This past Saturday saw our first weekly Pop Up Farm Stand, which we jokingly refer to as “PUFS.” Every Saturday morning from 10:00-12:00 we'll be setting up the tent to highlight and offer our fresh, organic vegetables. It’s also an opportunity to chat with some of the Kiss the Cow farmers, who make all this food possible.
We wanted to have a “soft opening” for the first PUFS to ease into it and to give us a chance to dial in the details. So did minimal advertising, which is why I didn’t mention it last week. I’d like to congratulate the folks who braved the 49 degree temps, overcast sky, and gusting wind The free coffee was appreciated! And the kids were way more interested in the calves than the cold (or veggies).
The forecast for this coming Saturday is much warmer. So stop by, get some veggies, visit the farm store, see the calves, drink some coffee, and say hi!
I love Vermont. It’s strange little place, but it’s a cool strange. You can live in one town, but your mail is sent to a different one. People around here think that’s normal. We have politicians in power across the political spectrum. Our state is practically the same size and shape as its neighbor, New Hampshire, only upside down, standing on its head. You can easily travel north and south, but not east or west.
We have mini-metro areas surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of woods and fields. A plethora of animals, insects and plants populate this rural expanse, though there are few humans. We are blessed with a kaleidoscope of green and an ongoing opera of bird songs; of seasons: five of them. We’ve flatlands, mountains, rivers, little pavement and one long, narrow lake.
What we don’t have is an ocean. This is something I miss. The ocean is alluring, a source of opportunity, of escape. It is alive, dangerous, and too vast to comprehend. It reaches deep within you.
Before we “swallowed the anchor” Lisa and I went through a sailing phase. Based in Salem, we sailed Boston’s north shore and Penobscot Bay. Vermont is amazing, but there is no ocean, the sound of the waves, or that ocean smell.
Then a was walking around the new vegetable garden, looking at all the different shaped and colored plants when a slight breeze came up. Suddenly I was transported back to our sailing days and time on the coast. It was completely unexpected, but intensely powerful.
What set off this nostalgic voyeurism? An organic fertilizer we add to the soil to provide extra nutrients for the vegetables made from the leftover detritus from the fish filleting processing in Gloucester, MA.
I feel more complete with a little bit of the ocean in Vermont.
I have a love-hate relationship with Craigslist.
It’s a good, simple tool to get rid of stuff you no longer want, find stuff you think you want, get a job or place to live, find a car mechanic, connect with people or find daycare. All easily done with a few clicks. Craigslist can be a powerful tool for good. It can also become addictive.
Over the years I’ve missed out on some “amazing opportunities” because I didn’t see the advert soon enough. There was that full sized, commercial dishwasher for less than $100 that someone just wanted gone. The two-door cooler that we could have used in the farm store or the hay bale spear for the back of the tractor. Then there are the cute little puppies…. Well, let’s not go into cute little puppies. I probably don’t need one.
At times you look and look for something that is never there. Occasionally, the stars align and you suddenly find something you’ve been searching for. Like our round baler. I didn’t see the notice until a few days after it was posted. It was exactly the baler I was looking for, and the price was right. I was certain it had already sold, but just had to call to confirm. “Yes, it’s still available,” the guy said. Crap! I was kind of hoping it was gone so I didn’t have to deal with it (or pay for it), but next thing I know I’m hauling a round baler with my Subaru from practically the Canadian border.
We have been looking for an undercounter commercial dishwasher for a while. No urgency, but if we can someday get our own creamery at the farm then we will need one. Recently, one turned up on Craigslist. Not too old and only used to clean -wait for it- milk jars. What? How is this possible? Naturally, we had to get it even though I’ve no idea when we’ll be able to use it. At 80% savings on a new model there just wasn’t a choice. It’s now sitting in the garage, waiting until we can get the rest of the creamery pieces together.
Maybe I’ll just take a quick look now, while I’m thinking about it, to make sure I don’t miss any amazing opportunities….
PS – if you happen to come across some Basset or Bloodhound puppies, please let me know. We need one of those. Obviously! You know, for the farm.
I just picked Naomi up at the airport. A high school senior, she’s required to give two weeks of community service. Somehow, she chose our community. Even more unlikely, she convinced her parents to fly her 2000 miles to the east coast. She’s crazy about cows. Tomorrow she’ll meet some up close.
