Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Polyface Hen House

Hello my friends!  I'm going to be writing over at the Polyface Hen House Blog for a while.    My day is Wednesday, but check out the other writers, too!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I am back on the farm and ten days into my apprenticeship. It is good to be back!  The farm is absolutely beautiful this time of year. Come visit! 

But on to the real reason for this post…lard!   I don’t know about you, but for most of my life “lard” was a four letter word.  As far as I knew it was something to be avoided at all costs.  It was considered a dangerous saturated animal fat which we humans simply should not consume.  Well, over the last few years I’ve come to learn that not all saturated and/or animal fats are bad for us. In fact, they are GOOD for us and our bodies need them. I am not going to go into the details regarding health benefits in this post, but you can read a good bit about it here: The Skinny on Fats. Rather, the purpose of this post is to show you how to make lard. It is so easy!  I learned from Sheri Salatin when I came to the farm for my check-out last January.  She basically just told me what to do and I went home and did it. This is by no means the only way to do this. I have only experimented and am sharing what worked for me.

First,  and most importantly, you need to find a good source of pork fat because not all pork fat is created equally. You definitely want to use pasture-raised pork. If you can’t find it, forget it. Commercially raised pork is not worth it. Polyface sells pasture-raised pork fat for $1 a pound (cheap!!!).  If you live nearby, come and get some!  If not, you can do a Google search for farms in your area that raise pastured pork.

1.       Cut fat into cubes. The smaller the cube, the easier/faster it melts. I've even heard of grinding the fat before rendering.
2.       Put cubes into crock-pot.

3.     Turn crock-pot on. I turn mine on high to get it started, but then turn it down to low. Stir occasionally.   The lard is done when the fat is rendered (melted) and separates from the cracklings (the delicious bits that remain after the rendering).  It has taken many hours each time I’ve made it.  If you want white, odorless (no pork odor/taste) lard, then make sure to stop the process fairly soon after the fat melts. If you keep cooking it, the resulting product will take on a brownish color and will have a pork taste.  The latter variety is still very good, but if you want to bake with it, you’ll probably want the “less-done” variety.  Unfortunately, I don't have a good pic of this step. I'll add a picture next time I make lard. 
4.       Strain the lard.  I use a colander lined with cheese-cloth. You don’t have to use the cheese-cloth, but if you don’t, crackling bits will mix in with the lard.  Before I strain, I allow the lard to cool as it is very hot and hard to manage.  If you can manage to pour the liquid from the crock into the strainer that is fine, if not, you can scoop it into the strainer with a ladle.
5.       Pour into jars. I found about five pounds of pork fat makes two quarts of lard.  At Polyface prices, that comes out to about $2.50 a quart. Not a bad deal! 
6.       Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  I’m not sure if you can store lard at room temp, so I keep it in the fridge.

Regarding the cracklings...cracklings are delicious bits of pure goodness. When they come out of the crock-pot, they will not be crispy. Although I have not done this, I have heard you can stick them in a frying pan to crisp them up. I hope to try this next time. 

If you have never tried rendering lard, I hope this inspires you to give it a shot.  You can use it for just about any of your cooking needs where fat is required.  In addition to cooking with lard, I also hope to learn how to make soap with it this winter. 
Does anybody out there already make lard?  If so, I’d love for you to share any tips you may have beyond what I have here. How about grass-fed beef tallow?  Has anybody experimented with that?

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday and Pennywise Platter Thursday 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Am I Doing The Right Thing?

After I accepted the offer to be an intern at Polyface last February, I asked this question a lot.  I knew I had heard from God regarding accepting the internship, but it seemed that very often I found myself questioning my decision. Fear that was (of course) not from God would creep in and cause me to doubt and question. But God reminded me over and over and well, over again, that I had made the right decision and was on the right path.

