Monday, October 31, 2011

Boyband Farmers

The gang over at Yeo Valley Organic Milk are marketing geniuses.  Their farm-themed music videos crack me up every time.  My favorite was their milk rap, until I saw this boyband-esque gem.  Now it's a close call.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

I don't even like pink...

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...but a pink john deere tractor is PRETTY AWESOME.  A girl can dream, right?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Warm Apples for a Snowy Saturday

Okay, TECHNICALLY it's not a snowy day.  But I know it's coming.  And everyone I know is already under several inches (including the chickens!  poor Neckie is going to need a turtleneck to stay warm!).  A nor'easter in October sure makes it seem like winter is just around the corner.

After lunch today I made baked apples.  I peeled and hollowed out 6 large apples (I used winesaps, because that's what we had picked the most of) and then sauteed them top-side-down in butter in my cast-iron pan.  When they had a nice golden color, I flipped them back over and filled them to the brim with a mixture of diced apple, brown sugar, oats, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds.  I poured about a cup of apple cider into the pan, placed the tops back on the apples, and slid them into the oven for an hour.

The end result was incredible.  Especially when drizzled with a little goats milk caramel.  A healthy, warm afternoon snack.

The baked apples reminded me of another delicious apple dish my mom baked a few weeks ago - mini pies!

Using a hand-pie maker, she filled a simple pie dough with sauteed apples.

The secret ingredient?  Goat's milk caramel, again!  The earthy sweet flavor compliments the apples perfectly.

All I have to say is mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Urban Farm Planning Webinar

I spotted this adorable Bantam hen (only the size of my hand) sitting on a nest of 5 brand new chicks this afternoon when I made a trip to Terra Firma Farm in Stonington for eggs and sausage.  So tiny!

I participated in a webinar today at lunch for Urban Farm Planning.  I'm still so impressed with the technology available to take an hour-long class during lunch.  I've always loved school, and the formality of scheduling time to learn and think specifically about farm planning is just the structure I need.  I work on farm planning each day, but not without distraction, so progress is slow.  Slower than I'd like, anyway.

The course offered no new information, but a simple overview of the Marketing, Operating, and Financing research that needs to go into writing a farm business plan.  They spoke specifically about Urban Farms - farms built on abandoned lots in cities to provide fresh food for those in need.  It takes care to bring in soil and compost to start an urban farm (as well as to be sure there are no toxic substances in the lot) and to plant intensively so that a lot of food can be grown in a small space.  It's a great way to bring fresh food to the city, where there often aren't even grocery stores to provide the basic food needs.

I finished the course feeling excited to tackle my own business plan, especially because I have a meeting with a farm service agency loan provider on Tuesday and want to start off on the best foot possible.  I know that getting my ideas down on paper (even if I know they will change) is an important step - not only in clarifying my goals but in securing investors and support.  But I keep getting bogged down in the specifics.  And then I get stressed because of my lack of progress.  Apparently I'm more of a procrastinator than I thought.

Well, that blog post was a good 15 minutes of procrastination!  I think I'll stretch, make a cup of tea, and get back to work!  Well, just until I have to start making dinner...

Thursday, October 27, 2011


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I'm not a very patient person.

I like to pretend that I am, but the truth is that I am not.  If there is a shortcut, I'll take it.  If I can work harder and get things done faster, I'll do it.  I know how to make risotto (a notoriously time consuming dish to make because of all of the stirring) in 20 minutes.  Without stirring.  That's not bragging; that's admitting that even with tasks that I enjoy doing, I almost always manage to be more efficient for the sake of not having to wait.

Which is why searching for a farm is a true test of my patience.  I listened when everyone shared stories of finding their dream farm or home and it taking 3-4 years.  I nodded, but couldn't really comprehend waiting that long.  And I still can't.  I've been searching for a month and a half and it feels like an eternity.

Yesterday the homeowner of the  Picturesque North Stonington Farm called me by surprise.  Earlier in the week I had asked my real estate agent to make another appointment to see the property and to take soil tests.  I also broached her on the topic of leasing-to-buy - an option that would make the property more affordable for me, and could benefit the homeowner as well.

Unfortunately, I didn't even get to discuss this option with the landowner (and probably never will).  She called to make an issue out of wanting to see the property again, about me needing a lawyer (which is true, but very ahead of the game), and about her not budging a dollar on the asking price.  I was caught off-guard by her forwardness and aggressiveness (for example, making it clear that she would not be paying for a radon test because the radon levels are find...something I never inquired about and will need to see in writing anyway).  Mostly I was disappointed because it became clear just how much patience I would need to have with this property.  Now, even more then securing funding and finding a decent job, I have to wait until they are truly ready to sell the house (ie. negotiate).  

