Friday, July 29, 2011

I’m a Mother, Not a Farmer

I have just discovered a kernel of truth that sets me free from the pressures of farming. I am not a farmer. I never was. I never will be. There is so much release in this discovery – here are some thoughts about this.

Lately I’ve been driving myself into the ground by comparing ourselves to all of the other farmers we know. I look at what they are capable of and I am in complete awe and wonder at what they accomplish. What they grow, how much of it, how early, where and how they sell it, what they charge – mixed with the other aspects of their lives that they are balancing (off-farm work, young children, off-the-grid farms – whoah!). Their entire process has been sending me into a feedback loop of shame.

I am ready to put down the sword.

Often I watch my children do what they do and I swear that my insides are about to burst with pride. Not because I feel I’ve had anything to do with their little beings. But because I have been given the privilege and honour of front row seats to watch them growing up. I have no idea how I scored such a good deal! All I have to do is show up, pay attention, love them relentlessly, keep them from hurting themselves whenever possible and provide food, shelter and clothing. On a good day I throw in opportunities to learn and a chance to rest when needed.

I didn’t make these children, you see, nor am I responsible for them. I am not their Master or their Creator. I might be a facilitator or a guide at best. I go along beside them, point things out, step in their way if needed, add an extra layer of clothing once in a while but I cannot be responsible for everything that happens to them. I am only their Mother.

Similarly, I am not a Farmer. I am not responsible for everything that happens on our farm in a day. I can put up a fence, build a shelter, fill a trough, put a cover on, plant a seed, but I can’t completely control the outcome. I can guide it, facilitate it, but it is not for me to decide how it will become.

I do not enjoy competing against other people. I don’t need to be better than anyone else. I am pretty insecure most of the time. I can tell you that my ability to feel inadequate has no limits. Therefore, my competition is to run the race against my perceived incompetence every day.

Who am I kidding? What a large load of ego it takes to believe I could possibly be in control of every little thing. When was I put in charge of the universe? Stuff goes right. Stuff goes wrong. You win some, you lose some. All we can do is our best and wait for the result (and take it all in stride etc. etc.). It is even unnecessary for us to judge whether outcomes are positive or negative before the whole story is told. How can we know that the bus we missed that made us late for work isn’t about to get in an accident?

I am so very grateful for the hard work of the successful farmers who grow excellent food around us. They have learned a dance with their land and living things that no other could emulate. What they produce from this dance is also unique. It is not envy I feel, just a small sense of not doing my share. Not showing up and doing enough or as much as is possible, apparently.

A dance with their land. And living things.

A child begins from the planting of a seed. We initiate the dance that brings that seed to life in the landscape we call our bodies but we do not control what happens next.

A farm begins when a person cultivates a piece of land in hopes of producing some form of food from it one day. The Latin origin of the word farm means to strengthen or make firm. The intention behind early farms was to secure a predictable lot of living things (and a profit to the landowner). This is a lovely idea. But whoever associated the idea of taking something uncertain and giving it structure as being a farm still must have believed that just one more tweak would be the ticket to controlling nature’s balance.

We are Mothers. Not Farmers. We cannot solidify our creations. But we can work hard, do them justice and hope we have offered something worthwhile to the world at the end of the show.

The word mother apparently literally means ‘breast-feeder’. Our purpose is to feed (oh, and a few million other things but that’s another blog post). I can do that. That I can do. I can feed people. Even my back-talking inner mean voice couldn’t argue with the truth of that.

I am a Mother. Not a Farmer.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Easy Door

When days get hard around here, I often feel the presence of a door that marches along beside me, beckoning me to open it. For some reason it is labeled ‘The Easy Door’. What it refers to is me calling up someone I know inside that set of towers I once worked in and asking for a job again. But I am not fooled.

On the plus side, the Easy Door would bring a regular pay cheque, a chance to don my clean clothes, an opportunity to do thinking and writing work again, lunch with colleagues, alone time in my car on my way to the city listening to my audio books, and a chance to work in ‘the bigger picture’ on things that affect the world.

But I am all too aware that the Easy Door is actually a hatch. If I open it, down I would fall into the place where I no longer have control over how much time I spend with my kids. It is a place where I spend money to make money (clothes, parking, lunch, gas…) It is a place where I don’t actually feel good at what I’m doing. I actually am never quite sure what I am doing in the bigger picture. Apparently there is a Minister up there in that tower somewhere making decisions that may or may not include my excellent ‘scientific advice to management’. I’m guessing what I did matters not at all in the larger picture.

Here on the farm I get dirt under my fingernails (along with other unmentionable smelly stuff). I scrub out the dirt and join my family in a van ride to the city twice a week to deliver real food to real people. We get excellent feedback. Am I changing the world? I think not. Do I feel like I’m doing something meaningful? Oh, yes! Every single day.

My mother is big on reminding me when I complain about a hard day that this was the life that I chose. She is right.

A soldier goes off to fight for their country in a war. A mother awakens to feed her baby in the middle of the night. A person wakes up before the sun to put on running shoes for her marathon training. A farmer secures food for family and community. These choices are not easy in the day to day, but the larger passion that draws the person is what sustains them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Choosing to grow and raise food is not easy. Things don’t always go as expected. The opportunities for complaining are limitless.

This morning I visited my pastured chickens in the field to make the daily move of their mobile pen onto fresh grass. Two things happen when the creek of the metal frame starts to budge. My thirty odd birds go crackers over every inch of new grass exposed to them. And three cows come trotting across the pasture to clean up any stray grain that may have been left behind where the pen once was.

