Tag Archives: 30 Day Farm Blog challenge

Day 23 – Craft Fair Season!

For the past couple of weeks the upstairs kitchen has been the place to hang out and drool (if you are a human, that is. If you are a dog, downstairs is the place to be because that’s where all the tasty pork dog treats are being made…) Jams and jellies were first to be processed and then, oh heavenly delights, it was cookie time!

These pinwheel cookies are delicious and kind of cool - but fiddly! Given how many we were trying to make, we used a  handy dandy jam cookie making device for the next number of batches.

These pinwheel cookies are delicious and kind of cool – but fiddly! Given how many we were trying to make, we used a handy dandy jam cookie making device for the next number of batches.

Filled with Dark Creek jams and jellies, these are oh so very good!

Filled with Dark Creek jams and jellies, these are oh so very good!

It has been tough to only eat the broken ones (oops! slipped! can’t take that cracked old thing to the craft fair!), but we have to be strong so we have lots to take to the North Douglas Christmas Craft Fair tomorrow.

In addition to the festive cookies and yummy dog snacks (at least, I assume they taste pretty good as I caught Tuulen up on his hind legs STEALING the pork treats from the counter – he looked very sheepish and said, ‘it was cracked! You can’t take something like that to the craft fair!’) we are also taking a variety of jams and jellies (including the cranberry jelly gift packs that were so popular in our Thanksgiving Goody Boxes), fresh eggs (the new pullets are getting into gear!), carved wooden plant row markers, hand-pulled wood block prints, art cards, original watercolour and miniature paintings by E. Colin Williams, children’s books by yours truly, carved wood signs, herbal salves, and aprons. We’ll also have the coolest little terrarium with a wooden base that defies explanation at this late hour (will post a photo tomorrow – it is packed away in a box, ready to go). For anyone interested in signing up for our CSA or ordering a turkey, we’ll have information and forms.

Getting all of that together has been a bit of a trial in the middle of everything else going on! As I write this just before midnight, I’m hoping all goes smoothly and that we’ll get a chance to chat with some of our regular farm stand customers and meet lots of new people as well.

If you are in the area, here are the details:

North Doug Craft Fair Info – hope to see you there!

4th Annual North Doug Craft Fair

Where : North Doug Church, 675 Jolly Place
When: November 23rd, 9am-4pm

Door prizes and other surprises!
Concession with soup, sandwiches, and dessert
All of the table proceeds go towards the youth

For more information, check out the Facebook event page

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Day 22 – Let’s Talk Turkey

They can run, but they can't hide...

They can run, but they can’t hide…

This year has been a bit of a challenge in terms of timing for processing our Christmas turkeys. Until very recently, the closest place to have the birds processed was up in Cowichan Bay an hour or so north of here – a journey that requires a VERY early start to get the birds there on time and then a return trip the following day to pick them up again (the processed birds can’t be transported until they have been sufficiently chilled). As you can imagine, the demand for slots is huge right before the two major turkey feasting holidays, so it is not easy at all to book a date that is close enough to Christmas to be able to offer customers fresh birds.

Add to this the fact our Ridley Bronze turkeys take their own sweet time growing to a decent size so an early date and frozen birds is not a great solution for us, never mind the fact our customers overwhelmingly prefer fresh birds to frozen (though, I have to say that having tasted both, there isn’t a noticeable difference in flavour). Anyway, the closest date we originally were able to get to Christmas was December 13, which meant very stale ‘fresh’ birds (too stale, really – though there is no definitive number of days a fresh bird can sit properly refrigerated, we were uncomfortable selling birds that would be 10-12 days before preparation). So, we were resigned to selling them frozen.

Invite a Ridley Bronze to your holiday dinner...

Invite a Ridley Bronze to your holiday dinner…

Then, we heard through the farmer grapevine that a new processor had been approved here on the Saanich Peninsula and, when I got in touch, I was delighted to hear he had space for our birds on December 21 (ready for us to pick up and get them to our customers December 22). Not only can we provide fresh birds, they benefit from an extra week or so of growing.

Now that we have the processing date finalized, I can post the link to our fancy schmantzy online order form.

Please note, we do not produce a huge number of birds and they grow to the sizes they want to grow. To avoid disappointment, please, please order sooner than later so you have the best chance of getting a bird close to the size you are hoping for. We do our best to match you up with a good dining partner, but it’s not like we are running a factory farm here with thousands of birds to pick from. We always sell out, so if you are interested in a fresh, local, delicious heritage turkey, click on that there link and let us know!

