Thursday, August 28, 2008

Help Us Decide!!

I've got a fun little task for y'all to do for me.

You see, rumor has it that we here in Irish Grove just might be going organic on some of our acres next year. Grassfed beef is our main push with those acres, but we won't be able to certify our beef until the following year. So, in the meantime, we're thinking of raising some organic, pastured chickens to sell for meat.

This is where y'all come in. Organic pastured chickens will be a lot of work, for minimal return, especially the first year. Organic pastured chickens mean Marcel and I will be spending many winter hours building moveable chicken pens. Organic pastured chickens mean that yours truly will be spending about 2 hours/day, 7 days a week, for 4 long months next summer, feeding, watering, and moving those same chickens to a fresh paddock. Organic pastured chickens mean we'll be buying organic grain from someone for extremely high prices. And organic pastured chickens mean I'll be driving 4 hours south, once every 2-3 weeks, for a long, boring day waiting for the chickens to be processed at an organically certified chicken processing plant.

The extra work doesn't scare us. We're farmers; the type of people who like to work. What scares us is the prospect of extra work coupled with few customers and a failed business idea.

So, I need to know the following: Do you think organic chickens is a good idea and worth the effort? And do you or would you pay more than $3.00/lb for organic chicken?

This is not a ploy for customers, even though I'd love to sell you a chicken, but a ploy for opinions. You all are very aware of my opinions on store-bought chicken. Now I'd like to hear yours.

You can reply to this post, or vote on my cute little poll that I'll be adding in the sidebar. It's as easy as that. We'll just call today "inform a farmer" day.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mi Bountiful Gardenita

Gardenita. I like the ring that has. Even if it is Spanglish and might win me some scorn from our anti-immigrant compatriots.

I've spoken Spanish daily for the last, oh, 12 years or so, and I still find it exciting to communicar in another language. Especially for small-town-old-me. And somehow I'm still as American as I was before I spoke Spanish. Or at least I think I am. I think I'll go check, just in case. Yep....still freckled, still blancita, still blue-eyed. Our compatriots can all heave a sigh of relief on their way to their jobs at the meat-packing plant. Oh wait. Our compatriots don't like to work at meat-packing plants. Never mind.

One downfall of being bi-lingual, however, is that my command of the English language has faltered. I used to have an impressive arsenal of complicated palabras ever at the tip of my tongue. My college friends would sometimes comment on my impressive vocabulary and use of proper grammar, and I'd feel all smart and educated. (That is until I'd get to my next class, where the professors were more than happy to bring me back to reality.)

The grammar I'll attribute to my Grandma Alice....she's a stickler for proper usage of the English language. She always knows whether one should use 'lie' or 'lay', 'who' or 'whom', and 'its' or 'it's'. I find myself double-thinking through my sentences when speaking with her, lest she raise her cejas at me and say, exasperatedly, "Jackie!" (Hi Gramma!)

My nice vocabulary, however, was due to the fact that I was quite the bookworm as I grew up. I read lots and lots of books. Of all types and kinds. At all hours of the day, night, and early morning. In junior high, I was a huge fanatica of the Anne of Green Gables series, and I imagined myself to be just as heady, analytical and charming as Anne. Why, I was Jackie of Irish Grove, mind you. Except I wasn't really all that heady, analytical or charming. Ah, the beauty of an over-active imagination and plenty of tiempo to read!

My vocabulary now, however? Post-Spanish? Now I stumble on even the silliest of sentences. I often can't think of the names of simple things like 'strainer' or 'chain' in English, because colador and cadena are just easier to remember. That leads me to say really inteligente things like, "Mom, where do you keep your, um...your, know, your colador? What's that thing called that let's you squeeze the liquid out of a food?"

Knowing a second language has freed up my mind and improved my creativity, but boy, has it put a padlock on my tongue!

The worst part is that while I can still call to mind some pretty nice words, I can't remember their proper pronunciation, and they tend to come out with a Spanish accent. This gets really bad at work, where I teach biologia and nature-related topics. Oh, and even though I'm interacting with kids of all different ethnicities, I pronounce their Asian, African, and sometimes even American names with a Spanish ring. Sometimes even rolling an 'r' here or there. Then they raise their cejas at me.

Anyways, I was wanting to talk about how much comida I've gotten from my teensy-weensy gardenita, and I got side-tracked.

Gardening is fun, and it is absolutely amazing to see the cantidades of food one can get from even the smallest of gardens. When Marcel and I first moved into this house, we planted a huge, lovely garden that was about 1/3 acre. Wowsa. That was alot of work, especially since Ana was a bebe. We kept it up for two short years. With each additional child, my garden got exponentially smaller. Until we ended up with our cinco, quaint, small raised beds.