Today I noted that only two of my three Jerseys came running. One was lamely limping her way over far behind the crowd. It was my old girl, Lilybelle. The one we’ve never been able to breed after numerous attempts. The one who’s eyes are saggy and she looks as though she’s 110 years old. We don’t know how old she actually is. She always looks pregnant so we are fooled every year about the calf that never comes. I scratched her on the side of her face when she arrived just as she likes it and realized that with this lame foot of hers may well mean we will be blessed with a mountain of ground beef very soon. This kind of realization is hard and heartbreaking. But the show must go on. And we all have to earn our keep. And my job is to put various meats in the freezer.

With every bit of might and will that I own I have decided to stay home on this farm and be closer to my kids, my land and my life. My life is definitely my ‘choice’.

We all have beliefs that guide our lives. Even the belief that global warming, peak oil and pesticide usage are only concerns for extremists is a belief system. Some risk their lives for their beliefs. I traveled to Africa in my mid-twenties because I was utterly obsessed with Louis Leakey’s ‘angels’ that had given their lives to work with Great Apes. Dian Fossey (played by Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist movie) literally gave her life as she was murdered in her bed for the Gorillas she was protecting. Jane Goodall is, well, an undeniable hero for the animals that she has fought for going on 50 years of her life now.

Birute Galdikas was the third angel. I met her in Vancouver some years ago as we were working on the idea of a reforestation project in Indonesia. I babbled on and on about my dreams of working with apes the way she did. After apparently too many minutes of me talking she stopped me, looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘your reasons are too selfish. It isn’t about you. You have to do it for the cause’. Gulp. At the time I knew she was right.

We all bend (or break) for the things we truly believe in. That is how we know we've found our place. Whereas, we only dabble and dip into the things we kinda like and that rock our world, but the things we would DIE for? Bet you don’t have a long list for that. I know I don’t.

What I do know is that I would rather die than give up my health and happiness and family’s well-being for a pay cheque. I suppose what we are willing to die for is the corollary for what we are living for. When things get hard, we stick it out because we have truly made a choice that matters more to us than life or death itself.

I often wonder what sort of ‘choice’ I’ve made here. It is not the easiest choice if you look at it superficially. I’m sentencing myself to a lifetime of endless work, unfinished jobs, mountains of poop, needy living things and a tired body. But when I look at the alternatives, the choice to stay here on the farm is an easy one. I passionately believe in making nutritious food grown in a healthy environment available to my family and my people.

And don’t get me wrong, the complaining might be great but the perks are also fantastic. Fresh air, children who play wonderfully in their space, feelings of accomplishment, overcoming obstacles, tiny moments of pure pleasure and appreciation as a butterfly lands on your arm or a wind dries the sweat from your brow. Making a meal out of food that has come from our own hard work is the beginning, middle and end of fulfillment for me right now.

No matter how many times I consider dropping it all and walking (or falling) back to my cubicle in the city, I keep coming back to the same conclusion. I thank God for the health that we all have for today. This health is partially a product of a certain kind of simplicity we are letting into our lives. I cherish this immensely.

When things get hard, I remind myself that it is not a difficult life that I have chosen. If I were to give up farming, at this point anyway, I may as well lie down and go to sleep. Every part of me that cares for my family, my body, this earth, my community would have given up.

And I choose to live.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Lottery

Admit it. You have at one time or another wished that oodles of money would come falling from the sky and solve all of your problems. Perhaps you will win the lottery. Perhaps there is a Great Aunt that you’ve never met who will die and leave her remaining relatives millions of dollars. Perhaps your friend who just sold her small high tech company to the big boys will buy you a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Have you ever noticed that money seems to flood into your life during periods of abundance and flow? And other times you seem to need to fork out cash to everyone who cross your path and you can't get ahead to save your life? Perhaps your tax bill was a little higher than expected. Perhaps you bought something and it turned up broken so you had to go buy another one. Or you spent a bunch of money repairing something that still isn’t fixed. Perhaps you paid some folks to pick produce that the store didn’t want anymore (and it was too late to sell to someone else) because they had mixed up on their orders.

Why do we always have to live through periods of feast or famine? What regulates which phase we are in? Why must there only be two choices: deprivation or excess? I asked my husband this question and he answered that you can’t worry about money all the time as that makes it shy. My husband is a quiet sort but the wisdom that comes out of that boy’s mouth could move mountains.

Well, I have decided to do some work in this area. I am ready, willing and able to admit that it is very possible that I have a role in which side of the money equation I live on (positive or negative).

First, a little history. I grew up in a household where cash was popped into birthday cards and always offered during hard times. Money was a healer. A friend. A lover. A comfort. It was power. It was an excuse. It was an apology. The great equalizer. It was the gateway to everything that mattered. I wasn’t even a decade into my life when I decided what I really needed was not money. It was love and attention. Money was for other people.

Decades passed and I sought love and attention like a dog seeks a bum to sniff. I avoided the hunt for money like the plague. And guess what? I managed to scare all of it away. So I tried harder. All the while, money came and went according to its own schedule, not mine. I would not give it its due respect. People who cared about money were shallow. Love and attention, well, lets just say the forced approach wasn't much more effective.

Inside deprivation lives fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of having nothing to offer. Fear of being needy, dependent, and unworthy.

But fear can also sneak a visit onto the other side of the coin too. Abundance can create a fear of losing it all. A fear of being taken advantage of. A fear (and guilt) that not enough is being shared with others.

Fear is fear.

And as a side note, there is not a very high likelihood that you will find that Great Supporting Aunt anytime soon. Further, studies have shown that many lottery winners have nothing to show for their winnings after a short amount of time. Although coming into money eases financial worries, what some researchers have found is that it does not change one’s personality or approach to life. Gamblers are gamblers, worriers are worriers, and people who have spent a lifetime believing they are deprived will continue to find a way to feel deprived.

Furthermore, the other flaw in a quest for money to solve all our problems is that we soon learn that money can most definitely not solve all of our problems. It can make life a little easier temporarily or in specific ways but it cannot make everything okay.