Romans 12:2 says:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I love this verse because it basically tells us how we can test and approve God’s will for us. And I don’t know about you, but I want to know what God’s will is for me! The act of not conforming to the world and being transformed by the renewing of my mind helped me so much during the time when I was preparing to go to Polyface.  And the thing is, it was a constant, deliberate act, and still is.  It is not something I had to do once and then move on, I had to remind myself over and over again not to conform to the world; not to be influenced by what the world thinks, but to be influenced by God’s Word and what HE thinks. In practice, this means spending a lot of time with the Lord.  It means seeking Him out, reading His word and spending time in prayer.  It also means seeking wise counsel from others who love Jesus. 
One Friday night last February, I decided when I got home from work I would work on my house and start preparing for my move.  When I got home, I came across something that filled me with incredible fear about my decision.  I was instantly paralyzed and could not focus on preparing my home for the move.  Instead, I went over to my dear neighbor’s house to watch a movie (or maybe it was a soccer game).  When I got home after the movie (or the game), I just sat on the couch and prayed.  “Lord, did I make the right decision?”  I asked.  “Am I doing the right thing?”  I mean, quitting one’s safe and comfortable job to go work on a farm for minimal pay is SCARY.  So anyway, after a little while in prayer, I did the next holiest thing and got on Facebook. ;-)  While I was perusing the very important details of everyone’s lives, I came across a link to a blog post from a church friend. Her post was about letting go of control. She was writing about a message they gave at church last October.  As I read, my heart started racing! I remembered that message.  It was called “Letting Go of Control” and it was about giving control of your life (all aspects) to God.  My friend had posted a link to the message online so I started watching it. As I did, tears started to fall down my face.  In the message, Pastor Shawn encouraged us to think about the aspects of our lives that we are reluctant to release to God.  These could be relationships, finances, careers, you name it.  Under everyone’s chair was a piece of paper and a pen and we were encouraged to write down one thing that we wanted to give control of to God. When we went up for communion, we were to deposit the paper into the bin at the front of the church as a symbolic relinquishment of control.  As I sat watching the video I remembered what I wrote on that paper that day: “My Career.”  And just like that, the fear was gone.  God reminded me that I have given control of my career to Him and that He was in charge.
So, the renewing and transforming of our minds can come in many ways when we seek the Lord.  All you have to do is seek Him.  And when you do, and are willing to move according to His will, He’ll make a way for you.  Get ready. It’s pretty awesome.  
P.S. Thank you to those of you who have donated.  I am so very, very grateful!


Well, the internship is over!  I can’t believe it has been four months since I started at Polyface.  Where did the time go? 

One of my favorite aspects of working on the farm is the community.  I really enjoyed getting to know all of the people involved. Most of the interns went back to their homes to get back to “normal” life.  It was so sad to see them go!  I will miss them dearly. On the bright side, four of us will be staying…Ben, Jonathan and I will be apprentices and Shrader will be staying to work on a very special project (more about that later)!  Here are the interns at the beginning of the summer:

Left to right: Leah, Derek, Jonathan, Shrader, Ben, Michael, Peter, Heather, Savannah

And here are the interns (and a few others) at the end of the summer:

Front row left to right: Derek, Leah, Peter, Savannah, Brie, Heather
Back row left to right: Leanna, Noah, Ben, Michael, Shrader, Jonathan, Eric
On September 25th, we went to the Joshua Wilton House for our end of season celebration dinner. It was a fine time with some fine food and wine.  The soup course was especially delicious and “happy.”

I am currently enjoying some time off in Atlanta. I have to be back to work at Polyface on Oct. 15th. In the meantime, I am having fun working around the house, cooking and relaxing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Do you believe God speaks to us through dreams?  I do. Not only are there several examples in the bible of God speaking to people through dreams, I have experienced it and want to share it with you. Last fall, after submitting my internship application to Polyface, I had a dream that I was pregnant.  Now, I am no dream interpretation expert.  I’m not even a dream interpretation amateur, but from what I’ve heard and read, pregnancy dreams typically indicate something new is coming in your life…that God is “birthing” a new thing in your life.  After the dream, I prayed to God and asked if the dream was from Him, and if so, what was He trying to tell me.  I did not receive an immediate answer, which is sometimes the case with prayer.  For fun, I counted the months to the “due date” and it came to June. 

