Tag Archives: work

Gimpy Farmer

Q:  What happens when a farmer with a bad knee chases pigs through the garden?

A:  A farmer with a torn ACL!

Now, if this were a real joke the punchline would be funny rather than painful!!  Why was I chasing the pigs through the garden?  Because they were out of the pen and having a joyful, if short-lived piggy frolic through the fall plantings!!

Last Wednesday reminded me of several things…the importance of latching the gates, how much damage livestock can do in a relatively short period of time, how quickly hogs can move when motivated, that pride cometh before the fall, and the fine and perilous line between health and injury.

On Tuesday I took some pictures of the garden to share with friends because while it was a bit weedy it was producing like gang-busters.  Tomatoes, potatoes, beets, onions, corn, basil, cucumbers, peppers…the list goes on and on!  I was putting up pickles like crazy, making pesto with the basil, freezing gallons of green beans – and in one quick trip through the garden the cows and the hogs took care of all that.

Cucumber patch
Morning harvest
My laying flock – and the Rooster!
The flea-bitten, bad-smelling, egg-sucking farm dog in the penalty box after running through the garden…yet again!
Green beans (foreground), lettuce, cabbage, beets, basil, onions, peppers and celery (bit of random planting toward the end!)
Broccoli and corn

What?  Cows too??

Yes.  When I got up early Wednesday morning the cows were standing in the front of the house having spent an hour or so trampling things down and mowing through most of the beets, green beans and corn.  With a little cajoling and bribing with grain the girls went back in their pasture, I got the chores done and went on with my day.  THEN, right before dinner and in the aftermath of the bovine invasion, hubby looked out and said, “Are the hogs supposed to be in the chicken pen??”  The answer of course is “NO!” We dashed out and herded the hogs back to their pen.  A couple thoughts about big hogs: capable of short bursts of high speed, they are short on stamina and quickly get hot and tired.  Pretty soon they just want to go back to their wallow and cool off!  Before they get there they can make you dodge and run a bit – which is when the torn ACL happened.  The hogs zigged, I zagged, and my knee didn’t so I ended up hobbling back to the house for an ice pack.

Convalescing helps with the pain but my mobility is still pretty compromised and I will find out on Monday if surgery is in my future.  In the mean time teenager #3 is doing most of the chores, including milking and feeding the chickens, in addition to her own chores. Regretfully, this solution isn’t sustainable as she starts OC next week and won’t have time to milk in the morning before school.  To deal with my limitations we are working on getting rid of the hogs a couple weeks early (okay – tomorrow!) the flea-infested, egg-sucking farm dog is going to the groomer tomorrow so I don’t have to wrestle her into the tub and I am working on finding a temporary home for one of the cows.  I can milk but it takes forever because I move very slowly!  Snail’s pace!

As I make calls and get offers of help with milking and chores from other farmer friends I am very touched by the out-pouring of compassion and concern. I have also spent lots of time thinking about what would happen if I was farming full-time.  I have several other off-farm jobs, including my gig at WSU Extension, most of which can be done sitting down.  And, more importantly, we have one full-time off-farm income with good benefits and health insurance.  As a full-time farmer I would be hard pressed to take time to recover properly.  Cows need to be milked and hay needs to be cut.  By way of illustration, one of our hay growers took a fall off a horse last summer and broke his pelvis and one leg.  His neighbors cut and stacked his second cutting hay and his father-in-law did all his irrigation for the remainder of the season.  We saw him in October and he was still limping badly but he could get up on a tractor and do his own farming again.  It was a significant challenge for his family and they are still digging out from the medical bills – and his wife works for the local school district s they actually had medical benefits.

A frequent comment about farming in Kitsap is that it is “Part-time” and while that is a valid observation – this isn’t solely a Kitsap phenomenon.  Nationally, 85-95% of farms have off-farm income.  Kitsap merely mirrors the trend nationally.  Reasons for off-farm income are varied – but many farmers I know rely upon off-farm jobs for health insurance.  Given that farming is one of the most dangerous industries,  the importance of medical coverage can’t be understated.  As more and more young people enter agriculture (which is great given that 60% of farmers in the US is over 55) the trend of relying upon off-farm income is going to continue.

The next time you are thanking a farmer for feeding you, wish them good health as well.  They can use it!!


The Slap

Diane and a cow – 1982

Fair week is finally here!  The 2013 Kitsap County Fair and Stampede runs through Sunday night and all week long the 4H and FFA kids are competing for ribbons and bragging rights on their livestock – from beef cattle to bunnies!  They are all looking for the Grand Champion – which says that your animal is the closest to the breed standard or is the most structurally correct animal in the competition.  Then, you participate in Fitting and Showing when the judge is looking at YOU more than the animal.  Showmanship is about …. well…..showmanship!  Effectively exhibiting your animal can make the difference between first and second place – or Grand Champion or Reserve Grand Champion.  Fitting, or preparing your project for exhibition, starts long before the fair.  Project animals need to be properly fed, housed and trained in the months and weeks leading up to the show.  I showed cattle beginning at age nine and wound up putting myself through college showing professionally.    Then I got married and had babies stopping all that foolishness, but it was fun while it lasted!

