Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wendell Berry was awarded this month with the National Humanities Medal for history, literature, education, and cultural policy.* We say:Bravo! This is one decision from Washington that conservatives and liberals alike can applaud. The president is said to have leaned forward during the medal ceremony to say that he was an admirer of Berry's poetry...There's a lot to admire:

The Man Born to Farming

by Wendell Berry

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,

whose hands reach into the ground and sprout

to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death

yearly, and comes back rejoicing.

He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap,

and rise again in the corn. His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.

What miraculous seed has he swallowed

That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth

Like a vine clinging in the sunlight,

and like water

Descending in the dark?

*special thanks to Gene Logsdon for his post on this event at his blog THE CONTRARY FARMER

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Last night's freezing rain and hail sent a crack down one of our large elms. A heavy limb came crashing to the ground near the chicken coop. It ruffled the hens tremendously and sent me out into the wind in my robe...crunching on the ice amidst the clacketing of frozen twigs and branches.

It was bewildering to see Nature so callous towards her poor trees!

The farmer know by heart what an insouciant wench she can be at times....and when he is in the mood she rarely is. We only just yesterday transferred a good portion of newly germinated seedlings to the heated hoophouse, as if attempting to cajole Spring into making an earlier appearance.

Maple sugaring weather has wakened me to the secret lives of trees...and last night's cracking branch catapulted me into the realization that I had been unconsciously eyeing their forming buds, imagining their flowing sap, and wondering over their life cycles for sometime now. It signals the coming growing season when the farmer finds himself being gently tuned to the soon to be green world around him.

He becomes rather like a hen...marshaling his seeds and seedlings, fields, and woodlots beneath the proverbial wing; ruffled now and then by a Mother Nature in the birth pangs of another Spring.

Monday, March 21, 2011

50 Soil Block Maker

Sometimes the right tool for the job can make all the difference in the world. Here on the farm we grow all of our seedlings in soil blocks. Roots air prune, the blocks don't dry out as quickly as cells do, and there are fewer costs involved without the flat inserts.
Making hundreds upon hundreds of soil blocks with a 4 soil block maker can be something of a trial in patience and endurance however...

While Johnny's sells 4, 20, and commercial soil block makers of 12 and 20...those numbers are not the most convenient when utilizing the ubiquitous 21x11 inch flat.
So...our inventor extraordinaire (a PhD and a recent escapee from academia ) made a soil block maker to fill an entire flat at once...thus eradicating much seeding-day stress and hardship! The 1st prototype is in two pieces. The galvanized sheet metal is from an old hog feeder, cut into strips. It's a 21x11 inch grid spot welded at the joints.
We fill the grid in with seed starting mix..then the top piece (with cork buttons on it for the seed indentations) is pressed down on the filled-in grid.

Pull up by the handle of the grid while pushing down on the blocks: the grid slips up while the blocks push down, and your 50 block flat is ready to seed!
Hey kids! Try this at home!

There are times for French perfume and lace negligees...and other times for German puff pancakes drenched in 5 tablespoons of butter. Maple Sugaring time in Michigan is when you go for the puff pancake. GERMAN PUFF PANCAKE *6 Free-Range Eggs *1 C flour *1 C milk *1/2 tsp salt * 5 Tbsp melted butter Beat eggs until fluffy, add milk, flour, salt. Pour batter into 9x11 baking pan. Pool butter on top. Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Eat at once! Bring to the table immediately from the oven with much flourish and fanfare and drizzle maple syrup over it to your heart's content.


...and Building the Greenhouse Part II..........
Human beings are not static.

The same schmoozy spouse that whispers sweet nothings in your ear one moment is also the enfant terrible brandishing a saucepan at you for forgetting to take your shoes off in the house the next…
Suffering seems to be the inheritance of the human race…and suffering each other’s ups and downs the special inheritance of the family.
It is often hard to find any unity within one’s family…in this age of divorce this hardship is often “solved” by simply leaving…blood relation seems insufficient for any lasting communion with our fellow house-dwellers- and family ties are too often no guarantee of mutual love and respect.
More and more I find myself coming to the same conclusion, the same solution for all our troubles…the same source for healing, restoring, maintaining, and inspiring families.


