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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

Steve had the great honor of receiving the Farmer Mentor of the Year award from the Northeast Organic Farmers Association last Saturday. Except, he didn’t actually receive the award. When his name was called at the award ceremony in Concord, NH, an awkward silence followed. Steve wasn’t there. At that exact moment, Steve was tracking down a runaway calf a mile up the road from the farm. The independent-minded calf led Steve, the Litchfield police, and a handful neighbors and friends on a tour of the Litchfield School Conservation Area before finally giving himself up. The things Steve will dream up to avoid public speaking!

Escape map

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Home to Roost

Well, this winter we had a huge dilemma. We needed to get new winter housing for the laying flock, as the old high tunnel we were using will now be used for growing vegetables. We decided to go with the Colossal Chick-Inn Hutch (manufactured by ClearSpan). After some weather delays, we finally finished putting up the structure a week ago. We gave half of the space to the young pullets and the other half to the laying hens. The laying hens were so impressed with their new home that egg production went from 4 eggs a day to 24 eggs a day, in just one week!

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Thanksgiving

oats and vetchOur vegetable season has ended. The harvest is finished, and Bill has planted a cover crop of oats and vetch to prepare the soil for next year. Although the cattle and the pigs are keeping Steve very busy, we are reflecting on our first summer of vegetable production. We certainly thank you, our customers, for your business. But we get more from our customers than pure business transactions. We get a lot of moral support—and never more than this year as we figured out our vegetable operation. We thank you for teaching us the meaning of “Community Supported Agriculture.” I used to avoid that term in favor of “vegetable subscription.” But I think “Community Supported Agriculture” fits now. Our community is part of us, and we are part of it, and we are grateful.

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TLBLogoAs the fall approaches, we are preparing to send large numbers of our animals to the butcher. The problem is, so is everyone else who raises cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Then deer hunting season arrives, and you can forget about booking a meat processor until January. Lucky for us and for everyone else in southern New Hampshire, a brand new USDA-inspected red meat processing facility, “The Local Butcher,” is opening up in nearby Barnstead.

The proprietor, Russ Atherton, is a pro at handling animals, having been a dairy farmer in his previous career. Low-stress handling is important to us for its own sake, but it is also vital for meat quality. We are eager for Russ to succeed, and we have already reserved a number of dates on his calendar. This means our customers who have ordered whole sides of beef and pork will have to fill out a different cut sheet this year. But not to worry, Russ has done a great job designing a cut sheet that is logical and clear.

The Local Butcher is having an open house on Saturday September 21, 2013 at 9:00 am to celebrate their Grand Opening. There will be a presentation to explain their cut sheet, plus a tour of the facility and refreshments. We’re going to check it out. We hope to see you there!

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Last Batch of Chickens

Ryan3

Ryan

jamie

Jamie

It has been a great year for pastured chicken, thanks to the hard work of our chicken caretakers Ryan and Jamie. They have fine-tuned our systems to produce heavier birds with less feed and fewer predator losses than ever before.

We have decided to extend the season with one last batch—to be finished on October 31. It is hard to believe, but we are getting ready to order this last batch of chicks. So if you want to put in an order, it is not too late. But tomorrow (Tuesday, July 23) will be your last opportunity. Just send Steve an email:

email

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Farm sign

It used to be, you really had to look hard to find us. Countless frustrated UPS drivers have given up after searching door to door, and who knows how many potential customers we have lost.  Today we put up a sign by the road that we hope will fix all that.

The sign is just in time for an event we are hosting on Tuesday, July 16th, from 6-8pm. It’s a pasture walk, it’s sponsored by NOFA-NH and Granite State Graziers, and it is open to the public. Steve will give a tour of the farm, and he will explain how he builds fertility in the soil, treats the animals humanely, and produces healthy food. So if you are curious about how sustainable farming might work, what are you waiting for… a sign? Here it is! Come check it out!

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InspectionAnother first for us this month was a visit from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service. Small producer-growers like us are not required to have a government inspector present when we process chicken. However, we ARE required to abide by all the food safety requirements of the law–and the government can theoretically drop in whenever they want to see if we are doing it right.  Normally for an operation as small as we are, that theoretical possibility is remote. However, mobile processing units like ours have been popping up around the country, and the USDA is curious and concerned to learn more about them. For our part, we have been bragging about our training, our planning, our testing, and our documentation. So the USDA decided to see how we like the taste of a little scrutiny.

Craig was understandably nervous about the visit—as was our food safety consultant Ellen Weist (herself an ex-military meat inspector). Those USDA guys don’t smile or chat very much. But we did get a one-word report card before they left: “Phenomenal.” Afterward, Craig had to sit down, and we made him breathe into a paper bag.

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We hosted a seminar at Steve’s house last weekend about topsoil. For starters, the presenters Abe Collins and Eric Noël  gave us a crash course in soil science. Fun fact (new to me, anyway): topsoil does not grow from the surface up. It grows from the surface DOWN. Really? I always thought it was the decaying plant material plus manure piling up that made topsoil. Wrong! It is that organic stuff being drawn DOWN into the inorganic clay, silt or sand. So what brings the organic stuff down? Worms? Please! It is roots. And some roots are better at it than others. OK, here is the mind-blowing part: does building 3 feet of brand-new topsoil take millions of years? No! Under the right conditions, it can happen very quickly—like 3 years! And we can create the right conditions. How to create the right conditions was the real subject of the weekend seminar.

In case you didn’t know, mankind is busy destroying the world’s topsoil with conventional agriculture. So the idea that we can reverse the process comes as great news. There is also hope that we can sequester a significant amount of carbon this way. Anyway, a big thanks is owed to Abe and Eric for the seminar, and to Doug Hamm for the catering, and to all the attendees.

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Pigs Preparing SilvopastureGolf courses and English parks can be very pleasing to the eye. John Barrow postulated that this is because humans evolved in the savannahs of Africa. When we see a grassy landscape with a few trees, our subconscious is thinking “good hunting grounds.” Increasingly, livestock farmers favor these sort of landscapes as well. But not because they look nice. The practice of combining trees with grazing livestock (called “silvopasture” in the ag business) can be a win-win-win. The trees are a valuable cash crop in their own right, plus they provide shade and shelter for the livestock. In hot weather, trees can even increase the growth of forage by shading it.

It is not clear how well this will work in our climate, but we are experimenting to find out. Peter Nash has selectively thinned a piece of his forested land. Our pigs pictured above are happily working on step two: preparing the soil for planting an organic pasture seed mix. It will be some time before we know if it will be possible to graze cattle here. If not, I’m thinking the golf course business looks a lot easier than farming anyway.

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The NRCS has done us a lot of favors. OK, beyond favors—they have actually given us money to offset the costs of several conservation projects on the farm. So we thought we would return the favor and help them promote Ken Burns’ new film, THE DUST BOWL, which premiers Sunday and Monday (November 18 and 19) on PBS. The film chronicles the man-made ecological disaster in the great plains in the 1930s that engendered the NRCS. In light of the planet’s changing climate, we agree that the story of the dust bowl is “a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our peril.”

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