What a year this has been! Our big project this year was our fodder system. We've been researching the concept, attending seminars, and trying to track down untreated non-GMO seed for a couple years now. The stars finally aligned and we were able to get to work. There are pre-fabricated systems that you can purchase that already have the framing, trays, and water set up for you - but we tend to be too thrifty for those types of things, and what fun is the easy way? We sprout barley hydroponically for about 10 days using just water and light. It turns out the amount of light, temperature and humidity need to be kept in very specific ranges, so controlling the conditions can be quite the task, but it is so worth it. The animals love it and will be able to eat fresh greens throughout the long New England winter we're about to head into.
We are so overwhelmed by the response we've had to our new CSA. We had hoped to engage about 10 families, but we are now close to 20 already! We know that finding time to grocery shop at multiple places doesn't fit into everyone's schedule, so we've made it easy by delivering beef, pork, chicken and eggs right to your door. Check out the CSA page for more information. If the standard share seems like too much or little, we can certainly customize your order every month. Plus, the November share includes a pasture-raised turkey just in time for Thanksgiving, and we have 6 new sausage flavors to enjoy (think apple spice, maple breakfast, and toulouse).
Though we sometimes are a bit jealous of our vegetable-growing farmer friends and their winter respite, our little farm is so beautiful in the winter covered in snow. The animals really don't appreciate the scorching summer days and often seem happier nestled into their hay beds in the cold months. So for now we'll be gearing up to make sure huts aren't drafty and waters won't freeze. We hope to see you at the upcoming Pre-Thanksgiving and Holiday Norfolk markets (dates and locations on our home page).
"A farm includes the passion of the farmer's heart, the interest of the farm's customers, the biological activity of the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm -- it's everything touching, emanating from, and supplying the piece of landscape. A farm is virtually a living organism." -Joel Salatin
Brutus and Juno are our newest additions! Geneva gave birth to Brutus on Thursday, and he definitely lives up to his name. He is a big boy and caused a pretty difficult birth. HUGE thanks to our friend Will (Cream Hill Veal) for coming to our rescue at a moment's notice. Baby Juno was born to Pearl during (what was supposed to be) Blizzard Juno on Tuesday. She is a tiny little thing - so small that our normal kid jacket was too big on her, so John made her a sweater out of a wool sock! Though she's small, she is full of life and loves playing with her pal Brutus.
This Saturday you can catch us at "Pints for a Purpose" - a fundraiser for the Northwest Connecticut YMCA. Tickets are just $35 at the door and include beer tastings from over 12 different brewers and a Blues Brothers Tribute show. We'll be selling beef chili, pulled pork sandwiches, and bratwurst with beer onions. Of course, part of our proceeds will be donated back to the YMCA. We hope to see you there, 6:00 - 9:00 at the Whiting Mills, 210 Holabird Avenue, Winsted.
(sunset on the farm)
With the beginning of a new year, we wanted to give an update on the happenings on the farm. We’ve been staying busy with a few big projects and preparing for the spring. For the first time, the Norfolk Farmers Market is continuing right through the winter. Markets are being held upstairs at Town Hall from 10-1 on January 24, February 14 and 28, March 14 and 28, and April 11 and 25. Then the regular summer season will pick up every week starting May 16. We had a great turn out last week and are looking forward to seeing everyone again on the 24th. My favorite thing about the market is meeting new people and talking about food. We trade recipes with people all the time, so I decided to add a “recipes” tab to our website, where I’ll add recipes with pictures as I make them. If you have any favorite ways of cooking with our beef and pork, please share!
Our flock of laying hens have been on strike for the past few months. Last spring we battled with a pesky crow flying into the coop and stealing eggs. Over the summer we spent a lot of time deterring a fox who managed to get in and take a few birds on more than one occasion. Then, at the end of the summer, we lost even more chickens to a hawk. Needless to say, the girls were under a lot of stress and stopped laying eggs completely. BUT, I am so happy to say that the girls are back to business as usual and we have eggs again! The lack of stress from predators, combined with extra protein from bird seed and a handy light in the coop have all worked together to encourage the flock to lay eggs again. We’ll have our beautiful blue and brown eggs at every market.
