Teste Situations

November 8, 2017 in Food, Home

Yesterday was another milestone here on the farm. Yesterday we sent our first lamb to freezer camp. Well, Troy actually did the deed. I was indulged in a state of panic getting product ready for market, as is the Monday norm.

In between filling containers of body butter I glanced out the window towards the barn to take in the progress. Movement inside the barn, then a wheelbarrow tipped out the door, then the sound of the tractor moving towards our water source and the area where we’ve been dressing carcasses. I put down my containers and ventured outside. I’d have been happy to avoid the whole scene, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, and so I went to see if I could help.

There was Troy, standing in front of the lamb that hung from the tractor bucket. I stood alongside him and joined in the stare. At eye level an enormous set of testicles confronted our gaze, and neither of us needed to say anything. Troy had made an initial cut into the belly, but I could tell he was a little thrown off by the dangling participles punching him right in the eye. We’ve slaughtered and butchered chickens and pigs and turkeys. None of those beasts had a set like this. I could hear Troy’s brain going through the motions. Where to cut? How to separate the goods from the goods? My brain couldn’t quite do the math, either.

I walked away and left Troy to Google sheep balls. As luck would have it, our neighbour (who is a sheep farmer and very experienced in these matters) drove by, saw that something was up, and stopped in. Under his watchful eye and instruction the carcass was castrated. Today we cut and wrapped our lamb. One more box of food for the winter – almost 60 pounds, we figure. We didn’t keep the testicles, something else will enjoy them.

Never in a million years did I think a dinner conversation might go something like this:

Him: Next year if there’s a ram lamb we’re castrating it early on. I just didn’t know what to do with those balls, did you see the size of them?!?

Me: Yeah, I wondered how we’d deal with those.

Him: When I was Googling sheep testicles I thought about keeping them. It sounded like they might be good.

Me: Yeah, I don’t think so.

My progressive female self wants to pull out all the symbolism, the Freudian and Jungian triggers, the social significance of dealing with testicles through death and cuisine. My other self wonders what sort of god-forbidden redneck I have become… I not only went through this, I thought it was interesting enough to write about.

In the end I think it comes down to the fact that neither of us feels good about killing things, even if it is to sustain ourselves, but humans are omnivores, and so are the animals that will end up enjoying those balls. We are all just meat, from head to toe, and eventually we too will be eaten by something.

Might as well make a note of it, after all, it might be on the test(es).

 

The Price is Wrong

July 14, 2017 in Home, Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 6.33.06 AMIt’s veggie season again and that means those of us who sell produce at market have to step away from the fields and weeds for a few minutes every week to research prices. Consumers look for the best deals and selling any commodity requires competitive pricing on the part of the seller. There’s a fine line, however, between asking too much and not enough, and that line changes from week to week as things come in and out of season.

For those of us who sell at farmers markets pricing is always a struggle. We want to offer consumers a fair deal and encourage them to buy from us instead of the big chain stores. But we also need to make a living, to pay for seeds, market fees, fuel, and all the other costs that come with growing and selling. It’s all too easy to undervalue a product just to sell, and that seems innocent enough on the surface. After all, customers love a great deal! In the grand scheme of things, however, under-pricing creates a vicious cycle that undermines everyone, especially when multiple vendors have the same product.

If vendors don’t charge enough for their items:

  • The market becomes unprofitable for the vendors and they don’t return. The market fails.
  • Consumers develop an expectation that the product has less value, and therefore become unwilling to pay a realistic price. Farms fail.
  • Consumers end up with less choice when it comes to buying local. The local food system fails.

Determining a realistic and fair price for an item doesn’t have to be an an onerous task. There are multiple ways to choose fair pricing:

  • Organicpricetracker.ca  averages regional prices for a multitude of produce types. It’s a quick and easy-to-use resource for up-to-date data on market, wholesale, and bulk pricing.
  • Looking around at supermarkets and other farmers markets can provide a guideline for the average price of items. Of course it’s important to compare organic to organic, weight to weight…  lettuce shipped from Mexico cannot be considered the same as no-spray lettuce picked from a farmer’s field an hour before market.
  • Talk to other vendors and agree on a fair price.
  • Consider the value that product has to you, the vendor! There comes a price point where I’d rather take an item home and feed it to the pigs than sell for less. After all, pig food costs money too. Don’t have pigs? If your tomatoes went ballistic and you have way too many, instead of selling them for nothing why not donate them to a food bank or soup kitchen?

Dumping of product at unrealistic prices isn’t good for the vendorship, it isn’t good for the market, and in the long run it isn’t good for the consumer, either. Farmers markets aren’t flea markets… they are venues for local producers to sell quality product at fair prices, and make a living in the process. We need to cooperate to ensure that we CAN make a living. We also need to engage consumers and make sure they understand how and why prices are determined, and why sometimes our products are worth a little more than the chain store “equivalents”. If we undersell ourselves we’re underselling a whole local economy, it’s that simple. Make sure the price is right!