We’ll show her how to milk, how to put up CSA bags, restock the store. She’ll help out in the creamery making ice cream, labeling pints, filling milk jugs, cleaning up (haha!) and doing “quality control.” She’ll get her hands dirty putting young plants in the soil, watering and covering them with thin cloth to keep them warm during the cold night. We have more fencing to do, layers still to move into their mobile field coop, the veggie equipment storage area to whitewash. Of course, she should ride shotgun on a CSA delivery or two to see how that works as well as experience the ever greener Vermont countryside. Being from central CA she doesn’t see a lot of green.
If you happen to see her, please say hello!
We’ve had six bull calves in a row now. I don’t know the statistical probability of that. It’s not only a series of six with two possible outcomes (male or female), but also a series of six same sex calves out of approximately 80 that we’ve had over the years. That’s more than I can remember from my Intro to Statistics class. One of our interns, Ida who is a math fanatic, tells me she is working on it. But until she gives me a scientifically produced number let’s just say the odds are stretching credulity.
[Update: Thanks to Scott, one of our CSA members, we now know the answer: 1.56%. Each event is .5 probability and all six are independent. .5x.5x.5x.5x.5x.5 = 0.0156].
Another CSA member raises sheep. So far this lambing season her ratio is 5:1 rams to ewes. Last year though ewe lambs dominated. Something in the water? Astrological? Climate change? I’m going to assume that if we zoom out to a larger perspective these are still random events in spite of our small sample trends.
And here is some more bull: California and Texas lead the US in organic dairy production, accounting for more than one third the organic milk sales nationally. Let me repeat that: Two states supply 1/3 the country's organic milk. The average organic dairy in California has 469 cows. Texas, with only six (6) certified organic dairies, produces 11% of the nation’s organic milk with an average of 4,617 cows per farm. You have to wonder how sustainable this is considering that Texas has little grassland and California is quickly running out of water.
In comparison, the average organic dairy farm in the Northeast (Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont) has 58 milk cows. Where would you rather get your milk from?
We have a couple new initiatives this year and the first one is OUR OWN ORGANIC VEGETABLES. Yes! Finally. And no, I cannot believe it either.
We will now be able to offer fresher vegetables, especially greens, which we’ll harvest multiple times a week. Fresher vegetables mean tastier vegetables. We’re growing all the common varieties, including greens, carrots, onions, cabbage, cukes, peppers, tomatoes, radish, etc. And these are all certified organic so they are safe to eat, rich in nutrients, and healthier for the soil.
Did I mention the fresh herbs? Like sage, dill, basil, cilantro, fennel, rosemary, and thyme.
And have I mentioned the fresh-cut flowers? The colors and smells of marigolds, snapdragons, zinnias, sunflowers, strawflowers, etc.?
We will still supplement with certified organic veggies from other area farms, such as Root 5 and Bear Roots, as needed. For example, while we’re growing fresh carrots for this summer we will not try to stockpile for next winter. All these veggies are for you, our farm store customers and CSA members. We're not trying to sell wholesale to retail stores.
We’ve probably all had a similar experience getting groceries when we anxiously look around for what must be a missing bag. There is no way the couple bags in my hands could have added up that much. Surely there’s another bag somewhere?
No, there’s not. Food prices have risen 7.4% in the last year according to one news story I recently heard. And I see some of that on the local food front too. Twenty cents here, fifty cents there. The increased cost of containers, ingredients and labor are big causes.
We ordered sugar and chocolate (for ice cream) the other week and the prices were noticeably more than when we'd previously ordered. I asked the rep why. She said “Many prices have increased due in part to rising freight and port fees, supply chain issues due to labor (and covid) – many items are out of stock or markets are tight pushing prices up. In short, the supply chain is a mess.” I asked her if there was any good news or an end in sight. She replied “None.”
Swell. But on the bright side, the weather is moderating, we are halfway through February and veggie growers are busy finishing their seeding charts and eagerly awaiting sowing seeds in another week or two. So take heart! The upcoming vegetable and farm season is about to begin!
