Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey Day

It's time to talk about turkey. And like any other subject involving death, I have avoided it long enough. Last Tuesday Richard and I took the little kids and headed out to The Wren's Nest Farm in Pueblo for turkey day. Turkey processing day.

Heritage breed turkey
Paul and Tammy raised turkeys this year to sell to CSA members and members of the community. There were heritage breeds as well as more traditional "eating" breeds. They were all very nice looking birds, although Paul said turkeys are difficult to raise as they are prone to diseases and they lost several at all stages, from day old poults to month old birds. Who knows the causes...can anyone ever figure it out? The best we can do is try to keep a healthy environment and hope for the best. Losing a few birds comes with the territory of raising turkeys...or chickens. Richard and I have lost a few chickens to mysterious ailments as well.

As we are interested in raising turkeys of our own, this day was to be a day of learning. We are also considering raising meat chickens to sell at our farm. There's a catch. We haven't been able to find anyone who will process poultry locally. There is someone in Ft.Collins, but its too expensive and too far away. If you want to raise birds to eat, you better learn how to process them. So, Richard and I decided to check out the Wren's Nest processing day, not only to learn how it is done, but more importantly, and very crucial to our farming future, to see if we could stomach it.

Dead turkey, walking
They were in process when we arrived...late. Three people were in the killing zone--one holding the legs and the body of the turkey down, one holding an ax on the neck of the immobile bird, and one swinging the sledge hammer down onto the ax, which quickly pushed the blade through the neck of the bird, severing the head in one quick motion. Just like that, it was over for that unsuspecting bird, and it was on to the next.

I can't say it wasn't hard for me to watch, but watch I did, trying to get as much exposure to the event as I could so I could determine if I could be the one holding down that turkey next year. On this day, I didn't volunteer to whack off a head or hold a bird, nor dip it into the  hot water bath to make feather plucking easier. I didn't want to touch any of them. I was having a harder time than I thought with the whole thing.
Pretty big Tom

Richard got involved with the last big Tom that must have weighed 40 or 50 pounds before processing. I did hold that one, upside down by his feet, while he was on his way to the chopping block. He was a big bird. Not sure if he'd even fit in a conventional oven, let alone a roasting pan.

Paul and Richard dipping the headless big Tom

I got more comfortable with the whole thing as time went on. No one else seemed overly upset. Everyone was involved, dipping and plucking their turkeys, and a few brave souls even held the ax and swung the life-ending blow.
Plucking the feathers off

Tammy disemboweled the critters and then they went into an ice-water bath before the respectful owners of the fresh turkeys loaded them into their own coolers for the trip home to a couple of days chillin' in the fridge.
Tammy, cleaning out the bird
There was no question here about what purpose these turkeys were raised for. Yummy Thanksgiving dinner...and the guest of honor is one healthy, hormone free, clean, happily raised turkey. They lived well. They were cage free and allowed to be turkeys in the course of their lives.

When all was said and done, the "finished" turkey looked just like the turkey I would be taking out of my own refrigerator to roast for Thanksgiving. Was I willing to be responsible for raising the meat I was willing to eat? Or, am I just like every other American who can close his or her eyes to reality and tell the kids the turkey comes from the grocery store. That's it.

I think there's more to it than that. When we moved out to our little farm, I thought long and hard about what it meant to raise my own food, including the poultry I normally eat. We don't eat red meat in my small family, but we do enjoy our turkey dinners, and chicken fajitas are the best. Keeping that in mind, am I willing to do what it takes to raise clean meat for myself and my family, knowing that the chickens and turkeys in the big commercial feed warehouses live a very miserable, short life, in a dark, filthy, crowded cage where disease runs rampant and the poor birds get to stand and live in their own fecal waste and possibly decomposing cage mates? Those are the turkeys and chickens we buy from the grocery stores. They are cheap and they are dirty, and so often lately we get sick from preparing and eating such unclean, unhealthy poultry. The warning labels on a package of chicken is astounding.

I decided maybe I could raise my own poultry, but when processors were no where to be found, I was leaning toward total vegetarianism. If I can't kill it, I have no business eating it. But months into this, I was missing the taste of chicken, and when we did buy some chicken breasts at the local grocery, I was trying hard not to think about the poison that was wrapped in that cellophane along with the bird. But think about it I did... as I was washing and disinfecting, as I was cooking and serving, and especially as I was eating that questionable poultry. There has to be a better way--a healthier way.