 

Coming Clean on Responsible Ingredients

January 17, 2017 in Home

rosehipOver the 6 years that I’ve been making Tipsy Toad goat milk soap and body products the things that I make have evolved, and my ingredients have changed with that evolution. Selling at Farmers Markets I have the pleasure of one-on-one interaction with my customers. I get to hear first hand what they really love about the things I make, and I’m also forced to field the negative feedback in real time. One concern that comes up over and over is about ingredients, and believe me, I get it. People want to use something that’s not going to be damaging to their body, but they are also becoming increasingly concerned about the ethical and sustainable nature of the ingredients their products contain. Recently a customer expressed grave concern because I use canola oil in my soaps, and canola is a GMO. This discussion led me to think that it’s high time I disclose how I choose the ingredients I use.

First off, I think it’s important to out myself. In an ideal world, I would only consume things that are spray-free (note I didn’t say Organic), Fair Trade, Ethically Produced, local and environmentally sustainable. I grow produce using spray-free methods. I raise my meat and eggs on pasture. I grow a good portion of the hay that my animals eat. I read labels carefully in the supermarket to determine where things come from and what they contain. That said, like most people, I have a budget, and sometimes that budget makes the 99 cent can of beans pretty attractive, even if it isn’t organic. My budget also tells me that if I’m like other people, $6 is not unreasonable for a bar of natural, handmade soap, but $12 is completely out of line.

$12 for a bar of soap. That’s about what I’d have to charge if every ingredient I used met all the criteria I listed above. I would be out of business because if that’s what a bar of natural soap cost, most people would say “to heck with it”, and go right back to the drugstore soap.

So I weigh the pros and cons of different ingredients, trying to balance cost with a sense of wanting to do the right thing. In the end, some of my ingredients are local (in my mind buying local is one of the most important decisions in sourcing ingredients), some are organic, some are non-GMO, some are Fair-Trade, and some are none of the above. Different things seem to be important to different people. Nobody who’s questioned my use of GMOs has ever questioned my use of palm oil (a far more contentious product, in my mind). I do source my palm from companies who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but it’s still not environmentally ideal. If the best alternates for palm weren’t animal fats like lard, I would consider substituting. I have no issue personally with using lard in soap, but I have many customers who are vegetarians and I don’t think that would fly with them. In the case where Organic products are economically feasible I choose those over the cheaper alternatives. Most of the essential oils I use are organic. My coconut oil is not organic because organic coconut oil is almost triple the price of non-organic. I use hand-harvested clay in my products. I use my own goat milk, so I know how the goats providing it are fed and treated.

As for GMOs, they are my last concern. Why? Because there isn’t scientific evidence that GMOs are the monster they’re made out to be. There are many problems with GMOs. I disagree with altering seed stock so that it’s no longer capable of open pollination. I disagree with changing organisms so that they can’t survive grown in a natural environment or without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. But do I think GMOs across the board are bad for us? Maybe some of them are, but it’s absurd to just say “all GMOs are bad”. I suspect the canola oil I use is a GMO. It’s also Canadian. I suspect that the feed my goats eat also contains GMOs. And try finding hay that isn’t GMO. I don’t know what was originally planted in my hay fields, but I suspect the farmer who was here before us didn’t care too much about where his hay seed came from. I have a much larger axe to grind with industrial monoculture growing than I do with Genetically Modified Organisms, and so yes, there are some in my soaps.

We can only do the best we can do. Is it better to offer a product that’s partly sustainable and responsible in the hopes that more people will choose it, or to go all out and make the fully responsible product that only a very small fraction of the population can afford to use? That’s a choice I have to make every time I buy ingredients. In the end I feel pretty good about the choices I make and I can only hope that my customers recognize this and feel pretty good about supporting me.

Holy Hot Peppers!

October 4, 2016 in Food, Home

In all my years of growing things, peppers, and particularly hot peppers, have probably been my biggest challenge. For some reason, when everything else was doing well the peppers just never seemed to happen. This year the bell peppers continued that tradition… the plants were big and strong and healthy looking, the blossoms were plentiful, but apart from a few sad looking specimens, my bell peppers really didn’t produce much in the way of fruit. This year I’m blaming the lack of water they received. The 4 varieties of hot peppers I planted, however, went absolutely ballistic.

A plethora of hot peppers might be a challenge for some people, but I had no trouble keeping up with them. I didn’t plant anything super intense as I didn’t think there would be much demand for extra hot peppers at the markets I do. I’ve been selling fresh salsa at market this year, and making that mowed through a ton of peppers. My own affection for spicy foods took care of another pile. Still, when I hauled in a harvest a few days ago. I ended up with a bucketful that demanded more creative preservation, so I started searching for ideas. I’m still looking for a hot sauce recipe that appeals to me and I may just have to develop my own. In the meantime, here’s how I took care of that pesky peck of peppers, and a few other things in the process.

