A rare midweek post: here are some pictures of our new sawmill operation.
Another nice evening with our South Roane reading circle/supper club, starting around six it lasted until long after dark. We have gathered once a month for the past two years to read and discuss climate change and peak resources and how they might affect farming here in our county. We rotate the gatherings between our farm and Kimberly Ann farm a couple of valleys and ten miles away.
Usually about ten area farmers or residents gather, bring food, homemade wine or beer. Invariably we spend time walking around the gardens and barnyards, before or after eating, chatting about the weather, our successes and failures. After a couple of hours we settle in to discuss the topic for the night. The readings have ranged from Wendell Berry to new works on permaculture.
Last night we read a governmental assessment on the Knoxville Food-shed, covering the 11 counties bordering Knox. It was a fairly benign piece that surveyed the state of agriculture in the region, what the region was capable of producing and what it was currently producing. It was fairly ambitious in tone, yet like so many such documents it walked a bland bureaucratic line, offering some substance tempered by the language of restraint and institutional structure.
It outlined three recommendations for the food-shed: USDA slaughterhouses, food corridors and food hubs. As the evening progressed, between the wonderful spread of food, a few pints of the local brew and the stimulating conversation I realized that our current cultural vocabulary was inadequate to explain or anticipate the future.
We lack, in this age of abundance, the vocabulary of the past. Our knowledge of the cycles of history has been reconstructed into ever ascending cycles plateauing into greatness. Knowledge of dark forces in the past, of the ebb and flow of empires and stability, has no place in our vocabulary of the present. Even as the current generation of twenty-somethings matriculate in their parents’ homes or on friends’ couches; as the drought ridden Imperial Valley begins to resemble more and more its southern cousin, the Death Valley, or as the planet racks up another hottest year on record and another species goes extinct as you read these words, we still cannot conjure a language of need.
It is not that we need to learn the words of despair. But we desperately need to learn the language of limitations. A Sysco selling local produce is not going to change our global trajectory or solve either climate change or peak resources. One of these days, whether in ten years or a hundred, one of the children of this culture will once again be able to write convincingly these words written by Kathryn Anne Porter, “I am a grandchild of a lost war, and I have blood knowledge of what life can be in a defeated country on the bare bones of privation.”
After a late evening shearing sheep with the help of neighbors, we reentered our home with well-earned appetites. I had done the prep work on this recipe hours earlier. So it was the matter of about thirty minutes before we set down to a late meal.
This is a favorite recipe, using ingredients produced on our farm.
Season a couple of inch-thick pork chops with salt and pepper and any herbs you like. Heat up a cast iron skillet and throw a knob of butter into the pan. Cook the chops about ten minutes a side. I’ll usually throw more butter into the pan when I turn them over. When the chops are done put them into the oven to keep warm.
Fry a few strips of bacon in the same skillet. Remove the bacon and add one chopped onion, sauté until soft. Add two diced garden tomatoes, a bit of wine or balsamic vinegar and let cook for a few minutes. Add some chopped homemade dill pickles (capers or olives also work well) and a large bunch of greens (about a pound). We used turnip greens last night but any garden greens would work.
Cover your skillet; turn the heat down to simmer for about five minutes. The greens start out bulky and piled high but quickly lose their volume within a few minutes. Uncover, crumble the bacon into the mixture and toss the ingredients. Spoon the ingredients over your pork chops so that it forms a nice pile on top. Make sure to spoon some of the pot liquor from the greens over the dish.
Before eating say a note of thanks to the pig (the one on your plate) and dig in. You might also thank me for turning you onto one of the best, and easiest, dinners in your repertoire.
Thanks to Mr. Reynaud for this recipe, from his French Feasts cookbook.
Reading this weekend: Plato’s Revenge: politics in the age of ecology by William Ophuls. I should, however, be reading the manual on our ancient New Holland manure spreader. A tension bar broke and I’m not sure if that might not signify something more technically advanced than my duct tape approach to all things mechanical would solve.
Important tip for you gardeners and farmers out there: bungee cords don’t last. This may seem self-evident. And this lesson is one I learn repeatedly. But please remember that when using a bungee cord to secure a gate or fencing around your garden that it will eventually rot and fall away. That falling away of the cord can then be interpreted by thirty sheep as an invitation to brunch.
Waking after my afternoon siesta, a civilized practice that I have adhered to since kindergarten, and one I am fortunate to share with my mate, I heard our flock bleating what I took to be signs of distress. Upon examination of the source of this sound I found the whole damn flock in the spring and summer gardens. Magnificent kale, three feet in diameter, reduced to a nub. Onion tops nibbled down to the bulbs, potato plants trampled in their haste to get to the cucumber patch. And what I thought was sounds of distress were instead the sounds of delight from gluttons stampeding into a casino buffet.
I chased them out the open fence line, aimed a few well-placed kicks to the rear of the dawdlers and replaced the bungee cords with some wire ties. Surveying the damage and I realized that they had probably been in there less than thirty minutes. It could have been worse. At least I got them out before they hit the dessert bar and eaten the tomatoes plants.
