Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mmmm....Lard

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!

Vacation

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

Dreams

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.



Sunday, June 10, 2012

I Made It!

Although I originally planned on leaving for Polyface on May 25th, I didn’t hit the road until the 26th.  Packing and preparing for this kind of transition was more difficult than I thought and took longer than expected.  I’ve moved plenty of times, but this was no ordinary move.   I wasn’t just moving all of my stuff to another house, I was downsizing.  I had to bring only what I could fit into a 336 sq. ft. cottage which would also be inhabited by two other women.   Needless to say, this was a challenge.  It was a relief to de-clutter and purge. Most stuff is replaceable and why does one person need 10 bottle openers anyway? Throughout the process, I realized just how much stuff I had and did not necessarily need.  In order to downsize, I sold some things on eBay, some on Craigslist, had a moving sale, donated a bunch of stuff and stored some stuff at friends’ houses.  Otherwise, I fit what I could in my car.  I could not have done any of this without the help of my dear, dear friends. So many people stepped up to help me. They helped me with my sale, helped me pack, made countless trips to Goodwill, fed me, helped me paint, repaired my house, prayed for me, lifted me up when I was down, let me cry on their shoulders, laughed with me, stayed with me when people from Craigslist  came over, and many other things. I am so grateful to God for providing these wonderful people when I needed them most.

On the 26th, after friends carried the last bags out and loaded them in my car, I hit the road.  I was driving by noon and my goal was to reach my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Riley, KS that night. As I headed down I-70 into eastern Colorado, I realized I was in for a stressful drive.  The wind was gusting from the south, causing my car to rock incessantly.  Before I got to Kansas I encountered an overturned 4-Runner pulling an Airstream.  Then somewhere in Kansas, I encountered another bad accident involving multiple overturned semis and cars. It was nasty. I also saw the wind lift a semi onto its driver side wheels. Fun it was not!  But alas, I arrived safely at Judy and Dave’s and breathed a sigh of relief.  My cousin, John, his wife, Sarah, and their sons, Jonas and Isaac, were there, too and it was wonderful to see them all.
I stayed with family in Riley all day Sunday, the 27th.  It was a fun and relaxing time. We picked currants and Aunt Judy made a currant pie. We walked around the pond looking for animal tracks.  We played a game of Rummy-O which took me back to the days when I visited my grandparents in Goessel, KS.  We wanted to go fishing, but the wind was still gusting from the south, so we could not.  In any case, it was a lovely time and I am glad I got to spend a day there.  On the 28th, I hit the road about noon after having coffee with my family.  Thankfully the wind let up, so driving was much more tolerable.  I decided I wasn’t going to drive in the dark because a friend recently hit two deer in one week while driving in the dark, so I stopped driving north of Evansville, IN for the night. 
The next day I continued on my way. Indiana and Kentucky were beautiful and the drive was pleasant. West Virginia was also pretty, but the driving was more treacherous due to the winding hills and major semi traffic.  I made it to Lewisburg, WV on the 29th and stayed there for the night.  I was only a couple hours from Polyface, but I didn’t want to arrive there late and it was getting dark. A deer also darted across the road in front of me so I took the hint.
On the 30th, I arrived at Polyface and they were butchering chickens.  Butchering occurs every Wednesday during broiler season.  If you want to visit, Wednesdays are good days so you can see how it is done.  After some introductions, I was shown to the women’s cottage and started unloading my car. I was the first woman to arrive.  Leah arrived next and Savannah later in the day.  We worked into the evening and the next day to get settled.  The cottage is small and rustic, but cute and cozy.  We have managed to fit in all of our stuff and we are functioning quite nicely. We have many amenities including a composting toilet.  Basically, we poo in a garbage can.  The toilet consists of a wooden box with a toilet seat on it.  The waste goes down the shoot into a large garbage can under the house. After you go, you put a scoop of sawdust in which helps with the composting process and odor.  It was humbling when one of the apprentices had to come change our poo bucket because it smelled.  They say composting toilets generally don’t smell, but there was stuff in there from previous inhabitants of the cottage that had been there for a while. We also we learned too much liquid can cause an odor.  So, the composting toilet has taken a little getting used to, but it does seem like a better idea than using all that good water for flushing waste.
I have much more to tell about the farm and hope to do so soon. I am still trying to figure out a schedule and routine. We work from around 5:45 AM until 6:15 PM each day, so finding time to write during the week has been a challenge.  It might turn out that I can only write on the weekends that I am not working.  We each have to work about one weekend a month (Sundays are chores only).  The work so far has been demanding, physically and emotionally.  I believe we have had it relatively easy though, due to cool, rainy weather that has prevented us from making hay. From what I hear, this hay making business is hard work and if the weather cooperates, we will get to see what it is all about tomorrow.  Much love to all of you and I can’t wait to tell you more. I have included a few more pictures below.
 I have the top bunk. Kinda like summer camp, eh? We were busy around the cottage today baking, blogging and chatting.

