apprentices

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Ok, we admit this is flat-out advertising, but our apprenti are into chickens this year and they’ve raised a flock of Freedom Ranger broilers here on the farm, caring carefully for them under Louisa’s supervision since they arrived as one-day old chicks. The flock was raised free range and fed the best organic feed from our fine local supplier, Harley Soltes. They were freshly killed this morning and now you can get one (or more) now at just $5 a pound. Better hurry though, they are going fast.

It is BBQ time and nothing tastes better than fresh barbecued chicken. If you want one (or more), and you want to support our apprentices’ chicken project, contact Katt Tolman at Katt.tolman@gmail.com

Enjoy.

Persephone

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Dinah

Farmers shouldn’t put things off. You do that and the next thing you know the place has gone all to hell–the garlic’s rotting in the beds, the hens have gone broody, or the blog has gone blank for a couple of months. Okay, we’re guilty of the latter, and we’re sorry.  There’s certainly been lots to report on since that last post back in April but we’ve just been too busy, too lazy–or a bit of both–to do it.

But we’re back at it now and we promise we’ll do better in the future. Here’s a quick update.

Katt & Adam

The Apprenti–In addition to Hiram and Tess, who showed up at the start of the apprentice period in early March (seems so long ago now) our other two apprentices, Adam Favaloro and Katt Tolman, arrived from New Orleans, as advertised, at the end of March.

 Katt and Adam are both Vassar grads and both have done a bit of farm work in the past–he on a goat farm last summer, she on a tree farm and a couple of shorter gigs on vegetable farms.

Dinah

They brought along Dinah, their spunky dog, who is about the size of our largest cat, Obie.  Dinah, Obie and Selmo, the farm’s other cat, seem to have reached a turf accomodation, something they never really worked out with Mongo, last year’s visiting dog. When Dinah ventured too close to the kitchen door of the farmhouse–cat turf–Selmo scratched her and sent her howling back down to the yurt meadow, where she holds sway. After that, the boundaries pretty much aligned themselves and everyone settled down.

As for the apprentices–they seem to have worked things out pretty well too and have become an excellent crew. They’ll be terrific on their own farms some day.

Katt & Tess

Hiram

Hiram has already amply demonstrated his kitchen skills–a dozen years working in various spots down in Bend, Ore. under his, ahem, belt. He’s this year’s cooler captain–a really critical job requiring good organization skills under pressure.  Tess is a source of boundless energy and good spirits. She was walking around in a tee shirt and bare feet when the temperature hit 50 degrees in April–probably reminded her of summer weather back home in New Hampshire.

The Weather–Ah yes, the weather. We broke a lot of records this spring, it was colder and  wetter than ever before, according to our favorite meteorologist, UW’s Cliff Mass. Cliff’s own misery measurement, the “Barbecue Index,” registered the wettest, coldest spring on record, with just five days over 60 degrees by June. We didn’t need a doctorate in meteorology to tell that, nature’s voice spoke louder–our first lettuce heads and first sweet turnips arrived weeks later than usual this year; the bouquets we are taking to the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market were lilac-less well into May–a true loss–and we’re still waiting for much of our  lavender to bloom in mid-July.

Cliff promised better days–and we did have a couple of beauties earlier this month–but now he’s saying it is going to be June gloom right through July. Another Summer That Never Was?

Number 26

New Arrivals–We’ve got another flock of tiny turkeys scampering around the fowl pasture  down at the farm gate–Chocolate’s back on the job. No sheep this year, but we do have a trio of new neighbors–three young black steers who are summering next door on Don Stevens’ pasture. They go by Number 26″,  “Number 27” and “Number 28”–their ear tags–and they seem to enjoy staring through the fence at the chickens summering in the upper run.

Other Visitors–Tess’s dad stayed the night back in March when dad and daughter climbed out their car after seven straight days of driving from New Hampshire to the left coast. Both her folks will be back visiting later this month. Adam’s mom stayed for a week, baking up a storm for everyone. Katt’s dad and sis will be here soon and Hiram’s folks have visited twice.  

We spent three weeks hosting Pierre Dambricourte, a 15-year-old visitor from France who charmed everyone and earned his chops working hard alongside the local farm crew. That’s Pierre in the truck bed (below) with Rebecca and Tess. He’s a fifth-generation farmer and this was his first visit to the U.S. The first place he wanted to visit was the local MacDonald’s, horrifying the farm’s food purists. But had become a farm-food fan by the time he left–heading back home to harvest wheat on his family’s farm, 22 hours a day for two weeks. We hope to see Pierre back soon.

Pierre and the Persephone farmers

So, in mid-July, the story line is that we are deeply into a new season–a little chillier, a bit damper than we’d like but hip deep in produce and working hard. One last bit of info–Rebecca planted a couple of fledgling giant pumpkins under the big tree near the salad garden back in May. We’re still waiting for her to remove their row covers and let them see the sun. Will they break last year’s record? Will they grow huge on a sour milk diet? Will there be any sun?