The best part about showing was the thrill of competition – and “The Slap”

Now, a few of you might be thinking – showing cattle?  Thrilling competition??  Just remember – everyone has their freak! (A few years ago I read the delightful “Candyfreak” – this quote is my fav take away from the book!)  Otherwise how can one explain Duck Dynasty, SCA or Serial Rollercoaster Riders!

Back to The Slap.

Four-H and FFA use the Danish System of evaluation and judging.  Each competitor is evaluated (for either their project animal or showmanship) and are awarded a blue, red or white ribbon.  This system best supports the educational mission of 4-H.  Everyone gets a ribbon and comments on how to improve or information on what they did right this time!  Make no mistake, 1st blue is definitely better than last white.  But you learn as much or more from the latter as you by winning the class.  My first showmanship class resulted in last white, which means you have to really suck.  But, when you completely ignore the judge that is what you get.  Lesson learned!

At the end of each class the top two competitors will be invited back for the championship round.  This is the final time for them to strut their stuff for the judge and there is no small amount of drama involved.  Typically the judge will bring everyone in, take a final look, make remarks about all the animals and competitors and then make their selection.  In the cattle industry it is traditional for the judge to walk to the winner and slap the animal on the rump and shake hands with the exhibitor – just like this!   Look at the excitement on that young man’s face!  What a  moment pure elation – and a well-deserved reward for much hard work!

As you are walking around the fair this week and see the 4-H and FFA youth dragging a lamb around the ring or driving their hogs toward the championship, stick around and watch for a bit.  Listen to the judge make comments – teaching and sharing.   Cheer the successes and hard work.  It isn’t quite the same as baseball or dance lessons, but then, everyone has their freak!  Ours just happens to be livestock!

Diane and a cow - 2013
Diane and a cow – 2013



Grocery Shopping

GroceriesI went grocery shopping the other day.  And, I spent more than $100.  That isn’t a big deal – it is just that I don’ t do it very often.   My grocery bill is typically $30-50 a month for food – and another $50 or so for other essentials like TP and shampoo.  That isn’t much considering that the “average” family spends between $150 – $290 a WEEK according to the USDA.  Why is our bill so much lower than the national average?  Mostly because we plant and grow our own veggies, raise meat and eggs, preserve our bounty, process in the home dairy and cook at home.   Simply put, we produce more than we consume.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, my feed bill is not inconsequential.  I spent $240 at the feed store last month and I do get the hay pretty cheap ($195 last month) but that still puts our food costs at about 25-50% of the cost of the average family.

Which begs the question — is there really that much savings in fermenting your own pickles??

I guess so.  I mean, we do ferment our own pickles (there are 2 gallons of cucs in brine sitting on the counter right now and if the kitchen wasn’t such a mess I would snap a picture for the blog!), preserve jams, jellies, green beans, salsa, tomatoes, grape and apple juice, apple sauce, and pickles, and make our own yogurt, butter and cheese…which is a bit more “Pioneer Woman” than most folks.  But we don’t make EVERYTHING.  This should be pretty obvious since there are s’more fixin’s and potato chips on my receipt!  I am thrifty, but not insanely DIY enough to make my own marshmallows no matter how easy that America’s Test Kitchen says it is.  You will also notice that there are potato chips (You MUST have potato chips for a BBQ!) and a couple loaves of bread on there – because I haven’t had time to bake bread lately.  Like I said, we are thrifty – but not Amish!

So what is the single thing that saves us the most $$$ on our food budget?  I cook at home and I make most meals from scratch.  Snacks are homemade (chocolate zucchini bread anyone??) and ingredients are fresh, local or homegrown, and unprocessed.  Simple.  But time consuming at times because we are more scratch than most.  Take my lasagna for example  The cow is days away from calving so we are a little light on milk right now, but I love to make lasagna because is uses 5 gallons of milk!   The mozzarella cheese takes three gallons and with the left-over whey and two more gallons of whole milk I make the ricotta.  Then, a pound of hamburger and a pound of ground pork (from our own beef and hogs), canned tomatoes (from the garden), garlic, onion (ditto!) in the sauce and the only store bought input at this point is the lasagna noodles.  My recipe makes two 9×13 pans of lasagna – which should be at least  four meals unless I am feeding the hay crew dinner.  Pop one pan into the freezer for another day and I have  a couple of cheap, quick meals for busy nights down the road.

The real cost of this kind of cooking and lifestyle?  My time.