Fast forward to February of this year. I heard from Polyface at the beginning of February that I had been selected to be an intern. When I heard, I immediately started praying HARD about whether or not to accept. I contacted all of my friends and had them pray too.  The decision was not an easy one because I knew that without God’s intervention, going to Polyface would be impossible.  I still had debt and expenses and other responsibilities, and from the world’s perspective, quitting my job for an internship was simply CRAZY.  I wanted to make sure that it was God’s will that I leave my job, home, friends, etc. and go to Polyface.  So, one Tuesday night smack-dab in the middle of my decision-making, I went to the women’s meeting at my church.  The opening speaker talked about ideas and visions and that when we get ideas in life, or have dreams of accomplishing something, they can either be our own, or from God.  She said if your idea/vision is something easy for you to accomplish on your own, then that idea is likely your own.  But, if your idea is impossible for you to do on your own, and it seems crazy and you will fail without God’s intervention, then that idea is from God.  God doesn’t call us to easy lives…to do easy things. He calls us to step out of our comfort zones and to get crazy for Him, to take God-ordained risks. He calls us to step into flooded, swollen, rushing rivers trusting He will stop the waters when we can’t actually see it with our eyes first.  That struck a chord with me because leaving my life for Polyface, was impossible and scary. 
A little later in the evening, I was talking to a dear friend Terri, about the decision and she told me a story about when she was making a major decision in her life. She said she asked God for a sign and He gave it to her. So that night, I went home to pray and ask God for guidance on whether or not to accept the internship. While praying, I asked Him for a sign.  And just then the dream popped into my mind!  I gasped and thought…June 1st...the due date…AND, the start date of the Polyface internship.  I hadn’t thought of that dream in months and just when I asked God for a sign, I thought of it.  It was clear to me that this was a sign from God and it helped me in the decision process.
Fast forward a few more months to May 31st. I had settled in at Polyface and was ready for my first day as an intern.  On June 1st I woke up with a gasp and my roommate, Savannah, asked what it was.  So I told her that I just had a dream that I was pregnant and going in to labor. In the dream, the baby had dropped and I was heading off to deliver.  Interesting, huh? So, on the first day of the internship, God reassured me once again, that I was right where He wanted me. That He was indeed birthing something new in my life and it was starting with the internship at Polyface.
I have had yet another dream in the series and it came recently.  Several weeks ago, the interns were asked to let the “bosses” know whether or not we were interested in being considered for the year-long apprenticeship.  After prayer and contemplation, I decided to put my name in the hat for consideration.  I asked the Lord to guide me according to His will and left it in His hands.  Polyface selects two apprentices from the group of interns to stay on for an additional year.  Four of us interns put our names in the hat.  After expressing interest, we waited a week or two before we heard the final decision.  It turns out they picked THREE apprentices for the 2012-2013 season, including me!  The other two, Jonathan and Ben, are lovely young men and I look forward to working with them.  Polyface has never had a female apprentice before, and it is an honor to be the first. 
A few days after I found out that I had been selected. I dreamt that I had the baby.  Her name was Sarah Grace and my mom was there to cut the umbilical cord.  I have asked God to reveal to me what it all means, but it seems like it is another reassurance that I am where He wants me to be…that this apprenticeship (and farming in general) is the new thing He has given me. Because of the specific baby name, I spent a little time reading about Sarah and Abraham in the bible and about how God blessed them in their old age with a baby.  I’m not saying I’m old, but I am 15 years older than the other apprentices.  ;-)  There are a few other potentially interesting meanings hidden in this dream, but I am continuing to seek God to reveal them to me.
So, as I mentioned before, I believe God speaks to us in dreams.  I don’t know that all dreams are from God, but when I have a particularly vivid or detailed dream, I ask Him two questions:  is it from Him and if so, what does it mean? 
Before two weeks ago, I did not know what I would be doing come October (the end of the internship).  And the funny thing is, I had peace about it. God knew His plans for me, and blessed me with peace, even though I did not know.  Praise God.  As far as provision, God has been faithful.   He has provided me with everything I need and more, so far, and I know He will continue.  Although I will be getting paid more for the apprenticeship, my financial situation is still impossible without God’s intervention.  I am not terribly comfortable with this, but I am starting  my fundraising campaign again. I could use some financial assistance, so if anybody happens to feel led to donate, there is a “donate” button on the right side of this blog. If not, I would very much appreciate your continued prayers and support in any way. Thanks and love to all.   