We are now able to take VISA and Mastercard – details for payment options are on the form. Over the next little while we’ll post some favourite recipes and cooking tips – these birds are not quite like the broad-breasted whites you’ll find in the supermarket. More on that, too, in future posts – for now, just wanted to give you the heads up on our late-breaking turkey news!

Day 21 – Getting the Word Out

Vancouver Island Direct Farm Market Association AGM is being held at the Saanich Fairgrounds, tonight (November 21) at 7pm: doors open at 6:30, cookies and coffee will be served. If you have a farm in the area, consider coming to the meeting and becoming a member. You’ll get to connect with a great group of farmers, hear about current issues affecting all of us, and learn about how effective it is to band together to let consumers know where to find local farm products. 

Small farms use all kinds of strategies to get their produce into the hands of consumers - farmers' markets, box programs, and farm gate sales... What works best for you?

Small farms use all kinds of strategies to get their produce into the hands of consumers – farmers’ markets, box programs, and farm gate sales… What works best for you?

The DFMA has certainly been a fantastic marketing tool for us – we are listed in the annual Farm Fresh Guide as the Alderley Grange (the name of our farm stand) and that one listing alone has sent all sorts of customers our way. We do not have the benefit of a lot of drive by traffic, so it’s not that easy for people to find us. But, find us they do – either online (check out the Farm Fresh website if you are looking for any kind of local produce, eggs, meat… ), through the Farm Fresh Facebook page, or at the annual Farmer’s Market Area at the Saanich Fair. We also attend local farmers’ markets and have been very happy with the success of our subscription box program (more on how that will look for the 2014 season in a future post).

Local marketing groups are not only invaluable in terms of bringing farmers and customers together, they also help bring farmers together - no small feat given that getting farmers together is a bit like herding cats.

Local marketing groups are not only invaluable in terms of bringing farmers and customers together, they also help bring farmers together – no small feat given that getting farmers together is a bit like herding cats.

If you farm elsewhere, would you mind posting a link to your local/regional marketing resources? (add the link in the comments section…) Do you have a regional co-op? Something similar to the DFMA? A fantastic farmers’ market that does a great job of promoting local products? And, if you like to shop local, how do you connect with farmers in your area? I’m always interested to see how other farmers are connecting with their customers and how customers find their farmers…

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about all month long? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Day 20 – A Gleaning We Will Go

Apparently, gleaning (being the act of scrounging for leftovers after farmers are done harvesting their fields and orchards) was encouraged way back in the Bible. Back then the beneficiaries were meant to be tragic and unfortunate souls like widows and orphans, but I tell you, this contemporary farmer is very happy the practice has not died out entirely.

Michell’s Farm Market on the Saanich Peninsula – several generations of the family farm the land and run a successful farm market.

I am neither widowed nor an orphan, but I do have a lot of mouths and beaks to feed. As it turns out, the generous Michell clan down the road (of Michell’s Farm Market fame) has a lot of slightly squidgy squash, pumpkin, and gourds left over now that the big Halloween/Thanksgiving festivities are done. Add to that some ever-so-slightly yellowing broccoli and you have a FEAST for hogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. 

You can imagine my delight when I had a call asking if I wanted to come pick up some goodies for the critters. Oh, yes please! Thinking there might be a box or two or three I didn’t bother changing back into farm clothes as I was heading into town on another errand right after picking up the veggies. Mistake!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

Of course, it was bucketing down with rain when I started to load and by the time I had transferred the bounty from the bins to my truck, I was soaked.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

I stacked everything in a corner of the hay shelter and have been doling out the treats to everyone ever since. I have to hack open the harder-shelled gourds for the birds (they love the seeds and innards), but the hogs manage to crunch through whatever I toss in their direction.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Thanks, Michell farmers for keeping a glorious tradition alive! And, in case you are wondering what happened to my in-town errands, I was running so late by the time I had loaded and hauled away the booty I didn’t have time to go up to the house to change and had to make an appearance in not one, but two different offices wearing soaking wet, filthy clothes. Ah well, my embarrassment was a small price to pay for the sake of hearing those happy snuffling grunty noises of deeply satisfied hogs.

 

Day 19 – An African Women’s Farm

Last night Dad and I attended a talk about a women’s collective farm in the north eastern part of South Africa. It’s hard to know where to start as the talk touched on so many vital issues facing agriculture today. The speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, was excellent – her talk both inspiring and horrifying.

