Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Burgeoning Locavores

Did you know that the Oxford Word of the Year for 2007 was "locavore"? Here is an excerpt from their website:

The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

"Locavore” was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.” However it’s spelled, it’s a word to watch.

By now, you all should know that I am one fashionable, trendy lady, and so if locavore is the new word, then you shall find it here ad naseum. Plus, as my friend Margie put it, this is Madison South, baby. Just as "locavore" is the word to watch, Irish Grover's are the people to watch. Period.

So, anyways, I've been struck at how when you live and work on a farm, it's pretty easy to be a locavore. Okay, maybe not easy, but definitely easier.

Here's Armando exhibiting our crop of free-range eggs, collected this morning:

I love the way the white and brown eggs mix and match in their cardboard homes.

Locavore breakfast? No problemo.

But what about supper? (And no, it's not dinner, darn it. Dinner happens at 1:00 p.m., when the long morning's work is done.)

We ain't San Francisco, but we got a little somethin' somethin' going on in that department, too. Here's what I'm cooking tonight:

Homegrown butternut squash.

Yum, yum. You can always butter me up with some butternut squash. Just in case you wondered.

And some good old fashioned, home-grown and corn-fattened beef (non-GMO, at least).

In a year or so, we'll have some even better beef to eat (and, yes, sell!). Our very own (non-certified organic) 100% grassfed beef!! Yoohoo!! I highly recommend you check out Jo Robinson's website Eat Wild for some really great information about the health and environmental benefits of grassfed beef. And then I highly recommend you mark your 2009 calendars with capital letters: BUY BEEF FROM JACKIE IN IRISH GROVE.

Okay, I admit. To make the near-authentic Panamanian meal carne asada, which, by the way, is what I'm cooking, I couldn't pull off the whole meal without a few un-local, fossil-fuel-siphoning, carbon foot-printing, world-warming ingredients to round it all off. Especially since it's January, and much of my garden-preserved goodies have long since been eaten.

Here are a few of the guilty parties:

I say if you strive for perfection, you'll only end up a downtrodden, bitter, wrinkly worry-wart. That's what I say, alright. (Why I say that is unbeknownst to us all.)

The moral to the story? When the urge to join the locavore movement becomes too great to resist, give your local farmer/gardener a call. Preferably one that lives in Irish Grove. We'd be more than happy to help you attain your new hipster status.

Friday, January 25, 2008


We residents of Irish Grove have been suffering a long week of frigid, sub-zero temperatures.

It's cold. D*mn cold. And that's coming from a person who likes winter. But when you wake up in the morning and it's negative 18 degrees out there, and the wind chill is negative 25-30 degrees....well, my friends, that's just too cold for most anyone.

And the poor, poor animals. I have no idea how it can be that they don't suffer from frostbite. They have to suffer through the cold, the wind, a rock-hard barnyard to stumble through on their way to a half-frozen watertank...day after day after painfully cold day.

But then again, their food does come with a nice coat of white frosting!

Oops. I can plainly see that you two don't find my jokes funny. At all. Especially when I get to go inside and savor a nice bowl of warm oatmeal for breakfast. Fine, I'll knock it off.

So like I was saying, we're freezing here in Irish Grove. And way back in the fall, when the weather was pleasant, and January was a long way off, I sold some soybeans for a January delivery. It was a brilliant idea at the time...there was no chance that the roads would be posted, the truckers would be readily available, and we'd get a nice infusion of cash for the new year.

4 months later, and that decision isn't looking quite so brilliant. Especially since our bean bin is extra retarded (err, maybe I should say developmentally disabled?) and you have to shovel out the last 500 bushels or so. Oh, and also because it is bloody cold out there!!

So last night, in the bitter cold, while the rest of the world was snuggled in tight, with their fleece blankets and cups of tea and favorite television programs flickering on the screen, my Panamanian husband Marcel, with his thin, tropical blood, was outside, freezin' his little hiney off for 4 straight hours, filling up a semi-trailer with the last of our soybeans. And do you think that my wonderful, mango-eatin', coconut-slicin', salsa-dancin', latino lover-boy ever complained?...even once?

Do ya? Do ya?

No!! Not once!! The man's an enigma, people! I mean, I can NOT figure him out! Let's do a quick comparison:

Here's Marcel slicin' a coconut open, on his farm in Panama.

Here's Marcel eatin' snow, on our farm in Irish Grove.

Now do you see what I mean?

Once again, my husband's won my admiration. Marcel, my dear, you truly are a good sport.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I believe it's about time that I introduce y'all to Olivia, our trusty farm dog.

She's a border collie, a dog that is celebrated for it's intelligence, it's strong herding instinct, and for being a great family dog. Olivia is all of that and more.

Yes, border collies are normally black and white. But Olivia is a beautiful chocolate brown color that contrasts dramatically with her white markings. Her coloring is an expression of the recessive color gene that must be carried by both parents in order to show up in their offspring. Genetics 101 in the flesh.

We think Olivia is definitely the best dog in Irish Grove and possibly in the whole Midwest. First off, she was the most adorable puppy ever.