This has been a vacation week, cutting hay, weeding the gardens, bush hogging fields, hauling hogs to market, canning pepper sauce and a hundred other small tasks. We have had two farm volunteers this past week from the state of Vermont, two women in their mid-twenties on a summer hiatus from the job of looking for careers, spending the next few months working gratis on farms across the country. We provided room and board and our charming company each evening over dinner. They helped work through the mountain of tasks that kept getting bumped to the back burner. This morning they hit the road for Alabama. They planned to stop in Dayton, TN to visit the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial, just a short 30 minutes away from our farm.
On other fronts we have new bees and are working on our sawmill shed. The shed is 30×20 feet. It will house a portable sawmill and have room for storing cut lumber. The footings have been poured and the support posts set. Once the shed is completed we will order that sawmill and move forward on our woodlot management plan.
Our new beehives are in place and both are active. We had to introduce a new queen in one hive. Tomorrow we will get into the hives to determine her status and when to add a new hive body to each. Clover is still in bloom, so they should be getting plenty of pollen and nectar. However, we will supplement those sources with sugar water over the summer.
Finally, for this update, we have been working with the state forester and local extension agents on a plan to develop a remote pasture into a nut orchard. We have a pasture of about 6-8 acres that is seldom used for cattle or hay. We had discussed using it to grow pines for a crop, harvestable in 16 years. But we’d prefer to use it for a food crop. Still in the exploratory stage, but excited about a new project. Because, we know nothing stays static on a farm.
Now why are those cattle bawling?
Cindy was on the phone trying to get directions to a new source of feeder pigs.
Cindy: We’ll be coming from up around Sweetwater. (The pig farmer was around Cleveland, TN.)
Farmer: OK. Turn on the road that takes you to Dalton, GA.
Cindy: You mean Dalton Pike? (What he had left out at this point in his instructions: take I-75 south 30 miles to the second Cleveland exit. Turn left on 64 and follow about 5-6 miles until you see the signs for Dalton Pike. Turn left. Fortunately, we had both been in that area a number of times over the years.)
Cindy: OK. How far down Dalton Pike?
Farmer: A bit. Y’all want to turn near the old school they tore down. (Hmm, a bit problematic for guests from out of town.)
Cindy: Helpfully, “Any other landmarks?”
Farmer: There is a big golf course where you need to turn. (Bingo!)
Cindy: What road should we look for…?
Farmer: The new road.
Cindy: OK. We take the new road next to the Golf Course. What next?
Farmer: Turn right at the first stop sign. Go past the old dairy barn and look for my road on the left. I’m the last house on the left.
Cindy: How far down is the old dairy barn? (This area of the state is littered with barns old and new.)
Farmer: A fair bit.
Cindy: About how many miles is the old barn?
Farmer: Oh, a few.
Cindy: (Giving up on this line on inquiry.) What is the name of your road?
Farmer: Green Valley.
As it turned out we found his farm with no problems. And, the new road was conveniently named New Road.
Reading this weekend: Uncivilization: the dark mountain manifesto by Paul Kingsnorth. A short arts based critique of any technological solutions, in part, to our current dilemmas.
It has been a busy week getting the garden in for the summer, moving the cattle and sheep to new pastures and having an early season dinner in the backyard. So, time for one from the archives.
This Farm Note from the archives was written in April 2009. This is before I began to regularly post on the blog. The Farm Notes began in 1999 and were shared for those years with a group of friends and family. Over the coming year I will post periodically from those archived Notes.
Farm life has gotten real busy now that spring has arrived. We are in in the middle of the annual barn cleaning, and most of what’s removed has to be dug out by hand. The resulting compost pile of bedding and sheep manure from wintering our flock has grown to a stack eight feet high and 20 feet long. I love the smell as the mixture steams in the corner of the inner corral. It smells like diving into a Louisiana pond on a summer’s day. All creosote-y and good, that’s a childhood thing you might not understand.
So here are some pictures from our busy farm, including a compost pile or two.
What Your Well-shod Farmer Is Wearing
On the farm I wear my steel-capped wellingtons 80% of the time.
For muck, and high wet grass and sheer ease to put on they can’t be beat. When working in the woods or going for a walk to check on the cattle, I reach for my Timberland work boots. And for fine warm afternoons in the garden, Birkenstocks are ideal.
I Got Your Polar Vortex Soup, Right Here
During one of our single digit nights I fixed this Scotch broth. A perfectly simple soup made better by using the “odd bits”.
2lbs. lamb neck or soup bones
2 tbsp. barley
½ cup of finely chopped carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, celery and parsley
Use a large Dutch oven and fill with two quarts of water. Add meat and bring to a boil, skim off any scum. Add barley, salt and pepper. Reduce to simmer, partially covered for an hour.
Add veggies, partially cover. Cook for one more hour. Remove the meat and let cool. Separate the meat from the bones. Add meat to soup. Season and serve.
The wind is up, the brush pile is large, give me some matches
An elderly neighbor stepped out his back door two weeks ago on a fine blustery day and burned his brush pile, then burned a couple of acres of his in-laws. Then to keep the fun rolling his fire burned another few acres of an adjoining property before being stopped just shy of a house. Having been stymied in that direction it took off and burned six acres of our winter pastures before our volunteer fire department in South Roane County arrived and put out the fire.