Wednesday, November 23, 2011



   WATCH OUT! Do you know if your farmer is raising the products you buy from them? Some farmers are telling their customers that they are raising products...and they aren’t. They buy them from other farmers who do the hard work and who aren’t given the credit for their work.
   WATCH OUT! Some of those products may not be grown safely or humanely. Are you being told those products are “natural”? Is concrete and waste products “natural” for an animal to be raised on? Does your farmer know what is sprayed on a crop if he isn’t growing it?    KNOW YOUR FARMER!

   OUR PLEDGE TO YOU. We grow our own grains and crops on our farm, doing the work ourselves. We raise our own animals on our farm. We will not buy products from another farm and sell it under our good name.
   If we deliver products for another farm we will not only tell you the farm it came from, but be able to give you their contact information. We deliver products for over 20 farms who are members of Stewards of the Land, but their products are labelled with their farm names and the invoice has their farm name on it.
   Farmers work hard and deserve to be respected for the work they do...each of them.

If you haven't seen the "tips of how to know your farmers better" on our website, check it out. I won't list it all here and take up space with it. But, this is becoming a serious issue in some areas. We are concerned of how it affects the good name of the REAL growers. And, also concerned that it can be dangerous for traceability of products and for taking advantage of people and their trust in farmers. Your health and your trust is important to us, take action and make it important to yourselves also!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Winding down? Maybe not quite.

   Hello again! Another few weeks of work before I could get back to y'all. When I started to do this blog last year, I thought I would have piles of time on hand to write. Now that the growing season is almost done...I have more time.
   I guess I didn't realize how much time it really takes to be a food farmer. Oh, I knew we spent a lot of time at it. But, at the same time I was volunteering (part to full time) for the Spence Farm Foundation (see their website at So, when they hired a new director to take over (thanks Carolynne! You are terrific!) I figured I'd have piles of free time. Oops.
   But, now that the season is winding down, I'll see what I can do to catch up some.

   I'll start with what is left in the fields. Everyone is always surprised that we are still harvesting into the first of November. There are lots of plants that like the chilly weather. We have beets, five kinds of radishes, turnips of various kinds, onions, and some late pumpkins. There are still thousands of pounds of butternut squash...literally. I bet we have about five hayracks full still.

   Thanks to Tom Leavitt of White Oak Gourmet and the Crop Mob crew for helping to harvest them all. They stretch as far as the eye can see! Well, not really, but some days it feels like it.
   Butternut Squash recipe- We've been using a lot of the squash for ourselves. Marty, who loves to cook, has made oven fries with the squash...delicious.
   They are fairly easy to make....Peel the squash with a veggie peeler, then cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Then cut the squash into fry size pieces, toss in olive oil, put on a cooking sheet and put in the oven at 325. You need to flip them and check them often so as to not burn them. Very tasty!
   Another idea is the traditional one of scooping out the seeds, cutting the squash in half and roasting it on a cooking sheet. Then when it is mushy, add some nice spices (I like nutmeg, Marty likes cinnamon), and brown sugar or maple syrup. We also add pecans and dried cranberries.
   Pickled Beets recipe- Today I'm canning another 30 plus pints of pickled beets. I love canning. And I love pickled beets. But, I have one favorite beet that I love best...Bull's Blood Beets. They have purple leaves, a very nice beet flavor, and are dark in color. Very pretty.
      My beet recipe is like this...Wash the beets (some people don't do this but I do). Then I put them in a pot and cover with water and boil until I can stick a fork into them and they are soft but not mushy. Dump them into some cold water and with a kitchen knife, slice off the top and then with your hand slide the skin off. (We feed the skins to the piggies but they are good around the plants outside or in a compost pile also.) Then I chop them up into bite size pieces.
   Follow canning recipes for how to prepare the jars, etc. This is how I do it tho...I like wide mouth jars so I can get my beets out easier. I wash my jars and lids and then put the jars in the oven to warm and then boil the lids. Then, mix 1 cup water/1 cup apple cider vinegar/1 cup sugar and boil in a pot on the stove until the sugar is dissolved. Put the beets in the warm jars, put in the juice until about 1/4 inch from the top. I add a few whole allspice, wipe the lid dry, wipe the rim of the jar dry, and put the lid on and seal with the rim. Then I put them in a hot water bath, water covering the jars, wait until it is boiling (rolling), and then time for 15 minutes. I take the jars out and let them cool and wait for the little POP of the that sound!

   The trees have all changed color nicely this year and it took quite a while. There are still leaves on quite a few even tho we have had rain and wind the last couple of weeks. It was still 60 degrees yesterday altho it was a chilly southerly wind. So, the weather has been really nice fall weather.
    Last of the news...8 little piglets from Swee on October 9th. All are doing terrific, round and rolly-polly.
They are sucking on beet skins and squash leavings. Cuties!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Winter here yet?!

Hi there!!
 I guess you can tell that we've been busy as I haven't been writing for soooo long. So, here's the latest of what is happening...

Harvests - we are almost done with our tomatoes. No frost yet but some other nearby farms had some. We've been selling our green tomatoes to some of the chefs. I like to use them as fried green tomatoes. But a couple of years ago I made a veggie mincemeat that had the main ingredient as green tomatoes. Yummy.
   We harvested and sold all of our pie pumpkins...about 400 pounds. Now the rest of the pumpkins that were yucky are being fed to the piggies who LOVE them. We are also harvesting tons and tons and tons of butternut squash. Marty thinks there might be around 10,000 pounds. (I hope not as I'm not sure where it will be stored and the white corn is already in my dining room!)

Wilds - Pawpaw season was the best ever. For those who don't know...pawpaws are a native understory tree that has huge tropical looking leaves and smells kind of like kerosene. The fruit is green with a skin like a mango. The inside of the fruit has a large seed and creamy custard like guts that make wonderful pastries, sauces, and ice creams. In the past we had about 500 pounds as our top amount. This year was 788 pounds! And many were huge - half pounders. They are very very perishable so we pick them and then have to deliver them within a day or two. Here's a pic...