This picture speaks for itself. I mean, can you get much cuter or fluffier than that?

She's got beauty all right, but does she have brawn? Or, in border collie terms, does she have a strong herding instinct?

"Alright ladies, let's see whacha got."

You'd better believe she does. She's a herder, through and through.

Olivia is in hog-heaven when we're working the cows. (Please don't ask me what hog-heaven means.) She lives for this very thing.

"Okay, mom. Just give me the sign. Come on...I'm in position. Where do ya want 'em?"

Yeah, Olivia will bring the cows in if we ask her to, but the most important thing to her is that they all stay together in a nice, tight unit. And she perks right up if she sees someone or something out of place.

"Is that a cow breaking away from the group? I don't remember giving anyone permission to walk away on their own here."

Recently, the cows got out of the pasture by pushing through an old gate in the fence. I was all alone. Trying to round up a bunch of cows with their minds set on adventure in a new field is easier said than done, and darn near impossible without a posse of farmhands to help. I manned the gate and sent Olivia out to fetch the cows. We got the cows back in the pasture in under 5 minutes. That never happens. Take my word for it.

Unfortunately, some situations require that we banish Olivia from the cowyard...situations where we don't want the cows all stirred up. But it is the mother of all insults to make her sit out on the action, like we did on the day we beautified the cows.

"This is so unfair. And after all I've done for them. It's a betrayal of my loyalty, really."

"I almost can't even look. Almost."

Sorry, Olivia.

Of course, she herds other things besides the cows....things like the kids, the other dogs in the extended family, and yes, the tractor. She accompanies the tractor out, and likes to think she brings it back in, too.

"Whew. Why don't my humans just leave the tractor in place already!"

But Olivia's most important trait is her wonderful temperment. She is simply a great dog. A love sponge, as I call her, since she will beg and whimper and cry until you can't help but give her a good belly-scratchin'.

Olivia's top-notch in Irish Grove. A real peach. Our number one canine.

Our first and most important addition to the farm.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Conversations I Never Thought I'd Have...Part II

When we decided to take a shot at running the family farm, I didn't know diddly squat. Luckily, Farmer Mark was going to do the planting and harvesting of the grain crops, so the hardest part was taken care of.

But I swear the hay started growing the day after Dad's accident (okay, not really), and with it grew my anxieties about what to do about it. I mean, we didn't even have haying equipment. I had no clue when to cut the hay, how to cut it, or what to do with it after it's cut...let alone who was going to bale it, where we were going to store it, or even who's animals were going to eat it.

Fast forward two months, some hay equipment purchases, a recommendation to sell our hay to Farmer Ben (a local hay broker), and we were ready. I had talked to Farmer Ben on the phone numerous times, apologizing for my many questions and concerns, and he very patiently explained the hay-makin' process in great detail. "You cut the hay after it has budded, but before the flowers open." "You let the hay dry." "You rake the hay when the top has dried and is all crispy." "Make sure you call me before you cut the hay, to make sure we can fit your hay into our schedule." Got it. Got it. Got it.

The cutting went relatively smoothly, even if we did shave it off a little too close to the ground. And there it sat for 2 days, dryin' away just as planned. Towards the end of that second day, I knelt down in the field and felt the top of the windrow (that's a fancy name for a row of cut hay, lying on the ground). Oooh, feels crispy!! It's rakin' time!! By now I was feeling like the newest expert on the block. This hay business is a piece of cake.

After about an hour or two of raking hay, I noticed two pick-up trucks parked alongside each other at the corner, farmer-style. I got a little nervous when I realized it was Farmer Ben (the hay guy) chattin' with Farmer Bill (our #1 support person and #1 critic). What could they be talking about?

Farmer Ben drove onto the field a few minutes later. I got out to talk to him, and noticed he seemed both nervous and perturbed. He wanted to know why I was raking the hay already. Umm, it was crispy on top?? Ben was trying real hard to be nice, and I could tell he was beginning to regret his decision to buy hay from us. He grabbed a tuft of hay here and there, and tried to help me save some face by saying things like "well, it is a bit drier over here" and nice things like that. At about this point I felt that distinctive sinking feeling in my stomach. I had already raked about 1/3 of the field!

Ultimately Ben had to stop being nice and told me to please stop raking the hay and wait a few days longer. Plus, it was supposed to rain the next day, and you never ever, ever rake the hay if it's going to rain. Sorry Ben. So sorry. Really, I'm really so very sorry.

I parked the tractor, and retreated to the comfort of Mom. She made me a glass of lemonade, and told me that I couldn't have known any better, and that I was doing a good job, and that if Ben didn't want the hay anymore, we'd just keep it. I was just beginning to feel a little better about the whole mix up when Farmer Bill walked in and started yelling.

"Jacquelyn!! What in the h*ll are you doing? Who told you to rake the hay?? It not near ready, and it's supposed to rain tomorrow!!"

I immediately tried to defend myself: "Well, it had been windy and sunny for the past two days, and it was crispy on top, and Ben told me to rake the hay when it was crispy on top..." Not only did I feel like an idiot and a failure, I had to fight real hard to keep the tears at bay. (I am a girl, ya know.)