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

In the aftermath of the apartheid and drought, a group of women in Joppie Village started a small farm so they could grow vegetables for their families and community. 20 years later the farm is a vibrant hub in the community serving many roles beyond simply growing vegetables. It was inspiring to hear how these women have managed to get the farm off the ground, how it sustains them today, and fuels their hopes for the future.

Issues like the fact they must use hybrid seed (and, therefore, are beholden to the seed companies each year), have very little capital to invest in infrastructure, endure long periods of heat and little rainfall followed by short periods of deluge, and the ongoing struggles they face to protect the equipment they do own (pumps to provide essential irrigation to keep crops alive during those dry periods) against theft make my farming challenges insignificant hiccups. Despite the obstacles, through their perseverance they have created an amazing hub that sustains many people in many ways.

I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t be looking more seriously at other land-ownership models here on the peninsula that would make it easier for young farmers to have access to farmland (the Women’s Farm is owned collectively by the community) and at the same time move us along the road toward securing our own local food supply. Not so very long ago, Vancouver Island produced 80+ percent of our food. Today, that figure has plummeted to somewhere between 3% and 8% (depending who you ask). If we do not provide markets, infrastructure, and access to land for our farmers, AND we proceed with making changes to the ALR as is being discussed by our dear government, then why would we expect to see any farmland left at all? As a farmer said at a recent Peninsula Agricultural Commission Meeting, if we were to make farming a viable profession, there would be no need to protect farmland because young farmers would be lining up to get into the profession and they would be financially able to do so because farming would be a job that would pay a living wage.

There are so many cans of worms in that last paragraph I would be blogging until Christmas if I started opening them all. My point is, really, whether we are in South Africa or south Asia, Australia or Hawaii, the Fraser Valley or right here on our island, we ALL need to pay attention. We need to worry about seed saving, about who owns the genetic rights to living things. We need to think about smart ways to use infill development, to preserve the farmland we have left and make it accessible to a new generation of farmers. And, we need to provide useful ongoing support to farmers willing to use that farm to grow food. We need to look at the logic of using chemicals on food crops and how smart it is to ship lettuce from California when we can grow lots of it right here in our back yards.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make - organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes - but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make – organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes – but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

A vibrant community farm is far more than just a place to grow vegetables. The way we feed ourselves, our children, our neighbours, our elders, our friends, and our communities tells us a lot about how healthy [not just physically] our families and communities are likely to be for the long haul. 

Soapbox moment finished – for now. Stay tuned. And consider coming to the ALR Town Hall Meeting in Sidney (Mary Winspear Centre) 7pm on November 27th. Unless, of course, you don’t eat. In which case, farmland really is of no concern.

Day 18 – The Moon Coffined in Clouds

“We love the night and its quiet; and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is coffined in clouds.”  ― Fitz-James O'Brien

“We love the night and its quiet; and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is coffined in clouds.”
― Fitz-James O’Brien

When we first moved the horses here a dozen or so years ago it was a very strange sensation to make my way down to the barn in the pitch darkness. There were dips in the land I had never noticed in daylight and the short trip seemed to take three times as long after the lights were out. Strange crackles and sighs came from the trees and, particularlywhen the weather was awful, I thought of farmers in prairie blizzards who had to tie a rope from the house to the barn so they wouldn’t get blown off course and disappear forever.

Deer, who had not yet figured out that their regular highway was about to be interrupted by fences and horses and outbuildings and dogs and strange activities at all hours of the day and night would occasionally crash away through the brush, panicked by the sudden appearance of a human. I rushed, nervous at being out there in the dark all alone. I remembered childhood stories of wolves and bears and shapeless creatures who sucked souls and left young girls for dead and thought more than once of the statistic that Vancouver Island boasts the greatest number of cougar attacks in the world.

I always carried a flashlight, which morphed into a headlamp (much better to have one’s hands free while dealing with hay and gates and feeding the cat) and was happy to reach the barn where I could turn on the light.

These days, the tree spirits feel more like they are protecting me, rather than trying to eat me.

These days, the tree spirits feel more like they are protecting me, rather than trying to eat me.

Gradually, things changed. Over time the batteries in the headlamp faded and I forgot to replace them. I found myself in the dark, strolling down the hill as if I could see. Which, it turned out I could do perfectly well when the moon was high and the skies clear. I found I knew where we were in the moon phase without referring to a calendar. And somewhere along the way the nervousness completely disappeared.

