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Olivia, Some Pig

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing…after all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die…By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

I woke up before dawn this morning, nightmaring about Olivia. I dreamed that we had moved to a new house and had no pen for her, so she was spending her last day in our concrete basement.  She was like a prisoner, and I cried because she had no mud.  Her last day of life and she couldn’t do the thing she loved so much, to root and roll around in a muddy wallow.  She sat slumped in a corner. I had a huge basket full of colorful vegetables, Kohlrabi, big fat carrots, kale and squash.  All her favorites. I kept bringing her armloads, trying to make her happy.  She started snorting, then I heard someone call my name and woke up, relieved that it was just a dream.

A lot of people have said that I shouldn’t have named her. Naming her isn’t what makes this hard, and I don’t regret doing it at all.

I love Olivia. I love bacon. In my family, if you really love someone, you make them a pork roast for their birthday dinner. The words, “this would be awesome with some bacon in it…” are common around here.

Olivia at 12 weeks

Raising Olivia, I’ve learned that there is so much more to eating pork, than how tasty it is.  Being nice counts.

She’s been petted, patted, belly scratched and well fed.  She was able to live a life the way nature intended, going ears deep in a muddy bog, then napping in the bed she made of straw.

Knowing that Olivia spent the last year and a half being adored by, not only by me and John, but by hundreds of kids and parents, and even blog or Facebook followers , all of this counts.

As Joel Salatin would say, Olivia has lived a great life, and had one bad day. In my mind,  The good life outweighs today, the bad day.   I don’t have to be here when the ranch butcher comes. I could just let him in, pay him, and go get a  pedicure.

Olivia, yawning before a nap

But I won’t.

In order to bring this full circle, to follow my core values, I have to take part in the end of her life. It will, easily, be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’ll spend the 45 minutes, or so, that it will take, giving silent thanks to Olivia for all the joy she brought to the farm, and the meat that will feed my family for the next year.  And I’ll try to not to cry, but will let myself, if I need to.

Enjoying an ear scratch, Spring 2012

It’s later in the day now. The butcher came out right on time. I won’t be giving a graphic description of the process because it seems disrespectful to Olivia and anyone reading this.  (If anyone is planning to raise a pig for harvest, and wants to discuss, email me) Suffice it to say, I wasn’t prepared. He worked so fast. The shot went off while I was mid thought. My eyes filled with tears and I made a (too) loud gasp. The first 10 minutes were really difficult and I was swearing that I’d never do this again.  All of the animals knew that something was going on. They just know.

I’ll be spending the rest of the day doing hard farm work (which always makes me feel better) and trying to keep the trust of the other animals, who are very suspicious, now.

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It’s zucchini season, again!

I swear, next year, I’m only going to grow ONE plant! Instead I have 8 or 10 and they’re going nuts, as squash tends to do. I’ll have more recipes to come, but here’s one, from the “Clean” program book, that I really like.

Zucchini Mushroom Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

8 oz pack chopped mushrooms (like Crimini or Portobello)

1 onion, rough chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 large zucchini (I used one that was about 5 pounds! Maybe peel it, as the skin was kind of bitter at t his size)

water as needed

1 bay leaf

sea salt

black pepper

fresh chopped rosemary, sage, thyme or parsley (I just took branches of each from my garden and let them simmer in, then removed, along with the bay leaf)

The original recipe also calls for 6 cups of mushrooms and 2 cups of cauliflower. I used the XL zucchini, instead, because using them up was my goal. It also called for coconut oil, but I didn’t have any.

1. Heat oil and saute mushrooms and sprinkle of salt. Cook 3-4 minutes until light brown.

2 stir in onions, garlic and zucchini and cook 3-4 minutes more.

3. Add bay leaf and other herbs enough water to just cover the vegetable. (I kept it a little lower, I like thick soups) Bring to a gentle boil.

4. lower heat to medium-low and cook for 12 minutes.

5. Remove herbs, if you used branches, and the bay leaf.  Puree with a stick blender (or in the blender, after it cools). Season with salt and pepper. For a richer taste, you can add 1/4 cup of almond milk, but I didn’t.

John says it tastes like stuffing, which it kind of does because of the herbs. Working on the cleanse program, I made a big batch of this and put it into pint jars to eat all week. I made a few adjustments from Frank Giglio’s original recipe.