There is no doubt in my mind that if my family was starving, I would walk down to my chicken coop, grab the oldest hen and take a handy ax (where is my camp hatchet?) and chop off its head. I would dunk it into hot water for a few minutes to loosen the feathers. I would hang it up and pluck it. I would carefully remove the entrails, making sure not to break open any organs as I dislodged the parts from the chest cavity. I would chop off the feet and put that bird on ice before I stuck it in the oven brushed with butter and herbs. To feed my family I would do what it takes.

So the real question here is is it important enough now for me to do what it takes? If this is the only way my family can get access to healthy meat, am I willing to do what it takes? Essentially I can choose to buy tainted, poisonous meat that has the potential to kill my kids, or I can raise my own clean and healthy chickens and turkeys, giving them happy lives. I have to say it is certainly less cruel to chop off the head of a happy turkey than to knowingly participate in an industry that raises turkeys and chickens in a horribly cruel manner for several months before ending their pathetic lives.

I need to grow up and be an adult and take responsibility for my own food and food choices. If we expect to win this war on food, then we have to stop participating in big agribusiness, in all of its multi-layered evil facets.

I think next year, Richard and I will try to raise turkeys along with meat chickens. I am still searching for a cheap and local processor, but I know that I may be the one doing the dirty work at the end of the season. I will try. For my family and the health of our planet, I will try. Or, I may end up having a whole lot of pet turkeys and chickens, although, in all honesty, the way the birds are bred now, it would be more cruel to prolong their lives past prime killing time. The chickens and turkeys will grow such enormous breasts, their legs will not be able to support their own weight. They will collapse and be prone to heart attacks and other ailments due to their large sizes. (Not unlike many overweight Americans today.) Unfortunately big agribusiness has taken everything natural out of the food industry and it is a horror to realize how far from nature our food has come. Can we expect anything but sickness and poor health when we put such unnatural "foods" into our bodies?

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to Paul and Tammy for letting us participate in Turkey Processing Day at the Wren's Nest Farm ( I am thankful that the beautiful turkeys (yes even turkeys and chickens have their own sort of beauty) I saw there had happy lives and their deaths were quick and painless. I am thankful that a few families will have healthy food for the holidays. I am thankful for being shown a better way. I am thankful for the opportunity to give my family the choice to have better  food, and I am thankful for every single person who reads this blog and becomes educated to where our food comes from. Choose a better way everybody. By buying a farm fresh turkey, you ease the suffering of one more bird in big agribusiness. Say no to intolerable cruelty in our food industry. The poultry and the cows, the pigs and even the plants don't have to be treated in the unnatural manners in which they are for the benefit of humans. We need to treat our food with respect.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A spiritual quest for potatoes

So much catching up to do. With Richard on vacation from work, we have been going nonstop.

On Monday we loaded up the family in the big old truck, hooked up Lucky, the handy trailer, and headed over the pass to the San Luis Valley to pick up potatoes for the Canon Co-op at an organic farm. I was excited. I hadn't been to Salida since we went to their big art festival when I was pregnant with my three year old daughter. I enjoyed the little town then, with its art-friendly attitude, and we had recently been reading about the local food movement that was occurring there as well. A town after my own heart. Was this a place we could ultimately relocate? (I'm always keeping my eyes open for my own personal Shangra-la or Cicely, Alaska, for us Northern Exposure fans.)

Let me tell you, it is hard, so very hard, living life on the fringe and being looked at by the mainstream like you have two heads. Wouldn't it be nice to be welcomed into a community that was already established as spiritual, environmentally conscious, art friendly, educated, open-minded, healthy, etcetera, etcetera...? I have dreams. Not that anyone has thrown stones...not in this decade anyway (when I was young and sported a mohawk, someone once threw a tennis ball at me from a passing car), but I am always leery about telling anyone too much about myself and my belief system for fear of being persecuted or ostracized. I am an outsider in my own family and it is a rare day indeed when I can  meet someone who gets it, someone on the path to enlightenment, someone with whom I feel safe enough with to finally let down my guard.

Isn't it an odd thing to be looked down upon for not eating red meat, or not following the established rituals of a mindless religion? Wouldn't it be wonderful to find the Utopia where everyone was equal and lived a life based on enlightenment and healing the planet and saving humanity from its current course of extinction, a place where the community understood the importance of raising our children not as capitalistic sheep to be led to the next mini-mall, but as stewards of our planet, including the soil, air, water and creatures who share it. Where is this mythical place? For a while I thought it was Taos, and Taos is getting closer, but how could I reconcile myself with the fact that the Taos mountain kicked me out? Anyway, I keep looking, trying to decipher the spiritual clues to the location of my heaven on earth ( I know, I know, it isn't a place) and I had been wondering recently if Salida might be it, at least for me?

