(farm)life is what happens when you make other plans

Early this morning I was sitting down to write my first blog post since January 1 (!) when Ron came into the house and said, “we have a problem.”

Never a good sentence to utter, whether it relates to family, work, farm, or anything else.

A skunk was in the corner of the hen house, looking lethargic and sick. In fact, very lethargic and very sick.

What to do?

Instead of writing my intended post–“pssttt… baaaaaaak” (a sheep joke–get it? baaaaaaak??)–here I am writing about the unexpected challenges of the farm.

Yet, as goes the farm, so goes life–and vice versa.

Back to the skunk. We looked at the poor skunk, talked about our options, and decided we needed to put him out of his misery. Unlike many bougie (bourgeois) farmers around here, Ron is a skilled hunter. Those skills come in handy at times like this. We didn’t have to call some sort of “wildlife service” (aka trap or kill service for hire). Ron was able to put the poor skunk out of his misery as quickly and humanely as possible, and take his body to our new land next door (another post!?) to decompose or get eaten. None of this is nice or pleasant or fun, but it is part of the pragmatic, sometimes harsh, reality of farm life. We prefer to try to manage our land and its inhabitants as honorably as possible. That includes allowing the skunk to go through cycles of life (and death) here, not in the landfill.

Back to life. I haven’t written many posts for the past year and especially since the new calendar year for personal reasons (some of you know what these are, although I will not discuss them here and please do not post comments about them). As challenges appeared, resolved, reappeared, developed, worsened, and evolved over the past year, the farm has, of course, been here.

Rains came and went. Crops succeeded and failed. Snow piled up. Then it melted. Sheep grazed, pooped, and wanted pets. Chickens ran around and laid eggs. Cinnamon gave birth to two healthy lambs (another post!). Flowers bloomed and went to seed. Weeds bloomed and went to seed. The sun powered our solar panels. Compost composted. We harvested, canned, pickled, and froze. We weeded. Then the weeds came back. Chicks hatched. Later we ate adolescent roosters.

And so it goes.

I haven’t been able to do nearly as much this year–on the farm or anywhere else–due to the personal circumstances. But the farm has continued with its farmy ways amid all the Other Stuff. The seasons have continued, life and death–and rebirth–have continued.

I find comfort in this stability.

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It’s the first of the year (!?!?!). I’m not going to write about farm “goals” today.

Instead, I’ll share a new recipe that I tried last night: Middle-Eastern lamb saute with cabbage and Swiss chard.

This recipe ticks three farm and food boxes, not that we keep track of farm and food “boxes” most of the time. However, the recipe does use lamb (our favorite meat–and, alas, livestock animal), Swiss chard, and cabbage.

We always end up with too much Swiss chard. I like it, but I can’t quite shake this dreaded Swiss chard feeling whenever we harvest, freeze, or defrost some. I have several Swiss chard recipes in our regular rotation–tofu with Swiss chard and peanut sauce, pasta with Swiss chard in a goat cheese sauce, and sausage and white bean soup with (you guessed it) Swiss chard. They are all good. Why, then, do I get that dreaded Swiss chard feeling nonetheless?

We started growing cabbage only a few years ago, but have generally had productive harvests. We wasted a number of heads this year because we didn’t get them out of the ground before the first deep freeze. I used the last cabbage we picked last night. I had to cut out about half of the cabbage, but the other half was still good, although not primo cabbage because it had been in the fridge for about two months.

And then there is lamb. Sigh. Two truths can be held simultaneously: lamb and mutton are delicious, and sheep are wonderful creatures. I still can’t sort out how I feel about all this, but one thing that always comes to mind is Homer Simpson’s line from the “Lisa the Vegetarian” episode after the family goes to the zoo and Lisa realizes lamb chops come from the cute animals she’s seen at the petting zoo earlier that day: “But Lisa, this is lamb, not lamb.”

Yeah, right.

Without further ado, here is Middle-Eastern lamb saute with cabbage and Swiss chard.

