Saturday, November 1, 2014

All the Things You Don't Know

Tony Giamarrino photo

When we were looking for a new home, we had a number of requirements.  The most important being the ability to have animals.  All sorts of animals.  We learned along the way that the rural lifestyle is not always welcoming to farm animals. Most of those sweet homesteads with five to ten acres that were called “rural residential” didn’t allow chickens, pigs or cows.

That limited our choices to EXCLUSIVE AG. And, that meant a building site, not a ready-made homestead.

Great! Found something.


 Built the house.  Moved in.

 Got the barn construction going and made a deal on a cow. The goats arrived from their temporary home and we had a line on some chickens. The garden was growing well.
barn construction begins

view from out back

Now, about that home business…

We had assumed that the Boss could work toward building a custom furniture business.  He had inherited Granddaddy’s tools and he’s incredibly talented. He’d built a lot of our furniture, made gifts for others and lots of folks really liked his work. That would be our "centerpiece" and we would raise vegetables and animals for our own use.

One small problem.

With EXCLUSIVE AG zoning, any non-agriculturally based business must be done from the home.

Inside the home.

The proposed shop (our garage) is not attached to the house.  And, our house is far too small to give up any living space for tools.  Our rocky hill precluded a basement, and space was at a premium.

while the tools couldn't be used for a retail business
they have been used for countless farm projects

But, there were two ways the County would allow us to have a wood-working business in the shop.

1-build an enclosed (heated) breezeway between the shop and house.
2-petition the County for a $300 special use permit.

Who knew?

With $5 in the bank, neither was an option. 

It looked like the tools would sit idle and we were headed back to the drawing board.

Now what?

Our newfound friends were on the cutting edge of alternative Ag.  They encouraged us to “think outside the box” when it came to farming.  

It seemed everyone had some option we hadn’t considered. A couple of folks were deeply involved in the local Farmers’ Market.  We knew we knew how to bake and raise food…   But, how did one go about selling? Someone else was looking for a sub-contractor to raise eggs for restaurant sales. We knew that we knew how to raise chickens…  But, how did one go about building an egg business?  There was a growers’ co-op forming to sell vegetables to fancy restaurants.  We knew how to garden…  But, what did restaurants want? And, how did one get access to these restaurants?

Those questions would be answered, but first we would encounter more.  Many more.

How does one set a goat’s leg?  Why aren’t these hens laying?  Will we EVER get the bargain cow?  Will we get accepted to sell at the Farmers’ Market?  Will VDACS (Virginia Dept of Ag) approve our kitchen? What happens if they don't? Can we get a hoophouse built before the first snowfall? Where was the best place to get farm equipment…feed…farm supplies? What kind of supplies do you need for Farmers’ Market? Where do we get those? Are restaurants really interested in LOCAL food? Should we become Certified Organic? How do we get our kids involved without being concerned about child labor laws? Did our homeschooling exemption from another county apply here? Could we put in more gardens? Where could we get seeds for Market sales? How much can we grow?  More importantly, how much can we sell?  For that matter, how do we sell?

 It seemed that for each question answered, another one arose. 


Lesson learned:

There are going to be a LOT of lessons!

We can/will certainly "learn something new every day"!
There's no way to anticipate all the things you don't know...so, learn as you go.


There are a number of folks blogging for Agriculture in November...thanks to Holly Spangler over at Farm Progress.

Holly will be writing about Agriculturists who influence  and joining her will be the rest of the cast of
30 Days Bloggers

Looks like some interesting reading!



Friday, October 31, 2014

30 Days - the Backstory


So...just how did we get HERE?
Tony Giamarrino photo - 2013

When our girls were very young, we were far from the hill. Looking back, it seems like a different world.
our old "view"

The Boss went to work each day, fighting the traffic to and from the big city, causing his blood pressure to rise to concerning levels. His weekends were devoted to family, splitting wood and mowing the enormous lawn. He built furniture in his spare time.  I was a stay-at-home-mom, homeschooling our two young daughters.  I spent my “free” time sewing their clothes and baking...and reading countless books to my children.  We had several acres of land, a few chickens, a couple of goats and even raised some pigs. We had embraced the homesteader lifestyle with the entire family working together in our fairly large garden. And then we preserved the bounty for winter. We took turns reading “back to land” publications like Countryside and Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening.