Also on this trip, we were going into the massive alpine valley of San Luis, where I knew some sort of spiritual movement was taking place. There is Crestone of course, which we did visit a few years back, and turned out not to be my spot to permanently move, although some would swear it is the spiritual place to be. Maybe it is for them, and they are definitely doing some good work there, but with the freezing winter temperatures, and the "feelings" or lack of, really, that I had when we visited, I knew Crestone would not be the place I spent the rest of my life.

But could I have been wrong? Maybe just somewhere in the San Luis Valley was my little piece of high desert heaven. If the aliens found it interesting enough to make frequent stops, there must be some valuable energy floating between the two mountain ranges that I was missing.

So a trip to the Valley via Salida was welcome, but never justified in expense and fuel use, until now, when we could run a worthwhile errand, which we made even more productive by responding to an ad on Craigslist that was selling really cheap straw bales in the San Luis Valley. Potatoes and straw. That was our main focus, with a little bit of spiritual journeying on the side for myself.

So Monday, we ended up driving through the canon to Salida. The roads had a bit of snow and ice around the curves of the highway that were hidden from the sun, and I was struck by how much the drive reminded me of the trip from Taos to Santa Fe, with the river snaking along beside the twisting road. Well, that was okay then, and except for the dusting of snow and the looming dark clouds ahead, I was in a great mood. We stopped at a little store a Co-op friend had recommended on the outskirts of Salida. It was a bizarre place with really cheap food and items, kind of like a bargain store with dinged up cans and day old discounts, but this place had flour and sugar in bags made of printed cotton material. Where did this stuff come from?

It was freezing when we left the warm cab of the pick-up, and I couldn't think straight. I couldn't focus on spiritual feelings when I was trying to keep myself and two toddlers from getting frostbite on the five yard dash to the front door of the tiny little store. I didn't find anything I needed to have, but Richard found a few bargains when I left him alone and returned the kids to the warm truck to eat our prepared lunch of homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I also had the two chihuahuas on this trip and had to take them out to the potty, at which time, which they glared at me and shivered because I had forgotten their winter coats.

We drove through Salida a bit, into the historic downtown, still full of art galleries and outdoor shops, but nothing really grabbed me and we didn't stop. I was still angry at being cold. I hate being cold more than anything. I just wanted to be on our way. The clouds were looking ominous and I wanted to make it back to the other side of the mountains before the snow started to fly. I hate driving on icy roads about as much as I hate being cold, and now I was ready to go home and be warm with a nice cup of hot cocoa flavored coffee. Forget this trip, forget the potatoes. My mood was getting as dark as the clouds, and I just closed my eyes as we headed out of town, trying to eliminate snow packed sections of the highway from my view, from my reality.

When we got through the pass at Poncha Springs and headed south into the Valley, things got better. As the sun came out and the roads cleared and the sagebrush began to pop up on the prairie outside my window, my bad mood eased and I began to enjoy the scenery. Now it was better, kind of like the drive to Taos from Ft Garland, and I began to feel a sense of peace come over me. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and envisioned a passive solar house in sage where I could just sit and soak up the winter rays without having to step out into the reality of freezing temperatures. Based upon my feelings on leaving the higher mountain passes and cold, cold environment, Salida does not seem like my next Utopia.

We came into Mosca without incident and pulled up to the gas station where we would meet the farmer (?) who was selling the organic potatoes. Some man loaded a couple of bags of Quinoa grain into the back of the truck and then we were driving back across the highway to the farm where potatoes were being cleaned and loaded into bags and boxes. Lots of potatoes. 
There was a huge truck full of potatoes just from the field and a strange hopper/conveyor thing that loaded the potatoes, and moved them inside the building. I'm not sure where or how they were cleaned and sorted, but they were. Our potatoes came in 50 pound bags and 50 pound boxes, which went into the horse trailer. Now I was concerned that with the cold weather, the potatoes would freeze. Good thing our next stop was for lots of straw that we could insulate the potatoes with.

I asked the lady that we did our potato business with how cold the temperatures really got in the Valley. She said there is usually at least one solid month where night time temps fall from -20 to -40 degrees F in the winter. But of course the sunny days could get up to 40 or 50 degrees F, like so many other high desert Colorado or New Mexico places. Sure, great. Nights are too cold. Even if I built an awesome passive solar house, it was still too cold for me to function. Maybe I better keep searching for my special place.

Mt Blanca
We continued south and then east into Blanca, the town named for the snow covered mountain that was the backdrop to almost everything in the valley. Richard likes to take pictures of this mountain. he says it is one of the most photogenic mountains in Colorado. Being from Texas, I think he is awestruck by this mountain as it seems to be a stereotype of the perfect Colorado mountain. It is a pretty mountain, as long as I can stay far enough away from the cold snow I see piled on its peaks.