It has also been found that people who think money is the most important thing (no matter how much they have) are consistently the unhappiest people.

So there is more to our search than just needing money to fall out of the sky. There is a shift in our beliefs needed here too. I never did read that book called ‘The Secret’ but I gather it talked about attracting good things into your life, like money. I’m not sure I bought into the idea entirely, therefore, never read the book. But I do believe that we have a template for what we allow into our lives. The template can change, either by accident or intentionally, but we can only ‘fill in’ the parts of our lives that we have current spots for.

I think I spent the better part of my life convincing myself that I didn’t need money to make me happy. Even a great part of my recent experiment called ‘stay-at-home-farmer-mommy-person’ is about trying to live off less money and put more value on skills and what I can produce with my own hands. Who am I kidding? I DO need money. The guy at the bank who takes our mortgage payment thinks so. The credit card guy who lends me money to shop at second hand stores, go to restaurants and catch movies in the theatre thinks so. The fellow who we buy our seeds from so that we can plant a garden to sell produce thinks so.

I have spent the last year combing through my habits to try to find ways to save more dollars. Not spending money was my income and financial contribution to my family.

But just like we bring our set-in-our-ways selves into lottery winning, so do we bring our dear selves into our frugality/productivity experiments. It turns out I still like movies. I still need to go to restaurants sometimes. I miss trips on airplanes. I miss feeling self-sufficient and buying things because I feel I have earned them. Now I buy things and hide my credit card statement from my husband in shame. The news is not atrocious. I am not that bad of an addict. But I swear if I keep focusing on all of this deprivation I am going to turn into a closet shopaholic who hides heaps of unopened packages under her bed.

We experience only what we focus on. And if we focus on money problems, money will become elusive and the only lottery we leave ourselves open to winning is worry and debt.

I decided to make a shift yesterday. As we waited on the pier under the lights at the small ferry dock near our home, I watched as the water lapped against the cement shore in the night breeze. Each wave let go of everything behind it and moved on allowing new waves to bring new water, again and again. Behind the river was a thunder storm flashing light into the night sky in purple and pink hues. It was a stunning scene, watching the clouds tumble across the sky, continually finding new ground to shed light on.

I threw a chip into the water and made a wish (yes I buy chips, and yes I eat them often). Bring on abundance, waves! I will no longer get in your way.

I arrived home to a package that I thought I would have to purchase again as it had been a month lost in the mail. In addition, there was a cheque from a friend who owed us money. After my chip-throwing episode, I believed that the tides had turned.

I think I have always been on the right track when I refused to make money the most important thing in my life. But to pretend we don’t need it or try to drive it out of our lives completely is not realistic (and partially insane). At least in the culture I live in.

Money is good. Money is great. Fall from the sky, an Aunt, a job offer, the mailbox – I don’t care. Do whatever you gotta do money. I promise not to get in your way anymore. You can’t take my heart and soul. But you can buy me a pizza once in a while. And for that, I’m going to let your waves wash in again and again however you see fit.

The kind of cash abundance that is respected and valued but not revered (shown devoted deferential honour) is the kind that even I would buy a lottery ticket for.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Maple Onion Kale Chips

When I first became intimate with a garden (and a gardener) I did not enjoy kale. At least I thought I didn’t. It was dark green. And everyone knows that things that are dark green are bitter and taste like they are too good for you. How wrong I was!

And so began my love affair with kale (the darker the better) and swiss chard and all things dark green. It turns out that kale and swiss chard leaves are lovely and tender when they are harvested in baby size. The grown up version with the larger leaves can also be eaten raw but I prefer these mixed with other lighter fare greens. Any size of kale can be steamed just a little on its own with some lemon and salt or chopped and dropped into soups, scrambled eggs, stir fries, pasta dishes, mashed potatoes or spread onto pizza. I made an omelette with feta cheese, smoked salmon and swiss chard the other day that had me wanting to shout about it in the streets.

But you know me. I didn’t stop there. I took some raw black/dinosaur kale (the flatter, less curly variety) and cut it up into 2 inch squares or so (remove the stem, although you don’t have to if you don’t mind the extra crunch), and marinated it in some oily business.

I have tried two different oily businesses. One with just lemon and olive oil with salt and pepper and one with my red onion ‘jam’ that went awry.

I digress again to tell you about the last fresh man standing in my cold storage from last year’s harvest – the red onions. There was a blog post all about them not that long ago.
I took a pile of these onions and decided to make a red onion jam. I had done it before and enjoyed it immensely beside pork or chicken or pureed with grated cheese and sour cream or mayo for a fantastic veggie dip. Unfortunately I put too much balsamic vinegar in the mix and it came out less jam and more salad-dressing type thing. So a happy accident was born. It was time to find new uses for my favourite things. The best one so far is a kale marinade.

The marinade needs ringed red onions and oil, a huge gulp of maple syrup, a long stream of balsamic vinegar and some salt. Once the onions are caramelized/softened over low heat in some olive oil, I added the other ingredients and stuffed it into jars hot so that the jars would seal. They seem to be surviving on the shelf not too bad.

When the time was right and I was about a day shy of needing my kale chips, I chopped up the kale and soaked the pieces in a large bowl in the red onion marinade pureed with a little extra olive oil. I did up a half-pound of kale with one 250ml jar of marinade and probably 1/2 cup of olive oil but I doubt you'll want to do that much at once. With my hands, I tossed the marinade into the pieces of kale until all of the leaves were completely covered. They shouldn’t be soaking wet but they need to show a shiny glisten to both sides of each leaf. Work it in thoroughly as needed.