The land offers families so much more than their daily necessities. It offers them a place to be free to fulfill their own unique identities, and pursue each other’s good.

There can be little doubt that a place with haylofts, livestock, open fields, mysterious woods, vegetable gardens, berry patches, dirt, and more dirt can be a place of enchantment and health for children…but one of the most important things that a farm offers children is work.

We are not talking here about the kind of work that drags a man’s soul to the ground, endless drudgery that is the source of all his guilt and pride…we are talking about the kind of work that gives a child the very real impression that he is important and needed in the family, that without him or her some good thing wouldn’t exist on the homestead, in the town…in the world. There should be chicken manure on his boots, and the stuff of symphonies in his soul. Work that gives a child the satisfaction that comes with making his imprint on the world around him…so that instead of throwing fits and sulking in corners he is busy building fences, feeding animals, collecting eggs, and watering plants.

The land offers a canvas to husbands and wives on which they may paint their unity…
The fruit of the husband’s labor in the field is baked into bread by the wife in the kitchen...the collective labors of the garden yield romantic candle-lit feasts in the backyard…no work on the land is done in isolation…and the work itself binds hearts in its common purpose. It is difficult to argue long with a spouse…when you need them to help you transplant hundreds of flats, carry one side of a long plank, care for one of the newborn twin goats…

When children have grown, parents can no longer tack their childish drawings to the refrigerator to show their proud admiration. But when grown, those children have as great a need for the support and steadfastness of their parents as they did while young and oblivious to that need…the projects have grown too big for the kitchen, but when work is shared between grown children and their parents the firm foundation is being laid for a lifetime of deep contentment. Words of advice are not sufficient for such peace between family members…but a slow and steady habit of repeated shared endeavor heals all the wounds of raging adolescence and family feuds…Blood alone cannot bind families…shared cultivation of the earth does.
Here’s where CSA comes in.
Community Supported Agriculture allows those who do not live on the farm to share in the cultivation of the earth. The responsibility to maintain proper stewardship of the land rests on all of us since, as Fr. Vincent McNabb writes:
“Here on the land, and on the land alone is all to be found. Everything that crowds the city shops, and makes town-life possible, must have been one day taken from the open hand of the earth.” -Land-work and Hand-work

But more than that, the rewards of such close proximity to the tending of the earth, and the habits of mind that flow from such cultivation can be shared by an extended “family” which supports and sustains the farm in the ways that they are able, with the unique abilities that each member has.

"It is clearer, I believe, that the survival of farming in this region as in many others, cannot be secured by “competing on the global market.” To survive, our farmers are going to need a fully developed local land-based economy supported by informed and locally-commited urban consumers. To acheive this will require a long time and a lot of work, but we have begun”

-Wendell Berry
The authentic expression of a just and peaceful society is the union between capital and labor.

In Community Supported Agriculture there is a happy union of capital and labor…the members are comprised of those who are able to supply the membership price necessary to sustain the farm, and the labor is provided by the farmer, and his family (and other eager and inspired member volunteers!)…resulting in not only shared food for all, but many important consequences for the community at large, the increasing of soil fertility, the care for natural watersheds, the responsible cultivation of habitats for native plants, birds, insects, and mammals.

Most importantly, there is the mutual conservation of what it means to be home. Home is a place for shared endeavor, a source of health, nurturing, feasting, and safety. The farm is incubator for this definition of the word…the farmer is of necessity as rooted to his spot as his fields are…and the surrounding community is pulled into this rootedness when it invests in his endeavors, and supports a generational business that is run out the desire for the wholeness of earth, town, and family, and not for the accumulation of wealth which would spur him on to regional, national, and global markets. The smallness of the farm is a beacon to the community at large that he is committed to the happiness of his own family, and the freshness of the vegetables, eggs, meats, and cheeses he sells. It is a smallness that makes for grandness of spirit, sustains small towns and big ones, and is the hallmark of Communty Supported Agirculture. It is this smallness and rootedness that gives one hope for a common experience of what it means to be a family, and to be home.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kitchen Wisdom

To a farmer/wife/mother the kitchen becomes iconic.