Our biggest project has been building winter housing for the pigs. In the past we’ve kept the pigs out on the back pastures, but getting water all the way out there is a huge burden once our water lines freeze and it’s a far walk for the sows when it’s time to come in to the barn to farrow. John, Kelley and I had been brain-storming about this project for months, and now that it’s finished we couldn’t be happier. Now the pigs are closer to the barn, which means a shorter trip when its time for piglets. We also ran new water lines (extra deep to prevent freezing) to heated and automated water troughs. I have to say, these were expensive but are without a doubt the most useful things we’ve bought on the farm aside from the tractor. No breaking ice in frozen water buckets, no trudging through snow with buckets of water. These provide a fresh source of water for the pigs at all times with no work on our end. Heaven. We have to extend a HUGE thank you to my brother, Josh, and our friend, Kurt, for their amazing work on this project. The pig huts came out beautifully and I really can’t say enough about the water set up done by Kurt. (Our cat, Carla, was also very helpful!)
Now that the chickens are laying and our pigs are moved, it’s time to look ahead to kids and piglets! Our goats are due to kid over the next month or so. Of all the animals on the farm, goat births are definitely the most stressful, but kids may be my favorite baby animals. They’re so soft and are ready to play right away. We’ll then be preparing for 7 litters of piglets at the end of February. Yes, 7 litters. We are going to be inundated with piglets and I can’t wait.
As I write this there is snow falling outside my window, but our summer garden is on my mind. I’ll be ordering seeds and starting them inside in no time. After almost 4 years working our land, I’m finally getting a handle on what crops grow best in our soil and what the animals will and will not eat. Farming is such a learning process and with every challenge that we figure our way through I find myself more deeply rooted in choosing this life. I think back to a conversation I had with Will Kennedy of Cream Hill Veal. While sitting on a Q&A panel with other local farmers, we were asked what the most crucial aspect of farming is and we decided on integrity. As a farmer serving our community, we no doubt have to represent ourselves and our practices honestly and sincerely. But another part of integrity speaks to character and ethics. It isn’t lost on any of us that in order to supply meat to our community, our animals lives must end. That’s heavy stuff. But while they’re in our care, it’s our responsibility to treat them humanely and with respect. I’ll just end with an excerpt from “Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food” by Wendell Berry:
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. “
We really do love what we do. Thanks for your support.
Join us tomorrow at the Norfolk Farmer's Market Holiday Fair at Battell Chapel from 10 to 2, where we'll be providing lunch! Our own pulled pork sandwiches and grass-fed beef chili are on the menu, along with some sweet treats.
Also, don't forget to stock up on your favorite ground beef, steaks, sausages, chops and more - the next market isn't until January 10th!
A recent study showed that North Canaan has the highest poverty rate in Litchfield county (12.7% verses the state average of 8.7%). To help the children of our community, the United Way of Northwest CT is conducting a "Back to School Clothes for Kids" campaign to provide new back to school clothes, sneakers, back packs and supplies. The goal is for every child to receive 2 new outfits, 3 pair of socks & underwear, a winter coat, sneakers, and back pack, along with school and toiletry supplies.
Remember when you were a child, how exciting it was to get new school clothes and fresh notebooks? Please consider making those memories come true for some of our local children. We will be collecting donations every Saturday at the Norfolk Farmers Market. You can help a child "dress for success" and get happily on the school bus this fall!
We are so happy to officially announce our new partnership with Chubby Bunny Farm in Falls Village! Dan and Tracy are committed to sustainable farming and supply over 100 families with fresh vegetables through their CSA. You will be able to purchase our pork in their farm store on Cobble Road. And if you've been thinking about purchasing a CSA share for fresh produce, you will definitely be in the right place.
It's finally calf season! We've had 4 calves born so far and are expecting 2 more. Here is Peanut with her bull calf, Chief.
As the piglets turn 8 weeks old it's time to wean them from their mothers. The sows were more than happy to get back out on pasture. Here is Petunia enjoying some sun and grass.
The regular season for the Norfolk Farmer's Market begins on May 17th! We'll be on the green in front of town hall every Saturday from 10-1. There are so many great vendors that participate - we can't wait to be able to buy their fresh vegetables, cheeses, bread and more every week. Be sure to find us to stock up for the grilling season: hot dogs, beef patties, and ribs are just a few things that are perfect for your BBQ. See you there!