Marinaded Raw Kale Pieces (or Kale Salad)

The good news is, that after a few hours in the fridge (I soaked mine overnight), you can stop here and have a marvelous salad with your meal. If you are feeling ambitious you can keep going by lining them flat out in your dehydrator and send them around for 3-4 hours at 115F until they are crisp but still bendable without breaking. Pile the chips into a sealed container and store in the fridge (although they technically could be fine on the counter, or maybe even better directly into your stomach). If they are dehydrated enough, they should hold their crisp and last a few days (unlike the full heat oven method where they turn to mush after a few hours).

Maple Onion Kale Chips

They are crunchy wonders of green that melt in your mouth. Kids love them. The sweetness of the balsamic and maple syrup make them bordering on illegal in my opinion. And they do taste dark green.

But we’ve all learned now not to shy away from dark green. That’s where the good stuff lives. Not to mention the plethora of B vitamins that are likely responsible for this annoyingly cheery blog post.

Over and out. Happy Kale Chip making.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Playing with Food

Tonight was pizza night. My kids know the drill. We each have a rolling pin, one blue, one red and one plain wood and as soon as the dough is ready out of the bread machine, we get to rolling our dough out on the kitchen table covered in flour. It is a very fun ritual. I think pizza dough is supposed to happen without rolling pins but I’m not so adept at the stretching, spinning and throwing method. Nor would I trust my children with that exercise at this age.

I made the mistake today of letting the kids know ahead of time what we were having for dinner. Excitement grew and soon I could no longer hold back the wild horses. An hour shy of the dough being ready, my daughter had rounded up the rolling pins and laid flour out across the table. My husband and I were in a separate room at the time. There was probably a good inch of flour on the whole table and inside the powdery mess lay a toy tractor, a skipping rope, and numerous other random figurines and toy dishes. In addition, the chairs were covered in white and so was the floor.

Did I mention that I like to buy expensive organic flours from a local baker who mills his own grains? The site of the wasted food made me feel sick.

Similarly, earlier in the day, the kids had decided to paint the inside of the van and their clothing with yogurt as we unpacked from market day and did the barn chores and watered the greenhouse. Inside the van was a very happy barn kitty lapping up what was probably a jackpot for him. Again, my heart sank at the mess.

The best one though was when I was about to head off to a health food store to deliver a crate of freshly picked organic raspberries from our field and found the kids in the van scotch taping raspberries to cardboard as a craft. My son was also squishing raspberries onto his cookie to make smiley faces. How could I be angry? Although, I was scared that my days work had all been for not and we wouldn’t have any left for the store. We did, but the site was a bit alarming at first.

At the day care my kids attend, children are encouraged to explore sensory activities such as playing in bins full of pasta, snow or oatmeal. They make necklaces out of dried food and glue pasta to various things. I’ve always loved that they are working with natural materials. Some parents had complained about the waste of food but I found myself supportive of it. Better than playing with plastic toys painted with toxic coatings from countries with scary environmental and health standards.

Yet here I stood, yelling so that everyone could get a good look at my tonsils, telling my children that food was not a toy. Further, I told them all about the children in other countries that were just like them, except they went to bed hungry night after night, and did not have the opportunity to eat food let alone play with it. From this complicated rant, I received complete and total blank stares. I topped my hairy fit off with a good dose of ‘I know you didn’t mean it and it makes sense because they let you play with these things at day care but we asked you not to do it here in these ways so please don’t’. If I were them I would have been utterly confused.

The reason why I do so much food processing in a year is very simple. I have a total inability to waste food. We have pigs now so this is helpful. And our chickens and cows have always been willing takers of whatever is on offer. Apparently our cat and dogs too. But if there is anyway to freeze, dry, blanch, marinate, mash, soak, pickle or ferment our extra food, I do it. It is possible that we save money on our winter grocery bill because of my efforts, but mostly I just can’t see perfectly good food go onto the compost pile if I can help it.

Now I have no witty conclusion here. I love that my children are willing participants in the preparation and processing of our bounty. But waste is waste and messes are messes and my children were definitely busy this week making wasteful messes. I want so badly to let their creative sides be explored. But there has to be limits, boundaries, rules or something. And I just don’t quite know how to explain it to them. How can I begrudge them this urge they have when I spend at least one whole day every week in the summer (excluding regular meal preparation) playing with food myself?

For now, I’ll give you the recipe for the pizza sauce I used tonight. At the end of last year I had buckets and buckets of red sweet peppers left over from the greenhouse that had ugly spots and were, therefore, unmarketable. In past years, I had frozen them or dried them but this year I simply roasted them on a high heat with olive oil on baking pans. Once they were supple with slightly black edges, I packed the peppers into jars and threw in three whole garlic cloves or so. If necessary I topped the jar with olive oil and left it for a few weeks in the fridge to ‘become’.

What resulted was an unbelievably tasty mass of garlic flavoured roasted red peppers that I could puree with humus, or cream cheese or put inside soups, pasta sauces or fajitas/burritos. There is no end to the uses for these little tasty jars. I did end up throwing them in the freezer afraid that they wouldn’t keep the winter long. I don’t think the acidity is high enough to live on a shelf. I had about 12 jars like this.

Today I took one of them and added it to some basil pesto and a bit of tomato sauce to spread over the pizza. Outstanding. On the pizza, I threw some of our kale, and then olives, feta cheese and pepperoni. It was tasty.

The pizza dough recipe is also something I’m glad to have come upon. I will share it here as it is a half healthy one and works wonderfully on the dough setting of the bread machine.

1.5 cups all purpose white flour
1.5 cups whole wheat or kamut or spelt flour
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp sugar
3 tbsp oil
4 tsp yeast
1.25 cups water

After dough is finished, drop it out of the bread pan onto a floured surface (remove tractors and skipping rope first). If it is sticky, add a clump more flour until you can knead it out without getting it stuck on your hands or on the table. Form a flat circle with your fingers and then roll the edges out like pie crust until it is the size of your pizza pan. I use one of those pizza stones covered in cornmeal. This recipe can do two large thin pizzas, or one large fluffy one. I then dress up the pizzas and cook them at 425F for about 25 minutes or until golden brown underneath.