Truck farm - I did pretty well with it. My swiss chard was great looking, the celery still has a huge root mass, and the onions were perky. The radishes were coming up thick too. Notice the past tense some? WELL...I couldn't stand it anymore! I am so used to having a truck bed to put stuff in. No more hauling stuff around the farm, putting the gas cans in back to go get filled, etc. I was also very conscious of windy days and trucks going by me on the road. I was able to drive 55 easy and even up to 65 with no problem and the topper never even moved. But, I was still careful.
     Needless to say, it was cramping my freedom. So, I took the plants out two days ago and put them in the greenhouse for continued growing. I'm hanging the top in the barn in case I want to try it again in a different season. I learned some valuable lessons from it tho. First, a heavier duty truck would be better. My little Toy didn't have the suspension to handle it and I was worried about a blow out. Next time I would put less soil in and grow smaller rooted plants like lettuces, cress, etc. Another lesson was the one about my need to be able to pick up and go whenever I wanted without worry about how strong the gusts were. But, I also learned that it can be done and works. So...don't be afraid to try it!!

In the woods - other farmers are finding Hen of the Woods mushrooms right now. We didn't have luck with that. But I did find a few huge puff balls near the tomatoes! And we found some small ones in the woods.
     We have started cutting our firewood to heat our house and there are a lot of trees that came down in a storm this year that we have to clean up. It is really nice in the woods on these fall days. The trees are changing and looking lovely...mostly yellow and rust and lime green. And the wood smoke smell is so very autumn like. The woodbine vines are beautiful as are our sumac bushes. Leaves are falling, falling!

Budley - I call Hey Bud that now. He's really cute! No horns. We think he is a polled Dexter, which sucks cuz now we have to figure out how to hook him up as an ox without the yoke that a horned ox would normally use. We have some ideas and were actually at a harness shop in Arthur, Illinois, today discussing some ideas with the guys there. We haven't done a good job keeping up on training as harvest and other volunteer work got in the way. But, we did get him trained to the electric fence and he is now out on pasture like a big boy...with mommy tho. And...he's really cute!

Volunteer work - Spence Farm Foundation is a not-for-profit education organization located on the farm...check out their website at So, Marty and I have been volunteering quite a bit of time for a few programs, namely Chef Camp and the annual fundraiser Harvest Feast. Now Marty is involved heavily with hundreds of 2nd and 5th graders coming to the farm each week, as well as a class of college students from Illinois Weslyan. On the 16th is a Crop Mob - check that out at
    On another note for volunteering, I've been working on knitting some titties. Yep, you read that right! These are for women who have had mascectomies and take the place of those rubbery uncomfortable silicon ones. You can find out about them at I think this is a great project. It is easy for me to do these as I can knit while travelling around delivering in Chicago each week. I also think it is a wonderful way for women to connect with each other in a very supportive way, making something personal and beautiful to help someone else feel beautiful. I like that.

And...field work - we were able to harvest our Red Floriani corn and our Iroquois White corn. Our red corn is just about dry, we left it in the sun for a few days. We'll shell it and mill it as corn meal for some of our customers. Then the white corn was horrible. We pretty much had a crop failure so are salvaging all we can for seed. We'll try again with it next year. The other two corns (orange Henry Moore and a blue) are still drying in the field and we hope to harvest them soon also.
     After harvesting, I mowed the areas down and Will worked on tilling them (as Marty was teaching the kids about the corns). Will is also tilling areas for us to plant our winter wheat crop. We'll be getting that and our rye in the ground in the next week.

And Swee - my big fat sweetie of a Swee piggie. She's in the barn stall...sitting. Sitting, grunting, eating, being crabby and waiting for the little piglets to pop out. Hopefully she'll have them this week (she's really crabby).

Well...lots to do and tell you about. But that is a quick (okay a long) update. Touch back again and I'll have more. All in all, I'm really looking forward to cozying down in front of the fireplace and knitting and reading away while the snows swirl outside. That is always such a wonderful holiday for me...fireplace, soup, reading...just hope we have all the firewood in before then!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garden on the Go!

   Finally back, and with a new project! I've been working on my gardening skills, which in the past include a very brown thumb. Marty is much more the gardener than I, but I keep on trying. After all, I'm supposed to be a farmer, right?
   So...I have been thinking of trying a truck farm for a couple of years. Got a pretty red truck to try it in. Unfortunately it isn't running and the wooden floored bed needs replaced. I decided to go ahead with the idea tho and do one in the truck I drive all the time - my little Toyota Tacoma pickup.
   Check out the websites for these truck farms to get an idea of what some others are doing... and Too cool idea!

Here she is...

   My list of supplies included:
1 - top frame from an old small greenhouse - given to me by our friend John
2 - 2'x4' pieces screwed to the two frames on the underside. (These help keep it from wiggling side to side)
3 - 6' pieces of 1 1/4" round wooden hand rail poles (like the kind you might use for a shower curtain)
4 - pieces of 2'x4' about 12" tall that attach to the front and back 2'x4' pieces, forming legs for the topper
4 - pieces of metal strapping (with holes) and 4 bolts with wing nuts to attach the legs to the truck (see the pic below)
     I have hooks in the corners of my truck bed that I put the strapping thru. This holds the whole contraption secure in the bed. And, please note, that I have a plastic bed liner (great!) so I didn't need to add any kind of water barrier or padding or whatever to keep the bottom from rusting out. (See the videos for the guys on you-tube to see what he used for his metal bedded truck.)

     I put on a piece of plastic left over from when we built our hoophouses. It is about 4 mil thick I think. I stapled it to the 2'x4' front and back pieces in the middle and wrapped it around the corners on the ends. Then I realized the plastic would rub on the frame so took some old shoulder pads out of a couple of shirts and taped them with the everlasting and versatile duck tape to the sharp corners. (see the first pic) I just tucked the plastic under the round side bars.
    The test drive...almost fatale. The plastic was blowing into the middle so far it touched in the middle. hm.
Came back and  added two side pieces of wood in the middle of the sides...these were old molding pieces 6' long. I screwed them onto the frame. Add those to the supply list.
     I also added a piece of black plastic tubing across the middle and over the top bar (see pic below). It helped stabilize it some more when I screwed it to the lower two round bars. Add that to the supply list.
To keep the sides up when the weather is nice and it needs some air, I used 4 bungee cords that go from molding piece to molding piece, holding the plastic up. This is handy for when I want to work in it also.