With the market so poor and winter on the horizon, I'm not worried about the property selling.  Especially with the landowners unreasonable nature.  And if it does, well then it's not my dream farm after all.  I'm excited to see the house again next week with a better attention to detail, but I no longer have hopes of settling there anytime soon.  I knew that before, but I didn't really admit it to myself until now.

And I'll need patience for seeking out other properties as well.  I'm getting to the "bottom" of my list of potential farms to lease/buy/visit.  The list will grow, but it's momentarily stalled.  I have plenty to work on - business plans, holistic management homework, job searching, seeking additional properties - but not too many specifics.

It's too bad patience isn't a vegetable crop - like mustard greens, which grow quickly this time of year, or butternut squash, which stores really well through the winter.  Then again, I suppose I'd need farmland to grow that as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I won!

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Remember THIS little t-shirt design I doodled a few weeks ago?  Well, luck have it, it was a winner!  I couldn't be more excited!  AND I now get to attend the Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns this December.  It's a great opportunity to network with other young farmers and learn crazy-cool things like silvopasturing, whole pig butchering, grant writing, business planning, and more.

And it seems that with snow in the forecast (though I'd be surprised if it hit our part of the state tomorrow), the farming season has transitioned to the farm-learning season.  From November through March there is a SLEW of farmer workshops, conferences, and meetings.  Each week, it seems, there are opportunities to learn new skills and improve your farm business.  It's one of my favorite parts about winter (aside from the warm clothes, time for reading and craft projects, and copious amounts of fresh baked bread).

Even if the snow comes, I hope it will melt quickly enough.  While I'm ready for winter in theory (ie. hot chocolate), snow makes it very difficult to tour farm properties.  Frozen earth makes it impossible to test soil.  Icy roads make it difficult to travel.  I need a few more weeks to find the perfect property or come up with a reasonable plan before I can begin my hibernation.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Farm Visit: Hurricane Farm

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This morning I headed up to visit a fellow young farmer at Hurricane Farm in Scotland, CT.  Erica owns a small homestead and leases larger parcels of land from neighbors to run her diversified farm - beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, maple syrup, and a small amount of vegetables, fruits, and honey.  She sells at farmers' markets and also through a meat CSA.

I really enjoyed walking around Erica's homestead because it felt so manageable.  Her and her husband (and kids) take on only what they know they can manage and grow very slowly (their first year they started with 2 turkeys; several years later they have worked their way up to nearly 100).

The other thing that I appreciated was that Erica purchases male calves from a local dairy farm, which she bottle feeds and raises for beef.  Even though dairy cows grow more slowly and are generally used for veal, the calves are much more affordable and make better use of the local agricultural system.

It's so nice to visit other farms to see all of the unique growing practices and learn from their mistakes/successes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Holistic Farm Planning + Fall Fun with Friends

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Yesterday was my first Beginning Women Farmers class on Holistic Farm Planning in Hartford, offered through the CT chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. Fifteen other women, plus mentors and teachers, gathered for a full day of farm planning.

The class was great and exactly what I've been searching for: a way to incorporate my values into a truly sustainable business plan (one that incorporates social, economic, and environmental factors).  I was not expecting it to be so challenging.  For most of the class I felt pushed and overwhelmed.  It takes a lot of energy and thoughtfulness to really figure out what I'm searching for in life.

We spent the morning determining who the decision makers are on our farm and what resources we have (human, material, natural, and financial).  This was pretty straight forward, but time consuming.  When I finally "finished" making lists and working with the other woman in the group, I felt really supported to know how many resources I have.

The afternoon session was much more difficult.  We worked to develop Quality of Life Statements.  To do so, we answered questions like:

What do you value about life on the farm?
What things energize you on your farm?
What depletes you on your farm?
What do you want to contribute to your farm/community/world?
What do you love in life?
Describe your ideal economic situation.
Define the relationships you desire with those closest to you.
How would you like to be in terms of your physical, mental, and spiritual health?

From these questions we were able to identify some key values about ourselves (ie. independence, sense of accomplishment, time with family).  We're supposed to work on developing our values (guided by a SLEW of homework) before our class in a few weeks, as this information becomes the basis of our business plan and our decision making.  Once it's mostly written down, it will become a very valuable tool.

After the program, I headed up to visit friends at Scantic Valley Farm in Somers.  They have a beautiful farm and grow strawberries, pumpkins, Christmas trees, tobacco, beef, and pork.  It was really nice to enjoy the brisk autumn weather by wandering through their (what felt like to me once I was inside) enormous corn maze.  One of my favorite parts of their farm is the food cart, where they cook up burgers and hot dogs grown right on the farm.  You don't get more local than that.