We’ll keep you posted as the season unfolds.

Persephone

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Ordinarily, we’d be going full-tilt boogie out in the fields at this time. But as we’ve already noted this has been an unusually slow start due to the bucketload of rain in early March and the late arrival of two of our interns, Katt and Adam. The weather is back to normal now–gray and cold–and we’re back at planting and getting things underway for the new season.

But we used the intervening down time to do some remodeling on our big yurt so Katt and Adam, will have a dry, comfy home when they arrive this weekend.

After the heavy wind and rain this winter we thought the yurt looked a little beaten up.

But Louisa, that amazing Jill-of-all-trades, used the downtime during the early March downpour to break out her sewing machine and, working on her dining room table, turn out a brand new set of outer panels for the struture. When the sun finally shone for a few hours yesterday the crew turned out to finish the facelift.

And, voila, the old girl looked as good as new.

Louisa, Hiram and Tess

There’s something special about a yurt. They are fairly mobile–in a pinch you can break it down and lug it off to another resting place (yes, we’ve done that.) With the wood stove glowing it is warm and cozy–tee shirts inside when it is snowing outside. And there’s nothing like the sound of rain on the roof when you are tucked in bed at night.

We make it a practice and a point of pride around here not to throw things away if they have some life left in them. We’ve got vehicles that are older than their drivers and CSA boxes that have held generations of produce. Our tools aren’t very shiny, but they’ve lasted a long time.
And the yurts–Trusty, Lusty and Gusty–they’re survivors too. (Gusty, on the windward side of the yurt meadow, is the one with the facelift. As for the other two–use your imagination.)
All it takes is a bit of tender loving care and things tend to hold up just fine.
Goes the same with the farmers too.
Persephone

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You might say that our 2011 season began back in the mid-fall when Rebecca started fielding apprentice inquiries, but with the approach of winter the pace has begun picking up. And if  the past is prologue, we’ll get well over 100 serious applicants for our four openings this year. (Thank you George W. Bush for cratering the economy, so eight months of living in a yurt and pulling weeds on a Puget Sound microfarm looks like a good alternative to applying at Goldman Sachs.)

Depending on how you gauge these things, you also could say our four apprentice slots are more sought-after than a spot in next year’s freshman class at Harvard. But who’s keeping score, right?

our glamorous yurts

Rebecca has just started wading into this year’s pool of apprentice queries. The emails are piling up and they’re coming in at the rate of one or two a day. (Don’t let the Harvard thing scare you off. We don’t pick our apprenti by GPA. We’re looking for wanna-be farmers who are willing to work hard and eager to learn. Some applicants have  farming experience and are looking for a chance to polish skills gained from previous apprenticeships before heading out on their own. Some are total newbies. It is always an interesting mix. In the past we’ve had inquiries from a longtime golf pro–we picked him– and a guy serving time in prison in Texas–nope. Join the pile by writing Rebecca at www.persephonefarm.com )

Who knows how Rebecca’s mind works in these things, but she’s very good at picking  winners. Over the years, she’s chosen a personal chef, a gay bartender, a librarian, and a woman living in her car with her dog. They all turned out to be good farmers. 

Our applicants come from all over–many find us on the National Sustainable Information Service’s ATTRA   website or a similar site for prospective apprentices at Growfood.org. We’ve been listed on these sites for years and have found many of our apprentices by way of them. The sites are a terrific resource and worth checking out.

As a rule, Rebecca starts winnowing the list around mid-December. We lose some very good applicants right off because we insist on a couple of basic criteria: We don’t take smokers–in addition to the obvious health concerns, tobacco leaf virus, which sometimes shows up in cigarette butts, can be very destructive to many of the crops we grow.

You will also need a licensed and insured vehicle. That may seem harsh but we often use our cars and trucks during the season to transport produce to the farmers market and to our alternate CSA pickup site on Bainbridge Island. Plus we have found it is just a good idea to be able to get around on your own–you can see the lights of Seattle across Puget Sound from here, but in fact we’re in a very small town in a somewhat isolated spot, with limited access to mass transit.

sunny

On the other hand, we’re not too picky about vehicles around here. Our farm truck, Sunny, is bordering on antiquedom. One recent year a pair of our apprentices drove their VW van here from Denver. They made it as far as the farm’s front gate, where the van  wheezed and quit. They arrived on foot. (We eventually got the van moving and it made it through the season. For all we know, it is still running.) 

Finally, we require our apprentices to start March 1 and continue through the season, which ends Oct. 31. True, that is a long haul, but there is a lot to learn, from late-winter greenhouse planting in March to buttoning up the farm for winter in late October and we’ve found it is worth the effort.