   To avoid the soil leaking out the gap in the bottom of the tail gate, I added a piece of hardware cloth (1/2"x1/2" holes, metal fencing) across the back and folded under the bed liner. Then on top of that I laid a piece of landscape fabric. This way the water can go thru, but not the soil. (see the second pic above that shows the legs and you can see the hardware cloth and fabric). I can also put the truck tailgate down without all the soil falling out the back.
     Add the soil!
15 - 40# bags of mushroom compost
1/3 - bag of organic fertilizer
1 - 3.8 cu ft bag of sphagnum peat moss
1 - 2 cu ft bag of perlite
All of the soil stuff cost me about $100. Mixed it all together while dumping it into the bed. We figured it weighed about 630 lbs. including the frame, not wetted tho. Wet soil makes a difference. But the specs for my truck says it can hold 1350 lbs. My truck is 15 years old, so I wouldn't want to push it. Right now it is just heavy enough without affecting the stearing. The soil depth to the top of the wheel well is about 10". Just right for a lot of different kinds of plants.

Then the plants!

Okay...I cheated here a little. I went out into another garden area and dug up some swiss chard, celery, and onions. Popped them little guys in. I planted seed for arugula, three kinds of lettuce, three kinds of radishes, and a dwarf bok choi.
   See the clear plastic tubing in the picture on the right laying on the wheel well? I found out that the plastic would pull out from under the sides when I drove down the road. I had it just tucked in under the side bars. I went to our local Nussbaum Ace Hardware store where Dayton helped me figure out what to use. The tubing is about 1 1/4" on the inside. We cut 4 pieces at 2' each and then slit them down the middle. I trimmed the end edges round so the plastic wouldn't rub on them and rip. Then when I put the plastic down I tuck it under the sides and the back corners of the frame, and slip these plastic pieces on two per side. They hold the plastic great.

   All together I spent money on the round wood pieces, the soil, and the clear plastic tubing. Everything else was just stuff on the farm or given to me. The wood was scrap stuff, the metal strapping and bolts and such we had on hand in the tool shed. The plastic was left over from other projects, as was the black tube in the middle. And we always have bungee straps and duck tape here for emergencies. And, we always have seeds! I think all-in-all it cost me about $150. If I had to do it all from scratch and buy everything I can see where it might cost closer to $400 or more, depending on how I built the frame ends.
   The guys on the truck-farm website have glass (or plastic) flip up frames for the sides and their truck is a lot bigger. I figure that someone could probly put a pot in their front passenger seat and grow some stuff tho if they were desperate.
   Today is the big test drive...down the highway! We'll see if the big truckers blow the top off. It is pretty secure but I don't know about the plastic. Since I don't live in the big city like the truck farms in NY and Chicago, we have to drive quite a way thru country or highway to get anywhere. That means I need to make sure it will hold up, not only to 65 miles per hour, but also to big trucks passing me going either way. Wish me luck!!
   The whole idea that intrigues me is that people can use any space they have available to grow food. You don't need a farm, garden, or even a window sill. Use an old shoe, use anything for a container, just grow food! Don't be tied to feeling like you can't do it cuz you don't have any land or seeds. Soil and seeds can be found. We need to teach ourselves to feed our nation, our starving kids and those who are down and out. If my brown thumb can succeed in this - anyone can do it! Go grow!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Veggie-ball season is finally here!

   This is my absolute fav time of year...autumn. I love the smell of wood smoke, the warm days and cool nights, the taste of squash and apples, and the crisp clean air.

We also like to go to the football games...high school that is. We are proud supporters (when we can get the eve off) of Prairie Central High School. This year we are going to try to make it to all the varsity games. I like sitting on the bleachers, freezing my butt off, and yelling my fool head off for those kids. I try to get Marty to do the wave, sometimes it works.
    So, in the spirit of autumn and football season, we have been practicing up. We've been working on our veggie-ball game. It should definitely be a national sport - Farmer Veggie-ball.
   We started the veggie-ball season a couple of weeks ago actually, with cabbage. The guys were in the fenced garden pitching the cabbage to me on the outside so I could put it in the crates. These cabbages were just for us as they didn't look good enough to sell. The name of the game...Cabbage Stab. I stand on the outside of the fence with a kitchen knife, they lob the cabbage up and over the fence, I try to impale it on the knife. Did it too! Takes a little practice of course.
   The next veggie was the Bucket List Cucumber Catch. If you don't have this on your Bucket List - put it on! Then get a bucket, have someone pitch cucumbers from one end of the 50' hoophouse to you on the other end, and you try to catch them in the bucket. Tricky as they spiral a little and also catch the wind different due to their shape (and maybe their little spines). (These, again, are not the ones we sell...they are pig food. Thank goodness, huh!)
   Then today we had some fun with Zuc Shoot - shooting the zucchini across the patch and into the wagon. But - the rule is to do it without exploding it in the wagon! It is way easier to lob it to the next person and then they can gently put it in. It is also extremely sporty to lob one that is on the very ripe side...heh, heh.

This is the wagon we use for this sport.
   Tatume Toss is another game. Tatume are a little round squash from Mexico, about the size of a large softball or small volleyball. And, then there is the Pumpkin Pitch. The smaller pie pumpkins work better for this one. don't need one of those large sling shots like some competitions require, just your bare hands and some great catching skills.
left - Tatume, center - Italian Zucchini, right - Hubbard
   We are seeing some different methods of pitching/tossing/shooting/etc. on the field (or should I say "in" the field). There is the normal over hand, then the underhand lob, then the side arm, and my favorite is the medicine ball lob. When I was a kid we had this thing in PE called a "medicine ball". It was very large, very heavy, and leather. This lob is definitely needed for the overly large squash and pumpkins. It is a two-handed, between the legs wind up, and as much strength as can be mustered, kind of pitch. I'm pretty good at this one. I used this pitch for the Hubbards today.
   For the fast ball, we tend to like to use the little round guys like the lemon squash or tiny pumpkins. The lemon squash are great as they are the size and about the shape of a lemon. Nice overhand with that one!
   We try to keep things lively by changing the rules...pitching one person to another to another then in the wagon, pitching directly into the wagon, catching in a bucket, and also having the wagon moving while pitching them in.
   So, when you get the next ballot to elect the next olympic sport...don't forget to write in Farmer Veggie-ball!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sorry, don't have a tomato song

   And, I don't have any great tomato pictures...except this one.