Note to cooks: preparing and cooking the dreaded Swiss chard will vary depending on whether you have big stalks, frozen chard, or fresh chard with small stems. If you have big stems, cut out the stalks, slice thinly, and cook with the cabbage; roughly chop leaves and add them in later with the carrots. If you have frozen chard (like we do), roughly chop mostly frozen, partly defrosted chard blob; cook with the cabbage. If you have fresh chard with small stems, just roughly chop and toss it all in with the carrots at the end.

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 medium bunch Swiss chard (don’t ask me what medium means)
  • 1/2 small green cabbage, thinly sliced, about 3 cups
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (no, not that Cinnamon)
  • fresh squeezed orange juice from one orange (recipe called for 3 tablespoons, but I’d add more oj)
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • 6 dates, roughly chopped
  • some fresh mint (I didn’t have)
  • plain yogurt (I didn’t use)

Brown lamb for about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare cabbage and Swiss chard. Add cabbage (and chard stems or frozen chard, if you went for options 1 or 2) and saute about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, orange zest, salt, and cinnamon. Cook for about 1 minute. Deglaze with orange juice, scraping up browned meat bits from pan. Stir in chard leaves, carrots, dates, and mint. Cook about 3 minutes. Season to taste. Serve with more mint and yogurt. Serve over couscous or rice.

Bon farm-appetit!

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15 minutes of fame for the farm

Ithaca is a hub of all things locavore and farm-y. It’s one of the things we like and appreciate about living here.

Many people have heard of the farm-to-table movement by now, but some folks are trying to extend the concept to clothing, textiles, and fashion–or “farm-to-fiber.”

Dr. Helen X. Trejo (and one of my blog followers–hi, Helen!?) recently received her PhD in Apparel Design at Cornell University. She’s smart, ambitious, and creative, and really inspiring in terms of trying to get “slow fiber” and “farm-to-fiber” movements off the ground. Dr. Trejo came to our farm this summer, visited the sheep, asked a lot of great questions, and bought several fleeces for her fiber apprenticeship. Her sister also took some gorgeous photos of the sheep.

We didn’t realize she had written a post about Navajo-Churro sheep–and our farm–on her blogĀ until very recently. (Hey, I did it folks! I added a link!?) Here’s the informative and lovely entry she wrote.

Happy reading! And don’t miss the photos of ADORABLE LAMBS!

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everyone loves cinnamon

This post was originally going to be entitled, “miss(ing) Cinnamon,” because Cinnamon was away and we missed her. But as is usually the case, the farm keeps moving, even if I can’t keep up with it.

Three weeks ago–Sunday, December 3–we took Cinnamon the ewe to another farm for an extended “play date” with Frosty the ram. Ahem. We had visited Frosty’s farm the previous weekend, just to make sure he was a nice sheep-boy and his owners seemed like good shepherds. Both ram and humans passed the test and we brought Cinnamon out the following weekend.

We had gone back and forth about the best sheep-mobile transit options. Rent a truck and transport her in a custom sheep box in the back? Rent a small trailer and have the Subaru tow the trailer with Cinnamon in the sheep box? Or could (and should) we just put Cinnamon in the back of our Subaru Forester?

We went for door #3 and much hilarity ensured. I haven’t sent these photos to Subaru yet, but I’m wondering if I should. Will Cinnamon be Subaru’s latest ad campaign?

First we drove the Subaru into the sheep pasture, loaded some hay on top, and Ron had rigged a tarp inside. It was attached on each side in two spots to make a plastic “moat.” Then we spread out about 1/4 of a bale of hay in case she pooped or peed.

Once this was set up, Ron rattled grain to attract the sheep to the catch pen where we would separate and nab Cinnamon, and put her in a halter. As usual, Cinnamon was at the head of the line–that’s her, closest to Ron, hoping to get grain from the metal tin.

12.3.17 011

We were able to get most of the sheep in the catch pen (seen in the background here) and separated Cinnamon. Ron was able to put the halter on without any immobilization or struggle. It was really amazing. She was so trusting and cooperative despite this new thing on her face.