We’d also strongly urge any prospective apprentice to spend a little time reading back in this blog to get a sense of life around here during a season. It changes every year, of course–this past season we seemed to spend more time on animals and weather than some years in the past. Next year–who knows?

In addition to sending us a resume and starting to collect a few references, you’ll spend a little time on the phone with Rebecca, if it gets to that. We’ve also found that a visit to the farm really helps us choose good candidates. That won’t work, of course, for those people who live far away but it gives those who can make it here a chance to get to know us a bit better as well as scope out the place. Eight months is a long time.

All in all, we’ve been remarkably fortunate when it comes to our apprenti. They’ve coped and laughed and learned and grown, and nearly everyone agrees that spending a season on the farm is life-altering. We’ve seen some dramatic shifts in perspective. One year, an apprentice showed up right from his graduation, with big plans for a career as an anthropologist. He’s doing pretty well raising cows and making cheese in Vermont now.

Hard to say what your measure of success is, but if you pay attention you’ll probably see that this whole microfarming thing can actually work as a business. Meanwhile, you’ll be amazed at how much stronger you’ll get, emotionally as well as physically, after a season here. Forking beds in the spring rain builds both character and muscles.

The point is, growth is what this whole season thing is about. Everybody learns, everybody grows–us too. No wonder we’re more popular than Harvard.

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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Every evening, late in the season, we try to make time to watch the sun go down. The light at the end of the day can take your breath away; suddenly, the leaves on the trees are on fire and then, just as quick as it came, the fire disappears and the air takes on a new chill. Usually, this warmth/chill pattern would result in some fine fall tree colors. This year is far from normal and the Big Leaf Maples either haven’t turned yet or have turned a dull yellow. We’ll settle for a few stunning sunsets.

Low tunnels

We’re closing in on the end of the eighth month of this season and as it winds down it’s nice to make time  for these brief, fiery displays. The rest of it is going fairly smoothly–the corn is gone, replaced by new garlic beds, the other beds are mostly ready for winter. We’ve put up new low tunnels over the salad garden to wring as much heat out of these final weeks as possible.

Meanwhile, the apprentices have been busy sowing winter cover crops of rye vetch, wheat and some Austrian field peas. Next week will be the final farmers market and CSA pickup. And then–well, the appentices are already planning for the future (more on this in another post) and running down a final list of field chores to prepare for winter. Our neighbor and uber-shutterbug Bob Dash caught Caitlin yesterday as she dug out some of the last of the old sunflower stalks.

We’re still not finished. Early next month we will kill the lambs–yes, that’s a harsh way of putting it, but this is a working farm not a petting zoo, and we will do it as quickly and painlessly as is possible. Their meat will feed us through the winter and their wooly coats,tanned and fluffed, will make lovely Christmas presents next year.

Lambs in October

On the other side of the ledger we just installed 25 baby chicks in the brooder pen in the barn. They’re spending their first days warming themselves under the heat lamp and are already learning to peck food and drink water.

The New Chicks

These little girls (and a couple of guys we suspect) will stay in the barn for a month or so and then go into the upper chicken run to wait out the winter. Until the spring they’ll spend their time in and under the henhouse. The hens in that run now will get shifted to the lower pasture.

There’s a point to all this shifting around. The young chicks will be protected from the harsh weather in the upper run’s sheltered henhouse. And after the lambs are gone we’ll turn the older hens out onto the sheep pasture where they can forage, pecking out the parasites and larva from the sheep manure.

The hens love that stuff and digest it efficiently, fertilizing the land with their own droppings. At the same time they clean up the pasture so those parasites and eggs don’t find their way into next year’s flock of lambs. We suspect we lost our lamb, Weakie, to worms that infected this year’s flock from leftover manure.

There’s a nice sense of conclusion to all this. And to top things off our giant pumpkins, Zeke and Tink, became birthday presents this weekend. Rebecca offered our neighbor Clara a choice for her personal pumpkin to celebrate her eighth birthday.

Clara & Zeke

Clara chose Tink and her folks hauled both giants over to Wise Acres common house for her birthday party. We held a contest to guess Zeke’s weight with the winner getting to take Zeke home. The guesses ranged from ten pounds to 500 pounds, which probably reflects how you see the world if you are eight years old or 50 years old. Zeke weighed in at 94 pounds and the winning guesser–Elizabeth Unsel–posed for a picture.

Elizabeth & Zeke

So that’s where we are at this late stage in the season. Harvest mostly in, winter fields planted, lambs munching their last grass, chicks keeping warm, apprentices pondering the future, kids growing older–well we’re all getting older–and Elizabeth, she’s trying to figure out what to do with 94 pounds of pumpkin.

The wheel does keep turning.

Persephone

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