After the corn maze, I gathered with a bunch of my young farmer friends for a harvest feast: roasted turkey, stuffing, squash, greens, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce.  A meal grown almost entirely by the women gathered around the table, and prepared by the same hands.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it felt so nice to enjoy a sneak-peek with friends after a beautiful October day.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Farm Tour: Picturesque North Stonington Farm

We found a farm today that could only be described as: "the one."

I know that sounds like a leap, especially after all of the cat-filled, hoarder-obsessed, fixer-uppers that we've been looking at, but this house was just different.  My mom had been eying the property for more than a year, but when I was finally ready to start shopping around, it was removed from the market.  Surprisingly, it went back on the market at the beginning of the week - for sale by owner.

I think it would be easiest to share a list of all of the things that I loved about the property:
1. Location (location, location): 20 minutes from my parents house, 10 minutes the grocery store (ie. civilization) and shopping centers, on a main road but privately set back
2. The property: 11.3 acres of pasture surrounded by state-owned land, conserved for agricultural use, including another 10-15 acres of pasture and a thick forested border that I would be able to farm
3. Adorable house: a brand new cape (1994), clean and in pretty good condition (aside from an ugly wallpapered room and some bad linoleum flooring); small enough to be easy to maintain, but spacious enough to grow into as a family; huge closets; an attached one bedroom "apartment" with a separate entrance, kitchenette, and full bathroom - perfect for guests or an apprentice; and just simple charm.
4. Outbuildings: a three-stall horse barn (nice and large) and a 4-bay equipment shed
5. Fencing: most of the property was already fenced, with plenty of trees for shade
6. A brook...with a bridge. Swoon.

It was just plain beautiful.  A working farm, full of potential.  I know that you're not supposed to imagine yourself living at a house before you sign a contract, but I could help but to see myself living there.

HOWEVER...the downside is that it's really way to expensive ($399).  And it's owned by two family members - one that is not at all interested in selling - so it's unlikely that the price will drop.  Unless I find a really good paying job in the very near future, this is only going to end in heartache.

I know that, and yet I can't help but feel hopeful about this property.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seed Shopping

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I've been seed shopping online today.  Not for any particular purpose or for any spot of land, just because I love reading about all of the different varieties of vegetables, learning all of the creative names and unique uses, and looking at the beautiful pictures.

The 2012 seed catalogs will be coming in the mail in a few weeks.  Just in time for winter dreaming.  I sure hope I have a place to plant seeds before the snow falls.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Farm Tour: Stonington Bungalow

My apologies for the lack of posting the past couple of days!  Monday was a whirlwind of farm tours and events, and yesterday I was unable to login to post.  Oh, well!

On Monday morning I toured a farm on the market right down the street from my parents house.  It was a cute bungalow-style house on 6.7 acres, in a great location in town (and in my "price range", listed at $299).  The property was off a main road, but secluded, a nice mix of lightly wooded forest (perfect for raising pigs) and pasture.

There were several outbuildings on the property, including a large garden shed and a three-stall horse barn.

Even the original homestead is still on the property (though from the looks of it it fell straight from Kansas!).  Not in livable condition, but a very cool piece of history.

The location was great, the property was pretty beautiful, and the house was fine.  It was in pretty good condition (though I do have to ask, is hoarding a new TREND?  My goodness, folks...if the world ends today are you REALLY going to need 400 bottles of expired barbecue sauce?), but I didn't care for the layout.  The entire upstairs was a master suite - complete with a balcony, jacuzzi, and a living room - very luxurious, but not ideal for raising a family.

A very good option, but I'm not sure it's "the one."  That feels like such a sappy thing to say, but I'm just not ready to settle yet.  The search continues!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Farm Visit: Ocean Breeze Dairy Farm

Today was Cabot's Open Farm Sunday - when the coop (known for their cheddar cheese) opens all of the farms in New England for free farm tours.  I'm always interested in an opportunity to tour a farm, so my family and I headed to Ocean Breeze Farm in Westerly, RI, where my grandmother lives.  I was especially excited to see the farm because it's right on the ocean and it's for sale.

Except that the people at the farm said that it was not currently for sale (despite the sign in front of the house) and the farm was in desperate need of repairs.  The majority of the 60 acres of open land were used to grow corn, which is made into silage (essentially pickled corn) that can be fed to the cows year-round.  This is the way most conventional dairy farms operate.  It is much better, however, if a farm can set up a system that keeps the cows out grazing on the pasture for the majority of the year.  Cows are designed to eat grass and pasture-fed cows produce very high-quality milk.