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“Live Simply So Others May Simply Live”~ Mother Theresa

I think of this quote all the time. I ain’t no Mother Theresa, but I sure did admire her work and her good heart. The words that she left behind are inspiring every time I read them.

Today I was talking to a store owner. She used her iPhone to scan something and I commented on how cool it is to be able to carry your business in your pocket like that. I totally reject upgrading my phone or paying for a data plan. I’m really not that kind of business. I don’t want to be on call, reachable at every minute of the day. It’s sort of like answering the phone on the first ring when that cute boy calls. Not my M.O.

We started talking and she said, “I don’t know how people ran businesses in the old days…” She says she carries her business in her pocket, checks emails while doing errands, is constantly on the run, working her ass off and barely keeping her head above water.

“How” she asks, “did they do it without technology?”

Hmmmm, how indeed. I’m not one to preach and never give my opinion unless it’s asked for. On the way to the car I told John, “DUH!”. In the “Old days” our “needs” were much smaller. We knew the difference between needing and wanting and were willing to sacrifice and save for the things we wanted. We NEEDED food, family, shelter, something to wear. We didn’t NEED the newest edition of the iPhone, or cable tv with 100’s of channels, a closet loaded with clothes and shoes, or a new car every time we got bored with the old one. In the old days, we weren’t worrying about keeping up with our friends (or the Kardashians), or making our business number one above the rest, or who Emily will choose on the Bachelorette tonight.

We were too busy growing food, hanging laundry, teaching our children manners, conversing with our neighbors and making the things we needed to live a comfortable life. We got up with the sun and worked without state mandated breaks and lunches because we had strong work ethics. We needed them in order to take care of our families.

Of course, the cost of living was much lower then, but so was the pay. I consider all things equal there.

My family (ok, me, but my family has gone along) has pared down to the bare minimum of living expenses. We cut the cable over a year ago, use things until the die (and take care of them so that’s a long time), shop second hand almost exclusively, and never hire people to do things that we can do ourselves.

My wonderful, shiny new husband unexpectedly lost his job last week, so I’m the rainmaker until he finds another one. That’s scary, but because we have been frugal we have some reserves to hold us over. Even then, I think this is a good time to simplify even more and focus on living a good life with what we have.

This week, I’ll be sharing lots of inexpensive recipes that can be made with food you may have in your own backyard (or farmer’s market). Recipes that won’t make you feel poor. In fact, they’ll make you feel happy and healthy! (no Top Ramen!)

Ready, set, GO!

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Here a Turkey, There a Turkey- A birth story

We raise turkeys that are a cross of Bourbon Red and Midget WhiteImage

The two hens lay daily and last month, one of them started sitting on the nest steadily. I was so busy with other things, that I just ignored her. Normally, I would take the eggs and put them in the incubator, not trusting her maternal instinct (or the other turkeys) because when this has happened in the past, eggs got broken, chicks got suffocated or pecked to death. It’s brutal in there! This time I just decided to let nature take its course.  I didn’t even keep track of how long she had been sitting (it takes 3 weeks to hatch a turkey). Last week, on the last day of Farm Camp, an Aunt had come along to pick up the kids and see the farm. She was standing near the turkey pen and said, “oh, one of them just escaped”. Given the size of our turkeys, this isn’t possible, so when I went over to see, there was a tiny little chick that had just popped through the fencing! She hatched one! Then I looked inside and saw another, later another…ImageImageImageImage

And so, it seems, that our sweet Mama does have the mothering instinct! Unfortunately, the other hen is the complete opposite and pecked one of the babies to death, so we sequestered the new family. We have three live chicks, so far and 8 eggs still under her.  So exciting! And another magical day at Farm Camp!

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The Magic of it All- the day we watched a Monarch Butterfly hatch!

From the day that John and I first  saw it, I’ve always felt a strange vibe, here on the farm.  When we first pulled in we immediately rejected it. The house was in the middle of a remodel. The old fridge was on the deck. There wasn’t a garage. The yard was all dirt and weeds, scattered with huge piles of garbage. No.

But then we got out of the car and walked around a little. There were glorious old walnut trees and lots of flat sunny property. The old white fence was charming and all I could see was the potential of it. Plants and animals and happy kids everywhere. Fast forward 2 1/2 years and my vision has come true!