One can feel just a bit like the “Little Red Hen” (I milked the cow, I made the cheese, I assembled the lasagna…) because it is time and labor intensive.  Is this the most efficient use of my time?  Perhaps not when one looks at the cost of a pan of frozen lasagna in the grocery store or Costco.  Is my time really worth only $9.99 for a whole day’s work?  Depends upon your perspective.  At the same time I am making the lasagna I am building relationships with my children who work with me, passing on skills that many have forgotten or never learned, and making a conscious decision about the value of producing rather than consuming.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” ~ Albert Einstein


Martha Stewart doesn’t live here

Shannon was gracious and outed us about farm decor.  In the interest of full disclosure, the inside of my house is tidier than my back porch.  Even if I do have a latex IV set-up hanging from the suncatcher over my kitchen sink.  (It needed to dry completely after it was last used!)  This was taken last year (the BBQ is gone!) and it is much tidier (sort of) now.  We built this house and I had the idea that we would enjoy the porch on warm summer evenings.

Instead we have to battle for space with boots, recycling and camping gear.  The garage where most of this will go hasn’t gotten built and so rather than clutter up the (unfinished) basement further it lives on the porch.  The little freezer on the porch has 200# of veal in it, and during the summer it is handy for chilling fryers.  There are two more freezers in the basement…along with the canning pantry.  The garbage can isn’t full of garbage – it just happens to be convenient to store the chicken feed in a garbage pan near the porch because the layers live in a coop not far from the porch.  And, unlike Martha Stewart’s architecturally designed coop at Turkey Hill, mine is covered with a blue tarp.  Did you honestly expect anything else?

Kids Need This

My nephew recently spent some quality time on the farm with Aunt Diane thanks to the earthquake and tsumani.  He is a first grader – which in my opinion is the PERFECT age for a kid!  They are capable of putting on and taking off and putting on and taking off boots and shoes as many times a day as it takes.  They can put on their own seatbelt, and remind you when you forget yours.  They are big enough to pack a bucket of grain to the hogs, gather eggs, wrangle chickens, give farm tours, climb the hay stack, stomp in puddles and ride a bike!  As adults we get totally caught up in the things that we “need to do” and tend to forget that tasks like hunting for eggs laid in the raspberries by the “sneaky chicken” or pausing in a sunny spot on a dewy morning are opportunities to experience joy and to be relished.  It seems to me that no one relishes the day quite like a child – with a chicken!

A few days ago a friend came over to get a load of manure for his garden and brought his three boys along to “help”.  Knowing they were coming I saved up some of the chores and they fed the pigs and gathered eggs while dad loaded up the moo poo.   After some oohs and ahs over the number of red wiggler worms they got bored and my nephew took them on the  farm tour (complete with instructions on petting the cat and cautions about him being “scratchy when he acts like that!”)   Dad and I spent a few minutes chatting while they climbed all over our mechanical jungle gym (the bulldozer and tractors) and I noticed one of the boys had something in his hand.  It was a red wiggler worm, looking like it had seen better days.  He informed me he was taking it home to show his mom (she will be thrilled I’m sure!)   After washing off their boots (twice) and loading and reloading into the car a couple times they were ready to leave.  As he got in the car my friend looked around and said, “Kids need this.”

Reflecting on my experiences as a child filled with long hours of exploring the woods, swimming in the river, working on the farm, picking green beans and turning golden in the sun I know that while we were always financially strapped we lead a rich life and my childhood was a gift.  My husband also grew up on a farm and we agreed it was important to offer our kids the same gift. There are times when they are doing chores they don’t necessarily feel quite as blessed – yet.  But watching my nephew galloping around the farm for the last couple weeks I would agree with my friend, kids do need this!

Strawberry memories

The berries are here!  The berries are here!  I know that strawberries have been in the farmer’s markets for a week or so – my berries are a bit later than some other varieties so we are just getting rolling now.  

For the next couple of weeks I will pick at least two icecream buckets full every other day and put up strawberry freezer jam, quarts of frozen berries (yummy on pancakes in January!) and endless bowls of strawberry shortcake.  Fresh picked strawberriesMy kids will occasionally cast longing looks at the big, beautiful, (did I mention tasteless?) California strawberries that show up at Costco at all times of the year.  I point out that they never taste as good as local berries and for what they cost we could enjoy a movie with popcorn! 

As a child berry picking was one of the few ways for kids to make money during the summer.   You had to be at the intersection near my house by 6:00 with a sack lunch and the decrepit old van would pick you and the rest of the yawning neighbor kids up and take you to the farm.  You had to be 12 years old to pick and we got paid by the pound.  I always ate too many and picked too slowly to make decent money but Lance, one of the neighbor kids, was more motivated and he made a couple hundred dollars one summer.   We were in awe of him because he picked two rows for every one we did and then he SAVED the money instead of squandering it on ice cream and soda at Benson’s store.   In retrospect, with four kids, his family didn’t have money for the basics let alone any extras.  Lance realized that if he was going to have new tennis shoes instead of hand-me-downs he was going to have to earn them.    Aside from the quality and amazing taste of the food we grow, this is perhaps the main reason we have a farm.  It provides our children to develop a stewardship ethic toward the land and they learn how to work.