 

Concord Grape and Apple Chutney (Loosely adapted from The Cozy Herbivore)

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. Concord grapes, washed and stems removed
  • 6 cups peeled & diced Cortland apples
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 5  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 3 thumbs of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp. cardamom powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 fresh Bulgarian Carrot hot peppers,  minced ( use more or less depending on desired heat level, you can substitute jalapenos but they don’t have as much flavour)
  • 2 fresh Cayenne peppers, minced
  • 6 Criolla de Sella peppers, minced
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Place grapes in a large, heavy-bottomed non-reactive stockpot and bring to a simmer. Cook covered until the grapes become mushy. Remove from heat and squash grapes through a mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing to extract as much of the pulp from the seeds as possible.
  2. Transfer seed-free pulp to stockpot and stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer.
  3. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for about an hour or until mixture thickens and apples break down. Chutney should very thick.
  4. Pour into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe down the rims of the jars and screw on sterilized lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Turn off heat and allow jars to sit in the water for 5 minutes more.
  5. Carefully remove jars from hot water and allow to rest undisturbed on a cooling rack  for at least 12 hours. Test the lids to ensure they sealed properly. Store in a cool dry place for up to one year.

Hot Pepper Jelly

I used this recipe from The Tiffin Box. Some recipes I found called for up to SIX cups of sugar for the same quantity of jelly. Not cool! Anyway, I did make one change to this recipe: I omitted the sweet peppers and used about 1.5 cups of hot peppers (measured before chopping) instead. It IS supposed to be HOT pepper jelly, right? I may regret that decision, but it’s highly unlikely.

Pickled Peppers

I wanted to make pickled peppers so I’d have the hot peppers readily accessible all winter for chilis, curries, spaghetti sauces, etc. I considered drying them, but I don’t have a dehydrator and leaving the oven on for days on end seemed like a waste of electricity. Freezing was also an option, but it makes the peppers mushy, which isn’t appealing to me. (Not to mention that freezer space is at a premium with 3 porkers and 60-odd chickens headed to freezer camp this week.) Almost every recipe I came across for pickled peppers involved using pickling spices, but I wanted to maintain the pure “pepperness” as much as possible. After all, if I’m going to cook with these suckers, adding spice after the fact makes much more sense to me. Here then, is my pared down pickled pepper recipe, designed to preserve, but other than the vinegar and salt ( which are imperative to the safety of the product) not affect the flavour.

8 cups hot peppers
6 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
4 tablespoons kosher salt
1. Wash peppers thoroughly and snap off the stems. I left the peppers whole but you can chop them if you prefer.
2. Pack peppers into sterilized pint jars and set aside.
3. Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
4. Pour boiling brine over peppers in the pint jars, leaving ¼” of head space at the top.
5. Seal jars with lids and rings and process in a water bath of boiling water for 10 minutes.
6. Store at least one week before using. Store up to one year.

Hot Sauce

It hasn’t happened yet. I ran out of peppers after the pickling. They’re calling for frost tonight, so one of today’s chores is to scrounge any remaining peppers from the garden. If the hot sauce actually happens I’ll edit accordingly. If not, next year!

Finding Balance

May 24, 2016 in Home, Us

willyLast week Troy and I made an executive decision that from here on in Sundays will be fun days. Since starting this farming thing almost 3 years ago we’ve been on a nearly uninterrupted schedule of all work and no play, 24/7, punctuated only by a little bit of sleep.  When you buy an old place with 4+ years of overgrown fields, no garden, a house with good bones but bad skin, and a barn that fell down, stood back up, but lost its floor in the process, let’s just say there are a few things that need attention, and it all feels urgent.

So we’ve been going hard at’er for almost 3 years. We do squeeze in the occasional bike ride, a little drive along the shore, or a very rare date night, but we haven’t really made time for “fun”. It’s just a given that we get out of bed and go, go, go until the sun goes down. We’ve been doing what we love, so it seemed to be ok.

You start to realize that something’s not right when friends, even other FARMER friends, are telling you that you do too much, you’re too busy, you’re working too hard. You start to wonder what they know that you obviously don’t.

So Sunday was our first “fun day”. We woke up a little late, had a leisurely breakfast, and decided that first thing we’d do is have some horsey time. Fred and Willy have been lawn ornaments for most of the time they’ve been with us. We keep vowing to find the time to give them the training and exercise they need, but just like everything else that we consider to be “fun” it’s gotten pushed aside for work. Horses in the morning, bikes in the afternoon. That was the plan, and it sounded great.

Hooves needed trimming, though, so before we could get down to the good stuff we broke out the rasp and the nippers and went to…work. About 2 hours and a lot of patience later, both horses had lovely pedicures, and bug bitten and sore from bending over for so long we were finally able to get on with the fun.

Green and spooky horses need the edge taken off before you can ride them, though. So we headed to the riding ring for some ground “work”. Another hour or so of lunging, desensitizing, and “working” on respect went by before the saddles finally came out.

Willy is the more sensible of our two equine companions, so while Troy continued “working” with Fred on the ground, I went off for a little ride around. Fun, at last! For a whole hour or so!