The tagline on my website was, “Where little miracles happen every day”.  Now, I’m not at all religious, but I so believe in the magic of miracles. The first little sprout coming out of a seed. The little chicks that peck their way out of their shells, even the child, who doesn’t like vegetables or animals, realizing that they, in fact, do.  My days are filled with these subtle, magical moments,

Other times, the magic just slaps me upside the head.

Last month, I was so excited to see 2 caterpillars chomping away at my Butterfly Weed

(Asclepias-the favorite food of the Monarch Butterfly). Image

I rushed to check their coloring and it looked like they were Monarchs, but one can never be too sure.

A few days later, after filling their bellies (it really happens that way, just like The Very Hungry Caterpillar!) I found both had spun into beautiful cocoons, hanging from the broccoli plant that I was about to pull for the season. (so it remains).  I watched them for days, making sure the birds didn’t get them. I was excited to share them with the after school kids, who joined in the daily wellness checks.

Then, on my wedding day, I went out to pick flowers for a bouquet. I love the yellow stalks of flowers on the now-going-to-seed broccoli plant, so I carefully looked for a branch that I could cut without disturbing the cocoons. With one snip  I had, of course, cut the branch that one of them was on.  This, honestly, was the biggest moment of stress on our wedding day!  I felt terrible!  John helped me to set it up, without disturbing it, in a vase, tilted at the same angle that it had been, and we set it in the house for safe keeping. Image

Farm Camp started last week. On the first day, I was excited to share the cocoon that was still outside, with the kids.  Without mentioning it, I read them this book (which is one of my very favorites) ImageThen I told them, in a whisper, that I had something special to show them, but we had to sneak-walk over and be very quiet and still. They all did an excellent job of following, sneakily and excitedly, over to the broccoli, where I looked, and looked, and couldn’t find the cocoon! I was so bummed. Maybe it had hatched and I missed it.  Maybe the Blue Jays got it. Luckily, I had the one in the house, so I ran up to get it. When I picked it up, I noticed that the black and orange of wings was visible through the now clear cocoon!  We set it up on the table to watch it. “Maybe” I told the kids “it will hatch while you’re here this week! Wouldn’t that be cool!?”

Of course, I didn’t expect that to happen.

Right then, I had to take one of the girls to the bathroom. While we were there, I heard my name being called, and excited shouting. Three other girls came running to say that the butterfly was hatching, RIGHT NOW!  I was sure they were kidding me and said so, but they grabbed my fingers with their tiny hands and dragged us back down to the safe spot we had made for the cocoon.

And, guess what..

.ImageImageImageImageImage

It took hours for it to un-crinkle and spread its huge, beautiful wings.  So we moved it to the sun and watched while we had lunchImageImageImage

And when it finally flew away, one of the kids burst into tears! I thought he had been hurt, but he said he was sad because his Mommy was going to miss it. (and I felt that little tug in my heart, that miracles always cause). We kept a close eye on it, and his Mommy got here just in time to see it take flight and go off out of sight.

I did find the other cocoon, which hasn’t yet hatched. Hopefully, another group of kids will get to see this little miracle at Peaceful Valley Farm!

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Easter Eggs Au Natural-recipes for natural color

Today, we dyed eggs with natural, food based colors and had some really great results. I will admit, that some of them were woefully slow and not too eggciting in the color department, so I added a few drops of food coloring to take them up a notch. This is what we got, using Blackberries, red Cabbage, Spirulina, Paprika, and beets. Fill a 1/2 pint jar (or equivalent size cup) with the food stuffs, chopped up, pour boiling water over it, and let sit about 1/2 hour. Add 2 tbsp of vinegar. For Paprika (which was my fave color) used 2 TBSP Paprika, to 1/2 pint water + vinegar. For the Blackberry colors, smoosh them up.

Au natural takes longer, but the colors (especially on our already multi colored eggs) are beautiful!

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Bad News/Good News- the story of two ducklings

The bad news is that over the weekend we lost power for 5 hours, during the day. It was the most rain and wind we have had in ages and I’m always thankful for the rain. This time of year, I’m in full hatch mode, filling my incubators with fertile eggs. I ended up losing about 12 dozen eggs, in various states of incubation, some only a few days from hatching.