We found our straw at a farm south of town and on the way there we noticed a field full of birds. "Geese," said Richard. But I looked a little closer and noticed they weren't geese at all, but a field full of about three hundred Sandhill Cranes. Amazing.I'd never seen more than two Sandhill Cranes in any given place, at any given time. As we loaded straw into the pickup bed and trailer, I could hear the cranes talking amongst themselves, and it sounded like there was a wild bird refuge in this man's backyard.

I could feel a palpable excitement building within me and as soon as we were finished with the straw, I had to sneak as close as I could to the field of birds to snap a few photos. Unfortunately, I haven't had access to an SLR camera for years and I couldn't get close enough to the cranes to get a decent shot. They were incredible, raising their wings and flapping, bumping chests like my guineas at play. Richard tried his hand at pictures from the truck, and then, the birds took off. They all started to fly. I felt like I was in a nature program in Africa, watching the birds take off, perfectly orchestrated.

That old homestead in Blanca
I was having a moment of pure natural joy, just watching those birds, and when I saw the old, abandoned homestead at the end of the road, my first thought was I could live there. There was an old adobe house, outbuildings, including an old grain silo I could turn into an art studio (see Mother Earth News for ideas on how to turn silos into houses.) And, there were the birds, the glorious birds. There was Mt Blanca to look at and the sage surrounding this small farm. I could live there, I thought again. But it's not for sale and the temperatures are probably just as cold in Blanca as they are in most of the San Luis Valley.

We headed back up to Canon city the long way, over La Veta pass, trying to avoid any snow or impending storms. We drove through La Veta, another burgeoning art community, which has grown significantly since the last time I was there maybe seven years ago. It is still quaint, but I imagine the prices for property are rising as it becomes the new trendy spot. The coolest part of that drive was passing a herd of cows heading back to their barn for the night, and when I thought they were going to walk into the road just as we pulled up, I was surprised to see them disappear entirely. They were crossing from one pasture to another, under the road through an enormous culvert. Ingenious!

We got home after dark, dropped off the potatoes and got the little kids into bed. Overall, I was pretty happy to be home, back in my warm little house where the outside temperatures never fall to -40 degrees. Sure, it isn't exactly where I want to end up, but if we do end up staying here forever, I'll be okay with it, and I can  take an occasional drive into the sage filled lands of New Mexico every now and then to feed my soul. Here, we are building community and the people we are meeting are wonderful, and it turns out, maybe not so different from me after all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fuzzy footed chicks and steaming mulch

Baby Bantam white Silkie
I got six more baby chicks on Friday. Two are interesting and four are run of the mill layers--New Hampshire Reds. One is the tiniest Barred Rock Bantam Cochin and the other is a white Silkie, also a Bantam. The Silkie has got to be the cutest little ball of fluff I have ever seen. I have fallen in love with a chicken! The Cochin is the tiniest chick in my chicken crib (rubbermaid container), but the one with the most attitude, running over to peck at my fingers when I fill the food dish. Could this tiny critter be a rooster? The two bantams are straight run, so we won't know what sex they are until they mature into their teenage bodies.

Tiny Bantam Barred Rock Cochin
The Cochins and the Silkies have feathered feet and are just amusing. I have decided to add chickens that are fun to look at to my flock. I still fantasize about a peacock wandering around our small farm, but haven't been able to find one locally...yet. I'd like to get some Araucanas which lay blue and green eggs, and some heirloom chicken varieties too, which used to be the standard on old family farms before agribusiness started breeding chickens for profit and mass laying capabilities.

Our organic eggs are a big hit with the Canon Co-op ( members. Thank you guys! We are selling a dozen for $3.50 which is a bargain when a dozen sells for $3.66 at City Market in town. How about that? We will have to see if our price is enough to cover the cost of the certified organic feed. I know our chickens are happy chickens and the eggs are big with bright yellow, firm yolks. Backyard chickens are the best. I recommend a flock for everyone.

 Richard had been spreading leaves and mulch like mad. We got our second drop of wood chips from the tree trimmers, and the pile was steaming as it was dumped from the truck. It makes Richard soooo happy.  He has been working on the new flower garden space and will eventually move to the upper garden, which he has laid out on paper...keyhole gardens connected by a central garden path and anchored by our big raised bed which now contains garlic and onions.

