Someone shook the darn snow globe again! This is the view from the Creamery door this morning.
I am in full-on hibernation mode.
The goats have been dry for several weeks, so chores are a minimum. I’m back in the house by 4:30.
What a gift winter days and evenings are!
I’ve taken up knitting again, and perhaps just maybe I’ll finish that sweater I started for Brad 17 years ago (that would be BG, Before Goats). Mostly I’m knitting in an attempt to keep myself awake after supper. Otherwise, I’d be asleep on the couch by 7 p.m.
On snowy days, and unlike last winter, we’ve had at least one a week since Christmas, we watch movies. The first blizzard, we watched 9 movies in three days. We’ve toned that down a bit to a couple a week.
I’m working my way through my pile of books that has been accumulating for a couple of years. I’ve read three since Christmas, not counting reviewing my bread books.
I’m baking bread again, furiously trying out new recipes to fit into the busy summer schedule. Our neighbor who plows our driveway is the happy recipient of much of this effort!
I’ve cancelled several of my winter cheesemaking classes, so Fix-It Guy can get some much needed repairs and renovations done in the dairy. It’s been too cold this week to get much done, which means more couch time!
ll be lucky if I can fit out the door, come kidding season. I better start my spring training… Kidding should start in six short weeks and then winter hibernation will be over.
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.
Apologies to my readers, if in fact I have any, for not posting for so long. Suffice to say that it has been one hellacious winter, and I haven’t wanted to write about any of it.
However, we seem to be enjoying an early and warm spring, so things are starting to look up.
I will try to find something hopeful or funny to write about soon.
We spent a very fun couple of days at the Common Ground Fair this year. We always have fun, eat lots of food, and find some new source of inspiration to carry us through the winter months. We went to Kendra Michaud’s wood-fired bread baking workshop and picked up a few more pointers for our new oven. Listened to Mark Guzzi’s keynote, as well as his garlic lecture. Checked in with Cheryl Wixson about root-cellaring.
Ten years ago, we used to be able to sell our cheese in the farmers’ market area of the fair. We sold a lot of cheese, had a lot of fun, and many new people discovered us that way. But that was back in the day when you didn’t need to be certified organic in order to sell there. In 2000, the fair organizers began requiring anyone selling any kind of food to be certified. For years afterward, there was no cheese, local chicken or several other foods, stilll grown locally and sustainably, but not certified organic. It pissed me off then and it still pisses me off, that it’s OK to truck in certified organic food from anywhere in the world (coffee is at the fair this year!!!) but our farm, a mere 25 miles from the fairground, is excluded because we are not certified.
This leads to MUCH customer confusion! They don’t understand why I am not at the fair. They don’t understand why we’re not organic –many people assume that we are since we sell at a farmers’ market. Not so!
Here are our reasons for not being certified organic, although we manage our farm organically:
We don’t have the land base to establish rotational pasture. We only have 6 acres, enough for goats, but not for pasture. Goats don’t really graze so much as browse anyway, and they are very happy browsing in our second-growth woods.
We buy our hay locally, from a farm six miles away. This makes much more sense to me than trucking in organic hay from Canada or wherever. Our hay farmer doesn’t use pesticides, he simply isn’t certified, either. We haven’t got storage for a lot of hay, so he stores it for us. Works well that way.
We can’t afford organic grain. We don’t feel what is available is dependable or of high quality.
We don’t use antibiotics, but reserve the right to do so in order to save the life of one of our animals. Wouldn’t you?
We never use artificial hormones. Why on earth would we? Our goats are happy, and give us all the milk we need.
I’m not sure I really want to sell cheese at the fair, truth be told. I have much more fun just going to the fair, and not working. But I am tired of explaining it to people, and tired of having to go incognito, because if customers see me there, they think the cheese is not far behind.
Singing the praises of my 2009 apprentices! Seems like they, like the lost summer, only just arrived, and now it’s time to go. Somewhere toward the end of August, that faraway look creeps into their eyes, and while we are focusing on the rootcellar, woodshed, and freezer, they are checking on airline tickets or winter rents.
I can’t get through the summer without them, and it will be tough this winter when they’ve departed. They are like children that I’ve raised and am sending out into the world. Hope they come back to visit. Hope they send postcards!