But I still get a lot of food from my gardenita, especially considering the cold, wet primavera we had. When you add in my many failed tomato plants (they had a fungus or something), an extremely late planting date (mid-June), the fact that my espinaca bolted as soon as it had about 2 leaves (too much heat), and a pretty lackadaisical attitude about watering and weeding, you'd have thought I wasn't going to get much of anything. But I've gotten loads of medium-sized onions, enough tomatoes for fresh salsa, green and wax beans (yummmmm-y!), and zucchini.

Oh, zucchini. Lovely, lovely zucchini. Bountious, copious, plentiful, fertile zucchini. It's the conejo of the vegetable world, if you know what I mean. Thankfully I love it, so no complainin' here. I've shredded and frozen bag after bag of zucchini to use for muffins and queques this winter. I've chopped and sauteed zucchini every night for weeks now.

Today I made zucchini bread, zucchini cake, and zucchini hashbrowns, even, topping them with homemade salsa. De-lish. Tomorrow I might try a zucchini pie recipe I found in one of my cookbooks.

And if my zucchini plants don't slow down soon, I just might have to start pranking the vecinos with my zucchini. You know the one, where you ring the doorbell and run, leaving a pile, zucchini.....yeah, that's it......on their front doorstep?

Between the home-grown garden veggies, eggs, chicken and beef, we've been eatin' like reyes y reinas here for weeks now and we don't even have any large grocery bills to show for it. Now if that's not un-Amercian, I can't think of what is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chickens, and a visit from Cousin Jenny

Well, Saturday was a long one. It took us about 10 hours, but we butchered 40 chickens and filled the freezer with some homegrown, healthy food. I'd post pictures, but, yeah, well.....I imagine most of you just don't wanna know. Let's just say that by the end of the day it looked like the entire community of Irish Grove had descended upon our farm to partake in huge feather-pillow fight. And we'll just leave it at that.

Thankfully we had the help of my sister and her family (my lovely sister who brought her famous cinnamon rolls) and yes, the help of my kids. Ana and Madelina dove right in at the plucking station, along with Laura, Rob, Brady, and Jonathan. Wow! 6 pluckers! Armando even helped, doing a great job of taking the fully dressed (which is a definite oxymoron) chickens over to the cold water tank.

Madelina was the funniest, though, as she had decided to take on the role of narrator for the day. She was getting a kick out of the fact that her Aunt Laura was holding back a retch or two as she plucked her first chicken, and that her cousins were a little more than hesitant to get started. You see, according to Madelina, she had tons of experience in the ole chicken-pluckin' thang, so she pulled out the big guns and started in with her 1st-grader hipster talk. She started struttin' around saying things such as "It's not gross! I think it's really cool." and "Look at the guts, their like, so cool lookin'." (She gets her eloquence from her mother.) Finally I had to step in and let her know that she'd already over-impressed everyone and could put a lid on it.

Anyways, the extra help made the job much lighter for Marcel and I, both physically and spiritually. And then, of course you can't forget our other helper, my cousin Jenny, who gave us more moral support than actual physical help. Jenny did a good job of holding down a lawn chair, if ya know what I mean. For some reason or another she just didn't feel like plucking feathers. I can't imagine why!

That's okay. Jenny might not be the 'dive-right-in-and-get-dirty' type o' gal, but she is one of our biggest supporters. She loves to come out and socialize, which can be a good thing when you're filled with chicken guts. Someone has to help keep our minds off the yucky task at hand!

Jenny also likes to drive the PUG when she's here. It can be a little nerve-racking, though, 'cause, shhhhhh! don't tell anyone, but.......she's a crazy driver!

Here she is taking a whirlwind tour of our yard. (Marcel is a brave man!)

Here she is, almost taking out the garage:

Here's Marcel, waving frantically for the kids to run for their lives.

Whew! That was a close one! The garage was saved, the kids were safe, and Jenny had a blast.

I'm sure Jenny is still wondering how she got roped in to coming out to the farm for the pluckin' party. In fact, that's probably what most of our helpers are thinking right now. Hopefully the fresh, wholesome chickens in their freezers made it worth it.

Wait! Jenny didn't get a chicken! Don't worry, Jen. We've got one with your name on it. As creepy as that sounds.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pluckin' Party

Rumor has it there'll be a pluckin' party around these parts.

Our 50 meat chickens are market size, and so, they've reached the end of their journey.