I'm thinking perhaps our wall on the road side should become a wooden privacy fence, which we can buy and work on in segments. Originally we wanted to build a wall out of rammed earth tires or earth bags and cover it all with an adobe finish. Very nice, but we are having trouble coming up with the materials to get it all done and we need a fence to keep the deer out of our garden and to keep the neighbors eyes off of the tire windbreak surrounding the greenhouse. The tires don't seem to be a big hit...aesthetically speaking, but they work great to protect the greenhouse.

Tire wall wind protection
Today we are expecting another mulch drop, and hopefully we can move injured Guinea into the greenhouse. I took off his foot splint and his wound is healing nicely--all pink and healthy looking. He's squawking more and more into the evening hours when the little kids are asleep, so he has to move back to the great outdoors. Richard also has plans to either go into town and pickup the leftover grape squeezings (to make compost) from the Abby's wine making or to go to the alpaca ranch for a load of alpaca poop for our sheet mulch project. Maybe we can do both.

Saturday we went to a small farm in Florence that had llama poop for free and met the nicest family. The man may let me adopt a female llama to put in with our goats as a livestock guardian. He says he has too many and wants to find approved homes for some of them. We will wait and see. Wouldn't it be exciting to have more llama wool?

Oh, looks like the big orange truck is here with the wood chips....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Farm with a view

view from my kitchen window--today

I do live in a gorgeous place, with Colorado being what it is, and have a lovely backdrop of mountains in both my front and back yards. I can stand at my kitchen sink and stare out the window as I do dishes, looking up the path at the llama barn, which hides the ugly little water tower that supplies our small town, and instead pulls the eye to the dark green of the Wet Mountains in the distance behind the barn. If I'm lucky, my fluffy, cute llamas will be hanging out in this picture and I can consider myself blessed to be living this life right now.

Today there is a storm hanging over the Wet Mountains and the air is chilly with the threat or promise of snow. Slowly, the silhouette of the mountain range disappears into the gray clouds, and I shiver, happy to be wearing my warm alpaca slippers.

The greenhouse is almost sealed up, and I'm thinking of putting injured guinea in his playpen in the greenhouse, where he can be warm and close to his guinea friend in the pen ten feet or so away.  Then they can talk to each other as much as they want to. Now, they have been "talking"--yelling and squawking--when I leave the kitchen door open to let in the warm afternoon sun. Today, however, it is far too cold to leave the door open, but the guineas are still trying to talk through the walls. I'm sure Richard, who has gone to work in his office, appreciates the guinea social hour. I think maybe after this weeks freezing night time temperatures, I will relocate my injured, feathered friend to the greenhouse so he can get acclimated back into the outdoors. As tempting as it is, I don't really want the guinea as a house pet. It's already a circus with two toddlers, the cats and dogs. Adding the clown faced bird to the mix would be more than I could tolerate. Think of the carpet scrubbing I'd be doing then...

northwest perimeter
While Richard has been outside, working on electric perimeter fence (those llamas won't get out again), and getting the upper garden ready for sheet mulching, I have been working on our farm logo. I even took a moment to paint a picture to use as a backdrop. Wow, doesn't a paintbrush feel awkward after so many years? I'm still trying to integrate the logo into the picture and have simplified the shapes to create a more generic logo to use on product labels.

lower east perimeter and Pikes Peak in the distance
With the mountains in so many of our views, it seems somehow necessary to include them in our farm logo. Stay tuned for the final image.

Richard has begun his own blog about the farm, sustainability and related topics regarding the world and the crises we face now and in the near future. Finally he's on board the ship to save the planet. The revolution has begun. Check out his blog at
And yes, that is my painting in his header.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happiness is...a truck full of leaves and a yard full of mulch

Leaves of Fall. Falling leaves. Lots of leaves. Bags of leaves, by the side of the road. This week we collected leaves on Richard's days off, filling the truck several times over several days. At first I was a little embarrassed to be cruising the neighborhoods, stalking the leaves, but after a while it becomes old news, and the kids are still in the back seat screaming and fighting, lending a moment of normalcy to this strange farm life. I'm more concerned about what the old lady walking her dog thinks of my out-of-control kids than the strange man (i.e. Richard) picking up the neighbors' trash, and really, people only ask occasionally what we are up to, and most nod in understanding when we tell them.

truck o' leaves

You see, we have no soil at our house in the high desert land. No workable soil. No dark, rich, plant-able soil. Being big fans of the Permaculture movement, and like knowledgeable gardeners and farmers everywhere, we know we have to build our soil. It isn't going to make itself out of nothing, so we have to find organic materials to compost into beautiful, nutrient rich soil that will become the basis of our gardens. We sheet mulch. We compost. We prepare for next Spring, when our flower beds and garden beds of leaves and mulch will have composted down into lovely, workable soil.

