Blog & Updates

Food and food making

I started this particular blog years ago with the idea I was going to capture my journey into eating better by showcasing recipes and ideas I encountered along the way. What I actually encountered along the way is that, while I can cook and go through spates where I do, in general I tend to … Continue reading Food and food making

I started this particular blog years ago with the idea I was going to capture my journey into eating better by showcasing recipes and ideas I encountered along the way.

What I actually encountered along the way is that, while I can cook and go through spates where I do, in general I tend to cook as an afterthought, which is to say, not at all when I have something going on. That becomes problematic because my spouse has a similar view of cooking, meaning we spend an awful lot of time staring at each other and asking what the other one wants to eat until one of us dies.

Jokes aside, the fact is I got fat by just-in-time eating of convenience foods because I always felt like I had other things to do. I still feel that way, and that has made me realize I have to rethink how I approach the whole idea of food and eating and cooking if I’m not going to be fat or starve to death.

My main realization in trying to figure this all out is that, most of the time, my food needs are simple and straightforward. I don’t tend to eat meals most of the time. Instead, I “graze” and if I have nutritious, grazing compatible foods around, I can eat those for quite a while before the desire for variety overwhelms me.

The first realization factors into the second one that I’ve been doing intermittent fasting (a combination of 16/8 and 5/2) for about a year now, and in embracing that change to my eating habits, I also need less complicated food nearly all the time.

So, where does that leave this blog? I don’t know yet to be honest. I would still like it to be a place where I catalog recipes and ideas I encounter along the way,  but more than that, I think I want this to be a place where I document my changing relationship with food and, frankly, with our cultural presumptions about eating. We’ll see.

Stay tuned. More will follow.

DLH

Please excuse the mess

Really, it’s more of a metaphorical mess as we go about the business of steering the beast that is Innisfree on the Stillwater in a new direction. What does that direction look like? Well, we’re now share-cropping organic row crops, … Continue reading

Really, it’s more of a metaphorical mess as we go about the business of steering the beast that is Innisfree on the Stillwater in a new direction.

What does that direction look like? Well, we’re now share-cropping organic row crops, raising wool and meat sheep instead of cattle, and transitioning to perennial permiculture over annual monoculture.

The goal is to make our farm a model for what the future of sustainable farming can look like. Until then, it might seem like a mess.

DLH

So, I’m still here and kicking

It’s been quite a year at Innisfree on the Stillwater. After more than two years of health struggles, we decided to sell off our cattle herd and change directions some. Our 90 acres of crop ground is now certified organic, … Continue reading

It’s been quite a year at Innisfree on the Stillwater. After more than two years of health struggles, we decided to sell off our cattle herd and change directions some. Our 90 acres of crop ground is now certified organic, and we’re adding 10 more acres of former pasture to that number in the coming year. We’re now raising small herds of Shetland fiber sheep and a mixed herd of hair meat sheep. We’re taking a step back from a lot of our customer facing efforts in order to regroup and see where the future lies.

We’re not done, but we are changing. We haven’t quite settled out the future yet, but we know it will involve this place. More will follow.

DLH

Ten years in the trenches

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, though the story has been going on. It’s also been ten years since I took on running this farm as my primary occupation, an event that deserves at least some remark. To … Continue reading

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, though the story has been going on. It’s also been ten years since I took on running this farm as my primary occupation, an event that deserves at least some remark.

To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand right now. As with most things, my views on farming have evolved with experience and are less likely than ever to fit in with most people’s preconceived notions about an undertaking they know, at best, by proxy.

At its simplest, I still believe passionately in what we are trying to do, but I am less convinced than ever that it can actually be done, mostly because a decade has taught me that our expectations as a society no longer match with what it takes to engage in small-scale agriculture.

Nearly every practitioner of that kind of agriculture I know, including my wife and myself, have had to seek out other forms of employment to cover the financial gaps farming won’t pay. This isn’t just a function of wanting more than we can afford either. Subtracting the cost of operating the farm itself, we literally live below the federal poverty rate, which fact is buttressed only by the fact we grow some portion of our own food.

I don’t say this as a troll for sympathy. Rather, it’s an observation of sheer fact. Despite the fact that every person living needs a farmer to survive, farming itself is a financially losing proposition in America in 2018. Already less that one percent of us do it. Already the average age of a farmer is 58. Already the average farming couple works 2.5 jobs.

I know this all sounds terrible, but I believe somebody has to tell the truth. What sits on your plate any given day has a cost you’re not paying. Those of us stubborn enough to keep doing it pay the difference because we believe in what we do, but sooner or later, passion alone won’t pay the bills. And then what?

In the meantime, we’ll keep trying until the mountain gets too tall to climb and land prices get to the point where the only logical thing to do is sell. The funny part is we’ll probably just buy a smaller place and try again. It’s in our blood that way.

