Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Family Tradition

Memorial Day means a lot of things to a lot of people. But, I am pretty sure that we are the only folks that look forward to a time of SHEEP SHEARING!

Somehow, it’s become our family tradition to spend the day shearing the sheep.  Well, Blondie shears, I act as her assistant.  Yesterday was year 5 of our mom-daughter sheep shearing event.  Did you read this one?  It all started when she got her first “real” job and found she had to get the farm work done in her “free” time.

Every year is a different experience.  Last year was oppressively hot, but this year was quite cool and we spent the day wondering if it would rain. The possibility of rain was rather worrisome as Blondie has another annual tradition.  Once she finishes the sheep, she heads to her in-laws to help haul in the first hay of the season. (she was a little disappointed to find that this year things weren’t going according to plan and the hay hauling would probably have to wait)

I think we make a pretty good mother-daughter team. 

Over the years, we have spent far more time together in barns than we’ve ever spent at the mall.  We’ve done a lot of talking, laughing, fussing and cussing down in the sheep shed.  Experience raising lambs, showing and buying lambs, followed by a stint of working in animal health makes Blondie my go-to girl when the sheep are not doing well.

Here are a few shots of the shearing process.

When Blondie’s not shearing, or working her “regular” job, she and the hubs are busy growing things on their own place.  Following in the old folks footsteps, she is also a vendor at the Staunton/Augusta Farmers Market.  Check this out. Country Rhodes Produce.

A few "after" shots

Another year of shearing behind us, it’s time to turn the ewes out for summer grazing, clean up the wool left behind in the barn and sent the clipper blades off for re-sharpening.

…and say…

Thank You  to Blondie for a job well done.  You rock! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Walkabout 5-26

At the risk of offending a number of folks AND really sounding like a whiner…

 This has been one hell of a week.

Just when things were looking so promising, too.

Monday morning I was feeling particularly fine.  I could walk without pain for the first time in weeks, the torrential rains had finally stopped and we had big plans for the week.  We were confident that we could get “back on track” with the season.

Then, I hit that final step on the way to the barn.

The pain of re-injury to that blasted medial gastrocnemius hit with full force.  A call to the doctor was in order after dealing with the issue on our own for six weeks. There was a distinct (although very slight) possibility that the problem was more severe than I had thought.   

I learned something that morning…besides the fact that the Boss can do the “town run” every bit as well as I can (!) …if you tell a physician’s office that you have long-term leg pain (and you are “of a certain age”) they will get you in for an appointment without delay…as in “get your shoes on and get down here RIGHT NOW!” 

Of course, nothing could be ascertained from a physical exam, so the next thing I knew…I was headed to the hospital for an ultrasound.  The whole deal pretty much shot Monday.  It was a good news/bad news kind of thing. No blood clots = GOOD NEWS.  The entire day dealing with doctors/hospital and NO real treatment = BAD news. I guess I'll just keep hitting the ibuprofen and icing down my calf every chance I get.

Since the ground was still so wet from all last week’s rain, we didn’t feel too bad about the lost time.  Upon our return, the Boss did some mowing, I started some seeds.  Surely, tomorrow…

We finally got the squash and cucumbers planted.  We are only something like two weeks, maybe THREE, behind schedule…but, we’re making progress.  Hooray!

But, then, another lamb looked sick. REAL sick.  Then, it died…quickly…horribly.

An operation the size of ours cannot take too many losses without serious consequence.  It was time to investigate. Since I take all the losses personally, every loss is a REAL big deal.  I watched the “death throes” this time and everything about the case was worrisome.   I kept hearing old Doc Snowdy’s voice saying “when you see neurological issues, Barbara, you have to consider rabies…” With M’brook’s history with rabid foxes, I just couldn’t shake that one.

The Boss called the state Ag lab, and suddenly we were hauling a dead lamb to H’burg for analysis. (do we have FUN, or what?)

Long story…short…NO rabies.  Cause of death is still somewhat uncertain. More than a little time has been spent talking to the vet and reading page upon page of online veterinarian information. I found and bought an immense and incredibly cool new vet book for future cases.  We are fairly certain it was a case of ignorance/mismanagement.  While this bothers me more than words will ever allow me to express, I can assure you that I will do my utmost to NEVER experience this one again!