Life in the country was good.
playing in the henhouse
helping put up beans
pickin' cucumbers







But, we dreamed of the day we could have a bigger place and somehow the Boss could quit his commute. We had visions of a milk cow (okay, that one was mine), bigger gardens and self-sufficiency. We entertained thoughts of a home-business. And, I am pretty sure one little girl had a few dreams of a pony.





When opportunity came knocking (the chance to live and work with family on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley) we took it.  Unfortunately, that didn’t end like anybody thought it would.  The whole story was detailed earlier in The Change in Plans.


Long story short…the “change in plans” put us here on the hill.  Not at all what we expected, but challenges of returning to our old life seemed insurmountable.  There’s a reason for the old saying…you can’t go back again!
day of purchase-1997
girls marking corners of the house

So, we took the plunge and started over. From scratch.  From the ground up. Absolutely NO exaggeration!
"a leap of faith"

While I am fairly certain our actions looked irresponsible and foolhardy to some, we had given the whole change of lifestyle a great deal of thought. We had met our goal of being debt-free, and before “the change in plans”, we had a vision of helping aging relatives on the family farm. It seemed we were where the Lord wanted us.

But, suddenly, we weren’t working on the family farm…or any farm.  Our new home was an abandoned sheep field with little besides a septic field and perimeter fence. Any kind of improvements and livelihood from farming were only going to happen if WE did something, anything.

I would like to say we made a new plan.  A great, workable plan with a predictable and successful outcome. We did not.  Our only plan was for survival. (and recovery from the biggest shock/trauma of our lives) My greatest hope was that we were not somehow scarring our daughters. That somehow they would thrive despite all the upheaval and drama. 

We knew we could raise food. We would be able to provide for our family. We knew our financial needs were few.  We were debt-free and committed to staying that way. We knew we had a lot of homesteading/survival skills. We could get by with very little if need be.  We also had some marketable skills to fall back on. We felt we were up to the challenge. 

In some ways it was exciting to face the myriad of possibilities of starting afresh.  In other ways, it was terrifying.  I won’t lie.  I spent a lot of nights just lying awake and praying.  Praying that we hadn’t made a horrible mistake and somehow, somehow this would all turn out for the best.

Surely we could do this...


I mean, how hard could it be to start a farm from scratch?


the barn - July 1997

The mere asking of the question indicates just how very much we had to learn!

Join us as we embark on

similar shot 2011

                                                                for the entire month of November.

I can promise you stories of success...and failure and more than a few lessons learned the hard way. Click HERE to read more. I hope to inspire and encourage...and quite possibly amuse you with the stories that helped us get where we are today.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Thursday Special


Happy Birthday!
Today I’ve got a deal for you!

It’s a THANKFUL Thursday, #tbt-Throwback Thursday photos…and a birthday…all rolled into one post. It's our special "three-for" Thursday.

...and it's all about the Boss. That's him in the photo above.  Awwww!

He is the one that keeps this place running on an even keel. He’s in charge of construction, maintenance, logistics, manpower…and maintaining some sense of sanity. (I'm guessing that one is the most challenging)

He is the...

King of Construction.

 Defender of the hoophouse.

Trailblazer.

Director of Entertainment.


A source of laughter when we really need it.
















Teacher, coach, encourager and friend.
planting potatoes '99

teaching how to roto-till '98

waiting for the millenium

In other words, he's irreplaceable and we (I) couldn’t do this without him!

Happy Birthday, Boss! 



We love you!




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Great Pumpkin

Check this out!