There are so many wonderful books on composting that will tell you how to create a basic compost pile, and the main ingredient is "stuff" like leaves, grass, hay, or any other plant materials. We mix anything we can find, including plant kitchen scraps, with goat or llama poop and hay, weeds, wood chips, whatever, into compost piles located strategically around our small farm.
Compost bin made of pallets

The piles take about a year to decompose into something resembling soil, and it might be faster if we dedicated more time to watering and turning our piles, but even our unworked piles eventually turn into soil, which is a vast improvement over the desert hard pan we have in our yard.

So, it is the season for leaves. Lots and lots of leaves. We plan on creating a size-able sheet mulch project in our new upper garden space.

seeding the chicken yard
When Richard went to get hay this week, he came back with a big bag of Rye grass seed. Enough for an acre. When we moved the chicken yard to the other side of the coop, the plan was to plant the old yard and the old garden.

So, out went the leaves, followed by a good dose of water, then the seed was spread, old rotting hay was applied and the sprinkler was put on again.  Always water in the layers. The seed was spread in the tomato field as well, and we hope to move the llamas to a new pasture and seed their cactus filled pen with the Rye grass. It is a start, and hopefully a winter cover crop that will improve the soil.

leaves and bamboo

It was a bountiful few days with  leaves and bamboo stalks, but it got better when the local tree trimmer dumped a load of mulch in our driveway. Crazy. Epic yet? No, Richard assures me, it has not reached epic proportions yet. I'm not sure I have ever seen him look so happy as when that big orange truck dumped a mass of wood chips right behind his pile of bagged leaves.

wood chips

The chips were gone in a day, spread out onto our pathways to prepare for the snow and the winter mud that comes with it. Next load will go into the upper garden

And, while picking up the bamboo stalks in a trash pile, Richard scored some live bamboo from the man who was unfortunately not composting his leaves and garden detritus, but was willing to sell us bamboo if we dug it. Sounded too good to be true.$5 for a big bucket that planted windscreen/privacy barriers on the two western corners of our house.

I have now come up with a layout for my cut flower garden, bordered by the fast growing and very tall (7-10 feet) bamboo that was planted somewhere around what we suspect is the leach field for our septic tank. No edibles over there, but plenty of pretty flowers to gaze at and cut to sell at the farmer's market next year. Now all I need is some sheet mulch for my new flower garden--more leaves and more wood chips. Next week we are hooking up old "Lucky" (the horse trailer) to the back of the truck so when we cruise for leaves, we can bring home three times as much.

It is a strange little farming and gardening community we have immersed ourselves in. On a trip to pick up cow manure (for our sheet mulching projects), we came across an acquaintance who was filling her truck with bags of leaves, and so happy for our windfall of compost-able materials, she was almost cheering. Only a fellow gardener would understand. In addition, Richard has been nominated for a board position with the Canon Co-op, Only been here a year and a couple of months and I feel like we have fallen into the right place. Synchronicity in action. It is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Running with the llamas

Today I had a nice visit with two of my Aunts and two of my cousins, who came to see the farm and my little ones. It was great fun. I was telling them the story of our morning farm activities...

I was cleaning the house, preparing for the family visit, when my eyes were drawn to the window as Richard went running by. What on Earth?, I wondered and ambled back to my bedroom to get a look out the back windows. And there he was, and it looked like he was messing with two large animals, cows? I thought, was he trying to shoo them away? It wouldn't be the first time there were cows wandering in the yard. But no, those weren't cows...they were my llamas! How did they get out?, I asked myself over and over, as I leaped over a million toys and dodged two small children who were very loudly and adamantly telling me that the cat had just thrown up on the living room floor. Oh boy!

"No time, no time," I yelled. "The llamas are out!" My brain was working hard and fast now. How would we catch two llamas, who were now free on the range, when we couldn't catch them in their pen? Think! Food? Llama candy? They loved the guinea food and would eat it out of my hand, and even come running if I had the guinea bucket out. Giving them llama candy I actually got to touch and pet them. Okay, guinea food and some halters. And the car. And the two little kids. "Kids, get your shoes on!" I yelled.

I got the little ones in the car and ran to get the halters and leads, all the time watching my two prized llama babies running across the field and Richard running after them, like a bad movie. Now he had a bucket, which he held out in front of him as he ran, offering it to what, llama butts? He who runs with llamas.

What did I think I was going to do? How could I possible make this situation better? I quickly dismissed the fear of my llamas running off into the woods, farther and further away. Would we actually be able to get them back? We needed help, I thought. Who could I call? No one. All of my neighbors were on the verge of elderly. Would any of them be able to chase down two teenage llama boys? Nah. It was Richard and me, and so far, he was doing a bang up job.

