November 2010

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Six inches of the white stuff on the ground, and counting. Almost makes you want to start humming “Over the river and through the woods…” 

Almost.

But Rebecca and Louisa still had a bit of harvesting to do out here in the Brussels Sprouts beds for our winter CSA:

And some other chores too:

It was an impressive performance. In the midst of the season’s first snowstorm, subfreezing temperatures–and without power–the farmers managed to assemble all 22 winter CSA boxes and Rebecca delivered the 15 Bainbridge Island boxes to their Johnson Farm pickup site, and orders to our B.I. restaurant customers, Blackbird Bakery, Hitchcock and Pegasus cafe, with help from our neighbors Matt and Mary Rain and their four-wheel drive truck. Many, many thanks.

Traffic’s a mess, the power’s still out, but Thanksgiving dinner’s on the way. Welcome to The Season–frostbite version.

Happy holiday.

Persephone

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Anyone keeping track of the economy knows these can be precarious times when it comes to housing. Here today, gone tomorrow. Well, to stretch the parameters a bit, that goes for chickens too.

Our laying hens, all 26 of them, were evicted from their cozy home this week to make room for the new chicks. After a hard day of egg laying and pecking mites in the upper chicken run, the girls had just settled into their henhouse for the evening when Rebecca and Louisa appeared, armed with a pair of shears. Louisa clipped the outer feathers off each hen’s right wing. It doesn’t hurt–it’s kind of like getting a haircut, but no doubt more traumatic–and it keeps them grounded on their new turf.

And then the farmers packed the hens into carriers and toted them off to new digs on the lower pasture. All in all it went pretty smoothly–for the farmers at least. 

The move went from here:

Old hen house

To here on the lower pasture.

New hen house

From a chicken’s point of view–which, admittedly, we lack–the change probably wasn’t such a bad deal. There’s lots of grass around the new place and plenty of bugs to scratch up. We didn’t see much change in the egg-laying so the girls have probably adapted.

But from another perspective, nobody likes being booted out of their comfy old house, especially with a winter in the offing that everyone seems to think will be extra cold and wet. That new place looks a lot like a gypsy wagon to us, and kind of drafty even with the Astroturf Louisa used to line the laying boxes.

Plus, getting evicted for a bunch of youngsters can’t do an ego much good, even if that ego belongs to a chicken. You just know those hens spent their first night in the gypsy wagon grumbling about how they are the productive ones and the unfairness of it all.

Life on a farm does sometime mirror the larger world in strange ways. People are losing their homes all around us these days through no fault of their own. Likewise, they get pushed down the pecking order without so much as a say-so on their own behalf. Someone else always gets to make the big decisions, it seems.

We’ve been fortunate in what for too many folks has been a season of trial. We’ve still got the farm, plenty to eat, and more demand than we can satisfy for what we grow. Nobody has come out of the blue to boot us out of our home and our wings remain intact. No Astroturf, but then nobody’s expecting us to lay an egg every day either.

Makes you appreciate Thanksgiving.

Persephone

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Eight months is a long time. The apprentices are gone, scattered to both coasts, leaving behind one lone flip-flop, lying forgotten on the driveway. The sheep and a bunch of the birds have been butchered and packed away in the freezer for winter meals–our friend Judith Weinstock cooked three of the stewing hens in a delicious soup a couple of days ago for our weekly Wise Acres dinner. (You can see more about these dinners and Wise Acres at our May 10 post “Dinner for 40”)

We are moving into what one of our icons, Eliot Coleman, refers to as “the Persephone days.” In Greek myth, Persephone was the lovely daughter of Demeter and Zeus, spirited away to the underworld by Hades while picking flowers, not to re-emerge until spring. In her absence, the earth became a dark and barren place. Her return brought back sunshine and new life.

Rebecca chose Persephone for her farm’s name nearly two decades ago, an especially apt  name for a farm operated by two women. In addition to the sign hanging by the gate, one of the first things visitors see as they round the bend at the top of the driveway is a mural of the Persephone myth on the side of the washing shed. It was drawn several years ago by Thom, an Israeli woman who stopped off here for a couple of months during a world tour of visiting farms as part the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WOOF) program.

Thom's mural

We’ve been especially fond  of Thom’s work and never more so than at this time of year, when the days grow dark and the mid-afternoon shadows of the now-leafless maples stretch across the pastures. It reminds us of the other half of the myth–the spring part–when things will come back to life again.

For now though, Louisa and Rebecca putter around the gardens tidying up loose ends, spreading mulches of fallen leaves on the garlic and leeks and digging up the remaining potatoes and onions for the winter CSA. We’ll be shoveling out the chicken run soon to make way for the new flock of laying hens and making sure there is enough gas to keep the generator going if the winter storms everyone is predicting, arrive.

It’s quieter these days down by the gate with the geese and hens gone and the swallows off somewhere in Central America. Some of the turkeys are still around and they let loose with a chorus of gobbles when provoked–it is always amusing to see perfect strangers outside the fence gobbling away to get the chorus started. But they tend to hang back especially since the pre-Thanksgiving culling of the flock.

We miss Mongo too. We watched him drive off in the back seat of the van our apprentice Mondrian and her friend Terry are driving back to the east coast for a couple of months r&r. We kind of got to like him, although he never really figured out the whole manners thing. His departure couldn’t come soon enough for the cats, Selmo and Oberon, who never did get along with that dog and are now slowly reclaming their territory down in the yurt meadow. 

Greg and Caitlin, two more of our apprenti, are headed for Vashon Island to spend next season farming  at Island Meadow Farm with Chandler Briggs, yet another former apprentice. And Joel, our fourth apprentice, will be heading for New Mexico for the holidays, but he too plans to come back this way for some kind of work that will likely involve animals. 

All in all, Persephone Days probably won’t be that dark this year, with apprentices, new and old, nearby and everyone settling in for some lazier days. We’ll still check in with a post fairly often to keep things current but we’re taking it slower too.

Persephone has moved on to her winter home but she’ll be back for the new season. And so will we.

Persephone

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