By the time we waded through the lamb mess…we were facing the possibility of disastrous weather. This time it was going to be COLD. 

Sometimes I really wonder…

The mid-week thunderstorms gave way to COLD, WINDY weather.  REALLY COLD!  REALLY WINDY!

Friday evening found us again covering new plantings in hopes of saving the crops. Frost was predicted. Again.

Yes, it IS Memorial Day weekend…this is really, REALLY unusual!

34* was the reading as I headed out for Market Saturday morning. 

Row cover is only marginally effective in such cases. We were both actually thankful that the whole dead lamb thing kept us from getting the tomato/pepper crop in the ground.  Neither one can handle cold weather with any real success.

We will have to wait a while to see if the squash/cucumber plants will recover from the cold snap.  If not, we have other plants ready to go into their places.  But, all the delays…and the replanting mean that the harvest will be later (and later) in the season.

Harvest day was fairly uneventful.

Market Saturday was cold and slow and many vendors complained about an “off” day.  This Market season has been unlike those in the past and we have yet feel that we are in the rhythm of the season.  Any comparison to last season is more than a little disappointing. 

Comparisons got me thinking…

Today the Boss and I headed over to Draft to do a little “critter sitting”.    Since the kids are out in Ohio, participating in a poultry show, someone needed to feed the other chickens, quail, cat, dogs and goats.

Because, despite Oreo’s ability to feed herself…she wasn’t going to share…and the rest of the critters really needed a drink of water!

But, three years ago today, this was the big news at a certain address in Draft.

After facing near death head-on through NO fault of her own (no exaggeration here…they gave our girl a 5% chance of survival), spending 17 days in ICU and another 17 on the general ward…Tough Chick finally came home.  The photo does not do justice to the relief we all felt. I only wish I had a current picture for comparison's sake.

While I realize that 3 years is a long time…eventual recovery was predicted…and well, tough people get through stuff… I don’t think any of us had any idea what trials and experiences were ahead when we rejoiced at the homecoming on that May day in 2010.  

There have been many lessons in commitment, perseverance, patience and love learned at that address there in the Draft. I, for one, have learned a lot from certain young folks in my life…

Josh and Betsy…y’all are awesome!  


          …and so (of course) is Forest! 
If for no other reason that he is "so stinkin' cute!"

Among many other things...the whole recovery process just proved that...Things have a way of working out...so, with that in mind...the upcoming week just HAS to be better.

             Happy Sunday!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

At Least I Don't Have Rabies

In a week that has included (among other things) re-injury and an unforeseen trip to the hospital…

Rain and MORE rain…

Another swift and unexplained lamb loss…

 The subsequent necropsy consultation with the State Veterinarian’s office…

…some major uncertainty regarding maintaining flock health while waiting for test results…

HOT temperatures...

           ...and very little work accomplished.

                               I’m really scraping for something for which to be thankful.

But, according to Dr. Radi (the state lab vet working on the necropsy)

            he is almost absolutely certain that it’s NOT rabies. 


                        There is that.

              At least I don’t have rabies…

                                                   …and for that I am thankful!

Monday, May 20, 2013

No Goat Drank from MY Pitcher

Figuring out a good marketing strategy is difficult. Direct marketing is even tougher.
Full disclosure...this is a SHEEP
and she did NOT drink from any pitcher

Everyone is looking for an edge and after a while even the best buzzwords seem to lose their punch. What’s a marketer to do?

I read this rather amusing story the other day.

A little boy was selling lemonade.  When another little boy began selling lemonade on the other side of the street, the stage was set for some serious competition.  The first kid got bigger cups…the competition followed suit.  He added straws…so did kid #2.  He dropped his price and so did the other little boy.  This was getting frustrating.  He needed something new…a little pizzazz…a claim that set him apart from the competition.
The next day, he raised the price …and added a sign to his lemonade stand.

                  NO GOAT DRANK FROM MY PITCHER!