I was a little bummed to see a farm with such potential that seemed to be just barely getting by.  This is largely because the government regulates the price of milk, setting a fixed price per pound, and for several years the price has been much lower than is needed to feed the cows and pay the farmers.  The government provides subsidies to some farms, but it's hardly enough to get by, let enough improve barns and purchase the fencing and supplies needed to transition to a pasture-based system.  Our milk industry is broken and desperately needs to be fixed.

Being at Ocean Breeze reminded me of one of my favorite dairy farms in CT: Ferris Acres Creamery in Newtown.  I visited Ferris Acres on Tuesday with K, for one last taste of their delicious ice cream before they close for the season.

Ferris Acres Creamery has some of the best ice cream I've ever tasted.  And with flavors like Route 302 Moo (chocolate ice cream with fudge and chocolate chunks), Paradise Found (coconut ice cream with fudge and almonds), and PBC2 (chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls and peanut butter cups), it's hard not to dream about it all the time.  When they open in the spring, we visit the farm every night.  Ice cream for dinner is a MUST after a winter without.

The farm is also beautiful.  The cows are outside almost everyday on pasture.  If you visit at 5:00 in the evening, the main road is closed while the cows cross the street to come into the barn for milking.  Ferris Acres is the last working dairy farm in Fairfield County.  I eat as much ice cream as I can to try and keep it that way.

Milk, ice cream, butter, sour cream, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese - I love it all.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm.  Can't wait to have my own cow someday!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Farm Visit: Footsteps Farm

Me and my tamworth piglet, spring 2010

I had the opportunity this morning to visit Footsteps Farm in Stonington, CT.  Craig, and his wife Sheryl, farm there on land that has been in his family since the early 1700s.  They now raise certified humane pigs, cows, turkeys, and chickens in a rotational grazing system.  I was very excited when he offered to give me a tour of his farm, because it was a great opportunity to meet and network with another local farmer, and because I heard that he raises tamworth pigs.  On acorns.  My dream farm in action.

And it's true that Footsteps Farm shares my love of cured pork projects.  Craig has the dream of creating a traditional Spanish-style Serrano Ham here in CT, and he's spent the past several years developing his own breed of pig he thinks will be perfect for the job.  It's a mix of Large Black (a big pig known for their size and color - black pork has the best marbling and big hams are always better), Berkshire (the most well-known breed in the restaurant circles because of its shape and high-quality pork), and Tamworths (a traditional New England breed known for its exceptional mothering skills, foraging, and cold tolerance, as well as for its bacon).  He calls them Large Shire-worths and he's still working to breed just the right characteristics.

And he hopes to begin curing hams in the next few years.  The perfect ham requires the perfect pig (raised on pasture, nuts, and aromatic plants for 14-24 months) and the perfect curing conditions (closely monitoring the temperature and humidity).  It's an art, to say the least, and it takes several years of dedication to learn how to make an outstanding product.  But there's nothing like a traditional Spanish (or Italian) style ham and it certainly seems like a goal worthy of dedicating your life to.

He's still tweaking his rotation system and clearing trees from his pastures, but I really enjoyed seeing his farm set-up.  Once the piglets are weaned from their mothers, they live in groups of 15-20 pigs that rotate their way around the farm in 1/2 acre paddocks.  He feeds a very small amount of grain and encourages the pigs to forage for what they need by eating greens and rooting around for bugs and other good stuff.  To add even more diversity and nutrients to the soil, he also rotates through his small herd of Scottish Highland cattle, meat chickens, laying hens, and turkeys.  I could tell by the way that he talks and the way that he interacts with his animals that he has a strong understanding of how pigs interact with the forest/pasture and how proper management can lead to really healthy pigs and really delicious tasting pork.

What I enjoyed most was his careful explanations of his farm systems and clear answers to the many questions I had (about raising pigs, zoning, taxes, and agriculture in CT).  We sat on his porch for more than an hour chatting about agriculture in CT and I felt like I learned so much.  I especially enjoyed getting his feedback on my ideas of vegetable forages for pigs (planting carrots/beets/turnips/kale as part of a rotational grazing system to help diversify the pigs diet and make the most of your land).  He was intrigued and excited and I hope to continue working with him on the concept.