Pizza night. Fun with food. What are you gonna do?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Worth of Stuff

When I released a compilation of my songs on a CD, I soon came up against the great question about who to give the CD to and who to accept money from for it. It was difficult as an ‘artist’ to realize that what I was doing was worth something to someone so it was hard not to give it away to anyone who asked. But I was warned to value what I was doing; if nothing else the action of accepting money for my work assigns monetary value to all of the great musicians out there releasing music for a living. To date I have sold over 500 or so copies. Not a record-breaking success but far more than I ever expected. I've given away a few hundred and have also caught wind of a fair bit of "unexpected" duplication.

As a farmer, knowing the worth of what we do is much easier for me. I honestly feel that the products we are selling have the same value as gold. The price is comparable to similarly named items one can find in the grocery store. What our customers get as a bonus for their money is extra flavour, freshness, nutritional value, assurance of the safety and quality that comes from organic certification and the very short time since it was harvested. But I still find it annoying/amusing how many people still balk at the cost of vegetables at a market.

I’m a frugal person, but I’m willing to spend money on things that have value. This analysis can include the time it would take to find a different one, the quality of the item, how long I can use said thing, whether I can pass it along or share it and what the external costs might be (ie. I have a pet peeve about buying things new in packages because it seems environmentally wasteful).

Recently I read that blogging is a threat to professional writers. This statement took me off guard. The concern is that there are writers out there giving away their work for free, making it harder for ‘real’ writers to earn a buck. First of all, it is again difficult to imagine that someone would pay money for my words that tumble out on to the page. Using my previous strategy around music, however, I think that much of the stuff I read on blogs could easily be found in some of my favourite publications that I do pay for. Many writers out there absolutely deserve to be compensated for their work.

But I don’t think I have a Capitalist mentality. I don’t expect all efforts should be met with cash compensation. I’m kind of a Socialist. If I was a leader I would make us all share equally. But I know that it is probably a good thing that I’m not in charge. I do not want to underestimate the effects of a broken economy. I am just uncomfortably naive on these matters.

Then comes the discussion about freedom of speech. Isn’t it great that we have the internet to allow all size, colour and shape of voices to be heard around the globe? The power is in the hands of the reader to choose to read or not read what is before them - and not entirely succumbing to the censorship of those who put it out there anymore. Just like the power lies in the hands of the consumer to force our goods and services to be more ecologically friendly and made under fair conditions for everyone in the chain. Mass distributors of goods take very good notes on where we are spending our dollars.

I don’t want a world where the music I have access to is filtered by recording label executives who manufacture talent to make a dime. It was a great day for the musicians when artists were able to release their own music (also recording it with new technologies for a fraction of what recording studios once cost). But along with the internet and fantastic duplication technology came the ability to beg, borrow and steal music. It is a thin line again between allowing an artist wide exposure to audiences they may not otherwise get to and having the artist lose his shirt over the fact that his copyrighted music can now be taken for free without fair compensation.

I’m not sure where my opinion lands when it comes to bloggers. Are they giving the milk away for free, making it harder for folks to sell their cows? I always see my blog as a sort of a universal prayer where I can send my words out into the ether like a boomerang that may or may not come back. Professional writers provide specific pieces of writing that fit into the mission of a publisher or broadcaster that targets certain populations. Does the writer's work now lean heavily on the desires of the advertisers that support its release?

I never wanted my music to be written around what others expected of me. I did my own thing. Kind of the way I run this empire called The Feminist Farmer’s Wife (ha!). I don’t raise the food that others ask me to. I tell people what I want to do and they tell me whether they are interested or not. So far, it has been impossible to meet demand with the food we grow.

As for writing here, I’m going to save myself the trouble of putting a price tag on my time. This is the place where I get to roam free, do as I please, let it be what it will be. That’s worth a lot to me. Hopefully it means something to you as well. Am I taking away opportunities for other writers to be paid for their work? Oh, I doubt that very much. I think we all compliment each other. Again, probably naive.

But should you ask your friendly neighbourhood farmer for a discount on his wares, or expect him to give you the product of his work for free or complain about the price being too high, please think twice about whether this is the right guy to niggle a dollar from. If excellent quality food does not have value then what does? Apparently farmers are going to be rich one day in the future says a recent US Time magazine article, but for now suffice to say that the people who grow your food aren’t the guys who are adequately compensated for their work, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, have yourself a smorgasborg of most excellent writing for free in the blog-o-sphere. These are the untainted voices of your people. But please also remember that peer-reviewed, professionally vetted works are essential to get our facts straight and the whole picture a lot of the time. They may also have been pre-digested for your reading pleasure. Perspective, perspective, perspective – this is what we gain when we expose ourselves to a broad array of opinions, views and information.

A complete diet of wholesome goodness right at our fingertips. Lucky us.

Once again, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lost and Found

Lately I’ve been really good at losing things. I’m the kind of person that gets upset if I can’t find something and I will pretty much stay upset until I find said thing. This can make for some frustrating times (mostly for those sharing a dwelling with me as they have to repeatedly answer ‘have you seen my…? are you sure you haven’t seen my…? when you were upstairs, did you look for my…?). This inability to allow things to go missing is a terrible trait if you have a toddler in the house with you who believes that the wide distribution of toy parts is the law of the universe.

This June on the heels of posting my great love for homemade dried tomatoes we promptly lost the 30 or so plants that were seeded in the greenhouse in February. The mystery was only half solved when we found the empty seed packet. Somewhere unmarked in the fields there may be some drying tomatoes. Hopefully they have survived the windstorms and floods and will turn up red in August. I had saved some seeds in the previous year but despite tearing my entire house apart, I could not find them anywhere.