The field by our cottage.  This field will be cut for hay.

The women's cottage. Some of my clothes are drying on the rack on the porch. Things here don't dry in 10 minutes like they did in Colorado.  :-)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Check-Out – Day 2

Since I am posting ‘retroactively’ at this point, I realized I might need to be more specific about exactly what I’m talking about for those who are just joining the story. So, this post will recap the events of Jan. 21, 2012, the second day of my two-day check-out on the farm.  

From what I understand, Saturdays are work days, but can be less intense than the rest the week.  The plans for this particular Saturday were chores and then a field trip to Staunton for a farm show. And then whatever needed to be done when we got back. The weather that day had taken a turn for the worse. That morning we woke up to a rain/snow mix (more rain than snow) and headed down to do chores.  I got the chore of feeding the cows in the feeding barn (they weren’t eating grass on the pasture at this time because it was winter).  This was interesting for me since I have limited experience with cows.  And by limited, I mean none.  Nonetheless, I did as I was told and put the hay in the feed dispensers.  I also did this same chore in a different feeding barn on the morning of the last day and learned and invaluable lesson…when feeding the cows, start placing the hay from the inside of the barn out, otherwise the cows will begin to feed and box you in.  Lesson learned! 
Anyway, the feeding barn is where great stuff happens on the farm…it is where compost is made!  I will learn more about this, but during the winter, when the cows feed in the feeding barn, they (obviously) poop.  The manure collects and is layered with organic material (wood chips, etc.), and corn kernels.  The layering continues throughout the winter until a nice thick, base exists. Then in the spring, they bring the pigs in to pigaerate.  Pigaerating is the act of the pigs rooting and digging for the corn kernels thereby aerating the compost. The result is rich, fertile compost that is used to help the grass grow to feed the cattle.  This is just one example of how the animals have a symbiotic relationship on this farm and one example of the closed-loopness of the farm. In other words, there is no need to bring in outside fertilizers because the animals produce it themselves.
After morning chores, we changes clothes and headed into town for the farm show.  I rode with Leanna and Brie (former interns, current employees) and it was a lovely ride. The landscape is simply beautiful, even in the drizzly rain.  The farm show was pretty much what I expected. There were tractors and other farm implements for sale. There were booths with all manner of tools to make the farming life better and easier.  The one thing I had not expected was to be in the company of so many Mennonite/Amish people. Turns out, we were in Mennonite country!  This may not seem very exciting to you, but my heritage is Mennonite, so there was a certain comfort to it. 
After the show, Leanna and Brie and I went to a store called The Cheese Shop. It is an Amish store that sells much more than cheese. It is basically a grocery store with cheese, meat, all manner of bulk food items, etc.  Leanna needed to do some shopping and I was very content to look around at all of the offerings. I bought a cookbook called Mennonite Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley. I was interested in seeing if the recipes were similar to the Mennonite recipes I know.  Turns out, they weren’t.  There were a number of recipes that called for Velveeta or other pasteurized, processed cheese food.  Surprising or not?
When we got back to the farm it was time for afternoon chores, so we changed clothes and headed down to gather eggs, close nesting boxes, and wash eggs, among other things.  Again, I really enjoyed the egg washing because of the camaraderie.  I look forward to doing this again very soon (10 days)!  That night after dinner, a few of us sat and watched a movie together. It was a nice time to relax and wind down.  Some people have asked what I look forward to the most. Well, there are a lot of things, but one of the things I look forward to the most is the fellowship and friendship.     

