Archive for ‘Collins Farm’

January 5, 2010

>Farming Apprenticeships (part two): The Verdict

>Note: This post is a continuation of last month’s, in which I gave an overview of farming apprenticeship programs and something of an explanation for their sudden popularity. This segment attempts to summarize my own experience as an apprentice for those considering doing it, parents of young people threatening to do it, and those otherwise interested.

… Do I now aspire to possess my own ten acres, a cow and a pile of debt? Will the dirt ever come out from under my fingernails?

I’ve been trying, but I can’t seem to develop an objective analysis of the apprenticeship program that defined my life for six months. It would be like sending your parents a report card for their performance during your childhood. Looking back over the journals I kept while working with the Collins, I see rants, reflections, stories about the people I met and many, many attempts to describe the beauty and wonder of the place I found myself living. My formal goal in undertaking the apprenticeship was to learn about what it takes to sustain a small farm; the day-to-day tasks as well as the personal commitment involved. Informally, I was really trying to see if I was up for it, if all my romantic ideas around farming held up to the reality of the job itself.

I worked hard to keep maintain my lofty ideas about farming over the months I spent living and working with the Collins. As they will be the first to admit, Bob and Ann are a bit worn out by the whole job. Granted, things are better than when they were dairy farmers, waking up at 4 AM to milk cows that eventually started costing them more per year than they earned. Still, most visitors to the farm become overwhelmed simply by being told what goes on here. It’s a lot of work, and by the end of the apprenticeship, I understood why most long-time farmers don’t share the bright-eyed enthusiasm of young wannabes. It’s hard, often thankless work. But I also learned why they’re still there, doing it. The energetic, gung-ho attitude may not be immediately visible, but their passion for the lifestyle they chose is still there lying just beneath the surface. Just as some city kids wouldn’t touch a manure shovel with a ten-foot pole, Bob and Ann would last about three minutes in an office. The animals under their care, the river that skirts their property, the 69 acres that they call home are as much a part of them as their hair or skin.

After a few weeks at Collins Farm, I started to feel this way a bit, too – attached to the place in a way that made me wonder, when it came down to it, whether I would actually be able to leave. Maybe it’s the seductive beauty of Vancouver Island or the fact that every day was a chance to play outside. Sure, there were some long hours spent bent over pulling weeds and picking vegetables, but since most of those activities were new to me, they took a while to get dull and repetitive. In between, I gorged myself on blackberries and strawberries, climbed trees to pick apples, wandered the woods aimlessly to find mushrooms (or to walk the goats), and shoveled around piles of dirt and manure under the guise of creating compost. Honestly, sometimes I couldn’t believe I was being paid, however meagerly, for that level of enjoyment.

Second to finding out that work didn’t have to be a miserable activity, the most valuable aspect of being a farm apprentice turned out to be the mentoring relationships that I was able to develop with Bob, Ann and people like Andrea, Connie and Crystal who were a near-daily presence during the summer months. Without a lesson plan, a schedule or any sort of formal discussion, they managed to impart a ton of valuable information on how to grow food and turn it into a semblance of a livelihood: the economics of homemade pie and hungry tourists, the “joys of backyard cheese making,” how to pick a perfectly ripe strawberry and catch a pig on the run.

Farming apprenticeships are criticized for being a product of privilege; an option only available to those who can afford to work for little or no pay for an entire summer. One commenter on the New York Times article mentioned in the previous post calls such positions “a time-honored tradition for children of the wealthy” to fill the summer months. It’s an interesting point. Although my mom quit supporting me as soon as I graduated, the fact that I had no student loans to pay off allowed me complete freedom in choosing the route I would take next. I assessed my personal and financial needs, looked at the state of the world and, deciding it needs more farmers, jumped into the apprenticeship program with both feet. Did I feel privileged? Absolutely. I lived in a place that people from all over the world pay through the nose to visit, ate almost exclusively organic, home-cooked, local food, and learned how to feed myself and come a few steps closer to self-sufficiency. Those non-monetary forms of payment added up to be more than any “real” job could have provided me with, especially just coming out of college in a major recession. Meanwhile, many of my fellow graduates languished in their parents’ basements, looking for nonexistent jobs and wondering if they should go back for a Master’s in business administration. I came away with skills that I’m finding a new job market for – in managing community gardens and CSA programs, helping restaurants and stores source food locally, or assisting small farms in going organic.

My last few days at the Collins’ place were difficult. It didn’t seem fair that I was leaving; the Christmas season was just upon us and there was so much to do. I went through the motions anyway, and Ann and Bob made sure I got to do everything one last time – go for a ride on Jesse the big Belgian mare, eat all my favorite foods, see all of our friends from around the community at a fantastic Thanksgiving Day potluck. The day before I left turned out to be the first sunny day we’d had in weeks (after record rainfall all November), and Mount Arrowsmith, the towering face of granite that greeted me nearly every morning for two seasons, appeared dusted with snow just as it’d been when I first arrived in June.

Before I left, Ann and Bob gave me a painting of that mountain, gorgeously rendered in watercolor by an artist friend of theirs. I put it carefully in the back window of my fully stuffed car. Then I got in the car with it and drove down the driveway, watching the two of them growing smaller in my rearview mirror. They were the ones I hated to leave the most. They weren’t simply friends to me or even surrogate parents. Our relationship was more similar to that of close accomplices. Although the Collins are the ones responsible for creating what is now a diverse farm that feeds the close-knit community around it, I felt like that season – the second one that they had grown for the local market – had been a milestone. The worldwide craze around eating locally and knowing where food comes from had started to hit our little valley, and real progress began to be made toward making the entire island more self-sufficient. I’d come to experience some of the joy of working on the land and with people who understood the value of that, for the guiltlessness of laboring for ideas that I believe in completely. At Collins Farm I think I glimpsed an outcome that was greater than the whole, something right in a world that usually seems wrong. 

As far as my own desire to become a farmer, well, as much as I hate making long-term plans about my future, it’s definitely tempting. But first, I need a few more seasons’ experience under my belt and a small mountain of cash – it’s as difficult to get into farming as it is to get out, it seems. Now that winter’s set in, I’m simply biding my time (and honing my couch surfing skills) until I can once again turn my efforts toward the worthwhile goal of feeding people.

That dirt under my nails? Long gone. My itch to put it back there? Stronger than ever.

September 28, 2009

>Milk of the Gods

>My adventures in goat milking on Collins Farm, in five parts.

I. Inspiration

Food is delicious. We all know this. But there are some foods that are extra delicious, foods that make you drool at the very thought, foods that one would go through great lengths to obtain. These foods, of course, are different for each person. For me, chèvre, or goat milk cheese, is quite high up on the list.
Most people know goat cheese as feta, the tangy, crumbly stuff usually thrown on Greek salads and pizzas. Chèvre can also be made like cream cheese, a flavorful spread that’s excellent on toast, crackers, salad, apples and right off the knife. This substance is one of the things I would take onto a desert island; I would marry it if only it had a better personality; I would sell my own grandmother if it came right down to it (not really, but you get the picture). Actually, that’s the only downfall of chèvre: it’s darned expensive. At Safeway, a potato-sized log of low-quality goat cheese runs around five bucks. For a really good, locally made kind, you can pay three times that much. In fact, in my college days, my monthly grocery budget looked a little like this:
Fruits and vegetables (organic, of course): $60
Dry beans, rice, flour, tofu and yogurt: $50
Coffee: $20
Chèvre: $50
Well, something like that, anyway. Anyway, the point is, I like chèvre. Since coming to the farm, however, I’ve adopted a mostly local diet (my new motto is, “Will work for vegetables”), which meant no goat cheese. Until now.

II. The Goats

I have to admit that the goats have played a sadly minor role in my life on the farm so far. I don’t think I’ve even mentioned them on this blog before, and seeing as how everyone’s online these days, they’ve probably noticed that. So I’ll offer a formal apology and waste no more time in introducing them.

Miss G (left). This old goat belongs to Andrea, the fiercely independent mother of four who works with me at Arrowvale. In her prime, Miss G produced a gallon of milk a day, effectively nurturing Andrea’s kids through their formative years in addition to her own. When Andrea moved into a house without a yard, Miss G shacked up here, where she seems pretty happy. She’s fourteen, which is older than goats are even supposed to live, but though she’s a gummy, graying, rack-of-bones old granny (probably a granny several times over, in fact), she is the indisputable matriarch of the goat pen. Miss G loves kale, sunflowers and banana peels, and will head-butt anyone who gets in the way of her eating her fill. She’s too old to be milked, so I’ll move on to the stars of this story.

Spotty (center). Surprisingly enough, Spotty is white with black and brown spots. This spring, she gave birth to two little white goats, who we recently weaned along with Dotty’s single offspring. (Among goats, giving birth to twins or even triplets is the norm.) Spotty is a friendly goat who keeps her beard clean and would never dream of stooping to the shenanagins of her younger pen-mate. She loves just about anything, especially squash, banana peels and carrots.

Dotty (right). True to her name, Dotty is black with white spots and crazy, but more like a motorcycle racer than an eccentric aunt. She wears a blue dog collar, which helps when you’re trying to catch her, but getting close enough in the first place is the real challenge. Dotty has simple tastes, preferring goat feed (grain) to most other foods, but likes to try what the other goats are eating so she can spit it on the ground and crush it under her hooves. She smokes Marlboros and has a tattoo of a snake on her left shoulder.

III. The Milk
A few fun facts about goats and their milk:
Goat milk is consumed by more people worldwide than cows’ milk.
Goats are the earliest known domesticated farm animal.
Goat milk takes on the flavor of whatever the goat eats. If the goat has lots of sweet clover, the milk will be sweet. If she gets into something really bitter, watch out.
The ancient Greeks and pagans worshiped a god named Pan, who had the legs and feet of a goat and played the original pan flute. He was notorious for his lustfulness, going around making love to nymphs and instigating orgies. It is said that in order to remove this clearly dangerous being from the cultural lexicon, early Christians modeled the devil after the goat.
In Hindu mythology, the god Shiva also appears with the horns of a goat or bull, an incarnation known as “Pashupati”.
Male goats (“bucks”) smell foul. I’ve never smelled one, but numerous sources have told me they are fond of rubbing urine in their beards and generally being disgusting. If you keep a buck around the doe goats, their milk will also start to smell this way.
Goat milk can be consumed by people with an intolerance to cow milk, but scientists aren’t really sure why.

IV. The (not so) Tragic Departure of the Little Goats
All summer long, Andrea and I have been eying the udders of Dotty and Spotty wistfully. Their three young ones, given the opportunity to nurse long past the time they might have otherwise been weaned, got all the milk. There wasn’t anything we could do about it but laugh at the overgrown kids when they crawled on their knees to get under their short mothers. Really though, these little goats were a pain in the neck. They crawled through the manger where we would feed them and stand in everyone’s food, pooping on it and causing Miss G to roll her eyes in disgust. They dug a hole under their little barn so they could escape. And they cried whenever they thought they could trick somebody into feeding them.
Finally, last week, the little goats found a new home (a relative who needed them to give her bored border collie something to herd), so we undertook the difficult task of separation. The three little ones went down to a pen by the barn, and the moms stayed in their pen at the top of the campground. They cried for a day straight and Spotty escaped several times to go see her little ones. It was all very heartbreaking and would have made a very good Disney film where the baby goats are sold to a cruel circus master and embark on a long journey back home. In reality, all that happened was that Spotty and Dotty seemed to get over it pretty quickly, and the little ones started to get hoarse, sounding like squawking seagulls by the end of the second day. In the meantime, I closed in on our milky bounty at last.

V. The Milking

The day of the first milking was also Andrea’s day off, which put the duty of training me on Ann’s shoulders. I was desperately in need of instruction, considering I’d never gotten milk out of anything but a plastic bottle and my interaction with the goats has been limited to giving them their grain, filling their water bucket, and poking kitchen scraps to them through the fence. In preparation for milking, I found a four-gallon bucket and scrubbed it clean, then reported back to Ann. She eyed my bucket doubtfully. “Don’t you think that’s a little large?” she asked, politely. I shrugged my shoulders, so without another word we headed over to the goat pen.
Spotty and Dotty are pygmy goats, which means their heads reach no higher than four feet, and their udders dangle a scant eight inches or so above the ground. In fact, pygmies aren’t even bred to be dairy goats; they’re supposed to serve as petting zoo animals or as companions for lonely elephants in captivity. I observed their unfortunate lack of height when the first goat was on the milking bench in front of us, and immediately realized why Ann had had doubts about my optimistically sized bucket. I went to the kitchen for a smaller plastic pail and returned.
Spotty was the first one to come through the gate, so we started on her. Luring her onto the stand with grain, we placed a halter around her head. I tried to hold her still while Ann, who grew up on a dairy farm and ran one here for fifteen years, bent over behind the goat and began pumping out white jets of liquid like she was brushing her teeth. Good, I thought. This isn’t so hard after all. After a bit, she gave me a turn, so we switched positions. I placed my hands on the two fleshy teats and squeezed.
Nothing happened. I tried again, putting a little bit more muscle into it this time. Still nothing. Ann tried to explain how the trick was in closing your fingers one at a time, starting with the top one. I couldn’t seem to relay this information to my fingers, which simply pressed the teat uselessly into my palm. I had a the sudden, draining feeling that this was one of those skills bred into farmers, like knowing when the rains are coming or how to grow a pumpkin to the size of a wheelbarrow, and I would never get it.
In the meantime, the good-natured Spotty was putting up a heck of a fight. She and Dotty hadn’t been milked before, and I imagine the feeling of it was pretty weird. She kicked, she squirmed, she shook her head. I stayed stubbornly in place, my hands between her back legs, trying to gain in thirty seconds a skill that I knew would serve me well for the rest of my life. All I could manage, though, was to avoid her hooves when they came flying at me.
At that point, Ian, a friendly Australian from the Yukon who is on an extended camping stay here with his family, strolled up. “Want me to hold a leg for you?” he inquired. “Sure,” Ann and I said, and he grabbed one of her back legs. That put an end to the kicking. I applied myself with renewed determination, squeezing and pulling and muttering under my breath. Then, suddenly, I saw a white mist erupt from one of her teats. I tried to duplicate this result on the other side. After a few tries, a small stream of milk sprayed sideways into the air. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
When Dotty got on the stand, the project turned into a group effort. Reinforcements were called; Bob stood at Dotty’s head with Ann while John, Ann’s brother, and another fellow he works with joined Ian in holding various moving parts of the goat. A few other campers strolled up to watch this diversion. Farmer Bill, a neighbor who cuts our hay, rolled by in his tractor and threw in a few pieces of sage advice. I could feel sweat tricking down my hairline, fueled by frustration and the bright early September sun. After I’d gotten about half a cup, I handed it off to Ann. She milked most of it out, then gave me one last turn. I gripped her udder more confidently this time, observing that it was significantly less full-feeling now. We were nearly there. I squeezed out a couple of jets of milk, and Dotty kicked the pail over on me.

The next day, Andrea instructed me in the fine art of milk storage before we got to milking. In essence, always use a cloth to filter your milk, and use it up within a couple of days or it starts to get, as she put it, “goaty”. This factor may explain why goat’s milk isn’t popular in developed countries like the US and Canada, where milk travels long distances and sits on shelves before being consumed in a deteriorated, super-goaty state.
After we had gathered our clean containers, our udder-cleaning cloth and the all-important grain bait for the goats, Andrea and I went out to the pen. Spotty volunteered first again, hopping up onto the new milking bench that Bob had constructed the night before. Rather than hunching behind the goat to milk, Andrea showed me a different technique – sitting next to the goat, facing the rear, one shoulder into her side. I gave it a shot and slowly but steadily began coaxing milk into the pail. With my ear to her belly, I could hear the food gurgling down to her stomach and smell that clean barn-y smell that is one of the best parts of being on a farm. Gradually, I developed a rhythm, which worked for about ten seconds until my hands started to cramp up. Andrea expertly finished the job and we moved on to rebel Dotty.
Goats are smart, and Dotty figured out this game fast. At the sound of grain hitting the feed bucket, all three goats rush to the gate like cats after a can of tuna. Since Spotty is the boldest, she usually gets there first and slips out before the others when we open the gate. Dotty, though, hangs back, looking at me with wild eyes that seem to say “Come on in here and catch me. I dare you.” So I slip in, shutting the gate behind me, and face off with the little black goat. We size each other up, locking eyes and planting our feet firmly on the ground. Dotty makes a feint to the left. I charge directly forward, putting the rock pile in the center of their pen between us. She gallops joyously around it and to the other side of the pen. I follow slowly, keeping low to the ground, arms outstretched. Cornered, she makes a desperate lunge to sail by me. I grab her collar on the fly and stumble sideways for a few feet as she continues her trajectory. Andrea cheers and opens the gate, and I drag her to it. Before long, she’s on the milking bench. The fight isn’t over, but it’s certainly less intense than yesterday’s. Half an hour – and a few sore fingers – later, I’m in the kitchen following Andrea’s recipe for home made chocolate pudding.
This pudding is deliciously rich and not a bit goaty, but my craving for chèvre has not yet been satisfied (it takes at least a gallon of milk to make cheese, and we get about six cups a day). The adventure, in other words, is not over yet. But my fridge is now stocked with jars of milk and the time of the cheesemaking is near. In the meantime, go make some chocolate pudding – just be sure to use whole milk for maximum fatty goodness.

Andrea’s Fabulous Chocolate Pudding

1 c sugar
1/4 c flour
½ c cocoa powder
4 c whole milk

Whisk together dry ingredients in a small, heavy-bottomed pan. Add enough milk to make a paste (about 1 ½ cups) and whisk until lump-free. Add the rest of the milk and whisk smooth. Heat over a medium-high flame until mixture boils, stirring constantly. This will take about 20 minutes. (We recommend doing your pudding exercises in this time: squats, leg stretches, curls with heavy objects lying around the kitchen. You can then enjoy pudding guilt-free. Alternatively, grab your internet access device of choice and watch this video repeatedly.) Once boiled, remove from heat and cover, stirring occasionally until cool. Eat warm or refrigerate and consume within three days.

August 19, 2009

>A Virtual Farm Tour, part 1

>Collins Farm is in the full swing of summer now. Each morning we haul in a couple flats of strawberries, a bin of tomatoes and a bucket of lettuce, and we’re barely staying ahead of the harvest. Luckily, Port Albernians have also shown up with reinforcements to buy all the goodies at our Saturday markets and even during the week.
In the afternoons, we often take groups of curious campers to see what’s “down the hill”. Kids are fascinated with the chickens, piggies and horses, and the grownups usually walk back up to the campground full of plans for their own gardens. On Sunday, I took the afternoon off of kitchen duty and followed one of Ann’s farm tours with my camera.

First stop, the barn, home to the horses, donkeys, cows and one cat.

Buster the barn kitty. No, you can’t have him. He’s mine. I mean, he’s the farm’s. We need him to catch mice and keep the cobwebs off the top of that old milk tank.

It was an exciting morning a couple weeks ago when we went down to the barn to find one of our cows giving birth. She was the last of our herd to do so this year, and the only one I actually got to see in the act.

Well, sort of. We watched the feet hang out for a little while, then decided she probably wanted her privacy and went up for breakfast. When we came back, the little guy was already wobbling around under his mom.

This is the view of the farm up by the barn. We’ll look at the garden first, then the chickens (just outside the frame to the right) and stop in the strawberry patch between the two big fields. Then we’ll pay a visit to the cows and head through the hay field towards the three big trees in the distance. Hope you’re wearing your walking shoes.

Ripley, Phoxy and Paris, three of our Canadian horses out in the pasture for the evening.

In the garden, Ann picks some cucumbers for the tour group. Behind them, the corn has reached gargantuan heights.

Peeking under the giant squash leaves, we find these baby pumpkins – a sneak preview for Halloween.

Lettuce, carrots and beets. Behind them on the fence are the peas. We’ll get to the sun umbrellas in a minute when we visit the chickens.

Our laying hens (plus one watchful rooster) roam around in this pen, pecking at kitchen scraps and harassing their roommates, the three paranoid little ducks.

Although the ducks have their own little barn away from the chicken house, they never quite seem to feel safe and cling together like a gang of teenage girls, yakking away at each other in duck-ese. Of course, if they feel like going for a swim, they are capable of swallowing their fears and jumping in the water trough. This utterly disgusts the chickens, who would much rather take a dirt bath.

Sun umbrellas provide shade and protection from the eagles, who have been known to swoop down and steal the poultry.

The chickens share a laying box, which they enter through a door from the inside of their house.

The box has a little door on it that we open to gather the eggs.

This chicken has kindly modeled the laying process for us, but I think today she is just sitting on them. Once she leaves we peek into the hay and find…


Now we head out toward the strawberry patch and cow pasture, on the way checking up on the apple trees.

These sunflowers are “volunteers”, but they make great shade when picking strawberries out here. It takes two people about an hour each morning to pick just half of the patch.

Yum. These plants are the “ever-bearing” variety, which means they started putting out berries in June and won’t quit until the frost comes. In the meantime, we’re filling up our freezers and jam cupboards.

Bees are fun to photograph, and they actually don’t sting because they’re so focused on harvesting the pollen.

In the early morning when we’re picking sunflowers for market, the bees are sleeping on the flowers and refuse to be woken up. They hang onto the flowers no matter how much blowing, shaking and wiping you do. If we were braver, we could probably just remove them by hand, but usually we just leave them on and let them fly away later – hopefully not in somebody’s house!

We now interrupt this exclusive tour for lunch. Join us again tomorrow for more cute kids and animals, this blog’s first concession on its hard-nosed anti-flower position, and yet another pretty view of the farm.

July 25, 2009


>We start early, before the temperature begins to creep up and everything – the harvest and those who pick it – starts to fade in the midday sun. Vancouver Island is at a high latitude, so the sun comes up around 5 AM and doesn’t go down until about 9 in the evening. Luckily, the light doesn’t keep me from sleeping all the way till 7, when I wake up to CBC (the Canadian version of BBC) on the radio and stiffly move myself out of bed. The going is slow because I started learning to ride horses on Wednesday. It feels like somebody’s taken a rake to the muscles of my inner legs. (As far as my progress in riding goes, my instructor summed it up nicely after the first lesson: “You did good today,” he said. “You showed up.”)
Aftermath of my extracurricular activities aside, harvest day is probably my favorite time around the farm. So I stretch carefully, shower, and head up to the campground office to make myself some breakfast. Because the office is open from 8 in the morning till 9 at night, we hardly do anything at the house but sleep (and write!). I savor my berries and yogurt as I sit with Ann and Andrea, who are already laying out the game plan for market this week. Market is on Saturday, and instead of hauling our produce all the way into Port Alberni, we simply hold it here, where we have a somewhat captive customer base (campers) and the space to make it an event. We hold a pancake breakfast and hayride; the kids play with the goats while their parents take a stroll by the river.
But that will all take place tomorrow. The produce is the main act, and it’s still waiting in the garden for us to retrieve it. We finish our coffee, gather up some buckets, and head down the hill, border collies herding us along.
Crystal is already in the garden and Connie arrives shortly after. We are an all-girl vegetable-picking machine. Andrea heads to the potato patch – she loves digging around in the dirt. I grab scissors and start on the kale and swiss chard. Connie hits up the greenhouse for cucumbers and tomatoes, and Crystal pulls the netting off the long rows of carrots. Half an hour later, I’m still lost in the brilliant red stems of the chard, feeling slightly overwhelmed and mentally full. Every time I pick vegetables my mind moves immediately to washing, chopping and cooking them, in any way I know how and a few I don’t think are possible (chard muffins?). After thirty or so chard plants, I get the dizzying feeling of there simply being too much food here for any one person to eat. I guess that’s the only way I can part with it come morning. As I fill my last bucket with greens and throw up my hands, Crystal comes walking down the row, a bright orange, freshly washed, perfect carrot in her outstretched hand.
“Second breakfast?” Indeed.

It’s getting late in the summer, and the garden is in full production mode now. This is only the Collins’ second year growing produce for a local market, but there is certainly no lack of variety. By the end of the morning we have the truck loaded up with greens, potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, squash, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce, peas, rhubarb, strawberries and flowers. We unload in the office – which also houses a small commercial kitchen – and start washing and bagging. The unfortunate side of the local market is nobody seems to want to buy anything that’s not in a bag. If we do leave it in baskets or buckets, they’ll bag it themselves before they buy it.
I excuse myself from this somewhat depressing process to start making lunch. I have a little challenge going with myself to use the most vegetables in one meal as possible. With a little storebought ginger and soy sauce, I squeeze seven into a giant stir fry (record: eight veggies). We take a bit of a break and eat outside on the deck in the last bit of shade. It’s getting hot – the thermometer reads 30 Celsius. Up until a week or so ago this meant nothing to me, and it actually made the heat easier to bear. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. In India, nobody ever really knew what temperature it was, so there was no complaining. Well, my mother was kind enough to email me a handy conversion chart and I now know that when it’s 30, it’s not just below freezing but in fact 86 in the clunky old Fahrenheit system. And when it’s 30 at noon and just getting started, it’s going to be a hot day.
Back inside, it’s time to switch the A/C on. With the freezers, refrigerators and oven going all day, it can get hotter inside than outside without the aid of this wonderful little invention. Feeling more comfortable now, I start on the bread and spend the afternoon registering campers with floury hands. Breads are my experimental addition to the farmers’ market, and so far, it’s been a mild success. The best part is, we keep the ugly loaves and whatever doesn’t sell. Contrary to popular belief, breadmaking isn’t actually that difficult or time consuming. You just have to be able to hang around the kitchen for a few hours, so campground management actually is a good side activity.
Campers are an interesting lot. They fall into three main categories: those who are on vacation and so are determined not to fuss about anything so that they can have a good time; those who are on vacation and so are determined to be completely picky about everything so that they can have a good time; and teenagers who come from town to throw parties at the campground. Any afternoon will produce any combination of these types. I had the good fortune to be eating dinner while some partying teenagers came and rented a couple sites. We’re all pretty tired of the loud music, piles of trash and general obnoxiousness that comes along with these customers, but Ann and Bob were ready this time. They raised three kids and can be pretty scary. Sitting in the corner, absorbed in my bread and cucumber salad, I even felt a little shaky in my boots as the two of them loom over the group of would-be rabble-rousers.
“Now, you’re not going to have a large group of people down there, are you?” Ann asks, though it’s more of a statement than a question. The kids are wide-eyed and innocent.
“Oh, no.” Having been in their shoes more than once only a few years ago, I know that deceptive tone all too well. I can almost see the thought bubbles resting above their heads, and they don’t contain words but pictures of beer and thumping stereos. Bob sees them too and walks over to the counter.
“No music down there,” he tells them.
“None at all?” they whine.
“Absolutely not. You don’t want us to come down there at three in the morning to tell you to shut it off, got it?” A mafia contract killer could not have sounded more threatening. They’ve got it. They shuffle out. Yet another crisis averted – we hope.

I finish eating and walk down to the house to read a bit. Before bed, I help Bob move the “chicken tractor”. This ingenious little pen, which holds all our meat birds, is open at the bottom so the chickens can scratch at the grass. It gets moved once or twice a day, so they can fertilize a new patch of soil while getting some fresh grubs to eat – a win-win situation.
After the moving is done, Bob heads out to the pasture to move irrigation pipes. I walk up the hill, worn out and not sure where my farming mentors get the energy to work the 15-hour or more days that they do (Ann is still up at the office). As I pass the barn, I hear a friendly but demanding “meiow!” It’s Buster, the friendly black-and-white barn cat. He proves irresistible. Instead of going inside, I sit with him on an old picnic table that overlooks the farm. From here, we can see the garden, the pasture with the horses and cows grazing, the forest beyond and Mount Arrowsmith towering above it all. It’s a view that takes my breath away still after almost a month living here. I watch the sun turn the mountainside pink and gold, the cool evening air taking away some of my fatigue. Buster relaxes on my lap, his purr rumbling against my fingers. It’s one of those perfect moments that seem to arise so easily in this place. Despite all the work that goes into planting, watering, weeding and harvesting produce, I still can’t help but find it miraculous that so many good things come out of the simple inputs of soil, manure, seeds and water. As long as that formula continues to work, we’ll never go hungry here. And that’s a pretty good feeling.