Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Hi everyone! I am sorry for my 10 week hiatus. Things have been a bit crazy here on Sugar River Farm since I got back from my summer internship at Polyface Farm.
I’m not going to lie; it was a weird transition coming back to the real word, as it were. When I first got back, I wanted to sleep in the next few mornings, but I simply couldn’t. I was so used to being up early and doing things all day, so having the opportunity to not just didn’t feel right. I’ll admit to feeling like I had to come out swinging, selling lots of product and growing lots of food. It is probably comparable to graduating from a top-10 business school and you feel like you should be on the panel of Shark Tank within your first month out. It simply doesn’t work that way. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself after having worked under Polyface’s high production model to grow my own little enterprise very quickly, but I had to remind myself that Joel Salatin has been running his farm for decades and that is takes time to build a business that large. The conventional growing season in New Hampshire had also wound down, so there was not too much I could do until spring anyway, aside from planning.
Since leaving Polyface, I can sum up my goings on fairly succinctly. Farm-wise, we are currently raising heritage pigs for a CSA in Massachusetts over the winter, which should be interesting. I personally have never overwintered pigs, so we need to pay attention to the feed consumption, hours spent and utility bills incurred over the season to make sure we are priced properly. It was fun to set up our own paddock for the pigs, as I had been so used to doing that for someone else. These pigs are funny and friendly, so I’m reminding myself not to give them names.
We are planning on getting a large group of laying hen pullets in the spring, more pigs and hopefully some turkeys and ducks. We are brainstorming creative (ie. cheap/free) ways to build coops for the birds. I’ve been in touch with our local NRCS office to see how we can work together, am selling crafts on Etsy, and am grateful for the wood stove that Dan’s uncle gave us. It was sitting in a shed unused and I can tell you, it has changed my life. The heat hardly comes on anymore, we are warmer than we were last year using the furnace and we’re going to save a lot of money that otherwise would have been spent on oil. I actually calculated the total hours spent by Dan, his brother and our neighbor of the year Bill, on gathering, splitting and stacking the wood, along with a generous subtraction for equipment attrition, and compared it to what we sent on oil last year. It worked out to conservatively a $40-$45/hour job. It turns out self reliance can be a pretty well paying job, if I do say so myself.
For income not on my own farm, I had initially gotten a part time job at an organic vegetable farm a few towns over, but a few weeks in I sprained my ankle pretty badly on my barn steps (not fun) and ended up taking an office job for the winter. I have never really been injured before, so it was a bit of a sobering realization that getting hurt could potentially affect your bottom line. That being the case, while most people probably do not think of Polyface interns working in offices, I am grateful for the job. It keeps me busy and bringing in funds during an otherwise quiet season and allows me to rest my ankle. As many of us know, mortgages wait for no one. Dan is still working for a landscape architect and we share animal responsibilities before and after work and on weekends. Oftentimes, my mind wanders when I’m at my computer screen to how the pigs are doing, but I have to remember that it takes time and discipline for dreams to take their full fruition.
On a lighter note, I am going to be teaching a seminar for NOFAMass at their Winter Conference in January on Polyface Pastured Poultry Methods. If any of you are interested, it’s a great day of classes and I’m looking forward to going.
And another big farm/life moment - We also finally broke into our pork stash the other night. A friend was coming up to see the farm and to celebrate, we figured why not treat ourselves to some of our very own pork chops. I can honestly say that I have never had someone curse after taking a bite of something I made and at first I was confused. Why was our friend swearing? Did I mess something up? I took a bite and the first thing that came to mind was, “[Expletive!] This is so good!!!!” All I did was put some salt, pepper, parsley, butter and a bit of honey mustard I had made a few days ago on the chops and put them under the broiler for about nine minutes. Not hard. But what emerged was this flavorful, delicious, juicy, phenomenal pork chop… like no pork I have ever had before.
At Polyface, they’ve just wrapped up their annual checkouts for their new crop of interns. It is funny to think back on where I was a year ago, having returned from my Polyface checkout and wondering if I would be picked. Now I’m writing to all my MOTHER EARTH NEWS friends while the barn cats who snuck inside again are trying to attack the keyboard and there are leftover pork chops from our own pigs in the fridge. A lot can happen in one year.
I'll be writing more about starting up our farm and the different enterprises we embark on, so don't worry. Even though my days interning are over, I'm not going anywhere. See you all soon!
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