Look at all the  PUMPKINS!

Yesterday, we were on our annual pilgrimage to Nelson County (more about that in Sunday’s post) when we came across this huge field….full of pumpkins.

Did I say it was HUGE?


…and FULL of pumpkins?

We had never seen so many pumpkins.  They stretched on as far as the eye could see.  Off in the distance, I could see a tractor driving along.  It looked like a toy it was so far away, and yes, it was surrounded by PUMPKINS.


That got me thinking about just how many pumpkins are used in the US this time of year. If this one small farm had so many pumpkins…there are pumpkins at farmers’ markets and home centers, roadside stands and convenience stores…jack-o-lanterns, fall decorations and pumpkin flavored everything…

So, just how many must be produced each year?

Here are a few facts about pumpkin production in the US. Facts from Ag MRC. Check this link.





In 2012, nearly 12.4 MILLION cwt of pumpkins were harvested in the United States. CWT means hundred weight…so, multiply 12.4 million by 100. 








That equals 1.24 BILLION pounds! (of pumpkins...just pumpkins) 

That’s a WHOLE LOT OF PUMPKINS! I don’t know about you, but that’s beyond my comprehension.

There were 47,800 acres of farmland in PUMPKIN production in 2012.

The 2012 pumpkin crop was valued at $148.9 million dollars. (this is tiny when compared to grain crops)

The vast majority of these pumpkins are processed canned pumpkin and canned pie mix. 

Morton, Illinois is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the world.  This is where Libby’s pumpkin processing plant is located and they can over 85% of the world’s pumpkin every year.

Top production states are Illinois, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan.  Since Virginia isn’t on that list, now I’m wondering just how big those other pumpkin farms must be.

Pumpkin is good for you, too.

 Here are some nutrition facts from the University of Illinois about pumpkins.

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health.
Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protect against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.

Pumpkin Nutrition Facts
(1 cup cooked, boiled, drained, without salt)
Calories 49
Protein 2 grams
Carbohydrate 12 grams
Dietary Fiber 3 grams
Calcium 37 mg
Iron 1.4 mg
Magnesium 22 mg
Potassium 564 mg
Zinc 1 mg
Selenium .50 mg
Vitamin C 12 mg
Niacin 1 mg
Folate 21 mcg
Vitamin A 2650 IU
Vitamin E 3 mg


Let's hear it for the Great Pumpkin!




Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 10-26

Let’s hear it for productivity!

We finally got a couple of jobs checked off the “to-do” list and feel like we’re making some progress in our winterizing preparations.

YES!

First, we got the garlic planted. The biggest, fattest cloves are selected and pushed into the soft earth.  They will form a strong root system over the winter and sprout forth in early spring, growing strong and tall for harvest in late June or early July. (well, that’s the plan) 
I must admit, once the garlic is in the ground, it certainly doesn’t look like much!


Then we got to the potatoes...



First it was too dry to harvest the fall potatoes…then it was TOO wet to harvest potatoes. Sounds like Goldilocks.  With a break in the weather, we could finally get to that job. We spent part of two days harvesting potatoes.  First the potato plow is run through, then we pick through the dirt to locate the spuds.  They are left to "cure" for a couple of hours.  Then, each potato is picked up, sorted and hauled to the reefer for winter storage.





















The potatoes cannot be left in the ground.  They will sprout and start to form new plants. And, since the potato is a tropical plant, these would never make it through our cold winter weather.
tiny tater sprout

While the harvest wasn’t the most spectacular ever, it was sizeable and we’re happy.  Actually, considering the lack of rain during the peak growing season, the harvest is wonderful.  Potatoes are considered a dryland crop and can grow without much added moisture.  That’s a good thing, since we had little to no rain during September.

storing potatoes in the reefer
there are lots of potatoes behind the door!
Once the potatoes were harvested and tucked into the reefer for winter storage, the Boss worked on tilling the gardens and getting them ready for a cover crop.  I will pick up some rye seed while I am in town this week and we can check off another winterizing job. Yay!
tilling the potato garden


In between the planting and the harvesting, there was the usual hoophouse/greenhouse work to do…pulling old plants, planting new ones and harvesting.  Pictures of those activities are getting a little old, but the change in light makes for some beautiful salad greens!