In fact, I'm going back on Monday afternoon to lend a hand castrating piglets (as well as meet another new farmer interested in starting a pork farm in North Stoningtion).  I'm not sure how I always manage to get myself involved in situations like this, but I suppose it's all part of the adventure!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Beginning Women Farmers Program

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I was accepted into the CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers Association) Beginning Women Farmers Program today!  Yay!  The program offers 10, full-day Holistic Farm Management classes from the fall through next spring.  It's a great opportunity to really develop a business plan, learn financial management, and have a strong group of mentors as I begin the process of planning my future farm.  As well as network with other women farmers from all over the state.  Our first class is next Saturday and I can hardly wait!

Old Friends Week

This week began with a slew of disappointments - the Windham gentleman's farm sold, another property that I was REALLY interested in leasing is being leased by a friend, and I wasn't offered positions at a few jobs that I had applied for.  I know these are minor set-backs in my "big picture" plan, but it's still discouraging.  I felt deflated.  I know it just means that these  opportunities aren't meant to be, and I still trust that the right job/farm/whatever is out there, but it doesn't make it any easier to essentially have to start over at square one.

And so I headed off to visit friends this week, another one of the big reasons that I left my job.  I visited K and the chickens (and loved every minute, especially with my little Pokey), met a close college friend that I haven't seen in months for tea, and even visited a few farm friends.

Wednesday I drove to Amherst to visit my good friend H at Old Friends Farm, where she works full-time making beautiful cut flower arrangements, bagging hundreds of pounds of mixed salad greens, and participating in all of the general tasks of running a market-based farm.  We enjoyed lunch together overlooking an amazing vista of burnt orange fall foliage and then spent the afternoon prepping salad greens, harvesting potatoes, and touring the farm.

One of my favorite parts was seeing their greenhouse full of ginger, a crop I know very little about.  In March they plant root stock (ordered from Hawaii) in their unheated hoop house, about 30' by 300'.  The roots are harvested this time of year and used for a myriad of dishes, from stir-fry to ginger molasses cookies.  You can even use the greens of the plant for steaming fish and other vegetables.  I've never been a fan of ginger (feeling that the fibrous texture and strong flavor can be overpowering), but fresh ginger is an entirely different vegetable.  For lunch I tried it pickled, on top of salad, and for dinner we sauteed the ginger with Hen of the Woods mushroom, leeks, garlic, and pasta: an incredible feast.  It was so nice to visit with H and see Amherst in the autumn; I forgot how much I loved it there.

Thursday I visited my farmer friend N at Hunt's Brook Farm in Quaker Hill. N and her husband lease the land there for a vegetable CSA, and it's a truly beautiful spot.  Over a cup of her incredible nettles tea, we chatted about being new farmers in CT and why we love it so much, and what makes it challenging.  There may be an opportunity to work in conjunction her farm next spring, growing produce for a low-income CSA, which is an exciting opportunity.

And today I spent the morning hanging out with my mom and the afternoon delving back into the world of exploring properties and farming opportunities.  It's exhausting and so easy to get wrapped up in the world wide web.  But visiting other farms and spending time with friends reminds me that I'm part of a larger movement.  I want to farm because it is important work.  I know deep down that I have what it takes, no matter the minor setbacks, and that I am supported by the farming community.

I am a greenhorn.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Progress Report: One month

It's hard to believe that it's been one month since I left my job and began searching for a farm of my own!

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Things I've Accomplished
1. Settled in at my parents house (I painted my room and a bunch of furniture, unpacked the essentials, and have been settling in nicely to my new daily routine)
2. Visited friends and family (especially CH, JA, JJ, HJH, and MF)
3. Toured potential properties to BUY (Windham Gentleman's Farm, Preston Christmas Tree Farm, Windham Cape Fixer-Upper,Windham Greenhouse/Nursery)
4. Toured potential properties to LEASE (Salem CSA, Stonington Tiny Flower Farm)
5. Applied for jobs (ice cream shop, farmigo, Farmland ConneCTions)
6. Researched nitty-gritties of starting a farm (leasing webinar, community farm workshop, non-profit vs. for profit)
7. Developed a new blog to track my adventures (you're here!)
8. Learn how to Make a video
9. Contact key agricultural leaders for assistance on starting my own farm
10. Enjoyed agriculture in CT (apple picking almost every week!, farm visits, farmers' markets, cheese festival)

Things I'm Still Working On
1. Finding a home for my chickens
2. Finding a job (or two)
3. Meeting more area farmers/taking farm tours
4. Approaching towns/land trusts/institutions about potentially leasing land
5. Putting myself out there and keeping my options open

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rooster Spa

I'm visiting my chickens today!  I couldn't be happier to get to spend time with all of my girls (and boy) on such a beautiful day.  This morning I did a few chores, including trimming Speckles' spurs.  They aren't incredibly long (I've seen pictures of them growing so long they curl around...similar to the world's longest human fingernail...gag), but the tips get sharp.  This is makes it painful when he occasionally attacks K, but also when he "gets affectionate" with the ladies.