The space enclosed by its four walls represents lunacy, romance, struggle, comfort, drudgery, bliss and tradition all in one glance.

I often think of James Beard's reflections in his 1965 article The Stomach, Heart, and Spirit of the House

"In a house without a genuine kitchen, one of the delights of growing up is lost. No other room can gather the family together with such a feeling of warmth and security."
In our own kitchen our children have witnessed and participated in:
-the butchering of two hogs on the kitchen counter
-goat cheese making
-Floods of apple cider making and canning
-Pickling and SauerKraut making
-Loaves upon loaves of artisan breads kneaded and left to rise and baked...
-the filling up of our kitchen sink with composted cow's manure and peat moss for soil-block making and seeding of thousands of tiny seeds for the CSA veggie season

-The washing and towel drying and bagging of hundreds of pounds of salad mixes for our farm share weekly boxes
-Many batches of cookies baked
-Countless Cakes and Apple Pies cooling...
-Scalding broiler chickens on the stove top (not recommended)
-Painting masterpieces on the Fridge with finger paint
-Writing and illustrating our weekly CSA newsletters

Last year the kitchen saw our entire farm's enterprise from start to finish...from the seeding of the flats in February to the canning of kraut and pumpkin in October. It was the room in which we argued, kissed, whirled around in impromptu ballroom dances, cried, laughed, worried, and relaxed. In my humble opinion:
Cities don't build civilizations: Kitchens do.

James Beard again:

"I grew up in a kitchen that was the hub of the house and the crossroads of the entire neighborhood."

He describes how every morning his father preferred the quiet comfort of the kitchen all to himself, and would send up trays of breakfast to his wife and James before sitting down to his own with a newspaper and the lovely morning light on the kitchen table. Usually James would find on his tray "fruit, bacon or country ham, eggs and toast or rolls" On Sundays in Winter: "homemade sausage;deliciously blended with thyme, a bit of bay leaf, and pepper." And in Spring and Fall, "sautee'd young chicken which would be served with country bacon, cream gravy, and hot biscuits." Here indeed was a fellow destined for a life-long love affair with food, and all the creativity and comfort in live that it brings! In the evenings he would bring home his friends, and serve drinks along with suppers of eggs and sandwiches...he described how the kitchen would then transform into a "smoke-filled supper club". This is the context of the affection with which he speaks of those loaves that make excellent sandwich bread in his fantastic book Beard on Bread.

It is notable that the most legendary of home cooks are admired most not for their culinary prowess, but for their lovable personalities as well.
Indeed we would not be stretching it to descibe the kitchen as the very best school for charm, character, good humor, and conviviality.

All excellent and fertile ground for the other heftier virtues of prudence, courage, endurance, and honesty. Perhaps we would do well to postpone the reading and writing and arithmetic a while, and snatch our children from their desks to jumble about the kitchen and boil sap, measure out flour for cookies, and maccerate meat, all the while bandying back and forth snitchets of conversation and confession.

Julia Child hits the nail right on the head:

"(The kitchen is) the most important room in the house; not only is it the stomach, but the heart and the spirit as well In addition to the kitchen, a house needs only bathrooms and bedrooms. Besides being a workroom and a studio, the kitchen should also be a family room. So it should be utterly efficient, beautiful, and comfortable."

It is in the kitchen that I find my full expression of love for my spouse, my children, my neighbors, and the world in general. It is to the kitchen I go to make a fruit tart peace offering to my husband after harsh words...It is in the kitchen where I re-forge bonds of affection with my little ones, while measuring out the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. It is in the kitchen where I make Sunday Brunch quick breads to share with our neighbors each week...and it is in the kitchen where our first plans for the vegetable growing season are made, our flats are seeded, and eventually where the surpluses are canned and frozen and put away.

