27 March 2011

I love Maine, cornbread, and peanut butter.

Just finished making some cornbread.  Butter, honey, and cornbread are a winning combination in my book.  I will also be trying a no-knead bread recipe that was published by Mark Bittman in the New York Times a few years ago.  Apparently it has spread in popularity amongst people who include baking bread in their repertoire of things they like to create.  Knowing conditions in the yurt, the yeast won’t rise because it’s too cold most of the time and the stove is mostly too hot.  My bread is consequently hit or miss in terms of quality.  My appetite, however, will not be deterred by doughy bread.
In other news, apparently things are not going well in Japan with their nuclear power plant.  I still don’t know what to make of nuclear power, but every source of energy has its positives and negatives.  One way to look at it is that nuclear power is willing to accept the risk of immediate damage while continuing to burn fossil fuels is putting off the risk to our health and environment to future generations.  What selfish little capitalists we are!  Of course this is one view and there are many others; the point I guess I’m trying to make is that the world is complicated place and in my own selfish way, I’m happy living in the bubble of the local farm world.  Despite all this, Wiscasset has a dismantled nuclear power plant called the Maine Yankee and therefore also has spent fuel nearby.  C’est la vie…
This Saturday I went to another Richard’s forge near Brunswick to try my hand at blacksmithing.  You’d be surprised how easily your arms get tired from hammering hot metal.  It requires finesse, accuracy, and power at the same time, the proper amounts of which constitute the word “technique.”  I managed to emulate a model of a round hook that Richard made with decent accuracy.  It’ll be fun trying to make useful, nice looking, tasteful pieces of metal out of iron/steel rods.  One day I hope to make my own knife as well.  Although it is fun and pretty cool to make things out of metal, I do have intentions of using the skill to work metal in my future as a farmer.  There are always things that need repair around the typical farm and the more you can do on your own, the more resources you can divert and stretch for use elsewhere on the farm.
Farm activity update
Status report: Normal
Weather: Good for maple sugaring (warm days, below freezing nights).  I went to a few farms to participate in Maple Sugar Sunday, an event taking place on farms all over Maine that draw sap from Maple Sugar trees (think Canadian flag).  It takes 40 gallons of sap to create what we call maple syrup.  None of that fake, high fructose corn syrup Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth crap.  It was a totally sweet event…pun intended.
Wind: Windy
Sun: Raising its angle in the northern sky so that each day we are receiving more solar radiation, thus warming this part of the world.  Oh, yeah the Spring Equinox just occurred last Sunday, marking the day that the sun’s most direct radiation occurs at the equator, creating equal days and nights at said equator.
Horses: Logged on Wednesday and Friday with them.  I will truly miss logging once it gets beyond muddy here.  However, that also means we will soon be able to have the horses work the ground, starting with discing and harrowing.
Seedlings: The onions just started showing their delicate, green shoots on Friday, a week after we planted them.  Excitement is abound in the greenhouse!  This is just the beginning of an over three month process of growth that will result in the beautiful, tasty bulbs that ubiquitously color our plates in an endless number of prepared dishes.  The thought just makes you think how amazing it is that an object the size of a pinhead, which is alive by the way, can grow into an edible, spicy, crunchy, sweet, baseball-sized onion.  Truly an unceasingly amazing process shaped by evolution.

That’s all my sleepy body’s got for tonight.  I bid you all a happy spring with opportunities and growth (but not unchecked) aplenty!

20 March 2011

Mashed Rutabaga Potato Supreme (from Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by John Peterson and Angelic Organics)

Serves 4
We have lots of rutabaga left and big ones at that.  Some of them are almost two pounds!  I got tired of roasted rutabaga and turnips since that’s mostly what we have left of the root crops.  No more onions…the humanity!  So I decided to try this recipe to use a big rutabaga.  The rutabaga just adds a little more comfort to the idea of mashed potatoes as comfort food.  I had to give some away to prevent myself from eating almost half of a big pot of it.
·       few pinches of salt
·       ½ large rutabaga (about 1 pound) peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
·       ½ pound potatoes, any kind, peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
·       1 medium carrot, chopped
·       ¼ cup milk (they also say that you can substitute some of the water you boil the veggies in for the milk)
·       3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
·       ¾ tablespoon salt
·       ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
·       ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1.     Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a few pinches of salt and then drop in the rutabaga; cook for 10 minutes.  Add the potato and carrot; cook until everything is tender, 15 to 20 more minutes.  Drain (reserving some of the liquid if you wish to use some).
2.     Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil.
3.     Mash the rutabaga and potato with the butter until smooth, adding a little of the warm milk at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency you like.  Stir in the salt, nutmeg and pepper to taste.  Serve caliente.  Goes well with the manure factory we call a beef cow.