Speckles is more than cooperative, but I wrap him in a towel to keep his wings tucked in and to keep him from hurting himself.  I borrowed my dog's nail clippers which worked like a dream.  Unfortunately, the I nicked the quick, which bled profusely.  I was concerned because I read that a rooster can actually bleed to death from this because of how quickly his blood pumps when he crows.  I was able to stop the bleeding pretty quickly with white flour and minor pressure, and he healed just fine.  Even after it stopped bleeding, he stayed lying on the ground eating scratch from my hand.  He didn't even seem to notice he had been bleeding.  He just LOVES the attention.  A morning at the spa!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Columbus Day

Hope you enjoy this beautiful weather and have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cheese Festival

This afternoon (after a lovely family brunch) we headed to a cheese festival at Beltane Farms in Lebanon, CT.  I LOVE cheese, and any excuse to nosey around a farm, so I was excited when my parents were eager to join me for a Sunday drive.

I had taken a cheese-making workshop from the farm's owner, Paul Trubey, a few years ago after I had been working on a dairy farm and fell in love with dairy products of all sorts (cottage cheese, aged cheeses, yogurt, and, of course, ice cream).  At the time his operation was still fairly new and he was milking about 20 goats to make an award-winning chevre.

Now the business has grown to include the milk of a neighboring goat dairy, totaling 115 goats.  Together their milk makes a variety of cheeses (fresh and aged), soap, and even Cajeta, a Mexican-style caramel produced by Peace Tree Desserts (and ABSOLUTELY melt-in-your-mouth delicious).

In fact, of the 20 or so artisan food producers at the festival, I didn't taste anything that wasn't delicious.  We left with a spread of local cheeses (including my favorite tarentaise cheese from Thistle Hill Farm), two different types of Chow Chow (a green tomato relish), and a precious jar of Rosemary Cajeta Caramel.  We also sampled local wines, cookies, cottage cheese, and more.

The best part of the afternoon was seeing the goats and exploring the property.  The homestead was small, and home to 2 cows, 3 donkeys, 20 milking goats, a few kids, and a flock of chickens.  The milking parlor had only 2 stanchions for milking, and the cheese making room wasn't much larger.  It was hard to imagine exactly how much milk, and then cheese, they were able to produce on their own.  But it was impressive that such a small farm could produce an award-winning specialty product and market themselves well enough to be known across the state.  Mmmmmmmmm...cheese.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Farm Tour: A Tiny Flower Farm

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I took advantage of this GORGEOUS autumn day and continued on my quest to find the perfect farm.  I had heard through farm friends in the area that a popular local flower farmer, well known for her displays at the Stonington Farmers' Market, was looking to transition her business and homestead to someone younger and passionate about agriculture.

The situation was ideal, and something I wish more aging farmers were capable of organizing.  There is an apartment on the property where the "farmer in training" could live while he/she learned the business and established him/herself.  Then, at the agreed upon time, the farmer transitions the property and provides some financing if needed (sort of like a lease-to-buy scenario).

The woman who owns the property was extremely knowledgable and passionate about what she does, very involved in town politics for agriculture and land conservation.  I appreciated her taking time to show me her property and her home.  In her mid-seventies, the property is becoming too much for her to care for and she wants to be able to devote more time to her writing, without having to worry about the farm.  Something I hope I will be able to do when my body begins to tire and I'm looking to slow down in my old age.

The property was well-maintained, in a beautiful part of Stonington, right by the river.  The property was tiny - just over 1 acre.  She made the most of it by using intensively planted beds (a mix of vegetables, flowers, and herbs), combined with perennials immediately around her house.  Each week she harvests flowers into large metal buckets to bring to market.  There she assembles arrangements to with whatever guests would like.  She almost always goes home empty-handed, and has for the past 15 years.

She has also recently begun to get involved in wedding flowers.  There is a large demand for locally, sustainably grown wedding flowers in this area because of the large number of wedding venues.  And the flowers receive a premium price - $2,00-5,000+ per wedding.  She works with only "non-bridezillas" and picks up all of the containers and flowers after the wedding to be recycled.  I was extremely impressed with what she was able to produce from such a small area.  Her main flower garden was about the size of a two-car garage, and she makes enough to support herself.  Certainly admirable.

The only real negative was the size of the property.  There was some room to grow, if some of the woodlands were cleared, but the land was already planted intensely and being used really well.  The property was very residential and far too small to have any livestock (even chickens, though the town is making strides towards allowing 5-7 hens per lot).  I could supplement the land by leasing other parcels, but the immediate homestead was limited.  And I can't live without my chickens...and a pig...and my dream cow.