A couple of years ago my puppy decided to make a big hole where I had dozens of every colour of hollyhock flowers. They had finally come to bloom for me after years of anticipation and re-seeding. The tall stalks blowing in the wind were breathtaking come summer. Now I would have to start over again. But I lost my hollyhock seeds that I had collected from the previous pods. They were with my tomato seeds and could not be found anywhere. So I bought some hollyhock seeds and sowed them in after finally giving up my search.

The next day I found my tomato and hollyhock seeds. It was the beginning of July. Absolutely too late for the tomato seeds to amount to anything before frost. The hollyhocks were added to the others.

Another great mystery was the loss of my portable music player. This led to a mad search through my house and vehicles with each obvious spot being scoured over at least three times (first by me and then by my husband after a couple of weeks of me complaining about it). My house became tidy and things put away as I was very thorough. But alas, no music player surfaced. I started to get creative and look behind furniture, inside coat pockets, hats, towels, blankets, garbage cans…places I had not seen in years. Still, no luck.

I missed my favourite pass-time of disappearing into music or audio books in the fields. I couldn’t wait for a fix. So I called up a friend who had borrowed an old one from me that my computer no longer recognized. Perhaps I could get it working again. So I fetched it, plugged it in and viola! It worked. Happy me.

Now can you guess what happened next? Within minutes of sorting out my new little kit, after weeks of totally and frantically looking, I found my old one. Yes, indeedy, I did. Right there in with the coats. Right where I thought it should have been.

I know that this is not Grand Plan sort of stuff. I’m not arrogant enough to believe that God spends His time snickering away while I search for my hollyhock seeds and then allows them to turn up at the final minute after I’ve purchased new ones. The God I believe in wouldn’t bother with such inane stuff. Somehow, there is something I’m doing or not doing that lets these things back into my life the second that I surrender to the fact that I don’t need them anymore. And this in itself is likely God’s work, not mine. Or is it the moment I realize that I already have what I need?

What kind of silly joke is this? If not part of ‘what is meant to be’ then why the coincidental timing, repeatedly? This sort of thing happens to you too, doesn’t it? Is this a lesson we are to learn? Let go and it will come back?

This morning I noted that I have not been to church much lately. I have not thought or written about God. I have not checked in with any of the practices that usually connect me to the universe at large. Life seems too busy for such luxuries. I haven’t been on a long walk or jog either. I haven’t spent much time with friends. (Needless to say, I have, however, bothered to keep writing – the one thing that allows me to blow my troubles into a balloon and let them float away).

The funny thing is that during these frantic times, the very presence gained from coffee with a friend, or praying or taking care of my physical self is what is needed most. If I don’t check in this way, I am surely to lose sight entirely. Or just lose things period. And not remember where they are. Including my wee emotional centre of gravity.

Music brings joy. Flowers make me happy. When they are missing, I spend hours luring them back to me. Quiet contemplation, reverence and feeling a part of something – these all work wonders. But when these things fall away, I don’t go searching for them until long after they are gone.

I would like to commit to finding my best self with the same vigour that I search for my iPod. Not because the effort will prove successful, but because it will likely teach me that what I’ve been looking for has been right under my nose the whole time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Willing to Lose

In university I took a scuba diving course. It was amazing to be down at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean exploring sea cucumbers and sea stars, colourful fish and urchins. But the idea of breathing under water freaked me right out. I was the kid who the instructor likely had tales to tell about after the lesson. ‘Can you believe that moron? She handed me her regulator 40 feet under water and signaled that she was heading for the surface? Why would someone give up the air they need to survive?’

I can answer that (as I’m the moron) – the only thing I knew was the comfort of breathing air above water. And I wasn’t about to give up what I knew so quickly. As I grew more familiar with the equipment, I was able to hang out at shallower depths without panic attacks in time. I can tell you that the wolf eel that looked like somebody’s dead grandpa who wrapped itself around my neck was far less scary to me than breathing under water. After a few years of exploring the depths of the sea (and soon rivers and lakes in the east), I hung up my scuba gear for a life of the terrestrial kind.

Giving up what you know is a hard thing to do. When it came to love, there was a time I had known nothing but loss and heart break. So every time I entered into a relationship with something or someone I cared deeply for, I braced myself to lose it. That was just the pattern.

When I began farming, I learned in a hurry that life and death come and go constantly, almost every day in some way or another. You can’t hide from it here. Death shows its face in every corner. And getting comfortable with death was my new task at hand. The trick was to do this while still allowing myself to become attached to the things I knew I would likely soon lose.

We’re all gonna die someday. I heard this in a country song somewhere. Buddhists spend their lives accepting the idea of loss (and lack of attachment). It shouldn’t be such a surprise to us that all living things die sometime. Like Tina Fey says in the movie ‘Date Night’: ‘why is it such a shocker to my children that they have to put on their pajamas again? Its not like we don’t do it EVERY NIGHT!’ We will die. Every time. Bar none.

But last night when I looked on the floor of the chicken coop and noticed the great absence of my little feathered-foot hen, my heart fell so fast I couldn’t catch it on the way down. I awoke this morning with nothing more than the thought that I had lost my dear friend. Often I would fill water troughs and feed bins holding her against me, stroking her little head. I swear this bird purred like a cat. She would close her eyes and rest against my chest. We were choring pals. And now she is gone. That nasty fox took her away last night.

I wrote a blog post yesterday about that fox, I did. But never once did I acknowledge even to myself that she was gone. It seemed too much to handle. I cared about her too much to let her go just yet. But the truth hits hard sometimes and to get that close to her was to risk the inevitable of one day letting her go.