This pic was taken last fall by Lori Leavitt at our Crop Mob (I hope that is who took it!). These are the little Galapagos tomatoes we grow. Galapagos tomatoes are little powerfully tasty cherry tomatoes from the Galapagos Islands, seed brought to us thru our friend John Swenson, seed expert and collector extroidanaire.
   So...tomato season is in full swing for most of the farmers around us. Ours are poking along. We just got a nice refreshing downpour so should have a ton of split ones in the next few days from all the water they are soaking up. Lov-e-ly.
   I have to say that most people I know love tomatoes and get very excited for this season to come every year. I'm very happy for them. I like tomatoes a little...cooked, sauces, ketchup (homemade of course), chopped into a taco. But, sliced and juicy and gooey and eew! Not me! I think it is a texture thing...all that goo gives me the willies. Just like the willies I get from those nasty tomato horn worms!
   Picking tomatoes is NOT my favorite thing to do. The plants emit this toxic fume that makes me nauseous. I don't know why, but I just can't stand it. And, then the leaves (or something) makes my hands yellow and green when I pick. AND...those worms!! Have you ever been picking tomatoes, enjoying just being with the little guys, and all of a sudden you see fangs and horns an inch in front of your face? I have! And I must say that I jumped about two rows over and fell splat back on my butt on big red tomatoes.
   But this year is different...I have become a Wild Woman (check out the book "Women Who Run with the Wolves") and am getting in touch with my natural native self. This does not mean running around naked with nasty hair streaming thru the woods. Nope...just that I'm looking deeper inside at the true me. So, I have decided I need to come into touch with a stronger person, focus on the One Strong Woman I am (name is trade marked for my next business venture).
   Off to the tomato patch, I said! I can conquer them! I can do this! I can be strong! Whew...what a stench! But, I can do this!
   I, by myself, picked all the Galapagos tomatoes this week for orders...14 1/2 quarts! I was soooo proud of myself. And I learned a couple of things. First, I can hold my breath while bent over practically standing on my head for longer than I thought if the smell of tomatoes is present to egg me on. Two, tomatoes stink worse in the afternoon and on sunny days. Third, look for tomato horn worms BEFORE picking. And, fourth, if I stay focused I can pick the Galagpagos which don't stink as bad as some of the other bigger tomatoes.
   Usually I break off the stem where the worms are hanging on and squash them under my shoe. Refreshing!This time I actually picked two tiny ones off by hand and squashed them.'s a start! They have that same squishy texture problem as tomatoes...hence the reason they love them? But, I conquered all I saw even tho they gave me the evil eye and horn attitude.
   Next I'll be looking forward to doing some ketchup and tomato canning I can do and love.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hey Bud!

Do you remember this little guy (the little black bull)? His name is Hey Bud and he was born the end of May. This picture was taken just about 15 minutes after he was born. Surprise was patiently trying to get him to stand up.
Will has spent the last couple of months milking Surprise one or two times a day.

She looks thrilled, huh?
And, Will struggled to feed the little bugger...

Needless to say, the sheep were not happy to have him in a stall with them, or even one next to them. BAAAD BUUUD!

Bud (for short) has turned into a stocky, cute little guy with a great personality. Very gentle and loving. Very unlike his BAAAD sister, Dini. Bud's goal in stay out of the freezer. So, we are helping him as best we can.

We began his halter training a couple of weeks ago and are now working on real ox stuff. Below is Marty at the beginning of the training when we were figuring out how to keep him from falling over. He would topple himself over if he didn't want to follow us. We've got that corrected and have now moved on to some other maneouvers. 

Since this is a little bit of a learning curve for us all (my ox driving class at Garfielf Farm had well behaved and already trained oxen), we purchased a dvd from Rural Heritage ( The dvd has given us some ideas of what to do and what not to do. But, there are still some things we are trying to figure how to get him to stay when we walk away.

I have to say that he is coming along nicely. He can come and stop (even tho he doesn't stay yet), comes up for his halter to be put on, and stands for a period of time attached to a post. We have also introduced him to the tractor, the mower, the measuring tape (had it in my hand), the pigs, and a little kid (thanks to Val!). We walk him in the morn and eve. We call it going for a Bud Walk, which is a little different than walking to the fridge for a cold brewsky. In a couple of weeks he'll get castrated (ouch) and will then be a little steer.

Eventually we plan to put a yoke or a harness on him and have him pull things, move the pig cages twice a day, pull a sled with maple sap on it, and pull small logs out of the woods. It will take a few years to get to that point, but we are determined to try. It takes patience on both sides, committment, and determination. I think he is up to it...hopefully us too!

And as for his sister...well, no more running around the woods for her! She has been wild since day one.

We never bottle fed her and she has quite the bad attitude. In the picture above, Will is discussing her bad attitude with her...look at her defiance! When our farmer friend and dairyman, Paul Kilgus, told us he would've butchered her a long time ago we got to thinking he is probly right. So, this fall we will cull Dini which will give us meat for a year for the family. We'll keep Bud and Surprise together, continue to work Bud into an ox, and then breed Surprise for another calf next year (hopefully a female). We think Bud might have a calming effect on Surprise also.

That's all about the Bud for now!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beans, beans...the magical fruit

   Let me say first....come on rain!
Whew it is hot. We have met numerous farmers who are losing their livestock due to the heat. Not good! We are doing okay with ours. We take water to them all a few times a day and check on them. So far, so good. Sorry for the others tho.

   So...beans. We are into our bean season very heavy right now. As well as picking squash once a day, squash blossoms about three times a week, and various other miscellaneous crops...we are also picking beans twice a day. augh.
   The guys don't like to pick them but I'm super glad they are helping this year. I started out picking the green beans, what most people know. We like the Empress ones as they have good flavor, nice size and shape, produce enough, and freeze well. I snap their little ends off, blanch them in boiling water for just about a minute or so, then pop them in freezer bags to keep in the freezer. We've also done a canning recipe that has vinegar and onions, called "Pungent Beans". It is okay but limiting on what you can do with them later due to the vinegar taste.
   Then the green beans change into shell beans. Here they are...

Left to bean, shell bean (tiger eye), shell bean (black turtle), shell bean (cranberry)
   So, are you wondering about the "shell bean" thingy?
First the bean is green...then it dries a little but isn't real dry. It doesn't pop open yet and the bean seeds inside are still a little soft and lighter in color. Here they are opened up...