In the past, when this has happened, I tried SO hard to save them. Then, I had some that had just hatched, some in progress. I slept, some, on the couch, with the dog, so I could keep stoking the woodstove, which had eggs, in towels, in casserole dishes piled all around it. All I got in the end was a poor night’s sleep (although Emma Bean is a GREAT snuggler) and a bunch of dead chicks.

This time, I had one Aracona duckling that had hatched a few minutes before we lost power, and one that had started pecking its way out. I covered all the incubators with towels and watched the ducklings progress. The first one was doing ok, not shivering yet, and starting to fluff out. But the second one was stuck in it’s egg. It was starting to get clammy in the incubator and he was struggling to survive with only a tiny hole pecked through.
I started a big fire, finished the pipping by breaking the shell open, removing all the egg goo left on the duck, and toweling it off. Then I put a rack on the wood stove, a towel on a casserole dish, and the just born ducklings in the towel, wrapped up like a little sauna tee pee with a small hole in the top, on the rack. I’d let it sit there until the glass held some heat, then put it on the hearth for a while, over and over again, for 5 hours.

This time, for my efforts I got this

Welcome to Stormy and Windy, who spent the remainder of the evening curled up on my shoulder, under my hair, snoozing!

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A hunting we will go- the misadventures of a farm cat

We have farm cats, as all farms should.

They kind of suck at their jobs. My favorite one, Carlos,

disappeared a few months ago and miss him terribly. He was the fierce killer of rats and gophers. Tigger, the tabby, is 11 or so years old, and just not quite fast enough to catch the beasties.

And Bindi, the gray one, well,this is how she hunts.

Do you see the fierce teeth on that gopher?? (insert Monty Python quote here). It almost got away, but I pushed it back to her with a stick. It grabbed onto the stick and wouldn’t let go!

In the end, she ate the whole thing-teeth and all. While my eager Farm Campers cheered her on.

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By the stick, or by the carrot

LOOK AT WHAT I HAVE GROWN, PEOPLE!! 

These are my first carrots, and to say I was giddy when I plucked them from the dirt would not be exaggerating.  They are small to mid-sized and oh-so-sweet and almost buttery!  I fed the tops to my sweet lambkins.

Now I have to try not to obsess about the best use of them, and just MAKE use of them. (It’s a common mistake I make…I grow something that’s so special and fabulous to me, that I wait for the perfect way to use it.   The end result, too often, has been a soggy mess of organic goodness in the “rotter”, AKA the crisper in the fridge.)

There are many more carrots, in all sizes, shapes and colors, to come, so forgive me in advance for my excitement!

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March comes in like a lamb…or two

Yeah, the saying is that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, but I like to create my own reality!  

Recently, March came to Peaceful Valley Farm, like a lamb. Two of them, actually. These sweeties come from the amazing folks at Deep Root Ranch, in Watsonville. There, Jean and Bob raise sheep and hogs (as well as chickens, geese, and a few HUGE cows) in the most natural and organic way possible.  It’s idyllic there, with all the animals roaming around freely, enjoying the green grass and fresh air. We learned that, by strange coincidence, our Olivia-the-pig is the cousin of one of their hogs. Small world, farming.

I really hadn’t considered sheep, until my neighbor’s Suffolk Sheep started dropping babies recently. It was So fun to see the still wet lambs taking their first wobbly steps.  Then, we trekked up to Bonny Doon to visit Mali at Milk Mama Goat Farm and I fell for her East Freisian Sheep. They were so loving and let us pet and kiss them. (Of course, I think Mali has some special magic that makes all mammals love her!)

So, long story short, Mali turned me on to Jean and now we have two ewe lambs.  They were just weaned, but not tame, and it was an hour and a half fiasco finding the girls (by doing a quick reach around in a herd of sheep!) and getting them into crates. (Jean and Bob also have the patience of saints!!)

The lambs have been on the farm for almost 2 weeks now, and today they let the fives (my after school farm kids) hand feed and pet them.  My heart grew three sizes when little Ashton said, “I can’t believe I’m this close to a sheep!”  I hear ya, kid!!!

A big, wooly welcome to our girls, Shaun and BaaBaa