That’s the thing about being blessed with abundance. You have far more stuff to lose. I can see now why I stayed away from attaching myself to things for so many years. It is hard work getting so close to things only to lose them in the end.

I took my heavy heart to bed last night and silently listed all of the things I was grateful for. The list was long. It was a list of things that others would give their left arm for. I lost a small chicken (a few actually but I’m not ready to count), but I have so much left in that place. It turns out a heavy heart knows how to show gratitude beautifully.

It seems I live my life forever at the bottom of the sea these days. Each day brings something unexpected and new. I never know where my next breath will come from. But I take it all in just the same, wherever I can get it. Somewhere along the way I flipped a switch, and I have never looked back.

To not appreciate what I have, to not let these things in while they are still here, is a far greater loss than the cost of letting my other favourite things go.

We don’t survive if we do not breathe. As in all things, it is best to accept the way things are. And handing back my breathing apparatus to my instructor was a very dangerous and stupid thing to do. Even though it felt safe and predictable to head for the surface at the time, it was not. Facing loss and death head-on seems the only way to cope with life on the farm, I find. Death does not come disguised in Styrofoam packaging around here. The only way out is through.

That is what allows me to move on. Not easy, but complete. One breath at a time, because there is no use in hoarding air.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Get Your Own Sandwich

We have lots of chickens. We let them roam. We’ve lost a few over the years (mostly to new or visiting dogs) but we’ve never had an ongoing predator problem. Last week I picked up 12 new laying hens and kept them safe in their coop for a couple of days until they knew where they lived and where to lay their eggs. The trouble came when the ‘old’ birds (about 7 of them) wanted at their nest boxes to lay their eggs. They were adamant and tore off the chicken wire to get in their coop. I thought they wouldn’t worry too much as they usually lay in the cows manger and very few eggs would show up where they were supposed to. But I suppose chickens are like we are and they want what they can’t have.

So I let them all back out to wander the farm. Their range is amazingly large. We find them around the house, down in the fields, across the road and in with the pigs. Their eggs are dark orange and taste rich and full as the hen's diets includes bugs and green forage. These eggs make it difficult to ever go back to eggs laid by chickens eating solely grains. At night my laying hens roost in their coop or in the rafters of the barn.

Lately I have been worrying about my 40 month-old meat birds roaming outside in their new mobile pen. It is nice to keep them in an enclosure inside where one has more control but as they get larger the day to put them outside finally comes. And with all of the dust they can kick up and the poop they manage to produce, this day is a happy day. I believe the meat is better and the birds healthier if they have the fresh air, sun and forage available to them. The pen has chicken wire and wood around it to keep predators out. It has over 100 square feet of roaming area and will soon be moved daily when they are a bit bigger. Apparently this size of pen can hold a lot more birds but this farmer prefers to learn new things in small batches. These birds will live to be 12-14 weeks old. If last year’s bunch are any indication, they will be the best tasting chickens I know.

Yesterday I saw a circle of feathers near the barn that showed that a bird had been in a struggle. Then there was a path of feathers across the road and up into the woods. Not a good sign. I counted my birds. There were fewer than I expected but then again it was very possible that some were off sand bathing somewhere. Today I had a good look at my growing Auracana’s that would soon be laying green eggs. It was the last time I would see them all.

This evening I saw the fox – early in the evening. She darted out of the barn leaving another circle of fresh red feathers in her wake. Since my count this afternoon I have lost three more birds. Two of my Auracanas are gone. This breaks my heart for they made me so happy each day as I watched them grow.

Most of the birds we lost in the past couple of days are the new laying hens. I can’t believe how many birds this fox is willing to take in such a short period of time. The birds that were taken seemed to be too young to roost and too unfamiliar with the territory to protect themselves. The fox keeps returning with the same sly gait. While writing this I have looked out the window a hundred times and run out twice. I have let my dog out to protect the barn.

All of my hens are now locked away in their coop. They are fighting with each other as they aren’t used to being cooped up together. We will now have to learn to enjoy eggs with pale yellow yolks for a while. I can’t let the birds out at all because the fox seems willing to hunt in the full light of day. She may be a mother with a den nearby getting food for her young. I should empathize with her. But not on my dime and with my dinner. Get your own sandwich, fox.

My meat birds seem safe for now. I don’t know how to make them less vulnerable. I see now why a dog is such a good idea. Our dog hasn’t been taught properly to stick around the farm so she’s kind of useless as a guard dog.

I suppose we’ve been lucky so far that predators have not invaded our barns in this way. But now things have to change. We’ve been found.

Once again I find myself wondering, what happens next?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Strawberries and Garlic

Yesterday was my first full blown processing day in the kitchen. My children were home to help, which is just the way I like it. Chairs were pushed up to the counters and jobs were delegated (this time by a five year old, not me). Mommy was to put the garlic scapes into the food processor, the little girl was to push down the hopper and the little boy was to press the buttons. When it came to the strawberries, Mommy was to put the berries in the funnel, the little girl was to push down with the hopper while the little boy turned the crank handle on the strainer.

Help at the strawberry strainer

My day began with an early morning sneak out to the fields before the heat of the day (although at 7:30am it was already too hot) to scan the strawberry plants and pull off anything that wouldn’t make it until the pre-market harvest on Friday. These berries would be ours to keep – freeze, strain for freezer jam and make a pie or two. This year we only planted 1000 plants (1/50 of what was here when we bought the farm) and their true fruiting year will be next season. Anything we get from this year is a bonus.

Berries fresh from the field

I also decided to process the garlic scapes and put away our garlic for the winter. Here is a secret that this farmer of thousands of organic garlic bulbs can tell you – we rarely peel garlic cloves around here. I use the bulb part in pesto which is better with the real deal, but aside from that, its green garlic the whole way.