The rest of the week passed like weeks always do around here.  But, our lunchbreak after one of our all too frequent trips to the dump resulted in two FREE meals!  Yay, Subway!

Oh, we did take a little walk out Mish Barn Road one day since it was pretty.  The Boss generally complains that it’s a boring walk with few photo opportunities.  He’s right, of course.  But, the mountains were pretty and we saw a few of the neighbors. And, we could feel virtuous about getting a little cardio workout.
one of the neighbors

the "Mish" farm

Mish Barn Road



On a sad note, we received word of the sudden, unexpected passing of one of the Boss’ cyber-friends. It was astounding how many folks were affected by this loss. Personally, I will miss his cheery icon and his little notes of friendly encouragement. This led to a number of conversations (here and online) about how close you can feel to folks you’ve never met. We never reached a conclusion as to why or how these folks are so dear when “real” relationships tend to be fraught with the frailties of humanity. But, I guess this is a reminder to cherish your relationships (real and cyber) because everything can change forever in an instant.  Rest in peace, Ray.  You will be missed.


To those folks out there in cyberspace…thank you for being my friends!


Moving on to other things…


As the weather changes and the shadows lengthen, there is a sense of urgency in working the “to-do” list.  It won’t be too long before it’s too cold to do anything in the gardens and we’ll have to focus our attention elsewhere (this year it will be new flooring in the house...can you say about time?).  As we prioritize the jobs, it becomes obvious that some just aren’t getting done this season. 

Case in point…There is a stack of fenceposts at the top of the driveway where the Boss fully intended to put up a new fence.  However, with the lack of rain, the chances of getting a posthole dug, or a post pounded into the ground was virtually nonexistent.  So, they sat.  And, continue to sit.

On one of my walks to the mailbox, I noticed that one of the posts was out of the stack.  Figuring it just fell out of the stack, I put it back.  But, it looked like it had teeth marks in it. And, could that be dog drool? Hmmmm
the evidence


Upon my return, the dogs were accompanying me back to the house when Gus stopped at the fencepost pile. He looked over the posts, put his mouth on one and picked it up. Now these are six foot four by four posts, so they are not light.  He got a better grip and pulled it out of the stack and into the grass. (I was glad I had my camera...the Boss never would have believed THIS one!)








And, this is what happened when I fussed at him!
yes, he IS sticking out his tongue!

I’m not sure what his plan is this time.  But, you can be sure I’ll keep you “posted”. (I know, that one was awful…sorry)

Gus…he’s somethin’.  I haven’t quite figured out what that might be…but, he’s somethin’!

Just four more weeks of Market...

The week ended with a very cold (dark) start to the Market.  But, the sun came out, there was great music again, all the tiny trick-or-treaters paraded around town (bringing their parents through the Market) and it turned out to be a great day!

This week we are supposed to have some much welcomed warmer weather.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be warm and relatively “wind-free” so we can get the new skin on hoophouse #2.  Yet again, a fairly big job has been delayed by the weather.  Putting plastic on a hoophouse here on the hill (well, anywhere) can be an “iffy” proposition at best.  So, fingers crossed!

Thanks for stopping by for a little visit.

We hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

The sheep managed to break the fence and get into the wrong paddock.
But, they looked so pretty against the alpenglow of the sunset, I couldn't be too mad

We’ll look forward to visiting with you again real soon.

Oh, don’t forget…the Ag Blogging challenge starts at the end of the week.(my first post will be Friday) I hope you’ll read along with me as I share 
http://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2014/10/30-days-lessons-from-farm-challenge.html



Have a great week!