I am guessing here, but the customers probably flocked to his side of the street, willing to pay a little more for some peace of mind.

While the statement was true for both boys, (I mean…who would let a GOAT drink from a pitcher?)  it put doubt and concern in the mind of potential consumers…and implied that the product without the claim was in some way less than desirable.

This is a funny little story…and I have absolutely no idea if it truly occurred. But, there are similar situations all the time in the “real world”. There are so many food choices, so many buzzwords, so much variation in price.  

All those claims you see on food are to set each apart from the competition.  All too often, the claims are unnecessary and/or untrue.  Sometimes the term has absolutely no bearing on the product. Do you know which of these claims, if any, can be substantiated? Do they all have set definitions?  Are any of them worth a premium price?

Hormone-free   NO Pesticides    Sustainable   Vegetarian Diet

Environmentally Friendly        No GMO’s   NO Antibiotics    high in Omega-3s   Grass-fed 

100%Corn Fed     Low in Saturated Fat      all natural        Organic

Alternative      Family-farm        Biodynamic     LOCAL

 NO Herbicides  BPA free    Earth Friendly         fair-trade/free-trade
Fat-free   Flash Frozen   FRESH     Chemical-free     pasteurized

GREEN  pasture-raised             Just-Pik'd              
  free-range        NO Antibiotics  Gluten FREE

…and there are certainly more… 

I must admit, we’ve been guilty of using those “buzzwords” and phrases without a thought as to their real meaning or application to our products.  I have made more than a few purchases based on the "warm fuzzies" and my perception of a buzzword used to describe a farming practice.  Recently, we have been putting a lot of thought into communicating the truth about our products in order to help customers understand just what goes into food production.

I’ve written about “chemical-free” and “hormone-free” before.   Read "You Ain't Seen Me Crazy Yet". ...and the oft-repeated "NO pesticides" regarding Organic produce is the single most aggravating and  false statement I have heard. One of these days, I will jump into the midst of the ongoing tumultuous conversations about GMO's and the pseudo-science that is being used in reporting...

Despite the fact that these most of the claims of FREE are impossible, marketers continue to use them. Consumers continue to demand them, partly because they keep seeing the same information.  Be healthy, be safe, think green, get away from processing, plastic, pesticides, herbicides, the list of concerns seems endless. 

While each of these claims may be true and some actually have merit, none should be taken at face value. There are very few in the list above that have true definition and even less have some sort of regulation and oversight.

As always, it pays to know your farmer…know your food.

That doesn't necessarily mean you must buy everything from a farmer at the Farmers' Market (although we would appreciate the sales), but having a working idea of what goes into the food you eat is crucial.  With all the information that is available with the click of a mouse, there is no reason to remain un-educated when it comes to food production.

…and I might add…it is crucial to know what is important to YOU.

Labels and buzzwords are just marketing tools...and tag-lines are designed to get your attention.  Please be aware of this and educate yourself. Only when you know the actual meaning and/or application of the buzzwords will you be able to decide if they grant you the peace of mind to warrant higher prices.

                            Oh, and for the record...we don't have goats.

If you want to know more about food production and handling, I would love to hear your questions.  If I don't have personal experience or know the answer...I know people who do.
Comment below...or email me.   I’ll be glad to help you find the information you need. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Walkabout 5-19

This week has been one of contrasts…a week of extremes.

Highs and lows …

                                        Good and bad…

...this week there didn’t seem to be much middle ground.

Early in the week it was cold. VERY cold!
The heavy frost looked almost like snow.
We had temperatures below freezing for a  couple of hours

By mid-week, it was hot and steamy and the frost seemed a distant memory.

In observing the lambs, I had a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction looking at all those nice, plump lambs lined up at the feeders. I know I say this every year, but this is the best crop ever. They are gorgeous!  Observing the lambs at the feeders is one of the best ways I (as the shepherd) can assess weight gain and health. Did you read this one?
The next morning, one of those gorgeous lambs was missing.  Following the biblical example (Matthew 18:12) of the shepherd, I left the rest and set off to find the one. 