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Check-Out – Day 1

After I arrived on the farm, I was shown to my quarters.  I was staying in the basement apartment of Sheri and Daniel Salatin’s house where two farm employees already lived.  One other check-out (potential intern), Savannah, was staying there, too. So, there were four of us in the small apartment.  Once I was settled in a bit, I went upstairs for dinner where I met even more check-outs, Daniel and Sheri Salatin, their kids, and some other farm people. 

I can’t remember what we ate for dinner that night, but whatever it was, it was good.  We ate good food the entire weekend. Real, whole, clean farm food.  It was all simply prepared and delicious…even the beef heart. We weren’t actually served beef heart, but a couple of the farm employees/apprentice, Brie and Noah, were experimenting with various parts of the cow that aren’t commonly consumed (http://polyfacehenhouse.com/2012/02/odd-ingredients/).  From what I have read, organ meat is good for you. In any case, they happened to be experimenting with the heart when I was there so I got to have a taste. It was…interesting.  I know people who regularly consume beef heart, but I’m not sure I’m there yet.  I know one thing, if I consumed it regularly, I would make sure it came from a cleanly raised creature.

The dinner conversation was nice. I got to know a few of the other check-outs.  They were all very nice young women from various places and backgrounds.  After dinner, it was time for bed, but I wasn’t tired. I was nervous and excited, but also had the time change to deal with. Because of that, I did not sleep well that first night. Plus Michael, the guard dog, was guarding (barking) in the wee hours, which kept me awake. Although I appreciate what he was doing, this did not please me because I knew we had a very hard day’s work ahead.  
Well, morning eventually came and it was time to get up for work!  I got dressed in warm clothes (it was cold and rainy) and muck boots and we headed down the hill to do chores. I will be able to tell you more about this later, but chores involve feeding/watering/tending to animals.  After morning chores, we had breakfast then gathered to lay out a plan for the day.  Check-out season is a good time for the farm to get help with labor-intensive work.  So, we found out our first duty that day would be to unload thousands of pounds of frozen chickens from a trailer into the on-site freezer. The chickens had been stored in an off-site freezer due to space limitations on the farm. So, the trailers of frozen chickens arrived and we got busy!  I prayed “Lord, sustain our backs!” And sustain them He did. We formed a line and passed the boxes from the trailer into the back of the large freezer. These boxes were HEAVY.  I am grateful for the physical strength God has blessed me with because those boxes caused some people to buckle under the weight.  Although this work was hard, it was a fun and rewarding time of teamwork and getting to know each other.  After the first trailer was unloaded, we got a break while another trailer-load was delivered. After we unloaded the second trailer-load, we regrouped to plan the rest of the day.
There were two duties that needed to be tackled.  One involved chipping wood and the other involved gathering logs.  They split the check-outs into two teams (I think there were probably about 10 check-outs there total); one team would start with the chipping and the other would start gathering wood.  I was put on the chipping team to start so we headed up the hill to where the wood was.  They had cleared an area of trees for future construction projects and we needed to take the trees and chip them. So, the wood chipper was put in place and we started to haul the small to medium sized trees and branches.  This was hard work mostly because the trees/branches became entangled and it was hard to get them apart.  This was another good time for teamwork and camaraderie.  After a few hours of this, it was time for lunch!
So, we headed down for lunch.  I was grateful for the break.  After lunch, the teams switched duties so my team headed up the hill to gather logs. We rode in the trailer behind the tractor.  I had a good time getting to know the other check-outs. What diverse stories everyone had!  It was fascinating to hear why everybody was there, but we all had one thing in common and that is our desire to consume and produce better food.  So, we got to the site where trees had been cut into logs and we got busy. By this time, my muscles were made of silly putty and these logs were big and heavy.  I was fascinated and in awe by how Eric (apprentice) could pick up a huge log and toss it into the back of the trailer like it was a toothpick.  Meanwhile, I had to give everything I had to pick up a log (or shall I say stick?) and heave it into the back of the trailer.  Now, I am a strong woman, but I sit at a desk ALL day, and even though I go to the gym, nothing prepares you for this type of work except doing this type of work.  I knew I would not have trouble sleeping that night!
After we finished gathering logs, it was time for evening chores.  I was assigned to gather eggs.  As I gathered and put all my eggs in one basket (that’s right), the hens would start pecking at the eggs in the basket. So I asked the hens “why must you peck at your eggs in this basket while you have free access to all of your eggs in the laying boxes?”  The hens did not answer so I asked Leanna instead.  She said the chickens will eat their own eggs, but they won’t eat the ones in the laying boxes because it is dark in there and they don’t like the dark.  Fascinating.  After the eggs were gathered we went to the egg washing station where we divided the eggs by size and cleaned them.  I think egg washing time was my favorite time of the trip because it was a time to relax in a sense and see what your hard work produced and just spend time with others laughing and conversing.  After chores, it was time for dinner, then showers, then bed. As I suspected, I had no trouble falling asleep that night…

