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 (  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.