Garlic scapes

In early summer, we snap off the ‘flowers’ on the garlic plant to allow the energy to go back into growing the underground bulb. These flowers are called scapes and are crisp curly cues of glorious green garlic flavour. Garlic scapes are about the radius of your baby finger at most and can be sliced like green onions into soup, salads or sandwiches or mulched in a food processor for other uses. I usually mulch up a few cups of paste made only of scapes and freeze it in (designated) ice cube trays. They are my handy, hurried grab when I need garlic and dinner was supposed to be ready five minutes ago.

Garlic scapes starting to grow

My favourite use for the thawed cubes is in guacomole. The green scapes are milder in flavour than the garlic bulb, I find they work a bit better for raw garlic. It is also very easy to mash up an avocado and add these little nubbins with some lemon juice and salt and pepper and salsa perhaps and voila! Ready to eat guacomole.

Green garlic is also fantastic mashed together with butter to make garlic bread or bruschetta and is great on pizza or in pasta dishes. I tried mixing it recently with some cream cheese and capers and olives to put on chicken and that didn’t work out too badly either. It isn’t that garlic bulbs don’t work magnificently in these scenarios but I’m just too lazy to fiddle with sticky garlic paper when I’m in the middle of my frantic masterpieces in the kitchen. Sometimes I use a lot more to get the same garlic punch, if you know what I mean. Until I can provide myself with a sous-chef, these little frozen green gems are an excellent option. It is my present self, doing my future self a huge favour for the next 200 times that I need garlic in a dish.

Next came strawberries. I sorted out the large red ones onto a cookie tray to freeze for waffle toppings in January. The medium sized ones were cut into a pot for the night’s desert (strawberry and sour cherry pie – whoah, I say!) The not so red ones or damaged or seedy ones had the good parts salvaged and were strained for freezer jam. Since learning how to make no-cook jam with strawberries, I have never been able to go back. The flavour cannot be beat, as the original raw berry bouquet remains. We have a Victorio strainer that separates the hull, stems and most of the seeds out while retaining the berry puree. It goes quick and is one of the kids’ favourite jobs.

I now have 12 small jars of garlic scape paste, a few ice cube trays of frozen garlic cubes, 10 jars of strawberry freezer jam, a couple of bags full of whole, frozen strawberries and one crazy, delicious strawberry pie.

These are my favourite kind of days. A little harvesting, some play with the kids, some food hoarding, the usual chores and tasks being accomplished and a happy night of pie eating.

Oh, don’t think for a second there wasn’t a curse or two in there when things weren't going my way, but for the most part all that I write about today is EXACTLY the reason why I love my life. This is up there with breathing for me. And the air today was clear as can be.

Welcome to summer. Let the games begin.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My New Painting

An artist/farmer friend of mine was part of the Pontiac Artist’s Studio Tour this year for the first time. I visited her presentation early on in the tour (in the first 15 minutes) so that I could have my pick of paintings. I was there to bring one home.

In the past I have made the mistake of not buying art from friends because I would wait for the right one or the right price or the right time. And from this followed great regret. So I am not going to wait for the stars to align in order to bring this kind of light into my life.

Now I have a painting that is hanging in a spot that allows me to enjoy it from many corners of my house.

From when I first walk in my front door.

From the place where I do my dishes

From my living area

When I first head downstairs each morning

Here is what I have learned. Art is like love. You can go looking for it but you can't guarantee you'll find the right piece. Even if it sits on a solid foundation, how you feel about it is fleeting so you have to enjoy it in the moment. You can try to name it but when you do, words to describe it will leave you.

I believe that it is not for us to decide which moments in our lives will be memorable or will matter most. We are not the masters of our destiny in these ways. We set ourselves in love’s path and let it find us when the time is right. The times I cherish most with my children, with my husband, with my animals, with my friends, are not the ones that are designed by me. They begin as empty frames, blank canvasses, and paint brushes in clear water. The colour comes when we open our hearts to the possibility of what the world has to offer.

I imagine the artist, pulling out her brushes, perhaps cleaning up a mess her child makes in the middle of creating this work, perhaps making meals or running errands in between the strokes. Did the mail arrive mid-painting - or her in-laws? Was there a fly in the room distracting her? Which music was playing? Whatever happened that day now belongs to me (in a sense). I have a piece of those days hanging on my wall.

Each time I see it, I find myself surprised at the joy it brings. There is no question about the painting’s beauty. But the feeling I get when I see it comes when I least expect it. This kind of pleasure is quiet and unassuming. It is not demanding or judgmental. It is the kind of love we hope for from the people we choose to spend our lives with. It mirrors the moments with our children we want to lock in to and make them last forever. Those moments don’t come because we planned them. They come because we let the opportunity in. And if they are true, then they are timeless.

The way that I met my husband, some would think, is the most contrived and forced way possible. We had both recently posted profiles on an internet dating site. Many I know have had terrible luck doing this – stating it to be disheartening, a waste of time or an exercise in learning about the great number of creeps in the world. In my case, I have gained a rich and full life from this decision. I never would have guessed that an act as basic as posting a description (without a photo) on a chat site would lead to what surrounds us today. I never would have guessed I could meet a farmer there. Organic, no less. In such an inorganic fashion.

But the emails were well spaced, the meetings carefully arranged under safe circumstances, and the conclusions were left entirely unwritten. Very much like farming. You throw your work in and wait for the result to show its form. Love (and life, and art) needs us to court it gently or it suffocates.

I know that I’m one of the lucky ones. I stuck my troubled, yet hopeful heart into love’s ground and it grew.

One day this painting followed me home. Because I deliberately moved towards it, throwing away my bucketful of excuses about how it wouldn’t work out this time. It has now filled an empty part of my landscape with pure unadulterated happiness. A small choice. A world of gain.

Please do what you have to do to let love in. It is totally worth it.