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Great Thou Art


My last day of work at ARCADIS is Friday. It is bittersweet, for sure.  Although I am very excited for what is to come, my heart is heavy with the thought of leaving my wonderful friends and coworkers.  I am also scared about leaving my steady paycheck behind, at least for the time being. I have a list a mile long of all the things I still need to get done at work and at home before I head to Virginia.  I believe I am starting to understand what it feels like to step out of the boat onto the crashing waves.

But alas, I know that I will not sink. I know that this was God’s idea in the first place and by His strength and grace, I will get to where He wants me to go.  This morning I was reminded, twice, of this:
Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

So, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. I will step out of the boat and trust that I will not sink because I am walking according to God’s purpose. I will continue to rely on God’s provision, which he so graciously supplies. And, I will listen to one of my favorite hymns, to calm my anxious heart.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On The Way to Polyface

...Continued from The Road to Polyface...As we got on the road I was excited and nervous. Here I was in the car with Joel Salatin and we were on our way to Polyface Farm!  I had read about Joel and the farm, seen them in movies/videos, even met Joel once, but here I was in a car, with him on the way to the farm!  Virginia was beautiful, even in the winter. We started chatting immediately and of course, Joel wanted to know why I was there. So I started telling my story. I explained the story of how I became interested in the food industry. I explained that even though I lived in a condo, I did what I could to eat real food. I explained that I had a plot in a community garden down the street from my garden where I raised enough food to eat, share and preserve. He, of course asked how I fertilized my garden. So, I told him I had worms.  Which I did.  They lived in their own worm condo in my kitchen where they made compost from my kitchen scraps.  Although it didn’t make enough to support my entire plot (20’ x 40’), they helped a lot!  The worms have now found a new home with my neighbor, Kara. I might write more about worm composting later because it is a subject worth exploring and explaining more in depth. Worms are fun and make the best compost!