Oh, there he is…  (expletive deleted)…and (again, expletive deleted) he is NOT taking a nap or a little sunbath.  Nope, he was stone-cold, stiff-as-a-board dead. Why? No utter idea.  Dealing with unexpected death first thing in the morning is the absolute worst way to begin the day.  The Boss and I found ourselves completely re-working the plan for the day…checking all the other lambs and then the Boss had to deal with the corpse.  Honestly, I guess he had the worse lot in the whole deal.

Death without explanation is unsettling at best and makes for some anxious moments as we keep a close eye on the rest of the flock. A loss always makes me second-guess my abilities and spend parts of the day reviewing the situation without the satisfaction of a real answer. But, life goes on.

The contrasts continued…

covering beans

We (I) felt a great deal of anxiety concerning the predicted cold weather…we covered crops and worried over the ones that weren’t.  Thankfully, the plants handled the cold better than expected and it looks like the fruit crop is still intact. The sense of relief was palpable.
underneath the row cover---the little bean plants were safe

Look at all the peaches!  We'll have to thin them soon.

A lot of work got done this week…tilling and planting and harvesting…and now the front porch beckons.

The potatoes look rather pathetic after the cold weather…but, the tomato plants are amazing. They even have blossoms!

The brilliant skies have been replaced by a dark and drizzly Sunday, which I, for one, greatly appreciate.

We’ll take this chance to rest, reflect and re-charge for the upcoming week that will include LOTS and LOTS of planting…

Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Local Food Will Change Your Life

This was the tag-line to a meeting I attended last fall.  It was to be a meeting of the minds in order to brainstorm ideas for getting more local food to more local people. The plan was to meet and discuss and meet and discuss ad infinitum  how the current model could be changed and the local folks could feel good about their local food choices and everyone could have LOCAL food ALL the time.
(Okay, I exggerated some...and added the ad infinitum part...but, it certainly seemed that way.)

My life has revolved around food, LOCAL food, for a long time.  You might want to read this. For the record, I have read all the trendy books on the subject, too. I have even suffered through a good number of the films on the subject. Fact is, I don't believe 100% LOCAL is a viable option.

I find the trendy hyper-focus on LOCAL by turn amusing, frustrating and just plain silly. At the same time, I truly appreciate all the folks who are willing to buy the farm products that the Boss and I produce…that have paid the bills around here and kept us running in “the black” (mostly)  for well over fifteen years. This puts me in an odd and somewhat awkward position from time to time…to say the least. But, when these folks attempt to fully embrace ALL-LOCAL…they totally miss out on the practicalities. There are many trade-offs to a LOCAL lifestyle.

I realize that it is common myth that “you can have it all”, but…in reality, you can NOT.

In order to be truly LOCAL, many, MANY changes must be made. It would indeed change your life. But, not necessarily in the ways that one might expect.
Food production or procurement,  preservation and preparation would become the focus of life.   Free time for hobbies and recreation would become a thing of the past. And forget about travel...

There are certain things that will NOT grow in parts of the world and other things that will NOT grow at certain times of the year…and the whole LOCAL thing doesn’t necessarily mean “green, sustainable, and ORGANIC” when you consider everything involved to grow things LOCALLY where they wouldn't thrive naturally. (a subject for another time, no doubt)

A truly LOCAL diet is actually quite limiting in many ways. Food choices and availability are something we have come to take for granted in our global community. Short of totally changing one’s diet, certain concessions or exceptions to the truly LOCAL diet must be made. (personally, I think that the exceptions negate the experiment, but…whatever…) If dietary changes are not made, then a completely new infrastructure must be established.  The infrastructure would require a change in the carbon footprint of the operation, not to mention a change of the landscape. These changes don’t come cheaply, nor are they very "green" or in many cases, sustainable.

No, a lifestyle change demands a great deal of investment, both of one’s time and income. I know, from vast personal experience, that eating locally takes a LOT of time...a whole lot of time. 

Time is one NON-renewable resource that is limited for each and every one of us.  It may, or may NOT, be a priority to spend hours/days sourcing food and then further hours/days preparing said food. …and it is up to the individual to make that decision.  No one should be able to dictate how another spends his or her non-renewable resource of time.  ...and I'm not even going to get into a discussion of  income!