Tiger eye, black turtle, cranberry
It is my non-culinary knowledge that people with culinary knowledge use the shell beans in a couple different ways depending on the kind. They cook them lightly and add them to something else, and they don't cook them to add them to something else like salads (like a chick pea or garbonzo bean I guess).
   Then there are the dry beans...on the far right... the top. Okay top to bottom...dry bean (notice the color is much brighter, the pod is dry and crispy), next is shell bean (lighter colored seed, soft seed and pod), next is "before shell but kinda after green" (seeds too bulgy to be a good green bean), the bottom is green (nice and slender and soft).
   Make sense?
Hmmm. I think he's got it! Now we can all sing the bean song know it don't you?
Beans, beans, the magical fruit
The more we eat, the more we toot
The more we toot, the better we feel
So eat your beans at every meal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sick Chick and Hot Harvest

   It is hot! About 98 degrees on the shady side of the house. That is why I'm able to be inside jotting down all my blog thoughts...or at least one of them. I tend to write my best blogs while harvesting. Sitting on a bucket, plucking beans, the sun touching the horizon on the west, thinking...but, I rarely get a chance to sit and actually write it all down.
   This hot weather has created some changes for us here on the farm. We take our cues from the plants and animals. Three weeks of nary a drop of rain has forced us to begin watering. We hook up our large water tank to the tractor and fill it from the well or cistern. We began watering last Friday and will continue until we get enough rain to dampen the ground an inch or more. The little sprinkle yesterday didn't last and the ground and plants sucked it right up.

Marty filling buckets to take water to the animals.
   Our harvest schedule changes with the heat. We get up at about 5:30 and harvest until around 10:30 or 11 or whenever we get too hot. Then we come inside and work. The house doesn't have AC but, because it was built in 1902, it keeps the cool and stays about 80 degrees or so. Then at about 5:30 or 6pm we go back out and work until we can't see anything anymore. Or until we are too exhausted to continue. It is usually really pleasant out in the evenings and I enjoy working at that time the best.

   The animals also siesta in the afternoons. But, Dee wasn't just dozing. She wasn't feeling good. So, I thought I would answer some of the chicken questions we get. The main two - how do you know if a chicken is sick? and what do you do about it?
   This is Dee...

Notice the drooping comb, the nodding off, the pasty butt? Sick...or declining.
   Dee is my favorite chick. She is my buddy. But, when she started to decline, I got worried. She obviously wasn't feeling perky, not talking as much and not wanting to eat treats. Her comb was dry looking and drooping, her legs not as bright yellow, her eyes sleepy looking. She would perk up one day and then go back down the next. So, I got out my Chicken Health Handbook (I think that is actually the name of it). It tells of all the millions (okay hundreds) of problems a chick can have and what to do for it.
   I was up at 3am perusing the pics and reading the symptoms. It wasn't contagious as none of the other chix had problems. Dee's abdomen was hard, but part of that is age (the book said)...she's over 5 years old after all and not laying any more for the most part. I sat and chatted with her, a one-on-one doctor session...
See her eyes? Just not perky.
   She told me all about it...she just wasn't feeling good. I, on the other side, explained that I am NOT a chicken doctor, looked thru the book and have no idea what is wrong, and asked if it was okay if we did an autopsy after she was gone to maybe help save the others from something horrible. She, of course being a truly cool chick, said "whaaaat?".
   But, the book didn't help me much (on this occasion anyway). I was doing all it said, which included keeping the water clean, keeping her house clean, having her get fresh air and sunshine.
   I did all I was this...I made sure she had fresh water and enticed her with food, keeping the others away. I gave her blueberries and other treats. I couldn't bear to lock her up in a cage so let her go where she wanted and she usually chose to rest under the firewood cart. If I thought it was contagious I would've locked her down in an instant. But everyone else was acting fine...still are.
   I also gave her vitamins in the water and some diatamaceous earth (DE) with the food to help boost her immune and dispel worms. I did NOT notice any worm problems, but there again am not a chicken worm expert. For the most part her poop looked okay. It was not too runny, not greenish or weird colored, but had the firm part with the little white watery part like most chicks do. She was cleaning herself on good days...

But, then she quit...hence the pasty butt. She just wanted to sit and sleep. I consulted my book again. It had to be something I could fix. My determination was finally this...she got old. Yep. Chickens do that. As much as I love Dee, a truly fun chicken, and as much as I wanted her to be well, she just wasn't getting better.
   So, today we buried her. autopsy per her request. But, as she never minded her picture taken, she provided an opportunity to teach others what to watch for if their chix are sick or declining. Sometimes you can fix the problem with some vitamins and DE and loving care, sometimes not. That is life. Farm life if you're a chicken.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Farm Friends

   This is one of my very most favorite pics...

   What a great shot...thanks for it, Cristina.

I think this pic really says what our farm life is all about. Friends, the land, the blue skies, the fruit of the land (in the hand on the left), all together and embracing each other. wow.

   We talk a lot about our chef friends (Tom Leavitt is the tall hatted figure, chef of his own White Oak Gourmet Personal Chef Service in Chicago). It is interesting how a business relationship can turn into some truly beautiful friendships. We care about their businesses and what they are serving, how they are surviving, because it directly relates to our farm business surviving. But, it ends up more than that. We get to experience their incredible artistic talents that highlight products that we've put our blood, sweat and tears (and joy) into.

   I think it forms a bond that isn't business related at all. They inspire us to reach further in our business, to always be on the hunt for something cool to share with them. And, we hope that we do that for them also. Our Wednesday delivery days end up being a full day of sharing, inspiration, and creative excitement. We come home exhausted and liberated and excited to forge ahead the next day.
   We also come home with the latest news...who is getting married, who is having a kid, who is moving on (we miss you Brian). And, we sometimes are able to follow our chefs to their new ventures (check out Bistro One West in St. Charles where our friend chef Doug D'Avico is creating delicious dishes). It is our circle of friends, our family.
   The chefs also love coming to the farm. And we love that! We have visitors from all over the world come to Spence Farm for tours. The chefs come and get to play in the dirt with us, taste the food right off the vine and right out of the soil, and learn about how animals can be raised with glorious sun and great care. It is sometimes a first time experience, some have never set foot outside the city before, and to bottle feed a calf is such an amazing experience for city kids (I grew up city too, so know this first hand).