When I was done with Willy I helped Troy with Fred. Well, I helped Troy “work” on his nerves with Fred. The last couple of times Troy got on Fred he ended up on the ground pretty quickly. This time he took it slower, allowed me to teach him a few things, and the “work” paid off with a successful riding session.

At 3 in the afternoon we wrapped up our horsey time and had lunch. It started to rain. We were both sore and there was bacon and chicken brining and ready to smoke. We decided against the bike ride and fired up the smoker. We tried to decide what we’d do next. Troy muttered something about needing to bring firewood up from the woods down below and I was thinking hard about all the soap I needed to make. We sat around the smoker for 20 minutes pondering the remaining daylight hours. It was a long 20 minutes. Not doing work when there’s work to be done is stressful and we were both chomping at the bit.

Finally, desperate to avoid falling back into work, I suggested a drive. We hopped in the car and went exploring for an hour. By the time we returned, it was time to do chores and make supper. We’d managed to avoid “work” for an entire day. Sort of.

It seemed like having a relaxing fun day was a great idea, and on paper it is. In reality, though, it was more work to not work. Maybe we’re just out of practice?

I’ll be interested to see what this Sunday brings. I’m working on ideas now.

 

 

How to Become a Farmer: 8 Things You Should Know

February 18, 2016 in Home, Uncategorized

drivewayHow does one become a farmer? It seems simple enough. Get some land, grow some meat or veggies, sell it. It seems simple enough, but  in reality, I still have no idea. When I took the jump  it was more of a clumsy tumble than a leap of faith. I threw myself into the abyss with a plan mapped out on a piece of graph paper and an idealistic vision of how everything would be. That piece of paper helped get our fireplace going during the first winter here, and the vision has been hatcheted from every direction by the very boards, governments and individuals that I thought would make up the core of my support system. I have no clue what I’m doing, but despite everything I seem to be finding my way.

I feel like the last person on earth who could tell someone how to become a farmer, but I can suggest eight tips I wish I’d known from the get-go. If you’re thinking about farming as a new career path, read on.

#1) Forget about Joel Salatin

youcanfarmOk, that’s harsh. I’ve read almost  every  one of his books and except for his occasional Bible thumping I feel like he’s got it 110% right. He inspired that initial list I had of how things were going to work… yeah, the one that ended up in the fire.

So what’s wrong with Joel? Well, nothing, except that he doesn’t live where you do, he doesn’t have the same property you do, he may be dealing with regulatory bullshit but it’s not the exact regulatory bullshit you’re going to deal with, and as comforting as it is that he’s found ways around the challenges he’s faced, his successes haven’t made it any easier for you, and won’t apply when you try making the same points to your own government entities. You will not be able to just set up an outdoor slaughter facility and sell your chickens to customers far and wide.  You will not be able to sell gazillions of eggs just because you have them. Sticking it to the man is a time consuming job, and if you plan to start up a farm you’re not going to have time or energy to fight battles, no matter how right you are, especially if you don’t have a gaggle of kids to put to work while you write the emails.

#2. Do read the regulations

Seriously. Before you even start looking for properties take a good hard look at municipal by-laws. Then read provincial and federal regulations regarding anything and everything you might be thinking about producing. Understand what you can and can’t do according to those regulations. Make sure you have a really good grip on how restricted some commodities are because they’re controlled by marketing boards. In Nova Scotia you can’t even sell a turnip without a permit. Growing and selling food looks like dirty, invigorating work until you find yourself mired in the bureaucracy that surrounds it. Then it’s just dirty. Don’t make any plans until you understand that from the inside out or you’ll be making plans for nothing. There is definitely money to be made, but there are a heck of a lot of rules about who can make it, and how.

#3. Don’t count on grants

Why not? Because there aren’t any. There are lots of loans and forgiveable loans and “partnerships” and funding possibilities, but they will all require that you cough up money too, and almost all of them will need to be repaid. Loans are not grants, and because I know you’ve already immersed yourself in those Joel Salatin books, I’ll tell you right now that one of the things he has very right is that jumping into debt is no way to run a farm. At least figure out what the hell you’re doing before you start applying willy nilly for money. Wouldn’t it suck to find yourself paying back a loan for a pig barn when you suddenly decide blueberries are what you really want to grow?

#4. Be open-minded and versatile

goatI have no idea what I’m doing but my sales are building instead of falling. Why? Because I’m not putting all my eggs in one, two, or even three baskets. When I started with goats I had wild dreams of a dairy ( and I still do) but in the meantime, until I think it’s financially viable, I’m using the milk to build a soap business instead.  Soap doesn’t sell well in the winter months, though, so I’m cooking hot lunches at market to pick up the slack. I thought meat chickens would be a big part of my operation, but I’ve discovered that I really don’t enjoy raising them, and I’d rather just produce enough to meet our own needs. I knew I’d have a garden for our own use but I didn’t anticipate that it would double in size each year so I could expand and sell. When you’re small scale farming you have the advantage of being able to try different things, you can change what you produce as trends and customers come and go. You can change what you produce if it turns out something just doesn’t work for you. You’re not tied to a multi-million dollar layer facility or a fleet of tractors for producing grain. Don’t let your head get stuck in one place, be creative with what you’ve got ( and what you’re good at), and somehow things seem to work.

