difficult obstacle overcome? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you didn't go to school for writing, you just took to it naturally. When did you begin to feel like you were coming into your own as a writer? Was there one moment in particular that it dawned on you that you were, in fact, a writer and not simply an author?

I never took any sort of real writing classes, just the basic English and Composition style classes my high school and college offered. I went to school for graphic design, and always considered myself more of an artist than a writer. But as I moved around the country I found that writing was what centered and grounded me, it kept me in contact with family and friends, journaled my adventures, and made my life feel more one of myth. I wrote because I couldn't help it, and I think that's what really makes you a writer: not degrees and classes.

There's a certain contingent that sees the sort of lifestyle that you or I lead as sort of precious, overly romanticized and kind of unrealistic for the average person. What do you say to that?

I say they are right. My life is overly romanticized, extremely precious, and totally unrealistic. Which is exactly why I live it! You get one chance at this world and if you bought the chump story reality and peer approval are the same thing, you're in for a long, boring ride.

Can you describe to me your first experience raising an animal for slaughter? How did you choose what sort of livestock to raise for consumption? What was your first preparation of the meat?

My first animal I raised to eat was a Thanksgiving Turkey, America's favorite animal sacrifice! But I was a vegetarian at the time, well, a vegetarian on the edge. I didn't eat meat because I didn't want to support factory farms, but when I moved to Vermont I realized I could raise some of my own and wanted to start with that turkey. From day one it was food, not a pet and I named him TD. I never got attached or had a personal struggle with it. I am a firm believer in evolution and ecology's plan for us omnivores. I watched him die at a local outdoor poultry operation, get de-feathered and gutted and took him home in a plastic bag. He was 28 pounds dressed!!!! I felt nothing but pride and gratitude. I think it was the first Thanksgiving I ever actually understood the holiday, truthfully. But of course, my family was grossed out any my sister refused to eat turkey "she knew was an animal" and it ended up being traded for sheepdog herding lessons to another farmer. So it goes...

How has your perspective on life and death changed after several years of witnessing it, up close and personal at Cold Antler Farm. Has it affected your attitude towards your own mortality?

You can't farm and not think about life differently. Every day I am surround by life and death, blood and sex, dirt and seed. To those people who think my life is a precious escape from reality, I say to them to come to a hog butchering day or lambing pen in full swing. There is a visceral change that happens when the smell of opened pig intestines and placenta become as memorable as lavender and honey (though not anywhere near as pleasant). It took a few years but I am learning that these perceived "bad" things like offal and birthing, slaughter and finding dead chicks drowned in a watering trough are just part of the farm's story. There is so much life here, always thriving, but that means the opposite is here too. I guess to summarize: death went from being a character in life to a partner. I do not fear my own death, I just worry my body won't be used for its best purpose: to compost down and feed the soil that has fed me all these years.

What do you envision your farm (and your career as a writer, for that matter) to look like in 5 years? Is there anything you hope to learn or master in that amount of time?

I hope to be growing more as an artist and a farmer. I want to work more land, involve more people, and learn to really work with border collies as a team. I hope to become a better rider and driver of my horse, and future horses, too. And most of all I want to keep helping other people find and love this life I live here at CAF. Getting people started on this path is my favorite thing.

If you were to guess, what is your spirit animal?

I'm a fast, fast dog.

We're all safe!

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The past week has been unreal. We suffered nearly no significant losses or major damage on the farm. All the humans and animals of Seven Arrows are in good and happy condition (save for the bees, who absconded just days before the hurricane). Every building was narrowly missed by 200 year old falling trees, our dock is gone, the orchard is littered with debris, but we've already started the clean up process. Pictures of the damage once we have power/wifi again, which could be a while. We're getting pretty used to living by candlelight.

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We hope all of our friends in the city fared well!

If any folks want to come lend a hand with clean up, and also with fall garden cultivation EMAIL ME!

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2012 is the previous archive.

December 2012 is the next archive.

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