Two quick side notes...First, the Norfolk Library is hosting a Farm Day on Saturday. They're screening the movie Greenhorns which is about the young agricultural movement, and offering a locally-sourced lunch. Then there'll be a panel discussion with a bunch of local farmers, myself included. Click the link for more information.
Second, Petunia had her very first litter of piglets at 3 am on Monday. So cute. If anyone is looking to buy piglets, they'll be ready to go at the end of April.
Ok, on to seeds...
I decided last year, after sowing seeds directly into the garden bed and not getting a great yield of crops, that I'd plan ahead this year and start seeds indoors. I'm going to write about it in case, by some chance, this works really well. Then I can look back on it next year and maybe it'll be helpful to people who read it.
Unfortunately, in Connecticut our growing season isn't very long, so plants really need the head start
of germinating and sprouting in March instead of waiting for the last frost, which is usually the end of May. I plan on moving them out into my new greenhouse (thanks, John!) in April, and getting them in the ground at the end of May (if this winter weather ever ends!).
I've never started seeds before, so I've been doing research all winter. I bought an edition of Mother Earth News and followed their advice pretty closely. Here's a link to the article: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/starting-seeds-indoors-zm0z12djzsor.aspx#axzz2vrES1Dcu. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on new equipment, and the author did a great job of paring down supplies to what you really need.
We have a lot of flat black trays from Kelley's experiment with fodder, which I hope to try again in the future. I used small paper bathroom cups as containers, which are the perfect size, cost next to nothing, and can be composted when I transplant the starts to bigger containers. (It's important to poke holes in the bottoms of the cups so excess water can drain). That's all the equipment I'll
need for the first week. Once the plants break through the soil, they need light for energy. I bought 48" 32W T8 fluorescent lights. Special grow lights can be expensive and they're not really necessary (I hope) if you're getting the starts under natural sunlight early enough. I'll post an update once I start using the lights.
I went with Miracle Grow organic soil and mixed in perlite, which keeps the soil from compacting, and vermiculite, which has lots of nutrients and absorbs water, keeping the soil moist. In the future I'd like to use our own compost, but we didn't have enough for this year.
The seed starting medium ended up being 8 parts soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part vermiculite.
I filled the paper cups about ¾ full and tapped them on the table to get rid of any air pockets. Then I put 2 seeds in each cup and covered them with about a tablespoon of the soil mixture. After lightly pressing down on the soil, I sprinkled on a layer of vermiculite and then a good dose of water. Once the tray was full, I covered it loosely with plastic wrap. Here's the end result.
I'm so excited for these to sprout! I only ended up getting to about half of the seeds I plan to start before I quit and went to bed. (John and I are up checking on our very pregnant sows a few times a night, so we are exhausted). I'll get to the rest tonight, and if I do anything differently I'll post an update.
"By the process of directly working in harmony with nature, we do the one thing most essential to change the world - we change ourselves."
March is looking to be a busy month on the farm! The awesome turn out at the last farmer's market in Norfolk has allowed us to plan two more Spring markets. They will be held at Battell Chapel in Norfolk on Saturday, March 29 and Saturday, April 26 from 10:00 - 1:00. We will have plenty of beef and pork with us, and if you'd like to place an order ahead of time we can have it packaged and ready for you when you arrive. (We're now able to accept credit and debit cards, too.)
Also, we have a group of pigs scheduled for processing this month, so if anyone is interested in saving money with a bulk order, half or whole pig, please contact us for pricing.
I think I can speak for every last creature on the farm, John and myself included, when I say that we are more than ready for Spring. I'll be starting seeds for the garden this week - we can't wait to get back to our own supply of fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Here's a quote from the self-proclaimed "lunatic famer" Joel Salatin that really speaks volumes about why we farm the way we do: "We don't need a law against McDonalds or a law against slaughterhouse abuse - we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse." We hope you, as the consumer, can make the choice to pay a little more for food that is raised humanely, naturally, and responsibly, with respect and love for our animals.
(Don't forget to "Like" us on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/howlingflats)
Yesterday, Geneva gave birth to her first kid - a girl whom we've named Pearl! We were lucky enough to be there to cheer her on. Not only do we get to enjoy the playfulness and adorable-ness of Pearl, but soon we'll also be able to enjoy fresh milk from Geneva!
Here she is!
Real food enthusiast following nature's template