#5. Understand that nothing is instant

If you cultivate a garden at a new property it’s going to take time to balance the soil, figure out the micro-climate, understand the pest and weed challenges specific to the area, and learn to plant accordingly. If you buy a place with a run down barn or house you will find yourself making repairs to get by and reworking things over and over until you finally get them right.  If you start selling at a market you may not even  make enough to cover your table fee for the first several months, until customers become familiar with you and your product.  Dreaming of farming seems very straightforward – grow food, sell food, work hard and profit. And then you realize that fences need constant restringing because snow and deer stretch them, hooves grow faster than you can trim them, crops get mangled by insects,  and a single fox or eagle can decimate your poultry in the bat of an eyelid. Farming is one step forward, three steps back until you’ve gone so far backward you’ve come full circle, Then you do it over again.  If you’re not a patient person, farming probably isn’t for you.

#6. Network

Perhaps the most valuable thing I did when I started was to throw myself into networking opportunities whenever possible. Sure, it was partly because I wanted to make some farming friends, but it also gave me avenues to find cheap things I need, to find advice from people I can trust, to get the inside scoop when something important is going down, and to attract new customers. Getting to know other farmers will show you that there are a million ways to do any one thing, that going with your gut is often as good as going by the book, and that who you know can be as important as what you grow when it comes to making a sale. I love my non-farming friends dearly, but when I need to talk about cucumber beetles, scours, and preferred castration techniques, nothing beats someone who gets it. Real gold is having a number you can call at 11pm  to get some emergency colostrum for a suddenly orphaned newborn. When you have that, you know you’ve been networking successfully.

#7. Assess your needs and wants

Do you have to have a new car every 3 years? Are designer shoes high on your list of wants? Does walking into a Frenchys make you queasy?  Is a trip to Cuba the only way you can survive the Canadian winter?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions farming is not for you. You will not be rich, and if you have livestock you will not be able to take off and ditch your job, even for a night. Understand how tied to your land and animals you will become, and if that’s a deal breaker, walk away. We used to love camping, back country adventures, & multi-day backpacking trips. Now we enjoy the occasional day hike and a night in our tent down in the back pasture. Dogs can go to a kennel while you vacay. Chickens, goats, sheep, horses, llamas, donkeys and pigs can’t.

#8. Really understand that farming is hard

gardentillSure it is, you’ve heard it a million times before. Unfortunately, you really don’t understand HOW hard it is until you’re in it. You will work all day, every day ( there are no weekends). You will struggle to pay the bills. You will collapse into bed every night and toss and turn thinking about what didn’t go right today and what needs to be done tomorrow. You will do what needs to be done no matter how sick, hungover or exhausted you feel, no matter how bad the black flies are, no matter how crappy the weather.  You will realize that the glamour and romance associated with the small farm are  bullshit nostalgic sentiments created by people who’ve never mucked a stall or watched a sick animal die. But at the end of the day, if you’ve survived all that and you still love what you’re doing you’ll know you’ve made the best decision of your life. If farming was easy everyone would do it.  Before you take it on be very aware that there’s a good reason everyone doesn’t.

 

 

 

DIY Electric Fence Insulators

November 23, 2015 in Farm Hacks

electric-fence-insulatorsIt’s super annoying when you spend money on things that don’t last. Even more-so when you don’t have a whole lot of money to begin with. Ever since we started this farming thing one particular product has really made me crazy… plastic fence insulators. At 50 cents and up each, these little pieces of molded plastic seem fairly expensive for what they are, but they’re even less of a bargain when half of them break after a hard winter. They’re difficult to move without snapping, they don’t stand up to any form of farm abuse whatsoever, and they cost way more than a little piece of molded plastic should.

When wayward goats forced me to re-do our fence this time around, I decided there had to be a better way. First of all I scrapped the pretty braided yellow fencing in favour of plain old 16 gauge wire. The braided wire might be more visible, but the actual wires in it are so thin that they break easily, and then you’re left trying to figure out exactly where that little weak spot is in your miles and miles of fence. That part was a no-brainer, but then I had to rethink those insulators. A quick internet search for a cheap homemade version left me very happy indeed. I already had everything I needed to make them so I set to work. The result is an insulator that can stand up to being whacked with a sledgehammer, it can be easily moved a million times, and best of all, these are probably going to outlive my fenceposts. Here’s a quick how-to – you’ll never buy insulators again.

What you need:

  • Flexible 1 inch water pipe
  • hack saw
  • utility knife
  • 1.5″ screws
  • a rechargeable drill with a screwdriver bit to fit the screws and a drill bit slightly smaller than the screws

Step 1

cutpipeUsing the hack saw cut the pipe into pieces about 3-4 inches long.

 

 

 

Step 2

drillcenterDrill a hole straight through the center of the pipe. Make sure it goes through both sides.