Personally, I do NOT think that it should be the focus and desire of every community across the nation to be self-sufficient and reliant only on what is produced in their locality. Year-round LOCAL eating takes an incredible amount of work and planning on the part of everyone involved.   Costly changes to present infrastructure wouldn't necessarily guarantee food security or a booming economy.

Community participation is always spotty at best, how in the world would anyone dictate food preservation?...and has anyone given thought to who would grow all this local food?  ...and where? Or how it would get to the populace? Would someone teach the masses what to do with their LOCAL food once it had been procured?

 If WE were attempt to rely solely on what is produced locally without some serious work and planning during harvest season, we would either starve (we have a LIMITED growing season) lose our minds (coffee and chocolate are NOT indigenous) or face riot (again…coffee and chocolate…). None of those options sound too pleasant.  Then, there is the whole issue of scurvy in the wintertime…

I can honestly say…Been There…Done That…on the subject of a LOCAL diet.  Did you read this? Nothing compares with the taste of fresh and local (and seasonally…it is THE BEST!) …but, then again…just satisfying that hunger at the end of the day…providing sustenance for my family (and others)…keeping within the budget…and meeting dietary requirements are all good things, too! I would never assume that I knew the best choice for absolutely everyone in our area when it comes to food (or anything else, really).

I love what I do…and I will be the first to tell you that there is NOTHING to compare with a tomato fresh from the backyard garden or a peach straight from a tree in your own orchard…

...now, THAT is LOCAL!

LOCAL is definitely best.
(in some cases)

LOCAL is the best choice if you want the freshest seasonal produce possible.  LOCAL is the best choice if you want to forge a real relationship with the farmer who grows your food.  LOCAL is the best choice if you want/need to know exactly how or where your food was grown.


…LOCAL should not be just another status symbol to prove that you’re cool and trendy. It is not possible to have LOCAL everything, nor should it be attempted.  100% LOCAL should not be the ultimate goal of every community everywhere.

It should be a choice…not a mandate. 

                                     ...because it WILL change your life.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Walkabout 5-12

**this one is late...we've been "internet-less" all weekend...and I'm not organized enough to get my posts scheduled to post without me**

This week was defined by rain



Well over six inches of rain soaked the farm this week.

When the most welcome bright and glorious sunshine arrived, it brought with it breezy conditions and much cooler temperatures. The temperatures are going to be the story of the upcoming week.

Despite all the rain, we didn't have any serious issues.
It looks like an ancient riverbed all the way through
the hoophouse
We did have water flow under the bandboards and THROUGH hoophouse #1.  That hasn't ever happened before and it made me glad I hadn't gotten around to planting that area at the time of the flood.

The Boss devoted a good deal of time to dealing with the weed overload in hoophouse #2.  His weeding prowess is greatly appreciated.  I am by nature a fairly messy person and it takes a certain level of chaos to send me into a tizzy.  Weeds in the hoophouse, however, cause me some serious distress. So, this week, the Boss is my "hero"...the hens were quite happy to see his weed offerings as well.

Between the torrential rain and the predicted low temperatures, we are at a virtual standstill in our gardening endeavors.  The propagation greenhouses are nearly bursting at the seams with seedlings that need to be transplanted. Looks like we're in for a busy stretch once the weather breaks.

There are tiny bean plants, little itty, bitty peaches and baby strawberries (among other things) that are all growing nicely.

Unfortunately all of these are in danger for the next couple of days as freezing temperatures are predicted for the next few nights.  We will head out after supper to tuck everything in as best we can in hopes of salvaging the crop.  We will be saying a good many prayers, too...and I can't imagine it would hurt to think warm thoughts.

All in all, a pretty slow week here on the hill.  We're still waiting for Spring to really kick in and things to get busy.  It seems like we are so far behind last year.  But, that's okay...it will all work out in the end. The sky always clears ...

Since today is Mother's Day, I want to post a special message.

I know I speak for a great many people when I say...


  We love you, Bonnie!