Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Learning Curve

No matter how long you farm, you've always got something new to learn. Here are just a few of the gems we've gleaned from our first week as Open Book Farm:

  • If you own multiple vehicles and live on a farm, it is a bad idea to carry the keys in your purse. You just might drive off somewhere really far away (say, New York) and accidentally take both sets of keys with you.
  • Chick hatcheries can (and do!) sometimes send you your chicks earlier than you ordered them to arrive.
  • It is very difficult to pick up baby chicks which are at the post office if you do not have the keys to a vehicle.
  • Enterprise Rent-a-Car actually will deliver a rental car to your door.
  • The rental car will not be, as in the commercial, completely wrapped in brown paper.
  • It is advisable to complete the roof of your brooder before your chicks arrive.
  • Day old chicks do not have much sense of self preservation.
  • Black snakes can eat three baby chicks in about two minutes.
  • Black snakes continue to move for a disturbingly long time after you chop off their head.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Shepherd

Ever since I figured out that children are a lot of work, I've been thinking about getting a dog. Andrew, as the more practical member of our partnership, spent the past year reminding me that nomads who live out of a Mazda Protege do not need a dog in the backseat. When we signed our 20 month lease at the beginning of June, however, my mind very quickly made the jump from former nomad to future dog owner. I started doing research.

Because Andrew raises chickens and turkeys, I knew that golden retrievers, the dogs of my childhood, were out of the question. I made a list of my desired dog characteristics: calm, friendly to people, poultry, and pigs, hostile to deer, able to live outside year round, and (preferably) cute. Looking back at my list, I suddenly began to worry that I was seeking a mythical creature, the ideal dog that never existed outside of Plato's cave. Still, I figured that I might as well look.

One breed that caught my eye was the Great Pyrenees, traditionally raised in France as livestock guard dog for flocks of vulnerable alpine sheep. I posted a thread on a farming list serv asking if anyone had any experience with the breed, and was immediately flooded with effusively positive reviews (as well as links to several flickr photostreams). The pictures quickly confirmed that Pyrs passed the cute criteria with flying colors.

The next evening, I received a call from a woman near New Paltz, New York. She had two Great Pyrenees, she informed me, both of whom were excellent guard dogs. Unfortunately, her male Great Pyr, Patou, had lately taken such a fierce dislike to her herding dog that the two of them now fought like cats if ever their paths crossed. It had gotten so bad that she now kept Patou on a leash all day while Berge, the herding dog, had free run of the farm. In the evening, when Berge came inside, Patou and his sister Marie patrolled the perimeter. Would I be interested in giving Patou a new home?

Needless to say, I was hooked. Last week I drove to New York to pick up my new baby (I mean dog). After a few days of confusion over his new surroundings, he seems to have settled in here in Maryland. He spends most of the heat of the day snoozing under his favorite bush. As the day cools off, he perks up, and he stands guard all night. In the evening, when I take him for a walk, he likes to make a circuit of the barn to check on the chicks and piglets before we head out across the fields to look for deer to bark at.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Big News (and some little news)

We're finally starting our farm! We're deep in the throes of website development at present (as well as chick brooder construction, market research, crop planning, and of course food preservation), so please forgive us the dearth of details. I must, however, share at least one with you--our name. Welcome to Open Book Farm.

Until we launch our new website (with its own, integrated blog), I'll keep y'all updated here. Three years of farming and I still consider myself a greenhorn, so rest assured I've not run out of things to say.

Starting a farm from scratch is a time consuming, expensive business. Andrew and I have an line item in our accounting software called “Business Owes Me” and, at present, this is the only account that seems to be growing. Still, we have a business plan, enough savings to help us through this lean time, and a healthy dose of optimism, so we feel good to be starting off on our own.

Indeed, fortune favors the bold! Exploring our new farm on Wednesday we discovered that Open Book Farm is already producing a crop, and without any work on our part. Andrew stumbled upon a very productive thicket of wild raspberries behind the old ramshackle milk house, and closer inspection revealed sister brambles all along our driveway: blackberries, black raspberries, and more raspberries. We are not, sad to say, so overwhelmed with fruit that we need to open a pick-your-own stand, but we seem to be well enough supplied for abundant snacking, occasional freezing, and last night's treat—raspberry swirl ice cream.

If I have the time, I like to make a custard based ice cream, as I think that the final consistency is a bit richer and the ice cream less likely to melt into soup. My mind has been overflowing with to-do lists and crop plans lately, however, and I did not have the foresight to make custard in the morning. So I took a somewhat slapdash approach to frozen confectionery, trusting in the quality of ingredients to carry the day. We were not disappointed. And while we did end up slurping the last of the pink ice cream from the bottom of our bowls, I do not think that the experience was compromised whatsoever.

Lazy Person's Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream

1/2 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 cup half and half
2/3 cup sugar + a bit more
pinch salt
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 cups raspberries

Whisk everything but the raspberries together until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker. While ice cream is churning, mash the raspberries with the extra 2 or so Tablespoons of sugar in a separate bowl. When the ice cream is frozen to your satisfaction, gently fold in the raspberries.