 

 

 

Step 3

screwholesTurn the pipe 45 degrees and drill holes through the top and bottom of the pipe.

 

 

 

Step 4

cutslitStand the pipe on its end on a flat surface. Using the knife start at the hole in the center and cut straight down to the end. Do the same thing on the other side. Hold the pipe at the top so you don’t risk slicing your fingers off.

 

 

slitpipe

 

 

 

Step 5

installedinsulatorsInstall the insulator on the post with the cut end facing up. Put a screw through the bottom hole and fasten it to the post. Unless you have screws with really big heads be careful not to over-tighten or you may drive the screw head right through the pipe. I did that a few times; next time I’ll use different screws.

Slip your wire through the slit in the pipe so that it rests in the center hole. Put another screw through the top to secure the whole thing.

If your fence is temporary, you can probably get away with just putting a screw in the bottom of the insulator so you can easily pop the wire in and out. I found that these insulators are especially  good in the corners, where standard fence insulators don’t handle the tension well.

By my calculations these suckers would cost about 6 cents a piece to make if you had to buy the pipe. Because the pipe was here when we bought the place, they cost me nothing! An hour of my time resulted in about 100 insulators, and with any luck that hour will be time well spent as I won’t have to replace them after another hard winter.

Take that, molded plastic insulator manufacturers.

Wiling Away Winter

March 23, 2015 in Home, Uncategorized

1503_snowanddeer_003Apparently it’s been spring now for a couple of days, but never mind, Nova Scotia has decided that it’s not done yet with winter. What to do, what to do?  No need to go shack whacky, cabin crazy, absolutely batty… there are so many great ways to pass the time. Here’s how I’ve kept from getting bored this winter.

1) Take the Dogs for a Snowshoe

1502_snowshoeingdogs_006Bored dogs are worse than bored kids, so what better way to burn off excess energy than strapping on the snowshoes and taking them for a stomp through the woods? Never mind that the snowshoes mean you only sink up to your knees instead of up to your waist. Enjoy the hilarity of large dogs leaping through the air and then disappearing again into the snow like breaching whales. Throw the frisbee and watch the slow motion chase. Return to the house exhausted… the dogs, because they had a ton of fun, and you, because walking through 4 foot drifts in snowshoes is like trying to swim with bags of concrete strapped to your feet.

2) Bake

1544566_10153659220875117_1297074966_nWinter is the time for comfort food, which means lots of fat and lots of sugar. It’s the season to bake up a storm (no pun intended). Bake cookies, bake breads, bake cinnamon buns and muffins. Feel your pants slowly snug tighter and tighter around your waist. Promise yourself that tomorrow, once all the treats are gone, you will go on a diet. Check the forecast and realize that another storm is brewing, Take pity on yourself and head back to the kitchen. Repeat cycle every 2-3 days.

3) Haul Water

semi-frozen-water-bucketCurse the frozen water lines in the big barn. Curse the heated water buckets that don’t work worth a damn. Fill the buckets in the small barn, then carry them across the yard to the big barn. Give them to the animals, head back to the small barn, do it over and over. This is an excellent form of winter crossfit. Carrying across ice improves your balance, carrying through drifts improves your stamina, carrying in blinding whiteouts improves your mind-body awareness. All forms of carrying improve the likelihood that you’ll suffer from multiple tennis elbows and the occasional back muscle spasm. Which leads to number 4!

4) Take Long, Hot Baths

haydayIt’s winter, you’re chilled, you ache. What better way to combat those miseries than a nice hot bath? Fill the tub with the hottest water you can handle. Throw in some bath salts. Pour a glass of wine, note that you’ve acquired a little extra winter padding and resolve to do something about it, climb in and feel the cold leave your bones. Just start feeling relaxed ( despite the tiny and uncomfortable tub) when the dogs scratch at the door to go out and pee. Curse the dogs, get out and grab a towel, let the dogs out, wait while they take longer than usual, finally let them in again, head shivering back to the bath. Suds up your armpits and get ready to shave. Hear a loud banging noise downstairs. Get out of the bath again and rush to see what’s going on, The door has blown open and the wind is smashing it back and forth. Freeze your butt off securing it, then scurry back to the warmth of the tub. Just get warmed up again when you hear horses in the driveway. Scramble, still wet, into the first clothes you find, run outside and herd them back to their corral. Fix the gate they’ve ripped apart out of boredom. Head back to the tub. Realize the water is now cold. Chug the wine and go bake something.

5) Clear Snow

251403_10151422383914474_1443512195_nSnow clearing is exhilarating, it’s good exercise, and it gives you the freedom to leave your bloody house and procure food, supplies, and human contact. It can also kill lots of down time, so boredom is never an option! Spend hours piling the snow higher and higher, and then revel in your excitement as the wind picks up when you’re done, blowing all the snow back into your driveway and walkways. Give up and become a hermit.

6) Clean the House

With a constant supply of shedding dog hair, dust and ashes from the woodstove and dirty barn boots traipsing through? Yeah, right… dream on!