Poop Scoop a Loop

Agriculture is all about the poop (and pee).  Manure, feces, cow pies, rabbit turds, sheep pellets, butt mud, corn dogs, logs rollin’ down the river, crap; whatever you may call them they are a valuable source of nutrient cycling on a farm.  You may be wondering why I am so obsessed with poop.  Well it’s not because I like the smell (depends on the animal), or because of its texture (although interesting in its own right), but because I went to a conference on grazing and pasture today.
Yes, I went to a work-related conference on a Saturday for those of you who value your weekends like I value manure.  It was refreshing to sit down and listen to people talk about something I want to learn more about in order to further my future plans.  It got me excited about improving soil quality, which grazing does in a few basic ways.  Without getting into too much detail, having animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and chickens provides many services for the farmer that are currently subsidized by fossil fuel inputs on conventionally farmed land; including the fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanical processes that must be done to the land in order to continue the ultimately detrimental means by which 80-90% of the food people in our country eat is produced.
A poop collective
Pre-processed plant food
When livestock graze on grass, they accelerate the storage of carbon and organic material (the stuff that makes good soil a deep, dark black/brown) in the soil as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium.  They do this by eating the aforementioned grass and its stored nutrients, using 10% of the energy and nutrients for themselves, and excreting the other 90% in a form readily available for other organisms to digest and breakdown into plant food again!  
Those tall things are made of recycled poop.

These same livestock help break up the soil by walking on it with their hooves; a process that would take much more fossil fuel energy to do and thereby costing the farmer more money to maintain the land.  Why is Breaking Soil important you ask?  The insects, bacteria, and fungi that live with and among the plant roots, as well as the plants themselves have better oxygen access, better water access, and both roots and insects have an easier time doing their respective things in order to eat.  Trampling the grass into the soil also helps replant grass seeds that would also take longer to germinate if otherwise left alone.
Bill's good at trampling ground.
The good stuff.

Oh, hay!  You used to be manure at one point and now you're gonna be turned into it.
The most valuable thing about grazing is that if you manage it properly, just as one would with any business, the land that the animals graze upon will become a healthier, more sustainable ecosystem that requires little to no external outputs.  We all find nature beautiful in one form or another and I think part of the reason why is because the organisms we observe always find a way to restore balance and continue reproducing against the odds that we and other organisms put against them.  The real, basic difference between us and any other organism is that we are always trying to do too much and make things go in a straight line when everything in nature works in circles (talk about having your cake and eating it too, that just makes more poop).  
The cycle is almost complete.

Hence my obsession with poop.  All that energy has got to go somewhere.  It is a waste to continue to transport things hundreds or thousands of miles when you have what you need to live relatively comfortably within a hundred miles.  Right now, what we are doing is taking nutrients from places like California and the Midwest, eating them wherever we live (i.e. New York or Maine), and depositing 90% of those nutrients into the sewer, septic tank, or what have you.  At some point, there will be no more nutrients in those places if we continue to avoid eating locally.
There is a real reason that the small farmers’ mantra is to eat local and it isn’t just about supporting them and their families.  It’s about supporting yourself and your kids in the future, and creating a vibrant, local community that understands the importance of their food beyond just being something you need to get through the day.
At any rate, we may be done logging for the winter as it’s getting really muddy (I have the Carhartt’s to prove it) and thus would be too difficult for the horses to pull logs out of the woods.  We started our onion seedlings Friday in preparation for their growth and then storage in the fall.  Onion seeds are small, need precision planting in order to not waste too many, and I planted the majority of 52 trays of onions.  This took most of yesterday.  I just have to say that Ipods are great in a hot greenhouse.  Anyways, if you have any questions or are interested in learning more about livestock, manure, etc., let me know in the comments and I will try to let you know now that I am an expert on livestock from one conference.  Or just leave me a comment if you’re sick of me talking about poo.  I’ll try not to include it anymore in this update.