As I wrote several weeks ago, Danone, who owns the Horizon Organic brand, dropped 89 organic farms across New England and NY state last summer. (24 of these are Vermont farms). They did it because it’s cheaper for them to get milk from mega-dairies in the Midwest. The bottom line: this decision was about increasing profits.
The announcement caused shockwaves throughout the dairy industry. Numerous political bodies and organizations have been working to not only find a solution to keep these farms in business, but also stabilize organic dairy in New England. Lots of ideas have been generated, letters of inquiry as well as complaint sent, petitions signed, and meetings attended.
To date, Danone has granted another 6 months to their original 12 month contracts. This gives the farmers and policy makers more time to craft possible solutions. This is a win but doesn’t change the underlying issues.
Stonyfield, though, is trying to change the playing field. They recently announced a new partnership whereby consumers pledge to purchase one-fourth of their dairy products from 35 brands that have committed to increase their purchases of organic family farmer’s milk. This increase in demand will help keep organic family farms going.
Go to https://www.saveorganicfamilyfarms.org if you’d like to pledge your support for this project or learn more. (By the way, Kiss the Cow is one of the 35 partners). The bottom line on what you can do: buy local from farmers you trust.
We routinely receive requests from people looking to get our milk or ice cream. They ask to get info about their closest retailer or whether we ship directly. We try to nicely tell them that we do not feed Texas, Colorado, California, etc. Recently, we got an email from a woman in Illinois wanting to get our milk. In case you weren’t sure, there are over 100,000 dairy cows in Illinois. (Plus over 1.2 million beef cattle, but that’s another topic). You’d think someone would have raw milk for sale -which is legal in Illinois as long as it’s sold from the farm.
I’ll admit that all these people wanting to get our products is good for the ego, but occasionally the request falls into the surreal. This past week a woman wanted us to deliver milk to West Sussex. “Is this possible?” she asked. Sadly, I had to inform her that we’re in the US not the UK. Then a few days later we received another inquiry asking if shipping to Belize is possible and which credit cards do we accept?
It’s kind of funny, but how does this stuff happen? Let’s face it: we’re just a very small farm tucked in the hillsides of Vermont. Although we are now milking 13 cows (OMG!) we're not quite ready to go international. And nor do we want to.
I send them what I hope is a cheery reply thanking them for their interest but explaining that we’re focused on feeding our local community. However, if they’re ever in Vermont please stop by and say hi!
Today, I was thinking about something that happened at the Norwich Farmers’ Market a couple years ago.
A woman was holding one of our freshly processed chickens. I could see the struggle on her face as she stood there. Finally, she put the chicken back in the cooler.
I asked her if perhaps a different size bird would be better, but she shook her head. I mentioned that we had non-GMO chickens available as well as the organic one she had been looking at, thinking that it was the price that was causing her hesitation. (Non-GMO chickens are cheaper to raise since the cost of grain is 40% less, and therefore we can sell them for less.)
But no. It wasn’t the price. The problem was that it was a whole chicken. She didn’t know how to cook a whole chicken.
Then last week, I was talking with Danielle, one of the owners of Root 5 Farm, an organic vegetable farm up in Fairlee. They included our pasteurized milk in their summer CSA, and in turn, we sourced some of our vegetables from them for our CSA customers.
I asked her what feedback she had gotten about the milk from her CSA members. She mentioned that a few people had expressed concern that the milk was curdling when they received it. She had to explain to them that the “strange gunk” at the top of the jug was not a sign that the milk was bad. It was, in fact, the cream.
It’s so easy to shake our heads at stories like this, to wonder with dismay how someone could not know how to cook a chicken or that cream rises to the top of the milk. But people today simply do not have the experience of fresh food.
Chicken comes in Styrofoam, ready to toss in the skillet. The meat doesn’t even look like something that once was alive because that might offend people’s sensibilities. And store-bought milk is homogenized to break up the fat globules so they cannot rise.
So many of us are completely disconnected from our food. We have no idea where it comes from, how it was grown, how it was processed. We have no idea how far it traveled to get to our plate (on average 1800 miles, by the way). We simply have no experience with what real food looks or tastes like.
But if you do want to learn about real food, I recommend a bite of one of Danielle’s late summer tomatoes or a tall glass of our whole milk. You will instantly understand what real food is, and why people like us work so hard to produce it. (Just don't forget to shake the milk jug first!)