Then it was time to load Cinnamon in the back of the Forester. I held the tray with grain inside and rattled it. We hoped Cinnamon might just hop up, but it was a bit too much of a leap for her. So Ron handed me her halter rope, I pulled on it a bit, and he gave her a boost–first her front legs onto the tailgate, then her rather ample bum (!). Next thing we knew, as planned, Cinnamon was in the back of the Subaru.

Here is her wooly bum:

12.3.17 016

We had let the sheep out of the catch pen and they were wandering around, mostly oblivious to what was happening. But then Chaco and Francisco–and Half Moon who is strangely attentive to flock dynamics–realized Cinnamon was missing.

Here they are looking for her:

12.3.17 018Poor Francisco and Chaco. They were baaing and not happy because their sheep-mum was gone.

We drove out of the pasture, shut and reactivated the electric fencing, and then tried to get Cinnamon to her new farm as quickly as possible. Cinnamon was remarkably calm given the strangeness of it all. She did pee and poop in the hay on the tarp within the first 3-5 minutes. She baaed more frequently the first half of the ride or so. And then she pretty much calmed down and looked out the windows. Ron drove and I petted her face and talked to her. After about 10 minutes, I quit letting her roam around the back and instead held her halter with about 18 inches of play, allowing her to stand, look, and lean, but kept her in the middle in case of another pee or poop incident.

Here we are, driving the ~20 minutes to the farm.

She nuzzled Ron’s neck at several points.


After about 20 minutes, we got to her temporary new home and unloaded her.

12.3.17 031

Fast forward three weeks to the day. This afternoon we drove back to Frosty’s farm and recovered Cinnamon, hoping that she is pregnant (with two ewe lambs, please!!!!!!!). It was more challenging getting her back in the car because there were two gates between her and the car, no catch pen, and sheep and goats trying to get where they weren’t supposed to be. But we eventually prevailed and got Cinnamon back in the Subaru.

Here she is, eating hay, as we’re driving along.

12.24.17 022Guess it can’t be that bad if she was eating hay…

We parked in the driveway, Ron turned off the electric fence, and we carefully got her back out of the car. Then Ron walked her over to the pasture. You can see Chaco and Paco (both white) off in the distance.

Here they are:

12.24.17 024

We were curious how Cinnamon and the rest of the flock were going to react. At first, the sheep were oblivious to her. Then Paco perked up, obviously seeing his sheep-mum. It was hilarious to watch his ears perk up and his facial expression change. (I am not making this up.) A second or two later, Chaco clued in. Same thing–same ears and facial expression. Cinnamon baaed and Chaco and Paco started running toward her. A split second later, the rest of the sheep realized Cinnamon was back and started running, too. There was this wave of sheep running towards the fence to greet Cinnamon the rock star sheep.

Somehow we got Cinnamon through the fence despite the adoring sheep fans who then proceeded to mob her.

Here they are:

12.24.17 025

When we took Brownie to A’s farm to be bred two years ago, her return was sweet but reserved. All the sheep greeted her calmly in turn. Spot was the last to do so. Spot and Brownie never got along for some mysterious reason.

This time, all the sheep–and Diego the llama–were in a big sheep mob, nuzzling Cinnamon’s face, smelling her, and pushing each other around. Brownie and Cinnamon actually did the longest and sweetest greeting, doing a lot of face nuzzles and even several face licks. Poor Cinnamon kept trying to walk away, but everyone followed her around. We don’t think that Chaco and Paco really got a chance to reunite with their sheep-mum because all the sheep were so excited to see her.

Everyone loves Cinnamon.

Happy Christmas Eve.

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not the farm

We just got back from three nights in New York City–Ron’s first trip to the city and the first time I’ve visited as a tourist in many years.

It’s definitely not the farm.

Of course, we enjoyed seeing exhibits at the Met, touring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, walking through Central Park in unseasonably comfortable weather, and trying Oaxacan tacos, ramen noodles, and Hungarian cuisine.


It’s definitely not the farm.

We generated four paper bags and several plastic bags in less than four days. It usually takes us several months to do so at home because we use reusable sacks for almost everything. I brought all the bags home either to use (paper sacks for the paper recycling) or recycle (plastic bags).