   So...thanks to all our chef friends and family. We really appreciate all you do. Thanks for believing in our farm and in our way of life and letting us share it with you.

   To everyone else...don't forget that when you support the restaurants that purchase products from local farmers, small family farms like ours, you are supporting us and our farms. Thanks for that! We wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for all of you enjoying great food. And, if you want to come for a farm us. We love to share our farm and would be glad to work out a time to have you come.
   Watch for farm tours, crop mobs, and farm programs of all kinds on our website, on the blog, and with other organizations like, Slow Food, and our own Spence Farm Foundation (under revision as I write).

Thanks to Cristina Rutter (check out her cool site) for the wonderful pics at the Crop Mob last fall, organized by Tom Leavitt and sponsored by and Spence Farm Foundation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Signs of Summertime

   Summer is in full swing now. We have weeds up to our waa-zoos and it is hot with lots of bugs. With only three of us working the farm, we've been ultra busy. Our first order to the chaos is to start pulling weeds. We are also mowing some areas and preparing to till for fall crops. Our fall crops include more beets, radish, onions, etc. But, for the most part the crops are looking really good right now. The potatoes are blooming, the beans are setting fruit, and the squash are flowering.
   Squash blossoms are one of our major crops. We harvest a couple thousand of them a week. The restaurants prepare them in lots of ways, stuffing them and frying them, making soups, using the petals in salads and as garnishes, and mixing them with other delicious ingredients. I love squash blossom soups.
Squash blossoms and nasturtiums next to a quarter
   Another sign of summer is the harvest of our wheat, hay and straw. Being a city kid originally, one of my first farm lessons was learning the difference between hay and straw. I learned that hay is a mix of alfalfa, grasses, or other greens that are dried and baled and that the animals eat. As kids we would say "Hey!" and mama would reply "Hay is for horses". Thanks for the lesson mom!
   Straw is the leftover stalks of the wheat, oats, (or whatever) that is already dry and then baled, and the animals use for bedding. The tops of those plants are harvested for the fruits or seeds (wheat berries being one) and then the stalks shoot out of the combine into a long pile that the baler picks up into bales.

This is our cool old combine

   I have also learned that our hay bales (baled by friends of ours) weigh about 80 pounds each. I would definitely make the suckers smaller! We moved 400 bales from hay racks to the barn, and stacked them in the hay mow in the barn. Talk about pooped out! We have a system tho...I shove the bales off the hay rack, Marty puts them on the conveyor belt that takes them up to Will inside the barn, and Will stacks them. We broke down and hired a friend of Will's on the last rack (thanks Tyler!) and boy did that help a ton.
   Then Will used our old 1940's Allis Chalmers all-crop combine to bring in our wheat. It does a great job. We actually only brought in about two acres of wheat we are buying from mom Willa. Our wheat that we planted isn't quite ready yet. We asked that the two acres from her not be sprayed with anything except our organic bio-enhancer stuff so it could be sold to our customers and not have all the chemicals on it.
   The straw will be baled later this week or next by a neighbor. Those bales weigh closer to 50 pounds each and will also be put in the barn. We will pile in as many as we can fit as we use them for mulching our tomatoes and for the stall bedding in the winter time. We also use them to form a wind break around the pig pens in the winter.
A half load of straw
   Then there is the delivery system. Another sign of summer!
   Every week we deliver to Chicago, Champaign and Bloomington restaurants. And this time of the year we always get requests from curious people who would like to ride with us. Needless to say, we cannot sqeeze another cucumber in, and simply not a cucumber the size of a person. Sorry folks. This day is grueling. We are up at daybreak loading the van,

Side view, can't see out the back window. Another
week and all this will be completely to the inside of the roof.
 drive an hour to pick up more products from a handful of other farmers, and then drive another hour into the city. Traffic isn't as bad as people think when you get used to it...the key is getting used to it. For us it is just a normal delivery day.
   But the day lasts from 6:30 am until we get home, usually around 9pm. In traffic all day, in alleys, unloading crates. Long. Why do we do it? We love it. We enjoy visiting with the chefs, seeing what they can create with our food, bantering around cool ideas, thinking up the next great find for them. It is inspiring and exciting. So, even tho the day is long, we can't imagine someone else doing it for us. Everyone is great to work with and we would miss seeing them if we had someone else delivering for us.

The bustling kitchen at The Bristol on N. Damen.
Fantastic food and wonderful people!

   The last of the news...Happy Independence Day to y'all! We didn't see the fireworks that were put off by people, but Mother Nature had a great show! The fireflies were out over our prairie by the billions. I wish I had a camera that would take a picture over ten would've been filled with light. It was fan-tastic! It is great to live in a country where we are free to stand looking out over our own tiny piece of land and see a sight like that. Hope you are having a great summer!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Back in the thick of things

   I made it back, 1000 miles there and 1000 miles back, through the jungles of the Atlanta airport and the fields of destruction in dry dry Georgia. I have to say that my vacation was WONDERFUL and I had a great time with my mom. South Georgia farmers are really suffering with the dry weather down there.
   Their little fields of corn are crisping up, big areas of fields are toasted. And the cotton was looking spindly. But they were harvesting cabbages and the tomatoes were coming close to picking time. We picked up some really delicious white peaches and blueberries at the farm store along the road. I also saw fields of squash that were looking pretty good. They do irrigate a lot of areas so that helps. It made me glad that we have had enough rain here.

Dry fields

Cabbages coming to town

What I love about GA - tall pines, blue skies, fluffly clouds

   Before I left, on Sunday May 29, Surprise had her baby calf. A boy. We got to watch the whole birthing, took her about 45 minutes total. And he is doing really good now. Will decided to milk Surprise (three times a day) and feed the little guy using a bottle so he is friendly. I have to say that Will is doing an excellent job at it and I'm really glad it is him and not me. The name? Hey Bud. At least that is what Will calls him. We aren't naming him as he will be food for us next year.

Surprise encouraging Bud to stand
   His big sister Dini was not happy. She is two years old now and we'll try to breed her in another month. She stood around and watched the birthing, was very calm, but later she tried to push him around. We separated her from them with a single fence. After a few days Will put Surprise and Dini back on pasture and now brings Surprise up to the barn to milk. Dini bawls like a baby until Surprise comes back.