7) Renovate

This winter we fixed up two rooms… our laundry room had a makeover to become my soap production room, and we hauled the motley crew of misfit shelving out of the pantry and built in shelves that actually work and fit. The best thing about doing renos in the winter is that you have to stay in the house with the mess you make, so you’re extra motivated to get it done quickly. The worst thing about renos in the winter is that you have to stay in the house with the mess you make, so if you run into problems and the disruption goes on for an extended period of time, someone might die.  No bodies ended up getting put through the snowblower this time, so I think our renos were a success.

8) Visit Friends

What fun is snow if you can only bitch about it to yourselves? Take advantage of the winter season to bitch with as many other people as possible. Bitch over coffee, bitch over beers. Misery loves company, and everyone you talk to is guaranteed to be just as miserable as you. (Ok, so we really didn’t do much of this one… too busy clearing f#*%ing snow. Grumble, grumble.)

9) Go for a Drive

Gas was at an almost all-time low this winter, so we took advantage to go explore our new neck of the woods a little. It’s the perfect time of the year to see what fields look like covered in snow, what back roads look like covered in snow, what the North Mountain looks like covered in snow… you get the drift. We discovered all sorts of snow-covered nooks and crannies that we’d never seen before. Exploring is fun, especially when you see new things (covered in snow).

10)Dig Deep and Enjoy Your Extended Existence

When all else fails, winter allows you to enjoy the fact that time slows to a crawl. Light is short, limiting the amount of time you have to enjoy outside, so days feel rather long. Nights are longer still, with howling winds tossing maple syrup buckets against trees, branches knocking against your roof, and screen doors slamming as winter poltergeists come and go from your porch. Sleep doesn’t come easy, so you can feel like time all but stops. And who doesn’t want to live longer? What a bonus!

603154_10151374774104474_399329680_nI love winter, I really do; my asthma is less severe, there are no bugs to drive me nuts, I can bundle up in wooly clothes and feel cozy instead of constantly sweating like a pig on a spit. But I’m done. Now that I’ve given you an exciting list of things to do with the tedious winter months, perhaps spring will suddenly appear. Just to be sure, though, I think I’ll go buy a toboggan. That should guarantee the snow melts in record time. If I’m wrong, you’ll find me curled up in a ball rocking back and forth in the corner of a goat stall, weeping. Winter activity #11 – suffering defeat.

Add it to the list.

 

 

Reconciling Pigs and Fall

November 10, 2014 in Everyone Else, Food, Home, Uncategorized

imageIt’s that time of the year. A few leaves still cling to the branches, afraid to make the jump. Night pushes its luck each day, seeing how much more darkness it can get away with imposing. The temperatures fluctuate from nipply to sweaty, but only because it’s impossible to know how to dress. Autumn is well underway and it won’t be long before the first snowfall insists we are done for the year.

The garden has been stripped. Aside from a couple of rows of lettuce that I planted last month and a handful of scrappy leeks, the only things growing are weeds. Good intentions dictated that cover crops would fill the spots where veggies used to thrive, but other priorities such as barn renos and seasonal craft fairs slammed that window of opportunity shut. I’d feel bad had procrastination been the culprit, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Likewise, our planned riding ring construction and walipini dig will probably move down the list to become next year’s projects. Soon the ground will freeze, rendering earth-related projects difficult to impossible.

The things that have to happen before winter comes knocking are not as daunting as they were, but there is one thing we have to take care of that I’m not looking forward to -the pigs must go to freezer camp.

In the spring, in keeping with our ideals, we purchased two bottle lambs and two piglets with the idea of raising them to market weight and filling our freezers with meat. The sheep got off lucky. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to keep the ewe for breeding. Once Troy named her Stella, she was pretty much off the hook. Chopper (as in “lamb chops”) was freezer bound until a woman came by interested in purchasing him as a stud for her own flock. Knowing we could buy lamb from John across the road, we took her money, saved ourselves the hassle, and decided it would be just as acceptable to fill our freezer with meat that was just 150 meters less local but raised on the same principles as ours.

The pigs, however, won’t be so lucky.

I think it’s ok that I’m having a bit of a hard time reconciling the fate of Edgar and Mitchell. I’ve gotten to know them a bit, despite having made efforts not to get attached. I remind myself that they’ve had a good life, eating bucket after bucket of apples and treats from the garden; moving from one fenced spot to another again and again, digging for grubs and pulling up roots until the once-grassy spaces look like bombs went off. I remind myself that the whole reason they came here to live was so that we could know what we are eating, and what it ate. The difficulty in knowing that the animals who will feed us have enjoyed their time on this earth is knowing that you’re ending that animal’s happy days rather than ending the suffering of a feedlot beast. Irony at its most brutal.