Butchering is never easy. We don't name our food animals, nor do we cuddle them or play with them. But we do have a relationship with them. We care for them, making sure they are happy, well-fed, comfortable and free to roam around the way nature intended. They have a good life, as far as domesticated farm animals go. Yet it's always difficult to bring that life to an end.

I want it that be difficult, I mean. The day that butchering becomes easy, the day I don't feel conflicted about killing an animal, that's the day I should get out of the livestock business.

But until then, we'll continue to raise food, knowing that we've done our best, the animals were humanely treated, we're putting only the healthiest kind of meat onto our plates and into our bodies, and we're supporting the family farm in the process.

So, if you've never seen a chicken be processed before and want to educate yourself on how a fully feathered bird turns into that boneless chicken breast on your plate, come on over.

Tomorrow's the day (Saturday). Bright and early. Rumor has it fresh chicken will be on the grill by noon.

Oh, and wear old clothes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Felling the Giant, one machete-swing at a time

That's right, I said machete. Machete. A third-world tool that no self-respecting, American-born, tractor-drivin', weed-busting conventional farmer would ever, ever touch.

I guess that's why I'm not your usual self-respecting-American-born-tractor-drivin'-weed-bustin'-conventional farmer.

Cause a machete is what's been occupying my right hand for a few days straight now, and I gotta tell you......ouch, ouch and ouch. My forearm is extremely sore, and my middle finger (yes, the naughty one) is barely working this morning. My hands are blistered and my waist hurts so bad from the rythmic 'bend-swing-fell' movement of the machete that I'm walking around, preggo-style, with my arms propping up my lower back. And no, I'm not nine-months pregnant! 'Cause if I were, I wouldn't be so %#$&* sore from using a machete.

But machete I did, and machete I will do again. Because we've got this little problem going on around here. OK, it's a big problem. In fact, a giant problem. A giant ragweed problem.

Gaint Ragweeds are the enemy of all conventional farmers. They are this huge-mongous weed that grows about 11' tall (seriously), their roots send out many stalks that happen to be as thick as small tree-saplings, and then. Then! Then they do something that is quite amazing, and extremely frustrating, especially if you're 1) a farmer, or 2) a person who suffers from hayfever.

They put up this glorious (in their mind, at least) flower head, with copious amounts of pollen waiting for the most minute gust of wind to carry them straight to your nose and mine. (Cue sneezing and wheezing.)

And when the pollen does its job of mixing with its friends (yes, it's called cross-pollinating....I'm not really as dumb as I make myself out to be), the flower-heads will turn into seed-heads and drops thousands upon thousands of tiny Giant Ragweed seeds into my corn or bean-field. Which will promptly turn into thousands of huge-mongous Giant Ragweed plants next year. Noooooooo!!

Giant Ragweed are all too common in these parts. Especially on farms like ours where we don't plant Round-up Ready anything. Round-up Ready corn and soybeans are also known as GMO crops--Genetically Modified Organisms. The scientists take genes from unrelated plants and splice them into the DNA of the corn or soybeans. This change allows farmers like me to herbicide-spray the crap out of our corn or soybeans without killing them. Except farmers like me don't plant GMO crops. Did I already say that?

But before you think we're all virtuous or something, we do spray herbicides on our fields. They're called pre-emergence herbicides, and they're sprayed on the land before we plant the crops. They kill all those sneaky little weed seedlings that sprout the moment the weather warms. And they give our crops a 'head-start', a chance to get established before the weeds come back and give 'em a run for their money. Or our money. Whatever.

Gosh, this is getting long.

So, we spray in the spring, and then try not to spray again if possible. If it's really bad, we can re-spray, but these herbicides WILL shock the living daylights out of the corn or soy, and we don't like to do that.

Re-enter the machete. Here I am, getting ready to go to work:

(OK, not really. I'm just being goofy.)

Marcel and I spent 5 hours slaying the giant over by my sisters house last week, and 4 hours at the back of the main farm two days ago. Yesterday I spent 2 hours, all by my lonesone, machete-ing in the same bean field as the day before. Another 2 hours will finish that field up rather nicely, upon which we'll move over to a major infestion left by Laura's. That one will take a good 5 hours or so. And I'm hoping that'll be it for this year!

I'm also hoping that by the time we're all said and done, my fingers, forearms and waist muscles will still be functioning and that we'll have prevented 459.768 billion ragweed seeds from forming. Or something like that.

And that, my friends, will make it all worth it.

So look out, Giants. There's a Machete-Wielding Gringa in these parts. She'll getcha sooner or later. If she can move, that is.