We also produced a mound of other recyclables that we sorted into bins in the city–plastic to-go containers up the wazoo in addition to the normal recyclables we produce at home (cereal box, toilet paper rolls, etc.).

On the up side, New York City seems much more serious about recycling than it used to. I’ve always been disturbed by the huge mountains of garbage on the side of the street every single night. Even worse is seeing recyclable stuff in see-through plastic bags. But this trip we saw building superintendents spending a lot of time bringing garbage and recycling out of buildings, and sorting the refuse. Some supers had amazingly neat piles–plastic bags with cans, glass, and plastic, paper and cardboard in other plastic bags, newspapers tied by string into tidy pyramids. I wonder how much time they spend doing this–and what incentives (or penalties?) the city has created to make sure more city residents’ detritus actually gets recycled.

Waste is, though, a big theme of the trip. For instance, many old buildings have centralized heating. The apartment we rented had old radiators that rattled when they were on. It was impossible to control the temperature and the heating was too high most of the time, especially at night when you want it cooler to sleep. Consequently, we opened the windows in the living room and bedroom, and actually ran the AC fan, to get the temperature to a more reasonable level for sleeping. So all that heat was wasted, further increasing our carbon footprint for the trip.

We also noticed black plumes of smoke coming out of the top of a number of apartment buildings, especially the bigger, older ones. We weren’t sure what this was at first, but guess that these are oil-heated buildings. We also saw several oil delivery trucks pumping oil into basements as we navigated the city’s always crowded streets.

The farm is a lot of work. We worry about the animals (too much at times). It’s been harder to get away for trips and vacation, especially together since we scaled up the farm. Ron and I haven’t had many vacations together since we got the sheep in the summer of 2015 since it’s difficult to have both of us away at the same time.

But the trip to New York City reminded us of many of the positives of Ithaca and the farm, and the choice to live in ways that attempt to be commensurate with our values.

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eggs-perimenting with the eggs-periment

I swear this will be the last post with this bad pun.

We experimented with the frozen spring eggs experiment. I really didn’t mind the consistency. Ron was less thrilled. So he whirled several bags of frozen hen eggs in the blender, measured it, and put the leftovers in tupperware.

I admit: the scrambled eggs were better.

Therefore, eggs-periment (2.0) consists of freezing eggs, defrosting them, blasting them in the blender, cooking, and eating!

Hmm, I suppose eggs-periment (3.0) will entail scrambling the eggs in advance and then freezing them.

Maybe this isn’t the last bad pun after all.

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We get a lot of eggs from March through May as spring comes on, and the days get longer and warmer. A few hens generally go broody, which means they stop laying for a few days to a few weeks. Caroline and Ella have hatched clutches for us so they are also out of commission when they are sitting on the eggs and then raising the chicks.

Now that we have about 20 chickens (most of whom are hens), we actually end up with too many eggs. We sell a few to friends, generally 1-1.5 dozen per week, but we still have too many.

In contrast, the hens really slow down from early November until around New Year’s. Conversely, the days get shorter. In addition, the chickens generally molt in late fall and early winter. It seems a bit strange to molt then, given that the feathers keep them warm. Overall, these factors mean that the hens lay much less so we generally get 0-4 eggs per day from sometime in November through early January.

This spring we tried an experiment–or (wait for it) an eggs-periment. [laugh track goes here]

We tried freezing four eggs (cracked) in a freezer ziplock bag. Turns out, The Internet Advice says that you are supposed to scramble the eggs before putting them in the bag. I just cracked them and dumped them into the sack whole.

About 10 days ago, we started eating the stash of frozen eggs from the spring. The yolk consistency once defrosted is, admittedly, a bit strange. The yolk is fairly solid and firm. I really have to smash it with a fork to break it up. The “scrambled” egg “liquid” is less liquid-y thanks to the more solid yolks. As a result the consistency of the cooked eggs is a bit atypical, but the eggs basically taste the same. And, really, who cares.

The cool thing about this eggs-periment is that we can now extend our very local egg consumption more year round, rather than buying eggs for most of November and December. I wouldn’t serve our scrambled eggs to the Queen of England, but she’s not coming over to the farm anyway.

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