After a few more tongue lashes, I folded. "Okay. Sorry. I didn't know." And with that, Bill huffed off, shakin' his head and mumblin' to himself as only a Flynn can.

Now I admit, I may have been overeager about the hay. But I also didn't like getting yelled at.

That night, with my ego still stingin' from the terrible mistake I had made, I wondered what to do about Bill. I mean, I truly needed his help, his advice, and his expertise and I also really appreciated everything he had done to help us. But it was our farm, and we had to do things our way. Plus, I was bound to screw up many more times before this farm experiment was all said and done. I had to demand respect, whether I deserved it or not.

The very next morning, Bill showed up at my house. As he walked down the sidewalk and towards the back door, I knew I had to set a new tone. I stuck my head out the door and said, "If you're going to yell at me, I'm NOT letting you in."

That took him by surprise. "I didn't yell at you!" "Yes, Bill, you did. And if you're going to yell at me again, I don't want to talk to you."

"I'm not going to yell at you, Jacquelyn. Do you want to learn how to make hay or not?" When I said I did, he told me to jump into his pick-up. He drove us out to the hay field, got out and very nicely showed me how to know when the hay's ready, how it should feel, reminded me that I have to keep the humidity levels in mind, etc. etc. When I told him thank you, I really meant it.

You see, Farmer Bill has one of the biggest hearts around. You just gotta coax it out from under all that crust. And when he yells at me, it's not because he's angry but because he sincerely wants me to succeed.

I owe a lot to Bill, as he has proven to be our biggest help on the farm. But I'm even more indebted to him for helping me find my backbone.

I'd need it when I had to take on the local grain elevator a few short months later. That conversation, however, will have to wait another day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Monday, January 7, 2008

The End of an Era

Grandma Ruth passed way on December 11th, 2007, at the ripe old age of 95. And with her comes the end of an era for the Flynn family.

I realize that you readers must be thinking by now, "Good God. How many more posts about death can we take?" Well, I can assure you two things. First, I am wondering the same thing. And second, I promise to keep this one light.

In fact, it is pretty hard to be all glum and gloomy while reflecting on my Grandma's impact on our lives and Irish Grove.

Born Ruth Doty, she came from a relatively prominent family in Pecatonica, and was the youngest of 6 children. We didn't hear tons of stories about her life as a child, but she did talk about riding to school in a horse-drawn carriage, and about the different chores they had to do during the Great Depression.

When Grandma married Grandpa Lowell, she became part of Irish Grove history. But she didn't see the value in looking back much, and would only reluctantly throw us a few nuggets about life on the farm. Things like how the Spelman's would come over to play cards, and the kids would run wild, blissfully unattended. Or how she hated it when the kids rough-housed. She'd tell me about her large garden South of the house that she loved to dig around in, and would suggest I move my garden there immediately. "It has the best soil of the farm." She was right, by the way, and that was precisely the reason my Dad didn't let me put my garden there. And she'd talk about her flock of laying hens and how she sold the eggs, just like we do.

On second thought, she did enjoy telling us how tight Grandpa was with his money...so tight, in fact, that Grandma would hide her egg money from him and use it to secretly buy things she needed or wanted. She also enjoyed rolling her eyes at Grandpa's "hair-brained ideas" that were going to make he and his brother Donald "a million bucks". Ideas like planting a Christmas tree farm across the road from the house, or building the machine shed that was going to be used to store grain for the government.

When I asked her if they'd made any money, she'd quickly say "Lord no!!" in her gravely voice, and she'd raised her eyebrows and wave her hand at you. She had a certain "stick-it-to-ya" attitude that I always admired, one that has successfully been passed down the generational line. In fact, Grandma's crusty attitude might be her most enduring legacy. (Remember what I said about crusty farmers and getting a kick in the pants?) A Flynn family get together can often turn into a competition to see who's best at flinging barbs, and the fastest to duck-and-run.

But her sense of humour and crusty attitude were her most colorful characteristics, and ones that served her well throughout her life. You see, Grandpa Lowell decided to check out early, dying from a heart attack at 48 no less, and he left Grandma with 3 kids and a farm to manage. No small feat for anyone, much less for the Doty child who was "spoiled and used to getting her own way", according to her older sister Dorothy (who died three short weeks after Grandma Ruth, at the even riper old age of 103!!).

Grandma persevered, and wisely turned the farm over to the Brown family until Farmer Don retired in the 1990's. She also put her mark on Pecatonica with her many moves and home rehab jobs, earned the respect of the community, gambled in one-cent increments during her weekly penny-poker reunion with friends, and became the center-piece to en ever-growing family of 3 children, 10 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and counting. All of us Flynn's, all of us benefiting from Grandma's strength and love and stick-it-to-ya attitude, all descendants of Irish Grove....Lord help us all.

We will greatly miss her. Grandma, there is no way you could ever be replaced. Now go shake 'em up in heaven. I'm sure there's any number of high-falutin' souls that could use a good kick in the pants.