I also explained that I have wanted to raise my own animals for food for a long time, but couldn’t because I live in a condo. Instead, I learned how to hunt and I also found many local farms to support. For those in Colorado, here are some of the farms I support in case you are interested:
·         Sun Prairie Beef – Grass fed beef, chicken

·         Dream Acres Ranch – Raw goat milk, eggs

·         Grant Family Farms – Veggies, pasture raised eggs, chicken, and other meat

·         Larga Vista Ranch – Grass fed dairy, beef, pasture raised pork

If you look around, you will find local farms just about anywhere!  What about price, you ask?  Well, that is a subject for more in-depth discussion later, but the simple answer is yes, it is generally more expensive. But, in my opinion, it is worth it and there are ways to buy good food on a budget. We spend a lot of money on stuff (junk) that that matters far less than good healthy food. Healthy food matters for the health of the earth, the critters, and of course us!  And our families! But again, that is a discussion for another time…back to the story.
So, we chatted for a while and then Joel had to make his phone call. I enjoyed very much listening to him answer the questions of the person on the other end. He talked about the state of our food industry and his new book, Folks, this ain’t normal, until we arrived at Polyface Farm. When we got there, he drove me past his house and on up to Daniel and Sheri’s house (his son and his wife) where I would be staying.  He explained that there were several other “check outs” there and that the group would be split up for meals. Half the group would eat at their house (Joel and Teresa’s) for one day, and the other half eats at Daniel and Sheri’s. And then the next day we swap.  I nodded, we said our goodbyes and he headed back down to his house as I went in to the basement apartment that I would call home for the next two days.  I am very grateful Joel picked me up so we had a chance to chat because he had to head to California very early the next day for a speaking engagement. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Heaven is Calling

I’m reading The Resolution for Women by Priscilla Shirer with my dear, dear friends from church.  God used my reading today to encourage me so I wanted to share a brief excerpt. Priscilla says “Yes, heaven is calling out, looking for the faithful who will not only wake up each day listening for it but will respond to it when they hear it…God in Christ has made us different, and now He invites us to desire the things He made us different for. This is what qualifies the faithful – those who recognize, accept, and pursue God’s path, knowing He will see to it that His calling comes to fruition.” 

This journey so far has been incredibly rewarding, but if I told you it wasn’t difficult, I’d be lying. If I told you I didn’t doubt and stumble, I’d be lying.  But God is faithful EVERYDAY to encourage me and show me that I am walking according to His will. I wake up every single day seeking God’s will and direction for me on this journey. Priscilla used Moses as an example in the chapter I am reading now leading up to the excerpt above.  He wasn’t perfect, far from it, but God used him anyway because he was faithful and persistent to pursue God’s will. Sometimes he even whined and argued…but he still relentlessly pursued God.  Whew!  I’m glad to know my whining and arguing won’t dissuade God from getting me to where He wants me to go.  I will persistently pursue His will because I hear heaven calling and I know God designed me for something and I want to do whatever that is. It is well with my soul.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Road to Polyface


…continued from “Getting to the Promised Land.” On 8/2/2011 I requested and received the internship application questionnaire from Polyface. I answered all of the questions and submitted them by 8/5.  All of the questions were great, but ya know what specific question was on that questionnaire?!  You got it, a variation on my favorite question! “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”  But this time when I answered it, I smiled because although I had the same exact answer that I had eight and a half years ago, this time it was not just a hasty blurting because I really had no clue what I wanted to be doing in 10 years.  This time when I said “raising chickens,” I really meant it! 

So, after I submitted the application I gave it to God and prayed that if He wanted me to be an intern at Polyface, they would pick me. And if it was not His will that I be an intern at Polyface, they wouldn’t pick me. After waiting a couple months, and pretty much giving up on the idea that I would picked, I got an email on 10/11/2011 indicating I got picked for the next step in the application process!  Out of ~90 applicants, ~30 got picked for the next step.  What was the next step you ask?  Well, it was a two day farm visit in January 2012. I had to decide at that time if I wanted to accept the offer to participate in the farm visit. I prayed, checked my finances, and accepted!   I booked my flight to Charlottesville, VA for the end of January and continued to pray to God that His will be done.  I also started to consider downsizing my home in the event I would actually get chosen and accept the internship. However, I didn’t consider this too seriously because I don’t think I thought in a million years I would actually do it.