13 March 2011

Horse-Logging on March 8, 2011


More pics and video after the jump...

Round Here They Call It Mud Season

Today the clocks turn forward as we continue our steady march into spring.  Apparently the rooster didn’t get that memo as he still woke me up at the same time; formerly 5:30 am, now 6:30 am.  Despite the early rise, the sunrise was beautiful this morning after taking what my dad would call my “morning constitutional” while listening to birds this morning.  I wish I knew more about birds so I could identify them by calls and such.  Either way, my mouth, mind, and body yearn for the coming greens and asparagus.
The driveway is no longer icy or snowy, making for muddy walks up the driveway.  At least it’s easier on the knees.  Pretty soon we will be starting up allium seedlings which include onions, leeks, and shallots (we won’t be planting these though I don’t think).  Garlic is also an allium, but is usually planted in the fall to be grown over the winter and into spring in the northern climes.
On a very happy note, I had my first brave visitor to the farm.  Hailing from Washington D.C., originally from New York City, he will be a doctor of the academic variety in a few years and is and always be a dear friend of mine…introducing Nick “the Ox” Oxenhorn!  Here is a picture of him in action with an axe on one of the four days we logged this week. 

Nick was a trooper, braving the rainstorm on Sunday to come up here from New York while on spring break and roughing it in the yurt.  His report on the fold-out couch bed was that it was not very comfortable.  I promise to any future visitors that I will obtain a futon that will hopefully be more comfortable than said mattress.  I also give Nick kudos for maintaining vigilance against the cold, wet weather we had the two days he was here helping out on the farm.  Thanks for taking me out to House of Pizza in Waterville for that awesome beast of a buffalo chicken calzone.  It satiated my appetite the next day for lunch as well! 
Your contribution to working on the farm was invaluable to me on a personal level as well since it’s always nice to work with a friend to make the time pass a little more quickly.  Nick was also nice enough to be a photographer/cinematographer Tuesday morning to take pictures of me logging and getting the horses ready.  The photos and videos will be posted separately so that you guys can view them at your leisure.  Warning:  There are scenes of graphic violence against trees.  The following movies are rated I for immature audiences and E for educational.
Other things that happened on the farm this week: the sheep got out of their non-electrically charged enclosure Thursday and wandered down the road so that Jeff and I had to round them up by holding a bucket of grain out the car and calling “SHEEP SHEEP SHEEP” in a high-pitched voice.  We subsequently set up a new, actually charged fence so that they won’t escape again until they get put on pasture.  The ewes are mostly pregnant and will probably be giving birth to lambs soon.  Warm, tasty, delicious lambs (Nick was amused that they are so poofy and insulated by their wool as well as the fact that I punch the ram in the head when he tries to charge me).
After the sheep incident and many other delays, Jeff and I were able to pull out most of the sawlogs that we cut down the week and Tuesday previous with the horses.  I was extremely tired by Friday morning from the intensity of moving the logs.  Part of the process includes getting them into a relatively neat log pile for the sawyer.  This is no small feat considering the logs average 18 inches in diameter and are anywhere from 8 to 16 feet long.  An Olympic weight lifter, Conan the Barbarian, or the Hulk may have no problem moving these, but it is certainly tough work for two men weighing less than 200 pounds each.
Finally, on a much sadder note, Jeff had to have Mary put down by the veterinarian yesterday.  Mary was good old horse and Jeff’s first horse.  She hadn’t put much weight on this fall in preparation for winter for whatever reason and so had been kept separate from the other horses in order to try to feed her more hay and grain.  This Monday, she was limping around her enclosure due to some sort of injury to her left hind leg.  An X-ray and two vets later, it was thought that she perhaps had a dislocated patella (a.k.a. kneecap).  Come Saturday morning before market she was found by Jeff and I on the ground lying on her side, unable to get up on her own.  After much deliberating the whole week, the decision was made clear by her condition yesterday morning. 
Mary’s death was a sad event, but everyone took it well enough.  One of the many things that farm life helps a person learn is that death is a part of our existence no matter how valued a being’s life is.  However it is those moments that you experience and can recall with vivid detail that enrich your existence down to your very bones.
“Seek not happiness too greedily, and be not fearful of happiness.”  - Lao Tzu

