All In a Day: Staying Flexible in the Homesteading Lifestyle

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Kara holding triplets! 

We’re a family that makes lists as we endeavor to keep all the balls in the air and projects rolling.  There are lists stuck on the paper towel dispenser, lists on the whiteboard by the back door, lists in my journal, lists in the workshop.  Some of the lists live in my head—like the little daily to-do’s and don’t-forgets.

But Tuesday was a “thwart the list” day.

It started out fair enough, with mostly sunny skies on a crisp morning.  Tuesdays are the pack CSA shares day, so I was out in the garden harvesting cabbages, checking for cucumbers in the high tunnel, and loading up pie pumpkins in the back of the utility golf cart.  Chores went smoothly — the chickens, turkeys, and ducks all happy to see me.

We knew there was already a kink in the day because Kara had dairy training to attend in Chippewa Falls.  Every two years, she has to recertify that she knows how to test her sheep’s milk for antibiotics, even though she would never use them on the milk line.  It’s rather ridiculous but has to be done.

“I think we have two in early labor,” Kara reported over a steamy breakfast of pancakes and sausages as we watched the wide computer screen overhead that displayed the four barn cameras.  “I have pens ready.”

Kara hit the road at 10:30, about the same time as our first customers arrived — a younger couple dressed in flannels and Stormy Kromers that were enjoying an anniversary weekend of hiking in the Northwoods.  They savored a hearty Farmstead breakfast while I began to set out bins for the CSA shares, and Mom and Steve worked the fish and plant chores in the aquaponics greenhouse.

Mom checked back in shortly, eyeing the cameras.  “I’m going to head down to the barn.  I think something’s happening.”  She paged soon afterwards.

“Tell Steve to come down, there are two in labor,” Mom relays, sheep baahing in the background.  I find Steve in the greenhouse, and he’s on his way shortly.  Both ewes are in process when a third starts to give her low, momma baah.  Uh oh, three at once? 

I keep working on the CSA shares.  The bags are being loaded with produce, and I’m bagging Grandma’s apples when the power goes out.  No flickering, no brownout, just thud.  Done.  It’s 1:30 in the afternoon.  I grab the one corded phone we keep in the building for such situations and call Steve’s cell phone.  “Power’s down here!” 

“Here too,” he replied.  “I thought we blew a circuit with a heat lamp, but it appears to be everywhere.  Call Jump River.”

The generator kicks on in just a few minutes, and then there is another type of scramble at Farmstead.  While the generator powers many essential things, it’s not big enough to power everything in operation.  This means things like the gelato display case are off, so I’m whisking the pans of precious, frozen material into the holding freezer in the dairy plant, which is working.

Then I need to take a walk-through in the aquaponics to make sure those systems have come back on with the generator.  If the air pump is not working, the fish have 20 minutes before they use up all the oxygen in the water.  I identify a few issues but nothing life threatening for the system.

A family with kids arrives, unaware of the current situation.  I explain that we are experiencing a power outage, which means I can’t serve them food or process credit cards, but otherwise I’m happy to help.  They were hoping for gelato.  Of course.  The forlorn case sits dark and empty.

Back to the holding freezer I go, searching for the small pre-scoop cups I take to farmer’s market.  Fortunately, there’s enough flavors for everyone to find something they like.

I now can’t see the sheep cameras, so I’m using the corded phone to check in with Steve to know how progress is going.  The first ewe has delivered twins, and they’re working on the second one.  Steve started the portable generator near the barn to run extension cords for the heat lamps to keep the littlest lambs warm.  I turn to see that more people are coming in.  Gelato?  Of course.

Hours later, I see Kara whiz by in the red PT Cruiser, heading straight for the barn.  She had called in a tizzy when she could no longer access the barn camera remotely, and I explained about the outage.  Thank goodness the day was warm and sunny!  All those babies in the barn with no heat lamps and birthing without lights!  She finished her exam as quickly as possible and headed straight back to the farm.

Two clients arrive to shop for muffins (the very last two I had for the day and no option for replacements because the ovens are down).  “We tried to come from HWY B up A by Chippewa Inn, but they wouldn’t let us.  A big Jump River truck was there and said there were lines down across the road, so we had to come the long way.”

Yikes, this could be a while yet! 

I’m harvesting lettuce in the greenhouse again at 4:30 when all of a sudden the room fans turn on.  Power has been restored—thank goodness.  The CSA shares get stowed away in the walk-in cooler, an extra jug pen is being made for what is now the fourth ewe having her baby, and we’re all glad we made it through the day.

And that to-do list?  Well, we’ll take a running shot at it tomorrow.  Some days are one foot in front of the other, hold-it-all-together kind of days.  See you down on the farm sometime.


Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. You can read all of her Mother Earth News blog postshere.

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