Dini not looking too thrilled with the whole thing
   With all the rain we are having (a few times a week) we are having to start a large weeding regime. We try to weed a few hundred up to a thousand feet of crops every day. Some days we get it done, some we don't. Yesterday we cleaned out the east hoophouse and replanted both of them. It took all day. Now they contain everything from peppers, cucumbers, mini cucs, herbs, bulb fennel, greens and tomatoes. A squirrel got in and nipped off all but five of our rare peppers - I have yet to catch the bugger! - so we replanted peppers and put crates over them until they are too big to munch off.
   On Saturday we had our Chef friend Deb from Frontera Grill/Topolobampo come for a donation luncheon. Deb runs the test kitchen at Frontera and we had donated a "tour of Spence Farm with lunch from Frontera" for the Frontera Farmer Foundation last year. The Frontera Farmer Foundation is a not-for-profit that gives grants to small farmers for capital improvements, helping them get on their feet the first couple of years or helping with special projects.
   We had recieved a grant for Will's syrup business start up and also one for the Iroquois White corn project. Our way of giving back for all they do for small farmers is to donate a day on the farm for their auction. It usually brings in an okay amount for them.
   Deb made delicious meals...absolutely blow out delicious! We had two visitors come for the tour and luncheon and we all had a great time. I have to say thanks to Deb for all her hard work, thanks to the people who support the Farmer Foundation with their purchase of the package at the auction, and thanks to the Frontera Farmer Foundation for all they are doing to help small farmers! to do chores and harvest for the Wednesday deliveries.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


   Cold again! 50 degrees this morning. It is almost JUNE!!
   And, where have I been? The farm is very busy right now with babies and more babies and planting and hoeing and cultivating and harvesting and all that other stuff. I started my summer schedule of getting up early and working outside from 7 to 10, inside from 10 to 5 and outside again from 5 to 9. But, today I would've loved to just stay under the covers where it was WARM!

Still waiting to be planted in the field...too cold and wet!
    Actually I haven't written due to a virus on Marty's computer that sabotaged our amount of GB for our internet mi-fi. Meaning - in my real world internet at home. I'm sitting at the library now. And, since the library is in town and I work at home, that means I haven't been able to get in to do the blogging. Sorry folks!
   We had a nice visit on Sunday with the staff members from Gilt Bar and Restaruant and Maude's Restaurant, both from Chicago. They came down for a tour, provided a delicious lunch, and we had a great time with them. After lunch we sat in the 1860 schoolhouse talking as it hailed and 3/4 inch of rain came down. Then it cleared up again and was nice out. Weird weather. We were really glad they could all come. They are great supporters of local farmers, including us. Look up their websites and see what kind of great foods they have...then go for a fantastic dinner!

   Here's the latest animal calf yet. She has her back legs clinched together and isn't letting it out. We'll keep you posted on that tho. Baby chicks and duckies and piggies are good. One little piggie got stuck under the cage fence and smooshed. We put her in the 'ever ready dog crate' for a day and then she was fine again. Almost can't tell which one she was. Didi piggy has been getting out and going for farm tours. She grunts really deep, sounds like a little boy. She hates being picked up, tummy touched, but we keep putting her back in and fixing the places where she gets out.

Didi and Marty having a chat about getting out.
   Didi is having a story written about her by my mama. It is "Grandma Who and the Amazing Radiator Pig" complete with hand drawn pictures. Soon she will be famous! Or more famous anyway.

   I have another story of an amazing animal...the Miracle Chicken.

Brahmama chicken
   This is Brahmama chicken. She was named that because she is a Brahma breed and a mama to the others. If anyone is hurt, she takes care of them. If we get babies, she is right there to check on them. She is also dumb as a box of rocks. Slow and not too bright. And that is how it happened. The big accident. 

  This is the Villian of the story, the D15 tractor and the driver (without the piece on the back thank goodness). I was putting equipment away, using the D15 tractor and with Will to help guide my backing up and help unhook the equipment. We were almost done.
   Brahmama has the bad habit of being around the tractors, cars, whatever mechanical, and not paying attention or walking too slow. We usually yell at her a few times to get her to move and then she lumbers out of the way. You are starting to get the picture, right?
   I pulled forward and heard Will yell "You ran over Brahm!". I stopped, shut off the tractor, jumped down, and came around the back, and there she was flopping around. AH!!! I got down on the ground next to her and started to coo and talk to her to calm her down. Will went to get the gun to put her down. It didn't look good. In fact, it looked really bad. Her eye was closed, just one and the other was open, she was stopping the flopping but was breathing heavy.
   I kept talking and cooing and patting her lightly. Then I rested my hand on her back, just a little to let her know I was there. Her eye started to open. The other chickens had high-tailed it with all the yelling. She looked around trying to figure out where they were, where she was, WHO she was maybe. I waited.
   Will came back with the gun, Marty came to look. I told them wait just a minute. And, sure enough, when I leaned back, up she popped. She was a little disoriented. (You would be too if a tractor had run over you!) We watched her walk slowly, shaking her head some, back to the chicken house. She went in and rested. Later she was better and then the next day she was fine. Still shakes her head a little sometimes.
   The place where she had gotten run over has a divet in it, a detention or hole that was already there. The hole was NOT caused by her being squashed, but she was squashed into it. Apparently the wheel pressed her into the hole. Basically went over her. What a lucky chicken!
   That is why we call her our Miracle Chicken now. She has defied death! She has been run over and lives to tell about it (or lets me tell about it). did NOT make her smarter!

   I have to say that farming and having animals has helped my structured type A personality change to a laid back type whatever. Nothing surprises me anymore. Usually I adopt the "wait and see" attitude and the "shit happens" attitude and the "whatever" attitude, to mention a few. I don't get all whigged out like I used to. Maybe it is just that I'm older. But I like to think it is a valuable life lesson that my animals have taught me.
   Relax and enjoy it and just go with the flow...farming.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Brrr! Birthday


   What is it with this crappy weather?! It was 44 degrees out yesterday afternoon! We put some wood in the little stove in the kitchen to keep that room warm for the cat. Okay, for us also. I turned the light on the little peeps (chix) in the chicken house. Gave straw to the duckies (baby ducks). Piled on our coats, gloves, hats, etc. to do chores. It is nuts!

