Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Winter Wonderings

By Michelle

Alright. Three months has passed since our last website update, and I'm embarrassed. It would be easy to say that we just haven't had the time (only slightly true), we got caught in traffic (definitely not true), or that the dog ate my computer (only true in that my hard drive got 'eaten' by fate and resulted in 2 weeks of internet sabbatical + lessons in systsems back-ups). So, I'm coming clean, and going to admit that - I have a hard time sharing my world with the online public. I am becoming increasingly proficient at following and organizing my favourite blogs and websites, which mostly consist of what I like to call 'canning porn' (endless photos of gorgeous-looking food in jars), small farm & holistic management livestock practices, whole foods cooking, and sometimes, DIY health & body products. Oh, how foodie-homesteader of you, you say. (Well, yeah, so what, I say.) And it's very inspiring to read through blog posts from talented folks such as Aagaard Farms, Boundary Creek Farm, and The Dirty Life's Kristin Kimball, but when it comes to trying to emulate nuggets of wisdom to share with the foreboding interweb, I freeze up. Nevertheless, in the wise words of friend Pamela Cavers from Harborside Farms, 'Write it down. Write it all down'. Because, let's be honest, as much as I'm sure the average Joe/Jane doesn't give a flying flapjack about everything that goes on in the lives of two young, slightly green, aspiring/practicing small farmers, well, I might at least find some of it funny 20 years from now, when I look back with a shaking head (and ragged body). And, if nothing else, it really is nice to communicate with some of the people that are buying the food we grow/raise; that's why we do it that way, silly. The problem is, when you only post as sporadically as I do, then you end up turning nuggets into mountains o'words. Like this post. Oh, geez.

The winter is a time for reflection; on the past season, what worked, and what didn't. Both logistically and financially. And mentally/emotionally. Sometimes we forget about that last one. This past Spring/Summer/Fall was probably the busiest we have ever had, but one of the best. I mean, we've still only been 'farming' for two years now, but the difference between this one and last felt immense. This year, the two of us managed to grow, nurture and harvest 30 different types of vegetables (over 100 varieties, started from seed) in over 1 acre of gardens, virtually without the aid of heavy machinery...not counting 55 varieties of herbs and all of the greenhouse plants we started and sold to the public...we supplied 35 families from 5 different communities with a variety of vegetables for 15 weeks throughout the season, through our first-year CSA delivery program, which we are really proud to consider a success. We ramped-up the production side of things this year, using our newfound canning & preserving, drying/dehydrating skills, to make over 40 different products, many of these sold to the public, via word-of-mouth local sales, farmers markets, CSA members, and the Harvest Moon Local Food Buying Clubs. Despite all of the extra work that this requires, including late nights canning over the stove, re-trying many failed batches, seeking out the right packaging and branding techniques, we do feel like it was worth it - it is great to offer unique products, with ingredients that we grew ourselves, and, the kicker - to have people appreciate it. So - thanks, you guys! I can't help feeling an overwhelming gratitude to everyone that supported us this year, even if it was just a jar of grape jelly and some words of encouragement. It means a lot. Oh, and we managed to save some food for ourselves, too - if the 'apocalypse' really is upon us four days from now, we've got the pantry stocked to keep us goin' for a while. Alternatively, it'll do us the winter :)

So, some other things that happened on Fresh Roots Farm this year, that you'll know all about if you know us personally or follow our sparse online updates, include: raising 400 Cornish Cross chickens, 20 cows, 22 calves (that's right - 110%) and 3 heifers, 20 hives of about 2 000 000 bees, and 17 laying hens (let's not talk about the 6 roosters, shall we?) Not to toot the ol' horn or anything, but that makes me pretty proud. I'm less proud about the fact that we never took a 'holiday', let alone a weekend off, to inhale and exhale a few times; or that we rarely attended or hosted social outings. Holistic Management principles (and common sense) remind us that the work ain't worth it if you don't take the time to regenerate the mind, body & spirit - if you don't take a break from cultivating the rows to cultivate valued relationships with important people. It's sad for people that work to raise good food for others that we sometimes don't have time to make three wholesome meals a day for ourselves. So, in conclusion, we've decided to forgo [meat] chicken-raising and greenhouse sales for an increased focus on the market gardens, cattle and bees. Giving up the chickens makes me only slightly sad (ask Troy how he feels about it), as we did get some really great feedback from those who bought our meat this year. In the words of my cousin's friend, "Do you have more of those chickens? They're like crack!"  Some things work, some don't. And that enterprise was one with little financial gain and a large loss of sanity. (Have you ever tried herding chickens?)  But I regress...

In the avoidance of 'Christmas madness' (and we all know it can drive you mad, if you let it), we've settled into a nice, slower pace, with a lot more off-farm work and time to read a book, and even pore over seed catalogues perhaps (just give me another week or two, and I'll be mentally ready for that). I'm noticing that we get this question, a lot: 'So, uh, whattya do in the winter? You keeping busy?' Well-meaning, but I can't help feeling slightly resentful of the 'idle' undertones...'Well, since there's no plants to plants to grow outdoors, the chickens are butchered, and the cattle chewing their cud, I find myself listlessly drifting between a comatose-meditative state and thumb-twiddling during these precious hours of winter daylight.' ...Or not. Troy and I have four to five off-farm jobs, that we spend time at particularly during the winter (though some of these also during busy warmer months), 'cause, like everyone else, we got's to pay the bills. And we consider ourselves lucky, that we really do enjoy the work we do at our non-farm jobs, utilizing existing skill sets and developing new ones. Thanks to my entrepreneurial father, I get to work at Northfork Ranch Supply (your total livestock supply store*shameless plug*). Oh, and we do have cattle, laying hens, cats and dogs to care for, at home. So, thankfully, thumb-twiddling is kept to a bare minimum.

Most recently, we basically sold out our value-added stock after about 10 days of ordering online through the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative and its four buying clubs in Winnipeg. A friend and I just made 3 different types of soap, a salve and lip balm from natural ingredients (including those from our own gardens). This latter is a new and exciting venture [read:hobby] that I can see myself doing much more of. Troy is experimenting with medicinally-infused honey, as well, which is exciting. We're pretty darn determined that we're going to keep our bodies somewhat healthy as we simultaneously work them to the bone. Okay, Captain Dramatico, here we go once more...Point is, we love the work we do and feel lucky to be able to do it. We also love winter because it does give us a bit of a break. 

Here's to exciting new adventures in 2013...we wish you are able to spend time with people you love, doing things you love and, obviously, eating food you love. And, if the world at large experiences a 'mass shift in consciousness' (or even if they just think they have), maybe it will mean more people will want to put good, healthy food in their bodies and support the farmers living near them, and that can't be all bad. Not bad at all. 

My New Year's resolution involves pushing my personal boundaries to write more frequent and less wordy blog posts. Until then, Happy Holidays, all.

1 comment:

  1. Hooray for living in the belly of the continent, where all the good eats be's bein' found. Thanks for your inspirational (and yummy) productivity, T&M.