DLH

Homemade hay feeders

I’m not really sure what most people use Pinterest for, but I discovered that it’s a pretty good source of ideas for farm projects. Just Google whatever it is I need to find, and chances are good that several of the top 10 results are Pinterest pins.
So I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when searching for sheep hay feeders and that happened.
I had a few needs for the hay feeders I wanted – they had to be shorter than my sheep (all of whom are around 24″ at the shoulders) to keep hay from settling in the neck and back wool. Sheep are amazingly messy eaters and will get hay all over themselves and their neighbors. As a spinner, the cleaner I can keep the wool, the less work I have to do to prepare it for spinning, after it’s been sheared. The feeders also needed to be portable. Bonus if I didn’t have to buy anything (or very little – it’s a solid rule of building that you *must* make at least one trip to the hardware/home store for something).
To the googles, and then to the pins! I found two that seemed to fit the bill, saved the pictures to my phone, and off to the barn and workshop for the carnage construction portion of the show.
It definitely took more time to assemble the parts than it did to make 4 feeders – 2 blue barrels, some 4x4s for the legs, some 1x6s for the support frame, a whole lotta deck screws, a few siding screws to screw the barrel to the wood, and the tools appropriate for the assembly. And as most projects, the first one took twice as long to make as the rest as I figured out the bits I couldn’t see from the Pinterest pictures.
Like any recipe, I modified to fit the materials I had, and the end product I had in mind.
And here it is:
They have been in use since fall 2017 and are holding up nicely, even when one of the sheep decide that there isn’t enough space to stand on the ground and decides that standing *on* the bale is a better decision.
I drilled a few drainage holes just in case, but since these are all under cover, they haven’t been necessary. Unfortunately, they don’t quite hold a full bale each, but I split a bale between 2 feeders and it works fine. Just need to take hay out to them more often, or I can pack 3 bales in the 4 feeders.
And the only thing I needed to buy was more deck screws. I’ll call that a win 😃

Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that … Continue reading

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that … Continue reading

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Agriculture is still a strange game a quarter of a century on…

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that … Continue reading

It turns out that I will have been doing work related to agriculture for 25 years this year and will have been doing it full time for a decade this August. It’s strange to imagine having done anything for that long, and the fact that thing is growing food is sometimes even stranger to me.

A rather ridiculous comment on a post I wrote eight years ago brought me back to this blog with a thought: why, after all this time, are we still unwilling to have a rational discussion about the issues facing food production in the 21st century?

Honestly, if there is anything I have learned over the past 25 years, it’s that this business is crushed by presumption, hyperbole, traditionalism, and tribalism to a degree that makes talking about the fact it is also slowly failing nearly impossible. Even making the statement I just did, if anyone reads it, will provoke ire and attacks before it incites thought or a desire to discuss.

To me, that reality is the biggest reason agriculture is in the state it is in. We, as a society, simply can’t be calm or rational long enough to admit that this undertaking is as big and complicated and unpredictable as the weather it depends on and, until we’re willing to embrace the tolerance and flexibility the weather demands, we’re going to just keep seeing things getting worse.

I wish I saw a positive trend here, but I don’t. I’m not sure we’re capable of figuring this out anymore. If I’m wrong, show me. I’m willing to listen.

Lamb watch 2017

Ruby and Lily

Gestation in sheep is between 142-152 days, with the average being 147 days. Pretty boy Sven was introduced to his lady friends Lily and Ruby on 27 September 2016, which would make this coming Saturday the earliest they could lamb. Assuming a whole lot of things, that is!

In expectation of the blessed events, I set up a “maternity pen” for the two ladies next to their current pasture area. This is for everyone’s safety, especially the lambs, because our two livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) have not experienced lambing before. With the excitement of lambing, I want the LGDs to have a good experience and learn that the lambs belong to the mama sheep, not to them. Hence the separate, but right-next-door pen. Everyone can see and smell, but not interfere.

Now there is a non-zero chance that one or both of them aren’t even pregnant. Both ewes have lambed before, and Sven is a daddy, so that’s something in my favor. I’m quite pleased to not have to go through “first lambing” with them!

So now we wait, I hope not too long, but as with all things farm-y, it is what it is.

 

Nekkid chicken nuggets

Due to some health issues, it has become necessary for us to eliminate just about all bread from our regular eating, which means some adjustments in food preparation.

I had just gotten my chicken nugget recipe to where I liked it (mostly), and breading was definitely a part of that. Now to revamp it to not have breading, which wasn’t going to work with shredding the chicken in the food processor.

Internet to the rescue! I started with this recipe, leaving out the wheat flour. After forming a few nuggets, that wasn’t going to work – the mixture was just too dry. Let’s toss in a few eggs and see if that works as a binder (it does every other time). It does work – huzzah!

The secret was using the meat grinder attachment on the Kitchenaid. That ground the chicken into small enough pieces (not quite a paste, but more like the ham in ham salad) that the egg would hold everything together.

And now we have nekkid nuggets – no breading, no problem.