06 March 2011

Un poco descansa, la mente camina

It is officially March and my first two months here at Buckwheat Blossom Farm have flown by.  Like any true farmer, I’ve begun to think about the near future and all the tasks that will need to be done in the coming weeks.  Not to mention it’s all other farm workers I’ve met ask and talk about lately.  “Did you start your onion seedlings yet?,”  seems to be the prevailing topic of conversation in the circles I’m involved in here. 
In exactly two weeks it will be the vernal equinox.  Vernal as in spring, equinox as in equal night (though technically this is more true at the equator than in Maine or even New York City).  The days are slowly getting longer and warmer which means melting snow, maple sugaring season, and less getting the farm truck stuck in the driveway hopefully.  I’ve nicknamed it “Stuckey the Truckey.”
In other news, Amy and Jeff held a potluck dinner for CSA members and friends.  This was a lot of fun and of course I got to eat a lot of delectable food.  Jeff gave sleigh rides to the kids and family; this was a big hit and a lot of fun from the eyewitness accounts from everyone involved.  Bill and Perry were the two horses hitched for the rides as they are the most steady team on the farm.  Even though I was not directly involved in driving them I was, in a way, proud that they did such a good job as horses willing to pull a bunch of noisy people around in circles for a couple hours in deep snow.  I look forward to every opportunity to work with the horses despite the challenges and frustrations.
Other than the CSA, we’ve been logging.  I have been alternating bad logging day, good logging day.  A bad day qualifies as so when the trees I cut down don’t seem to fall where I want them to, get caught up on other trees and don’t fall, or just take forever to get down.  Thursday was really good in the morning and really bad in the afternoon; the three trees I tried to cut are still up in various states of falling.  Friday was a good day of cutting and thus ended my week on a good note.  In any case, I’m much more comfortable with the chainsaw and it’s slowly becoming as Jeff says, “an extension of your body.”  My movements are improving in their swiftness, smoothness, and efficiency as I learn to control the saw safely.  Sometimes I feel like I’m holding a lightsaber.
For those of you wondering what I look like now, I trimmed my moustache because it was just getting ridiculous looking.  I’ll have a picture up next week with the help of my very good friend Nick who’s coming to visit today from Georgetown for the next few days.  I’ve been daydreaming about fresh greens and veggies pretty much every day now, hence the title of this update.  My mouth waters at the thought…Until next week, peace out homies!
Stir-fried Root Veggies (Serves 4 regular people, 2 Rich Lees)
When I’m craving a quick, fresh-tasting, and filling vegetable meal this is my fall-back.  Most of your time is spent prepping.  I like using the wok my Mom/Grandma gave me, but you can use a large skillet as well.  I’m probably giving away some kinda secret but the key to a lot of the sauces in Chinese cuisine is cornstarch, which creates a gravy of whatever flavors you have thrown into your dish.  I’ve finally perfected the balance of ingredients and seasoning, but it was all done by taste and feel.  You’ll have to practice yourself to get it right.
·       2 tablespoons of oil
·       1 chopped onion
·       3 cups of chopped turnips, rutabaga, carrots, and kohlrabi (nice because it has a broccoli flavor)
·       4 cloves of sliced garlic
·       A heaping teaspoon of minced ginger (courtesy of the ginger people?)
·       Around ¼ cup of water; more can always be added later
·       1 teaspoon of cornstarch
·       Soy sauce to taste; I tend to use a lot because I am constantly craving salt from sweating, very appetizing I know.
Prep all the veggies ahead of time as you will be cooking at a high temperature.  Put your wok/skillet on medium-high heat, and then pour the oil in.  Before the oil gets too hot, throw in the onions, stirring constantly.
When the onions become soft, put the garlic in and continue to stir for less than 30 seconds or else it will burn.  This imparts a lot of the garlic flavor into the oil.  Put the rest of your veggies in along with the ginger, stirring once in a while for a couple minutes. 
In the meantime, mix the water and cornstarch together and then pour the mixture into the wok.  Continue to cook until the root veggies become tender.  You may need to add more water depending on their moisture content as the water helps to steam the veggies as well.  At this point you can add the soy sauce to taste and let some of the water cook off to make a semi-thick gravy.  Serve the veggies over rice, quinoa, or even some elbow macaroni (brings back childhood memories).  Wokka wokka!
 PS - I baked bread for the second time in two weeks and I think I finally got it!
“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London