In any regard, it was the most solid option I've encountered to date.  A business.  A means of paying for things.  A real, working farm (even though it was SO tiny).  The woman who owns the property was extremely helpful in sharing area contacts and information on Stonington agriculture.  I was extremely grateful and hope that it is the beginning of getting to know her more, as well as other growers in the area.

I do have to say - searching for my dream  is EXHAUSTING.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Farm Tour: Windham Greenhouse/Nursery

Right down the street from the Windham Cape Fixer-Upper was another property that had a lot of potential.  The property was a former poultry farm, turned nursery/greenhouse, that had closed about a decade ago.  From pictures, the house seemed pretty well maintained and it was sitting on 6 acres of mostly cleared pasture.

The owner of the property greeted us unhappily as we pulled into the driveway.  Let's just say, he gave a terrible vibe for the property and especially the house.  He is currently renting the upstairs of the house to tenants, so we were unable to really see the upstairs and unable to really get a feel for the downstairs of the house because it was set up as an apartment of sorts.  Although things seemed to be in general good repair from afar, the house had zero character.  There was really nothing of note, good or bad.  I felt uninterested.

The buildings in the back were also lacking in character.  There were two very long buildings (roughly 12 x 70 feet) formerly used for poultry housing.  Aside from the stale smell, they were in pretty good repair and offered usable indoor space of some sort.  In the center of the two buildings was the frame for a greenhouse, also in pretty good condition.  There were a few toppled buildings in the back of the property and a small shed in the side.

The land itself was fairly level, but unkempt.  It would need a good amount of work to convert it into a lush pasture. Again, more than an acre of the property was unusable wetlands.

All in all, the property seemed usable, but left me feeling uninspired.  Normally I have lots of visions for farm space, but the long buildings and odd design left me a little lost.  At $279K, it was only slightly less expensive than the Windham Gentleman's Farm.  We drove by the Gentleman's Farm on the way home.  It was striking how well-maintained and beautiful the property was.

So, after four property tours, the gentleman's farm is still in the lead.  The next step would be to research the zoning for the property (to see if livestock is allowed) and to explore financing options.  Financing the house requires me working, and while I've applied for quite a few positions, I still haven't had any leads.  And I'm not going to settle for just any job quite yet.

I'm also not sure that Windham is the right area for me.  It certainly seems like the right area for purchasing farmland, but it's not what I had originally dreamt.  I moved back to Mystic to settle here, and I'm not ready to give up on that dream yet (even if it means losing out on some of the beautiful opportunities in Windham).

So where do we go from here?  Back to Mystic!  Tomorrow I'm looking at a leasing opportunity and next week I hope to visit the town hall to get more information on potential usable space in the area.  In other words, the search continues!

Farm Tour: Windham Cape Fixer-Upper

Optimism is a characteristic of most farmers.  The ability to be excited about the upcoming growing season, to spend the winter planning and improving, regardless of how terrible the season before was.

Optimism, I'm learning, is also a characteristic of house-hunters.  Each new opportunity has the exciting potential to be "the one."

Which is why I spent all last night super-excited to tour this cape in Windham.  I had really liked the town of Windham when we drove around last weekend - particularly the fact that it seems to have affordable farmsteads (not something I've been able to find close to Mystic).  The 1720s cape, two-level barn, and large three-car garage/workshop were situated on 11 acres of cleared land.  The property was a corner lot off a main road with ample off-street parking (perfect if the workshop area were converted to a farmstand).

There were no pictures of the interior of the house listed anywhere on the internet, so I assumed it was a fixer-upper.  But, the property was listed at $150K, which definitely felt more affordable and would leave a decent amount of savings to begin slowly fixing the house.  I had already pumped myself up for conquering the project.

And I felt the same way, even after I found out that the current home owner is a hoarder.  Like on that horrible TV show.  A full dumpster in the driveway and a house filled to the brim with...crap.  And I was still optimistic after learning that nothing in the house had been renovated or worked on since her father was alive in the 1960s.  And that the upstairs ceilings were just over 6' tall (about as tall as K).  But I was drawn by the character in the house - the history.  I loved the all of the windows, the fireplaces, the wood floors, the built-ins, and the overall floorplan.  It was difficult to look beyond the clutter, but I saw the home had potential.

Then I saw the barn, which was in even worse disrepair and equally as filled with crap.  The garage also needed work (insulation, a new roof, etc, etc, etc).  Three old buildings is a BIG project.  But one that could be tackled slowly, I justified.