Where I would be right now if I didn't love Marty so much!
   So, the news on the animals...little piglets are getting close to being weaned. That happens when Swee gets sick of them. She pretty much shuts them off (or shuts off her valves to her nipples) before the eight weeks and makes them eat grass. They are still growing and looking good. Four got out yesterday and were roaring around the barnyard until we coaxed them back in. We have five girls and two boys still, looks like one little girl might be sold soon.   
   Baby ducks (I call them duckies) got moved from their small cage in the milk house into the duck house. We are putting the big ducks in with the chix at night and training the little ducks on the duck house idea. They LOVE it! They have room to run around, flap their stubby little wings, and play chase. In the next couple of days I will put a fence up on the outside of the door and they will learn to go out in the daytime and in again at night. At night I still put the old cage over them and a weight on top to keep them safe in the duck house. It still needs some wire screen over the windows and corner pieces on the outside fixed.
   Integrating the ducks will happen by training the little duckies to go in and out, letting them in the fenced area where the big ones can see and talk to them, and when the duckies are big enough (another couple of weeks) we will put all the ducks in the duck house one night and see how they behave. We have to wait until the duckies are big enough to follow the big ducks around without running their little legs off too much or getting picked up by hawks.

Dreaming of my feet in the nice warm sand....ah!
   For Mother's Day I got my chix...over 30 of them. Mother's Day for me is what I envision it to be like for a traditional Jewish kid in a gentile neighborhood at Christmas time. Everyone else is getting gifts, flowers, dinner out, etc. and I watch. That is what not birthing a kid is like sometimes...just watching others, listening to their cutsy stories, and wondering what it would've been like. But...I got the mother of all Mother's Days when the post office called (on a Sunday!) and said to come pick up the chix. So, I became a mother times 30 plus! YA on you all!  
   We lost one tiny one, one with a crooked neck, and that was it. They are super healthy and a nice calm bunch. It is surprising what the one month difference made, and the week of warmer weather, for their overall health. They, already, are occupying the whole huge box, running and flapping around, and eating a lot.
   The chix are similar to the ducks when we integrate them. In a few weeks I will move the baby chix into a small metal building that has a screen on one wall. They will then have a fenced area around it, go out at day and in at night. The big chix will get to see and talk to them for a couple of weeks until the babies get bigger. Then when they are big enough, we will put the baby chix in the big chix house at night. Everyone wakes up in the morning and looks around..."who the heck is this little runt?!" is what most will say. But, then they work out their own pecking order. The babies usually fall to the bottom of the pecking order and it seems they stay that way most of their lives.
   I have to say, the poultry is good about figuring out who is in charge. We only have problems with some of the roosters as they get older. But so far we've not have bloody wars so I think it is working out okay.
   That is the news for now...busy at the farm with orders, harvesting, chores, fixing flat tires, etc. I'm trying to take more pics so keep posted!

Only chix pic I have right now...more soon!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Birding Time

   It is time for our spring bird count. Every year we go out and see what birds are moving thru. And, we are sent a list to fill out and send back to the person that keeps track of all of it (as you can tell I know not much about all that!). So, we grabbed our list, our bird books, our binoculars, and set out this morning.
These don't count!

   But...wait - back up! - yesterday was our first REAL find! Actually I almost mowed over the poor guy. I was just mowing along, minding my own, and whoosh flew out the side of the mower. Or so I thought. Then I got a better look and it looked like I had scared up a female woodcock. It whooshed again into the pasture fence and it looked more like a duck of some kind. As I jumped up on the top of the mower (not a safe thing to do by the way, but I did turn off the blades first), and somehow made it over the pasture fence without breaking something including my fool neck, the whatever it was whooshed again thru the second pasture fence into the north east pasture.
   The sheep, needless to say, were a little freaked out. "What in the world! That crazy mama of ours is jumping fences and chasing ducks that aren't OUR ducks...baaaad woman!". I raced around the corner and into the north east pasture and the whatever was bashing itself against the far fence. So I ran up to it.
   Then I noticed it was grayish, or blackish, or shiny, well it kinda looked pidgeon like. YUCK! But, I reached down and picked it up. Having worked for a nature center and also having volunteered for a wildlife rescue place, I had a general idea of how to grab it. Altho my best lessons were taught to me by my own poultry. I looked down and...

Ahh! What the hell kinda feet are those??!!
Then, the demon eyes...

Okay, this is definitely NOT a pidgeon, or a chicken, or anything else I've ever seen up close. Get the bird book! I like my National Geographic bird book best so we grabbed that and the camera while the whatever was under a crate with a rock on top.

This shy little guy is an American Coot. No...not an old coot like you-know-who uptown, but an American Coot bird. This was a super great siting! I didn't have this on my life list, let alone ever had one on my lap!
Toooo Cooool!
   I was worried it couldn't fly since it had been crashing around so bad, but we took it out toward the prairie and let it go and it flew away. It must've got off track in the wind and rain last night and was resting, or trying to rest until I almost mowed his head off.
   That was the start of our bird count weekend. Today we went birding again thru our woods and saw lots of warblers (I hate warblers cuz they are so hard to figure out), robins by the hundreds, and a couple other good sitings. One, we think, was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. We also counted a couple of red-breasted grosbeaks, sparrows by the dozens, indigo buntings, and some regulars like blue jays and red-bellied woodpeckers. Around the house area are lots of starlings (another YUCK from me), more robins, nuthatches, and goldfinches by the dozens.
   Then we took a drive to see some wetland birds. Lesser yellowlegs, another coot, and a couple of Least Sandpipers. I love water birds the most. I could watch them all day. They have such funny and unusual habits. The prairie areas showed us some bluebirds, tons of red-wing blackbirds, kingbirds, and an eastern Meadowlark.
   I'd like to go back out tonight for the owls and more night loving birds. The larger birds we saw included red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and great blue herons. But, one of the best sitings was to see four wild turkeys walking silently thru our woods...two hens, a young jake (male), and an older tom. I am sooo glad we have wild turkeys again and they feel safe in our woods.
   So...if you get a chance this next week - go birding! The migrants are flying thru and there are a lot of cool birds to see right now. Just watch out for the old coots (not the bird kind)!