As an after thought, I let my two chihuahuas out of the house and told them to get in the car. Then I grabbed their harnesses and leashes, wondering where any of this would lead? I sped down the road as the llamas crossed to the other side and headed for some trees, doing everything they could to avoid Richard who was huffing and puffing by now.

I pulled into a driveway, thankful this house was for sale, and jumped out of the car, my heart pounding wildly. I grabbed my little cup of llama candy (guinea food) the leads and halters, and headed slowly towards the rebellious camelids, speaking softly and shaking the seed. I threw the halters to Richard. They looked at us with suspicion and ran back across the road. Now what, I wondered, and then remembered the two little dogs in the car who were barking furiously. Maybe they would scare the big animals back home or at least towards our farm, which was up the hill some distance.

I let out my little female chihuahua, the barker, Kierra, and let her run. Richard followed with the llama halters and leads. "Get the llamas," I told the tiny dog who charged the nearest llama, Vador, the black one. Now Vador is always interested in tiny creatures, like small children and guineas, and he turned and looked with amusement at the little dog who was sniffing at his feet. He stretched his long neck down to get a good sniff at her too, and then he began to dance, and I thought, oh dear God, now he's going to stomp on my little dog.

"Kierra," I yelled, hoping she would back off. I ran over and offered the llama candy to Vador, who fell for it and stuck his nose deep into the cup to reach the seed. I threw my arm around his neck and Richard put his halter on and snapped on the lead. "Tie him up." I yelled and turned to the other llama. "Turbo, come here boy," I said and shook the cup at him.

Richard had tied Vador to... the neighbors' gas meter? Really? "I don't know if that's a good idea," I said, but Richard was gone. He had grabbed Kierra, who had been running off into the neighbors' yard, and was now taking her back to the car. Turbo, meanwhile, was headed up the road with no interest in me, the llama candy or his buddy Vador. He, in fact, was so proud of himself and his new found freedom he would occasionally kick his feet into the air like some happy little bucking bronco llama.

I quickly untied Vador and decided to follow Turbo up the road. At least he was headed in the right direction. Richard followed in the car with the kids and dogs. So we walked, my llamas and me, all the way home, and when we reached our driveway, Turbo looked at it and began to walk on by. I called to him and led Vador into the yard, hoping, and praying that Turbo would worry and follow. (Normally, Turbo is the protector, and when Vador goes anywhere, Turbo follows, or tries to.) Sure enough, he was following us. Around the truck and up the path...and then he wasn't.

Turbo had detoured off into the upper garden, toward the guinea house, so I pulled Vador back around that way too, and used his lead and his big old llama body to trap Turbo, until Richard came to the rescue with the other halter and lead. After that, it was easy. We lead them back into their pen and I gave them each a little llama candy and thanked them profusely for coming home.

Then I headed inside to scrub cat puke out of the living room carpet.

And here I was wondering what I was going to write about. Later I thanked Richard for giving me some good blogging material.

Always make sure the gates are closed. And make sure again, just to be safe.

Kierra: llama herding, working dog

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Felting alpaca fleece, organic eggs and a name to call home

Felted Alpaca slippers

So much going on in the past few days!


Tuesday I went to my felting class at the Aardwolf Alpacas ranch and made some adorable slippers out of felted alpaca fleece. Warm and cute. A few months back we traded several gallons of goats milk for the class. Phyllis and Mike were feeding two crias (baby alpacas) due to the death of one mom and another disowning her baby. They needed organic, raw milk and we had so much goats milk in our freezer, and bags of llama fleece in the closet, that it was the perfect trade. I needed to learn how to felt and process my llama wool and they needed milk. I have big plans for felting and the wonderful things I can make.

Aardwolf Alpacas...some of the girls

It is absolutely astonishing to me to watch this whispy fuzz of fluff turn into a pretty hearty material that can be made into slippers, hats, vests and more. I love it. My day was long, somewhat tedious and definitely labor intensive, but well worth the knowledge and the finished warm slippers that will keep my normally cold feet warm all winter long. I had a great time at the ranch and enjoyed a complimentary lunch of ham and cheese and apple cinnamon crepes, not to mention plenty of conversation about camelids and living more sustainably. I would recommend the class to anyone interested in learning to felt, which is invaluable to llama and alpaca owners. Thank you Phyllis and Mike. (They raise and sell alpacas, teach felting and have a B&B at their ranch near the Royal Gorge in Canon City.)

Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if more people got involved in a bartering economy. Think of how much information and local goods could change hands. I really believe that systems of reciprocity that involve direct exchange of goods, including knowledge and labor, will be a big part of our future economy here in the good old USA. Bartering builds community and allows us to invent our own system of "money" while the US dollar continues to lose value. Besides, for those of us who have limited funds, and that is quite a few of us these days, trading gives us the opportunities that might otherwise be lost to us. I could never justify the expense, right now, of taking a felting class, but I can justify a good trade, and all parties involved ended up happy with the arrangement.

We have to raise the price of our eggs. We started buying organic chicken layer food, which is expensive, and the only way I can see how to make it work is to charge more for the eggs. But now, the eggs truly are organic, although the feed we bought before was supposed to be "natural." Until recently organic chicken food was very difficult to find, and it is still expensive, but I'm happy we can now find it locally. The eggs will be even better, and if getting an organic, cage free, hormone free egg is worth it to people they will pay the price. There is no profit here. A bag of feed is about $20. That lasts about one week for my twenty chickens. That's $80 per month to feed my hens, which means I have to sell 16 dozen eggs at $5 per dozen to break even. I hate that it becomes so costly. The alternative is to grow our own grains, but then with all of the old, little, local mills gone, where would we get our grains processed? The alternative for the consumer is to raise their own chickens (in Colorado Springs you can have ten hens) or buy the questionable eggs for cheap at the grocery store, which we have to stop doing if we want our food to change and become healthy. If we stop participating in agribusiness, they have to change their unhealthy practices to get consumers to come back, right? Take back our food!!!

I hope our customers will continue to support us and continue to buy our farm fresh eggs. I'm raising my price to $4 per dozen for a while to lesson the shock. Any donations above and beyond are welcome, since we are buffering the loss out of our own pocket, which is not doable for long. I don't want to go back to the Genetically Modified corn that is most likely a part of the feed, natural or not. Big farms can only grow GM corn, bullied into no choices by big companies like Monsanto, and perhaps the other grains are tainted as well. No, organic is the way to go, and if someone wants to open a local mill, I'd grow the grains, including my own flour grains and bring it to someone local to get processed. You bet I would. Local all the way.

And on a side note, I'm looking for local Bio diesel fuel if anyone is producing or knows someone who is. We bought our diesel farm truck in the hopes of converting it to bio, but all of the bio fuel stations have gone out of business. Let's try again people! There is a need and interest in Bio diesel fuel.

We finally landed on a name for our little farm here in the Southwest that Richard and I can both agree on and be happy with. It is what we hope to achieve--a green oasis in this high desert arid land, and a message about what we are trying to do--farm in ecologically responsible ways that will provide for us and heal the Earth. The new name of the farm is Green Desert Eco-Farm and a web site will be coming soon. I will continue to blog here and detail my story of trying to be sustainable and change the world, and Richard may start his own farm blog, which I'm sure will be interesting in its own right.

I'm also selling marigold seeds at $2 for 1/2 ounce. These are the seeds from the plants I have grown from seeds collected every year for oh, about twenty years now, I guess. I've been carrying my marigolds around with me from place to place, state to state, leaving a little bit behind, that will hopefully reseed. Every year I go out and collect the dried flower heads because that is where the seeds live, then I lay them out to make sure they are good and dry before I store them in Mason jars for next years garden.  I'd like to try this with more flowers. This year I've also collected Bachelor's Buttons and yucca seeds.

Besides being nice to look at, marigolds help deter insects, and the flowers can be used in herbal ointments and lotions to sooth sunburn, rashes, minor cuts and scrapes, or fresh flower petals can be crushed and rubbed directly onto insect bites to relieve the sting. Marigolds also have positive protective energy when planted around the house. The flower petals can be used in cooking, as garnishes, in teas as a detoxifier (anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral) and to make dyes. Marigolds...a flower of many uses. But isn't that true of so many of our flowers and "weeds," which if we took the time to educate ourselves, we would discover an amazing array of helpful plants that we may normally overlook.

Every garden should contain herbs, and here at our farm, it is one of my goals to plant an extensive herb garden for medicinal and culinary use. I hope to also have herb starts of some variety each Spring, but for now, you can start your garden  by ordering a few marigold seeds from Green Desert Eco-Farm. (Doesn't that sound nice?) You can save the seeds until Spring, or scatter them around now wherever you'd like to add a few colorful orange blossoms to your yard or garden. They are pretty when they take over a space, like a fire orange small hedge, that makes you suck in your breath when you turn a corner and happen upon the vibrant display by surprise.

Beautify the Earth and plant a few flowers. Plant something that will help take some of the poison out of our air. Every little bit helps. Every little step in the right direction paves the road for a better planet for us and our children and their children. Be the change--always.