Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gone to the dog

Breaking new ground with the team.

We were sad to hear about Joe and Becca’s chickens the other day. The previous week when they returned from their other gardens late in the day and Joe went out to shut in the chickens, (They divide their work between their farm and Joe’s dad’s acreage where the soil is organic and has been farmed in vegetables for years. Most of their own land needs to rest and be organically rebuilt from years of corn and soybean crops that require boatloads of chemicals.) he noticed a neighbor’s dog running away from the yard with a chicken in its mouth. He chased it down and returned it to the owner before knowing the extent of the damage. Back at the chicken house he found carnage. Blood and dead chickens everywhere. A count of the survivors showed the dog must have been on rampage for hours as he killed 95 of the little pre-teen hens. Their babies!! For days they were finding carcasses hidden or buried in the yard. The neighbor’s insurance will cover the cost of the chicks, but not the loss of income that would have come from three years of laying eggs. Here is, “Crooked Beak” one of the survivors. She has learned to eat despite a handicap.

They’ve been using Carla and Kayla to prepare some of the ground to plant potatoes and corn. Joe was very excited about finding a horse-pulled potato planter. (He’s pretty enraptured about all that horse-drawn equipment that’s been rusting for a century in remote pastures around the county.) No surprise that it takes some repair and practice to get it working properly. Recently, Anita, our housemate, was out to the farm for a day to help them plant. While Joe drove up front, she rode on the back of the machine, which with one pass dug a furrow, turned a hopper that dropped a potato, and then covered it with dirt every 18 inches or so. A very pleasing machine. Almost a work of art? She was to make sure the potatoes loaded and dropped at the right intervals. She was to tell Joe when things got jammed up, so at first it was comic and frantic as she kept yelling WHOA, WHOA and the well-trained team kept stopping at her command and getting more confused by the cacophony of voices rising behind them. Joe finally decided Becca and Anita must not talk and laugh so much and Anita must say “Stop” not “Whoa.” Apparently the Amish, from whom the horses were purchased, are pretty much all business as they quietly follow their teams in the field. Who can blame them? This is not a hobby. For Joe and Becca either.

Joe's single bottom horse-drawn plow.

One of Joe’s genius and endearing qualities is how he grasps and warehouses numbers. He knows how much, how long, how far, how many of anything. Thus: 14,000 onion and leeks have been set out in rows. 45 bunches of radish sold by 10 a.m. When I asked him how much potatoes did you plant? he replied, “Well, let’s see, 35 rows at 300 feet each….that’s 1.988 miles of potatoes. Or this: 95 chickens killed out of 172. Down from the original 185, although a few kicked the bucket for other reasons – like eating bits of plastic used to bind hay bales. It was mixed in the straw that originally covered the floor of the barn. They wouldn’t have known except for an autopsy on several that looked healthy one day and keeled over the next. Strings were found wrapped around and warping their little guts. Oww.

Their days are growing longer. Becca might be out in the greenhouse by 6 am with a four gallon spray pack on her back letting the leaf hoppers have it with some kind of “organic” solution. Joe might be out in the field with the girls plowing up more ground for late plantings of corn or cultivating rows of potatoes which are poking through. Often their work lasts until 9 p.m. when the light fades. Just typing that exhausts me. It sure punches a hole in a romantic view of what it takes to run a farm.

You might think, wow, all that great green food right in front of you. Man, think of the salads! How they must eat! Truth is, they’re often too busy to prepare much and might only grab some bread and butter with cheese. That’s where we can occasionally help a little. Last week we took supper out to them.

Becca left some fresh greens, shitake and morel mushrooms, asparagus, and a gallon of jersey milk in her refrigerator for us to add to what we brought. When they arrived home about 7:15, I had made Greek chicken and potatoes; it comes out of the oven browned and crisp when you coat it with olive oil, salt, and oregano. Mmmm. Anita had concocted a wine shitake sauce for the steamed asparagus, and sautéed the morels with mild spices to go atop goat cheese and crackers. I tossed a large green salad with about a million different lettuces and spinach, making a simple balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey dressing, and crumbling feta cheese over the top. We had a warm rhubarb crisp with cream skimmed off the top of the milk for dessert. Don’t often get to cook for people who have worked so hard they can afford maybe a hundred times the calories of my body. We all sat around beaming. It made me really happy.

Kayla heads for the barn.


Cara Herzberg said...

Mmmmm, I can smell this post. Beautiful.

hannah said...

oh, i heard a LONG detailed description of this meal from Becca on the phone a couple weeks ago. it sounded amazing! What a gift for them to have you guys as friends!

Sandra F Oster said...

Oh, I miss you so. I am going to start hospitality with lamb chops and roasted root vegatables for Brook and Travis tomorrow. Can you send over some of the lettuce?

Andrea Hague said...

This is a beautiful post. I know I hardly ever comment on your blog, but my lack of postings does not reflect a lack of reading. Both yours and Denis' blogs are close to first of the list of websites to check (right below facebook and NYT) when I really don't want to study/write...and then I could always check out the other blogs you've linked to for hours of guaranteed enjoyable procrastination. Thank you for your contribution to my education :)

Margie Haack said...

Thanks for all the feedback, Cara,hannah. Sandy, we miss you, too.
Andrea, thank you so much. You are so kind. And what an honor to be a small part of your life, even as we love to follow yours from afar. Blessings.