Whoa, empty nest again. Another year of apprentices come and gone. I know I make ironic jokes about them every year, but really. I enjoy each and every one of them and miss them fiercely when they go. I guess it’s been part of the higher purpose of my life. I have knowledge and skills to share with more than the one child I was gifted, so I take on apprentices like foster children in the hope that some will follow in my footsteps and learn from my mistakes.
It makes me terribly sad when I don’t hear from them, like lost children, I wonder where they have gone and what they are doing now. Why don’t they write? We did our best…. and It makes me extremely proud when I see the strong young farmers and artisans and advocates and activists they grow into. And the both of us love it when they flock back for a visit. Flung the world over: Alaska, Washington, California, Vermont. Or right in my back yard: North Haven, Thorndike and Lewiston. They are making cheese, or raising goats, or sharing the farm life love, or raising awareness of local food systems.
Finally, our supplier has found domestic garlic for us! Not local, not yet, but at least it’s not from China. How crazy is that, imported garlic from China?
This season, we have learned how to make rennet! Most people won’t really want to hear where it comes from: a kid’s stomach. Of course it makes a lot of sense that the very enzymes needed to separate curd from whey are found in the stomach. It also makes sense to use surplus kids (mostly the males who will NEVER be milkers on the farm) to harvest the stomachs to make rennet, and then roast the meat in celebration. Our friends John and Mary at Little Falls Farm, who taught the workshop where we learned this new skill, report that they are able to harvest exactly the amount of rennet they need for the year from the surplus kids they process from their herd. It just makes sense.
Meanwhile, we continue to experiment with vegetable-derived rennets. Unfortunately for us in Maine, the plants most used for rennet can’t grow here, but we can try. We’ve got some cardoon growing in the garden, and we will report back on how it works. All our experiments last summer with nettles were grand failures. Fig plants are also used, but also don’t grow here.
We are also experimenting with the most local of cheese packaging: beeswax. How cool is that? Renewable, recyclable, reusable, all natural, smells really good, and very subtlely flavors the cheese. And beautiful!
Now, we’re going to experiment with using kefir as a culture, so we would truly have a locally produced cheese from start to finish.
In love with local.
Here’s what life is like right now:
Sleep is restless after about 3 a.m., easily wakened by snoring, or cats scratching, or wind blowing. I start trying to figure out what needs to be done this day, and all chance of sleep is gone.
Take the dog out, feed her and the cats, wash last night’s dishes, check email, and if there is time, pay some bills online. Out to the barn by 5:30 to start milking. Milking right now takes two hours, with all girls milking at their peak. After milking, there is cleanup, kids to feed, hay to bring down to the barn, floor to sweep. Fill the pasteurizers, and start the cycle. Brief Jessie when she arrives, and give her the list for the day.
If I’m lucky, I have time for breakfast and something to take for lunch. Usually, I’m not so lucky, and I have to stop and get something on the way to work. Put in my 5-1/2 hours at my part-time job, then head home again.
I get home early enough to do an hour or so of cheese work or barn work before I start milking at 5 p.m. If all the girls behave, I’m done milking and feeding babies by 8 p.m. Back to the house for supper, and I’m happy to eat anything Brad cooks for me, because I sure don’t have time or energy to cook. Fall asleep on the couch by 9.
Usually, I’m not so lucky. If the phone rings, even once, then the schedule is out the window. If someone stops by, even for the briefest of unexpected visits, that hour is lost forever, and usually comes out of sleep time. Everbody wants a piece of me these days: Dad needs his internet connection checked, the Kid needs some advice on the phone, a local photographer wants to come take pictures, the land trust wants a tour, workshops to run. Lord help me if I have an appointment somewhere. Oh yeah, and cheese to make.
The apprentices can’t get here fast enough.
I am in the food business. The healthy, local, alternative food business. And my dirty little secret is that I eat at the gas station at least a couple of times a week. Some days, in my multitasking life, the only way to get something to eat is when I stop for gas. I have to get the gas. I can skip meals.
Gas station food is handy. As in, you only need one hand, and no utensils, to eat it. The coffee is always hot, other drinks are always cold. There is almost always pizza. And paper napkins.
When we visited Italy, all those years ago, our host friends delighted in showing us the high quality of food available at the gas stations in that country, and I’ve never forgotten it. Seems like it would be a nice niche for an ambitious sort of person, to create really healthy gas station food. Somewhere.