It’s an irony that’s made me reconsider my dietary choices more than once. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and frankly, my body didn’t react well. But the big picture takes into account so much more than the life of an animal ( or person). While a boatload of studies exist showing that a vegetarian diet is less harmful to the planet than one that includes meat, I’ve yet to see one of those studies that takes into account how that equation changes if the meat is raised sustainably in one’s own back yard. It’s mostly assumed that meat comes from a huge industrial farm, and fair enough, most of it does. On the other hand, there are also studies showing the negative impacts of monoculture farming ( a method that has taken over the veggie side of industrial farming). It’s a method of growing things that depletes the soil quickly, throwing off the balance of natural insects and micro-organisms in the process. As a result, the soil and plants need more help to grow – more fertilizers, more pesticides, and more water. Not to mention the fossil fuels that go into processing and transporting vegetarian protein substitutes such as tofu and TVP. It doesn’t take much fuel to transport my grass- fed pigs, chickens and turkeys from the fields to the freezer.

No matter how much I work through the hows and whys of food production, however, my final thought always comes down to biology and evolution. We have canine teeth. We evolved as omnivores. It only seems natural, then, to eat meat, and so I choose to raise my own, and eventually send it to slaughter. Call me what you will, an ethically- minded consumer and producer or a selfish, murderous asshole. Just know that my decisions are not reached without contemplation and some pretty heavy soul searching.

Before winter comes blasting in, pigs will be converted to pork chops and hams, and those last leaves will take the plunge. With a woodshed more than stuffed, and freezers loaded with turkeys, chicken, lamb and pork that we’ve produced ourselves, there will be comfort in knowing that we are prepared to make it through the darker months. In the spring, new piglets will likely arrive, the garden (now twice as large thanks to the pigs) will be readied for another round, and the cycle will repeat itself. This is the path we have chosen. Will next year’s killing of the pigs be any easier for me? I hope not. This life we’ve bitten off is as much about appreciating what it takes to make food as it is about the actual making of it. The heartache and discomforts are all part of that appreciation. I’m okay with that.

 

 

 

 

A Letter to The Minister

October 27, 2014 in Food, Home, Uncategorized

imageAs of today this letter, sent Oct. 10th, 2014, has gone unanswered. If I do receive a reply I will post it.

 

Minister Colwell,

You may recall a package I sent you earlier this year. It contained a letter outlining some examples of problems with the current agricultural regulatory system, as well as a petition with over 2000 signatures, asking that your government revisit the regulations to make adjustments that would accommodate small farming pursuits in Nova Scotia.

Your response to me claimed that you share a real interest in the subject of over regulation. You also indicated that the regulations are designed to ensure that products marketed in this province “have the confidence of local consumers”.

Mr. Colwell, I received your letter in February and I’ve patiently waited to see how your interest in “The subject of over regulation and its impact on new and beginning farmers” would manifest change. Events in recent weeks certainly indicate that your interest lies more in shutting down small farms and related businesses, and not in making local food production more accessible.

Make no mistake, local consumers have spoken. They have indicated their confidence in producers like Aaron Hiltz and processors like Gordon Fraser. They are, quite frankly, losing confidence in a government and the commodity boards that unrelentingly attack entrepreneurs. Of course consumers want safe food, but tell me this: how many cases of food-related illness can be traced back to a turkey that Gordon Fraser slaughtered? I’m sure you probably know how many can be traced back to XL Foods and Maple Leaf Foods, both government inspected facilities.

If your interests are, as you claim, “to balance the need to reduce the barriers of entry into some commodities for new entrants while at the same time ensure our food supply is safe”, I would like to offer the following suggestions:

A) Revamp the commodity boards to ensure representation from small (non-industrial and non-commercial) farmers, as well as consumer bodies.

B) Instead of allowing the commodity boards to hunt down and prosecute farmers and processors who do not comply with existing regulations, take a constructive approach and examine their true risk to the public and the impact that removing them from the food supply system will have, especially in cases where they have been operating safely or without causing harm for a number of years. In cases where real issues must be addressed, work with these individuals to try and rectify the problems instead of slapping them with ultimatums and fines.

C) As per the request of my initial letter, strike a committee or an interest group to take a good hard look at the current regulations as they exist with an open and informed mind, and adjust them wherever reasonable to promote small agricultural activity and grow this province’s ability to feed itself.

Minister Colwell, the obvious face of farming in Nova Scotia may be the commodity boards and the large organizations, but you know, as do I, that interest in food production is growing like wildfire. There are undetermined numbers of hobby farmers, small producers, and alternative, niche farmers in this province who are very uncomfortable at being told that eventually they may not even be allowed to kill a chicken for their own use. We do not elect governments to babysit us, we elect governments to protect our freedoms and rights, as well as our quality of life.

I hope that you will act in the real interest of growing a local food system, where consumers can know their farmers and butchers and where neighbours are allowed to provide for each other. Food safety is much easier to achieve in a production system where each animal ends up in an individual package, not ground up with 100 others. Food safety is much easier to achieve on farms where producers have daily contact with each and every animal in their care. Food safety is much easier to achieve where a person’s livelihood hinges on reputation, and not whether or not they can afford a million dollar fine to get back in the game after mistakes are made. Why do our regulations not reflect these realities?

Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.

Sincerely,
Susan D. Earle