In the introduction of her book Nigella Kitchen, Nigella Lawson writes of it:

"What I have discovered, after what feels like a lifetime's cooking, is that anything which holds true in the kitchen is just as true out of the kitchen."

She gets at the universality of the kitchen. It is this same universality that often can bring together a wide array of people with differing creeds, political views, and habits of life...
"There's a dynamism to a kitchen that seems to draw people in. Part hub, part haven, the kitchen is where, I've always found, people speak more freely than anywhere else...its dynamism comes in part from the fact that, more than any other room in a house, the kitchen brings and welcomes the outside in."
-Nigella Lawson

In the wordless final scene of The Big Night Stanely Tucci's character enters the resturaunt kitchen and makes breakfast for himself and the kitchen assistant. Nothing but the sound of the pots banging, the gas flame igniting on the stove and the fork whisking eggs is heard. As he cuts the omelet in three sections the audience is made aware that the entire time he has in his mind his brother, who has yet to enter the room. Wordless cooking for others, and eating with others, conveys more fraternity, apology, and healing than any scripted dialogue could...and it is an excellent finale to a film all about the healing power of the kitchen.
When my children have grown, and if and when they find themselves many miles from the home they grew up in, and the farm that they worked on...when they suddenly hear within themselves something like Sir Walter Scott's "The Lay of the Last Minstrel"

Breathes there the man with soul so dead Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned, As home his footsteps he hath turned From wandering on a foreign strand!

It is my hope that memories of their childhood kitchen will inspire them in their own homes, draw them back to us again...and that within their hearts they will always hold remembrances of the warmth of the woodstove, the scent of baking bread, and definition they learned in the kitchen of home.
If we care about sustainable agriculture, then necessarily we have to care about the traditions and arts of the kitchen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Happy Eggs

Much of our modern-day folklore has to do with food.

Recently a neighbor asked us if it was true that brown eggs tasted stronger than white ones...that's what she had heard...

Others have supposed that supermarket eggs are safer because they have been washed in a sterilization solution.

The color of your egg is determined by the breed of chicken that laid it. The super-producing chicken favored by the factory farm happens to lay white eggs.

Eggs have a natural protective coating on them...when washed off the egg becomes vulnerable through its shell to contamination. This makes eggs from small farms actually safer for the public than those from factory farms. Chickens raised in confinement are sick chickens. Have you ever wondered why they wash your eggs in a sterilization solution, and pepper the carton all over with warnings of salmonella and hand-washing advice?

Hens happily pecking away to their hearts' content outside wherever their fancy takes them...those are happy laying ladies indeed...and they lay happy eggs.

Conventional Egg (left)

Little Flower Farm Egg (right)

A 2007 Mother Earth News Study found that truly FREE-RANGE eggs (not ones produced in line with the USDA's pathetic standards for "Free-Range", but eggs from hens raised without confinement and out on pasture...) are healthier than their conventional counterparts.

Truly Free-Range Eggs contain:
* 1/3 less cholesterol
*1/4 less saturated fat
*2/3 more omega-3 fatty acids
*3 times more vitamin E
*7 times more beta carotene

Chefs prize pastured eggs for their whiter whites, & their darker (indicating more vitamins!) firmer yolks. They behave better in omelets, souffles, and cooking.

This picture on the left is how most hens spend their lives laying conventionally raised eggs.

Now for our laying ladies at little flower farm:
In Summer and in Winter our hens are busy doing what they do best:

Being Hens!
Simply stated: Happy Hens lay Happy Eggs. As to the rumor that they also sing french love songs when the moon is full...we cannot comment on that at this time.
Bon Apetit!
little flower farm eggs available for on-farm pick-up and weekly orders. $3.00/dozen & for inestimable joi de vivre
email for more info: