Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Creek Farm

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Our sweet room, note the corner of the awesome drawing table
In our most haphazard and higgidly-piggidly pack up, we threw our stuff in the car and drove the ten minutes down the road to Spring Creek Farm. We had one day to learn the routine of the farm before Adam and Shelby left with the kids for a week of spring break in Florida the next day.
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Randy's victorious lamb wrangling
To help show us the ropes were two other WWOOFers who we were WWOOF-swapping with; they were headed to A Place of the Heart in a few days, where we'd just came from. The farm-sitting couldn't go too awry, however, because Adam's mother, Barbara, her friend Pete, and his brother, Larry were on the farm running things. Adam and Shelby had also left us a list, and we kept busy planting, weeding, watering, transplanting, and caring for the sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, turkens, cattle, and dogs.
A local
Apparently chicken+turkey=ugly
The morning commute

Even though the vegetarian food at A Place of the Heart was exceptionally delicious, we still eagerly anticipated the pasture-raised meat at Spring Creek Farm. When Adam and Shelby left, they granted us access to their freezer-trailer full of meat and all the eggs we could eat, which we ravenously tore into. One day, for example, we had breakfast sausage in our omelet, lamb ribs for lunch, a ham sandwich for an after-work snack, and boiled dinner with a ham hock for dinner. Even though this is well below the average American's intake of meat, compared to our typical beans-rice-veggies diet, it was quite extravagant.
The origin of the pork was a pig with a sordid past. First of all, pigs are usually castrated before being butchered. This pig, however, was not "cut" when he was young, so Adam and Larry attempted to do it themselves. The details of this part of the story are fuzzy, but Adam returned from the attempt covered in pig blood and only half successful. One testicle was still on the loose.
The chicken fruits of our labor after a daily egg washing
They called the vet to inquire how to proceed. He recommended getting they get the pig drunk as an anesthetic and a sedative, and he would come by after work one day to do the deed. They gave the pig a six pack, but detected no change, so they moved on to moonshine. A quart of moonshine later, and the pig was still acting normally. Someone finally decided to try giving it a Xanex, washed down with three more beers. Alas, when the vet arrived the pig still had most of its senses. In fact, as if to demonstrate his virility, he had upended his feeder and was vigorously attempting to impregnate it. The vet wasn't even going to try at that point, so he wished them the best of luck and left. Eventually the problem was remedied by the local butcher who finished the castration in ten minutes.
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In the hoophouse, surrounded by the starts we planted
With Adam and Shelby gone, we enjoyed getting to know Barbara, Pete and Larry. Barbara is an excellent cook and we enjoyed the heck out of her potato salad, deviled eggs, BBQ, homemade hushpuppies, and fried gator.
Larry and his wife Sherry
Larry mostly mended fences and drank beer, but he also enjoyed playing cowboy, and whenever a cow got out he would herd it back in with the Mule (a golf cart-type farm vehicle).
Pete worked part time at Home Depot, and put his plumbing experience to work fixing the hot water heater in our kitchen. One night for a special treat Barbara and Pete took us all out for delicious pizza.
We loved getting accustomed to the picturesque Tennessee countryside; the farm was set in a beautiful valley with cows on one rolling hillside and sheep on the next.
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The Great Pyrenees guardian dogs
The old railroad tunnels

The farm also included a steep wooded mountainside and mountain springs, which provided pure and delicious drinking water. We also explored the nearby railroad tunnels, which had been dug out of the mountains years ago. Etched into the bricks were a few names and dates, one dating back to 6/24/17 when W.C. Torian was headed out to war with the 1st Tennessee A Company. Later we hiked up the ridge and saw a great view of the entire valley.
Extreme hiking

The day before Adam and Shelby got back, we went back to A Place of the Heart for their full moon sweat. We enjoyed getting to see everyone again, and had an excellent vegan meal to balance out all of our meat consumption.
When they got back we had fun hanging out with them and the kids. Holly enjoyed reading bedtime stories to the 3 and 5 year old girls, though she forgot what an ordeal storytime can be. Randy enjoyed revisiting video games with the 10 year old boy who was patient enough to give tutorials to the old fogey. Adam and Shelby brought fresh yummy fruit back from Florida, including a mamey, an odd oval fruit with a sweet-potato/avacadoesque orange interior and a large black seed. It was great hanging out with Adam and Shelby every day, and we had a blast. One day we went into town with Shelby, and she took us to this funny little candy store in a random small town that was wall-to-wall sweets, and one of the last remaining places you can still get candy for a penny.
Adam, Shelby, and Holly
On one of our days off we explored Knoxville. We started our day with a livestock auction, where we could have bought a male dairy cow for $7, but decided against it since it's hard to strap livestock to the roof of a convertible. Then we hit up a few thrift stores before heading to the library, where it took longer for us to find a parking spot than we were inside the building. Next we went Three Rivers Market, a really cool health food store that had a bike fixing station on one side, and plug-ins for electric cars on the other. We splurged on some Rice Dream and a few beers, and then walked around and found a used bookstore. Randy needed his game store fix, so we headed a little further down the street to Organized Play. After a failed attempt at finding live music, we concluded our big city adventure and headed back to the farm.
On our last day on the farm we went up the ridge again, this time in search of morel mushrooms. It was a little early, but the winter had been so mild we decided to try anyway. We found a good pound and a half of mostly blacks, but also some longnecks and some whites.
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Cleaning them off
Holly finally felt like her morel-finding genes from her grandmother, uncle, mother, and father kicked in, and found more than she ever had before. Unfortunately, on the way back down the mountain the going was steep and some of the morels got squished as we slipped and slid down the hill, but since Shelby and Adam don't like morels, we got to eat all the unsellable ones. Yum yum!
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Randy posing with his first morel! (after this picture was taken Holly pointed out another one at his feet that he'd missed)

Obligatory camera tricks

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A foggy morning
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Knoxville on a shoestring: A photographic guide

Stop 1: Buying nothing at a livestock auction
Stop 2: Spending $2 at a thrift store

Stop 3: Taking advantage of free internet at the library

Stop 4: One person's trash is another person's treasure (sometimes)

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Our scenic backyard

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Place of the Heart Farm

The drive from Broken Magnolia was pretty uneventful, with our only major stop being a detour into Nashville to check out the first Trader Joe's we'd come across on our trip (there's not really any in the South). We took advantage of their fine ales and toothbrushes before exploring our favorite "aisle" out back, where the daily special was BREAD, crazy varieties of pretty good-quality bread.Even though we thought we gave ourselves enough time for the drive, we didn't realize we'd be crossing the time zone, nor did we take into account the fact that our little car does not go as fast as Google Maps claims it should. So, our "early evening arrival" ended up being a little after 9 pm. Since it was dark and we were on windy country lanes, we weren't sure where exactly A Place of the Heart Farm was. We saw a school bus-turned-camper, and remembered that we would be staying on a school bus, so we knocked on the closest door. That door turned out to belong to people who, through a bizarre twist of fate, own one acre within A Place of the Heart's borders. We learned through monosyllabic responses that the farm was further up the road, and Adrienne and the dogs Osha and Lucky greeted us when we pulled up. She showed us the common kitchen, and then the actual school bus where we would be staying. Adrienne did most of the remodeling herself, and turned an old school bus into a cozy home where her and her family lived for a few years. It is heated with a woodstove, and has electricity. 
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Left: the door onto the bus where you can see the "mudroom" with firewood and our boots. Above: Randy reading by the wood stove. Right: Looking down the length of the bus, the edge of the kitchen table on the left, our bedroom in the far back.
A Place of the Heart is a mostly vegetable-based farm, with a CSA, restaurant sales, and one of the oldest booths at the Knoxville farmer's market. We did a lot of planting and garden prep, as well as taking care of their 3 dairy goats, one or two of whom are pregnant. Adrienne and Mac have created a welcoming community, in which everyone pitches in to keep the farm running smoothly. This community includes WWOOFers as well as old friends who come and go regularly.
Adrienne and Mac
A few days after we arrived, we accompanied Adrienne to the Knoxville Farmer's Market vendor's pre-season meeting. We carpooled with Adam and Shelby, nearby neighbors on the farm we would be going to next. Before the meeting we took a brief tour of Market Square and grabbed a few drinks while learning about the set-up of the market. The meeting was a potluck, and farmer's potlucks are the ones you want to hit up. Not only was there amazing salads, pizza with meat from local farmers, and pasta, there was also ice cream and milk brought by a dairy, and cookies, muffins, and sweets brought by people who sell them at market. Needless to say we all OD'd on sugar, and Holly especially jumped up every time a new dish was revealed. The meeting was a mixer for new members, and an opportunity for farmers to meet with local chefs and restaurants. After the meeting we waited in the parking garage in our vehicle until a van pulled up. Several young men in matching plaid shirts jumped out of the van, money was exchanged, and they began piling 50 lb yellow bags into the back of Adam's van. This was actually just farmers sharing a really good price on quality potting soil, but it sure looked like an Amish drug deal.
 A lot of farmers at the meeting are Certified Naturally Grown, which I'd never heard of, but it is a really cool organization. It meets basically the same requirements as Certified Organic, but it is farmers certifying farmers on a small scale, without having to pay for all the red tape and bureaucracy that the USDA requires. Adrienne has been CNG for a while, and has enjoyed helping her neighbors get certificated too.

Us on a hike with Osha looking on.
The Tennessee climate is rated sub-tropical, and we saw our fair share of rain including a lengthy tornado warning for our region. Adrienne wasn't worried about the tornadoes because of the narrowness of the valley we were in. She said a tornado coming into the valley would be as difficult as threading a needle, and if one did make it in we would all be doomed, basement or no. 
Once a month around the full moon Adrienne and Mac host a sweat lodge. We took part in one, and although it got intense, we enjoyed the heat and steam.
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Everyone hanging out in the dining room

The last week we were there, we got to hang out with three other WWOOFers, Evan, Sequoia and Judith. We had a lot of fun, and were glad they were the first other WWOOFers we've spent much time with.
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Sequoia, Adrienne, Holly
Sequoia is a beekeep, and Adrienne was excited to have someone help get her bees in order. We looked on and helped as the hive was deconstructed, cleaned, reassembled, and evaluated. It was a long strenuous process, but one taste of that fresh honey made it all worthwhile.
 We also learned how easy it is to make sprouts in a mason jar, yogurt in the Excalibur dehydrator, and kombucha on the window sill. Side note: your septic tank is the perfect kombucha environment, and the mother will expand to whatever sized container it's in, so never flush it!
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Checking for hive beetles, wax moths, and varroa mites.

Most people in this photo had just tried Tony's Trinidad Scorpion pepper dust, hence the pained expressions.
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Farmin' teamwork
What sword practice session would be complete without a wooden dagger to the ribs?

After spending two lovely weeks at A Place of the Heart we headed on down the road to Adam and Shelby's, but we're glad to be so close and we'll be sure to stop in again before leaving the area!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Broken Magnolia Farm

Our accomodations

     The past three weeks have been an exciting whirlwind of caprine care and farm renovations. Broken Magnolia Farm is a 35 acre meat goat farm run by the Daigle family. Katherine and her husband John live "down the hill" in a house they gutted and rebuilt, and their son James lives with his daughter who’s seven and his son who is three "up the hill" in a house they built themselves.  We stayed in a recently remodeled  room built by previous WWOOFers in the basement-garage area of James' house. The room was quite comfortable, and had more space than we are used to. 
Just kidding! Holly sings the praises of our new room

The kitchenette in the room consisted of a microwave, minifridge, and an electric kettle, so we got creative in preparing our breakfast and lunch. We discovered you can boil eggs in an electric kettle, "scramble" them in the microwave, and even make a microwaved quasi French toast.  
Randy, Katherine, and John

Katherine used to be a math professor, and now focuses on the goats and her grandkids, while John still teaches at Ole Miss, and restores old cars and motorcycles in his spare time. James has a karate dojo and is a painter, and has a show up in Oxford which also features his daughter’s artwork as well as his grandmother’s.

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Quaid, start the reactor

     We were lucky enough to be here for the kidding season, and with a herd of 25 goats there was plenty to  do. Now we have (limited) mad goat skills, and feel comfortable drenching sick goats, identifying scouring goats, catching ornery goats, inter-muscularly injecting goats, and ear tagging newborn goats. The goats have two guardian dogs, Flo and Freya. Flo is in charge of the does, and is an excellent canine midwife. When the does kid, Flo is right there to help with the clean up. She nips the umbilical cord off and helps the mamas lick the babies clean.  

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Flo breaking the amniotic sac of the second kid
She even eats the afterbirth if the mama lets her. She greeted us every morning and loves to be scratched behind the ears. Unfortunately she got into a scuffle with a skunk recently and we've been giving her a wide berth.
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Trying to keep the kid warm
     The first doe that gave birth had twins, and when Katherine found them in the morning, one was inside with the mama and the other was shivering outside the barn by herself. Katherine put the cold one in her coat, and then I had it in my coat for a while, but even with the aid of a hot water bottle it wasn't warming up enough. We decided to bring it inside, and even after all the coat time, its temperature was still 10 degrees colder than a goat's should be. But, after a few hours it was warm enough to go back to its mama. Unfortunately, its mama did not accept it back, probably partially because of the time lapse and the fact that it smelled like humans. Without its mama, the kid went downhill even though we tried to bottle feed it, and got listless and lethargic, and did not want to eat. So, Katherine decided to try to convince one of the other goats to adopt it. When another doe gave birth the next day, she smeared some of the placenta on the orphan, but the doe didn't buy it. But, another doe nearby saw the baby and started cleaning it right up and letting it nurse! 
 The orphan doeling lived happily with its two siblings and mama for several days. But then, it was found dead in the middle of the night. This was after another kid had died unexpectedly despite all of our attempts to save it. These two, along with two who were accidentally ran over, meant that four kids died in the first week or so after kidding. This is apparently about average, there's always accidents and illness.Although many of the goats gave birth without any humans around, we got to help out a few.  
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Kid cuddle puddle

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Black Headed Nanny, who looked this way for a
good week or two before finally giving birth to triplets

                The charming hamlet of Taylor, MS is the oldest municipality in Mississippi and was once a booming railroad town. Whenever the population dips and the town is in danger of being absorbed by another township, the population requirement is lowered so it can remain the oldest in Mississippi. Taylor has a restaurant called Taylor Grocery (which hasn’t sold groceries in years), four or five art galleries, a few churches, a post office, and apparently a fire department though we never saw it. There are also pecan trees all around, and whenever we were in town and came across pecans on the ground we stuffed our pockets. Pecans are typically harvested in late fall, so some of them were rotten or shriveled, but we enjoyed our fill of them. Towards the end of our stay we decide d we didn’t want to miss the world famous catfish that Taylor Grocery is known for. Besides which, neither of us had ever had catfish before. Taylor Grocery gets surprisingly busy on the weekends, so while we were waiting for a table we wandered around the art galleries. The restaurant has a sign out front that says “EAT or we both starve,” is also known for letting its customers write all over the walls. There are decades of layers of writing all over every available surface, including the plastic-coated table cloth which we added “H.E.R.B. WWOOFing through 2/12.” We went all out Southern style and ordered fries, Deb’s famous brown rice, fried okra, and hushpuppies to accompany our two whole fried catfishes. It was delicious. To finish it off, we had chocolate cobbler for dessert, which neither of us had ever heard of, and was incredibly rich, but also quite scrumptious.
               Oxford, about ten miles away, is a college town, home of “Ole Miss,” which we now know more
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Randy and James inspecting the windmill
about than we ever cared to know. We went into Oxford every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings for Karate lessons from James. Katherine and John also took classes, and the kids played on the side, so it was quite the family event. After three weeks, we both know half a kata, and a variety of self defense maneuvers. We were amazed at how much repetition was necessary to really get the moves down.  
Holly with James and his kids
Karate was a great change of pace, and we are so thankful that we got the opportunity to dabble in it.

     We also went into Oxford on one of our days off for the 9th annual Oxford Film Festival. The film festival was exactly how we both expected it to be.  I thought many of the films were trying too hard to be edgy and experimental and were just violent, weird and inconclusive. Randy enjoyed every film from the well done to the bizarre stilted attempts at cinematography. Due to time and the crowdedness of the venue we did not see as many films as we wanted to, but we sure have been to a film festival.
     Our last jaunt into Oxford was to see the live broadcast of Thacker Mountain Radio, a long running public radio show featuring music and readings by authors. Once a week the Off-Square book store pushes the shelves out of the way, a couple hundred people cram in, and the largely unrehearsed broadcast commences. We were not able to stay for the whole thing, but we got a feel for it, and it was a good time.
    We returned home to an amazing send-off dinner Katherine had cooked. She really outdid herself and
Thicket; Randy's favorite goat
made a traditional Louisiana Friday night dinner with white beans and rice, fried catfish, homemade coleslaw, cornbread, and fried squash. We had no idea when we would come across food that good, so really packed it in. 
Three new WWOOFers had come a few days before, so we left knowing the farm was in the capable hands of Maria, Kevin and Kelly.

Here are a couple of our more edible microwave experiments.

Microwaved "French toast"
1. Cube the bread,
2. Mix up an egg and milk with either cheese and spices or cinnamon and sweetener. 
3. Coat bread in milk mixture
4. Zap!

"Hot cereal"
1. Fill a cup with date mush, assorted dried fruits and nuts, fresh banana, and spices.
2. Pour milk over the mixture.
3. Microwave mixture.
4. Pour over your choice of cereal and enjoy!

By the Numbers:
Barns/sheds/outbuildings cleaned/repaired in preparation for kidding: 6
Pregnant does: 15
Kids born while we were here: 25
Kids born while we were looking: 6

Holly vs. Kudzu