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Life On The Farm

Life on the farm is good. There is so much to tell, I hardly know where to start. But since I have been absent from the blog for so long, I will just have to start somewhere.  Each day on the farm is different, except for our schedule in general. We start chores at 5:45 AM each day.  Since the sun is coming up later now, our start time will soon be adjusted to which will be a welcomed change. Morning chores last a couple of hours or so and involve feeding, watering and moving chickens (broilers and laying hens), pigs, and rabbits.  Afternoon chores start around 4:00 PM and go until dinner which is at 6:15 PM. Afternoon chores involve feeding and watering animals, moving the cows, gathering and washing eggs and whatever else needs to be done.  The rest of the day is spent doing any number of things.  I’ve been doing my best to write down what I did each day in my journal because we do so much, it is hard to remember it all. Here is a sampling of some of the things I have been involved in: making hay, packing meat in coolers for buying club or restaurants, loading and unloading trucks, butchering chickens (I will elaborate on this a bit later), weeding, planting, digging, chopping thistles, making repairs to things (egg-mobiles, broiler pens, etc.), piling brush, branches and logs, cooking, cleaning, various other construction projects and much, much more.  I love the physical work.  It does a body good to work hard all day doing something good for humans, animals and the rest of God’s great creation.

We butcher chickens every Wednesday and every other Friday. It is generally an all-day affair (if you don’t want to hear about how food gets from the field to your plate, don’t read this part). In the morning we catch the lucky chickens at chore time.  After breakfast we get busy butchering.  There are several stations on the butchering line: killer, scalder/de-featherer/head and foot removal, gutter, lunger (removes the lungs) and QC (removes any remaining feathers, etc.).  In general you are assigned a station and stay there for the day. I have done all stations except for scalder/de-featherer/head and foot removal.  Killing was, of course, the most challenging (at least emotionally) for me. I wasn’t sure how I’d take it, but I did fine.  I eat chicken, and it simply cannot get from the field to my table without the chicken dying.  Anywho, killing involves cutting both jugulars. This allows for the chicken to bleed out rather than suffocate (which happens if you cut off the head entirely).  After that is done, the birds go in the scalder, then to the plucker, then their heads and feet are removed. After that they go to the gutting table where the guts are removed, then the lungs and then on to the QC station where they are inspected for stray feathers and such.  This part of the process usually takes the entire morning. When we are done butchering, we take a lunch break (generally avoiding chicken ;-) and head back to the processing shed. The afternoon involves bagging birds, and bird parts (hearts, livers, feet, etc.). Sometimes we cut birds up into legs, wings, thighs, breasts, etc. This generally takes the rest of the day, depending on how many chickens we processed.  The only other animals butchered on-site is the rabbits. Pigs and cows are sent to a processing facility.

Hopefully this gives you a tiny glimpse into what happens on the farm.  More to come, but who knows when. :-) In closing for today, here are a few shots illustrating life on the farm:

The field by our cottage.

Here I am weeding the beans.

Sweet baby Ralph and intern Derek.

Cows being moved.

Intern Savannah constructing a broiler pen (many were destroyed in the Derecho several weeks ago).

Cows. The cows are moved every day. The black thing in the background is the shademobile – a mobile shading unit.

A hay pile we tarped.