Months went by and I went about life as usual.  All of a sudden January was here and it was time to go to Polyface. I would be there from Jan. 19 through Jan. 22 and would work on Jan. 20 and 21. The purpose of the farm visit is for the interns to check them out and for them to check you out.  Packing for the trip was a challenge.  I didn’t want to seem high maintenance by packing everything I owned, but I simply couldn’t fit everything I thought I might need into a small bag.  There were many considerations such as what the weather is like in Virginia in the winter.  I had to be prepared so even though I didn’t want to pack the hugest suitcase I owned, I did.  

Right before I left I sent an email asking who would be picking me up from the airport.  Sheri Salatin replied to me and told me to look for the person in the Polyface shirt.  So, on Jan. 19th I boarded a plane destined for Charlottesville, VA. I had to stop in my hometown, Atlanta, on the way.  I was excited and nervous all the way there.  I read the book “Heaven is For Real” on the way which was an awesome book.  We ended up getting to Charlottesville a little early so I got off the plane and nervously paced the tiny airport looking for the person in the Polyface shirt.  After about 15 minutes I finally spotted the bright green “Grass Fed” sweatshirt (same one I got for Christmas!) and then I realized who was wearing it. It was Joel Salatin himself!  You may not know who that is, but in the sustainable farming/food industry circle, he is famous!  Needless to say, I was very excited. I had met him once before briefly when he spoke at Grant Family Farms and signed a copy of “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer” for me. 

I walked up and introduced myself and we headed for the car.  Once in the car, Joel advised me he would have to make a phone call at some point during our drive because he needed to do a phone interview with a Pittsburgh newspaper (I think that is who the call was with anyway).  I said OK and we headed toward Polyface Farm…

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Do You See Yourself Doing in 10 Years?

I hate that question…at least I used to.  It’s that standard job interview question, and when asked I felt that if I didn’t have the perfect, grand answer, then I would fail to get the job. Well, about eight and a half years ago I was asked that question when I interviewed for a job at my current company. The interview was for a technical support analyst (help desk) job.  It was my first “real” job interview and I was very nervous.   So when the big question was asked “What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?”  I calmly said “raising chickens.” Ha!  God has a sense of humor doesn’t He?  Well, I was blessed with a job offer despite (or because of?) my answer, and here I am eight and a half years later getting ready to go learn how to raise chickens! At the time of my interview, raising chickens was not at the forefront of my ambitions, the answer just came out because I didn’t know what else to say.  I didn’t know much about IT and certainly did not know what I wanted to be doing in 10 years.  I was doing what I was "supposed" to be doing, but it seems even then God was dropping hints about what His plans were for me. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Getting To The Promised Land

This post will give a little bit of history about how I got to this point in my life. There are many, many more details about the story that I will likely discuss in future blog posts, but I want to give you the big picture here.  I have been interested in the food industry since I was 16.  I have been concerned about it in terms of the health of the animals, the environment and people. The standard American diet (SAD) is just that…sad.  We have become a very unhealthy nation…detached from our food sources and addicted to food that has no nutritional value and is full of poison.  No longer is heath care the focus in our culture…it is sick care. And I believe it stems largely from our toxic food industry. Here is an overview of how it started…