And then I looked beyond the trees out to the 11 acres of land.  The land dropped off (too steep to climb) into wetlands.  Nearly the entire backyard.  The realtor even shared stories of skating and fishing in the former pond.  Wetlands are highly protected and there was no way the land could be farmed, or really used for anything other than as protected wetlands.

The property across the street was a cleared, 5-acre field owned by a local church.  If that field had belonged to the house instead of the wetlands, I may have seriously considered it.  Which, in retrospect, probably would have been a terrible idea.  There were too many unknowns (about the well, the septic, the asbestos in the basement) and too little worth salvaging to make the project seem financially feasible.  Even if I got a good deal on the property, I  would rather spend my time building a farm business than fixing up a house.

Sigh.  And I still have a sore throat from the terrible smell of the house...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Check out my video!

The Chickens of Two Blue Boots from Brooke Welles on Vimeo.

One of my goals for my downtime between farming gigs was to learn how to make a video.  I'm always moved by videos on the internet and they can be really great ways to convey a message, show the action of a farm, educate others, and even solicit funding.  For my first attempt, I filmed some quick footage of my chickens before I moved back to Mystic.  Using iMovie, I edited the video into clips, uploaded a soundtrack, and VOILA!  A video!

(Though, I'll be honest, it was a little easier said than done.)

Can't wait to make my next video!

Happiness is...

...a mug of hot tea, a warm baked cookie, and an afternoon of research with my dog by my side.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Two Blue Boots Goes Apple Picking...AGAIN!

I just can't get enough of the crisp fall air, the sweet crunch, and the visits to a farm.  Apple picking has certainly become my favorite fall pastime.  Today we visited a new orchard (Maplelane Farms in Preston), which grows their apples on a trellis system.  Each row was labelled and each tree was BRIMMING with fresh fruit.  It kind of felt like going to a library that had every book in stock.  We picked 30 pounds of apples (all different varieties) and filled the fridge for winter!  

Now I'm dreaming of warm baked apple recipes...

Farm Tour: Preston Christmas Tree Farm

This morning I visited a second potential farm for purchase: a 50 acre former Christmas tree farm in Preston, CT.  The property was listed for $299 (the same as the Windham Gentleman's Farm), but with 8 times the amount of property and a location closer to Mystic.

Though geographically closer to Mystic, we found that it actually took longer to get to Preston than it did to get to Windham because it is most directly accessible through windy back roads.  The property was located in a pretty farm-filled neighborhood, right down the street from a large dairy farm, a feed supply, and an elementary school.

The house was, well, a disappointment.  I keep telling myself that I'm not buying a house, I'm buying a farm, but it is difficult to make such a large investment in a home I can't see raising a family in.  After being greeted by a large ash tray on the front porch (a major turnoff for me), the small raised ranch was decorated with a cat or two in each room (another major turnoff).  Most of the kitchen was taken up by a large, non-functioning wood stove.  The layout was sort of awkward, as well.  There was only one bathroom in the house, but it was just as large as the master bedroom.  The other bedrooms were downstairs in the not-so-finished basement, which seemed pretty wet.  The house was livable and decent, but not something to get excited about.

I was excited to tour the property.  The satellite images showed that it extended straight back from the main road - small Christmas tree fields lined either side of a farm road and there was a sizable wooded buffer between the neighboring houses (always helpful for maintaining good relations).  As we began to tour the property, it became clear that those images linked from the real estate site were about 10 years old.

There was a well-maintained grass path directly through the property, but it was difficult to see the land on either side because it was so overgrown.  Several large trees were toppled across the road.  As we walked it seemed like a very large portion of the property was a rock ledge (I climbed all the way to the top, but didn't get a better view of anything).  The opposite side of the road seemed to have a pond - the land was extremely soggy and I could hear what sounded like a small stream.  The Christmas Trees (what was left of them, anyway) were very large and overgrown.

There were two small sheds (formerly used for selling trees) and a larger shed (which looked to me just to be a two car garage) on the property as well.  None of the outbuildings were capable of providing animal housing, but they would make for good storage.

All in all, it was voted a dud!  While the property certainly had potential (I think, though it was sort of hard to tell how much usable land there was between the rock ledge and the pond), it would be far too costly and labor intensive at this point (and after that sizable a down payment) to return the property to farmland.  And I'm still recovering from an asthma attack over the cats, which doesn't leave me with warm and fuzzy thoughts of home.  That being said, it was really good to tour another property, meet a great farm real estate agent, and be able to  cross a property off of my "Possibilities" list.

Up next: we're headed back up to Windham to tour two more potential properties!