Instead, the nightly walk down the hill became one of highlights of my daily routine. One night I reached up to stroke the cat on the gatepost only to discover it was a cat-sized barn owl. His heart-shaped face looked into mine as if to ask, “Were you seriously just about to touch me?” We stood like that for several long seconds before he lifted off and floated up to the roof of the goat barn, where he resumed his silent observation of my comings and goings.

I have sat in the orchard at midnight and sunk my teeth into a ripe pear sending a sticky sweet dribble of juice down my chin. With my back against a hay bale, I have listened to the patter of rain on the roof while the cat hopped into my lap for a snuggle. To my amazement, I discovered I could identify which of my three bay horses was which, even on a moonless night when I could barely make out my hand as it reached for the chain on the gate. I have paused to listen to the owls calling back and forth, the first frogs in spring, the goats munching their hay. The night is a different place for me now, one of calm and quiet where I don’t see all the many jobs that need to be done but instead savour a few moments of simple satisfaction as I find myself still here at the end of another day.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Day 16 – Search for Land Leads to Maypenny Farm

One of the problems with livestock (at least, livestock not raised intensively in big barns) is they need a fair amount of land for grazing. This is not a problem if you happen to live on a large farm, but my farm is micro mini – not even two acres, all on a hill, part of it covered with big trees. To get around this problem I lease several fields close by and make use of every square inch of space here on the homestead. None of the fields are huge and my flocks and herds are expanding, so as a result, I’ve been tossing and turning at night trying to figure out where I can lease more land that’s not too far away. And, this needs to happen sooner than later so I can move the piglets after I’ve weaned those I haven’t already sold.

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls...

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls…

Last year I had chatted with Maypenny Farm (well, not the farm – with Reay, a farmer) about possibly growing out pigs at their place, but there was a wedding planned and a need to keep the fields looking neat and tidy. I had pushed the Maypenny option out of my mind when Reay got in touch the other day and asked if I might still be interested. Faster than you can say ‘hen hats’ I raced over there to scope the place out to see if it might be suitable.

The field up for discussion is an old hayfield being encroached upon by brambles and scrub brush along one edge and bordered on the other side by trees. Not only would the piglets have a blast in there with plenty of forage and room to roam, the plan is to reclaim the field and extend the Maypenny market garden. Hogs are excellent for turning over the soil, enriching it as they go. Add a couple of goats to the equation and the Maypenny farmers can just sit back and watch the livestock prepare that field ready for whatever they may wish to do with it next.

The two big issues are: Water and fencing. The hogs are well trained to two-strand electric and are, therefore, relatively easy to contain. Goats are a different matter, but using the existing sheep fencing as a starting point, some repairs and new stock wire would provide a decent barrier while they are on clean-up duty. We have portable shelters that can be moved to the field without much trouble, which would keep everyone snug and dry in foul weather (unless Maypenny has hats that would fit the hogs…) When it came to discussing the water situation, the conversation proceeded in a very Canadian manner.

“What about water?”

“There’s a stream here – ” Reay said, pointing to one long side of the field. “And the beavers have moved next door so this field isn’t flooding any more.”

“Beavers?”

“They had a dam down there and the water backed up. You can see the half-chewed trees where they chopped them down.”

Beavers? Seriously? On southern Vancouver Island? I had heard rumours that beavers had returned to Beaver Lake, a local landmark I had assumed was so-named because some old fur trader was homesick for a place in the wilderness where actual beavers lived. Maybe the lake actually came by its name honestly. And, perhaps the rumours about the return of the beavers are true after all! Not that Maypenny’s neighbour is happy about the return of the furry, flat-tailed loggers. They are a menace when it comes to clogging up streams and ditches and their industrious plugging up of drainage systems can cause awful problems for farmers’ fields.

I’m not too worried – if the beavers decide to move back to Maypenny we’ll cope with the fallout. Mostly, standing there in the rain calculating how much fencing I’m going to need, I was delirious with joy that a good field is available, not too far away, with readily available water and lots of forage for both goats and hogs. I was so excited, in fact, I totally forgot to take any photos! By my next visit I’m sure I will be calmer and the full realization of how much work it will take to get things secure before we can move animals in will have hit me. Anybody feel like coming over for a fencing party? Maybe you’ll get to see a beaver!

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!