Although the most recent chapter of this story started last August, the epic saga began many years ago when I was 16.  I was sitting in the basement of our condo doing what many teenagers do…watching MTV.  A commercial came on for a certain animal rights organization offering to send me their free informational packet.  Being an animal lover, I promptly sent away for the information.  In the mail a few days later came a package with all kinds of information.  I immediately became a vegetarian…sort-of…I kept eating fish. But I cut all other types of meat.  The information in the literature I received was eye-opening and terrible.  It was the first time I had heard of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations…although I think they were just called factory farms at that time) and I wanted no part of that. Up to that point, I thought animals were raised…well… the way animals should be raised (outside and on the food they were designed to eat). So, this is what started my interested in the American food industry.  
I remained a vegetarian for a long time, but over the years I began to introduce meat. When I was about 21, I introduced poultry. At the time it was a decision made to make life easier because trying to live, cook and share life with other people who have very different ideas about food is difficult.  I continued only eating poultry and fish for many years, trying my best to be a better consumer of meat by buying better options (free range, organic, etc.). Fast forward to 2005 when I gave my life to Christ! It was soon after that I started to realize food, including meat, was a gift from God.  But I also realized God created these creatures and He said they were good. I couldn’t imagine that God wanted us to raise His creatures the way we do in our commercial food industry. I couldn’t imagine that it pleased Him to see His good creatures cooped up in cages and factories, wallowing in their own feces and being fed food that He didn’t design them to eat (i.e. cattle are designed to eat grass, not grain).  So, at that time I started introducing red meat, but again, I tried to be a good consumer and find better sources of meat (grass-fed!).
In addition to meat considerations, I have raised my own vegetables (organically of course!) for the past 18 years. Sometimes, this meant one tomato in a pot, but I have had full-fledged gardens in Boulder, Gunnison, and various locations on the Front Range of Colorado. For the past 7 years or so, I have had a plot in the community garden down the street from me in Littleton where I have learned so much about raising food in the dry Colorado climate. I will likely write more detailed posts about urban homesteading in the future, but since this is a very high-level summary of how I got to where I am today, I will leave it at that for now. In addition to raising my own food, I have been learning the art of preserving it for the past few years.
8 Ball Zucchini in My Community Garden Many Years Ago
There are many things you can do about your food sources when living in a condo. One of them is having a plot in a community garden. But one thing I have really wanted to do recently is raise my own animals for food.  This is certainly one thing I cannot do in a condo.  As an alternative, I learned to hunt. And, as God would have it, I will be going to Polyface Farm this summer to learn how to raise animals the way God intended!  This part of the story started last August in a Bible study at The Well (the women’s group at my church.) The study was called “One in a Million” by Pricilla Shirer.  The study is about getting to the promised-land. It is about “God’s call from mundane Christianity to a radical experience of Him.”  It is about the greatness and the power of God…hearing His voice experiencing His power and living in the abundance promised by Him.  Toward the end of the study, I was praying and asking boldly for God to show me what He wanted me to do in this life, and I was determined to listen and obey.  I have asked God to show me my sweet spot in my life wrt my career for many years.  I was content to remain where I was as long as that is where He wanted me.  But as I was really seeking my promised-land last August, I ran across a notice on the Polyface Facebook page that they were accepting applications for their summer interns…so, I applied, and I prayed…
…to be continued.
Pronghorn Hunt September 2011

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Here We Go!

For those who do not know me, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Heather. I am 36 years old and currently live in Littleton, CO.  I work in IT and am the operations manager for PC Deployment for an international engineering consulting firm.  I have a blessed and cozy life which includes a condo, a cat, a community garden, and many other comforts. In less than two months I will be leaving this life behind to move to Virginia to take an internship at Polyface Farms where I will learn to raise animals for food the way God intended. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well, it is, and it is a very interesting story which I am going to write about on this blog.
This will be a story of faith and a story of food. It will be a story of gardening and farming, friendship and fellowship.   It will about hearing God’s call and obeying it. So, check back frequently as I hope to get everybody caught up on the story to date, and keep everyone updated on what is happening now and on what is to come!
You will notice a “Donate” button on this site. I will explain more about this in coming posts, but it is there for a reason and it is because I need help to make this happen. I know God will provide one way or another, but if you feel called to give, I would be so incredibly grateful. If not, that is just fine, too!  I will always appreciate your prayers and support in any way you are able to give it.  Thank you so much for tuning in!