So warm, I could feel it through my glove this morning.
I had 5 more in the pockets of my fleece as well.
I say had.
Farming tip: never shut a door with your hip when you have eggs in your pocket.
From time to time, someone newly met finds out that I live in a rural area. “It’s so beautiful there, do you have any land?” Oh, yes, about 14 acres. “Wow, so like an actual farm?” Yeah, pretty much – we do both have other jobs, so it’s not as active as some farms, you know. “Really? Like, what do you grow?” Well, we have a laying flock for eggs, we raise broiler chickens every summer, we grow and sell hay…”oh, yeah…sounds nice”. And they move on, disappointment slightly evident in their body language and voice.
But this year when I added “…and pigs” to the list of animals, suddenly everyone’s interest was piqued. “Pigs? Cool! So it’s a real farm”.
Why do pigs add the cool factor? Why was it not a “real” farm before that? What if what I grew was vegetables? Do carrots have a cool factor? If you’re a veggie producer modestly saying “Oh, I’m a farmer” when engaging in small talk at your spouse’s office party, do you get the “oh, that’s interesting” comment as they slip sideways to find the wine bar? Or do they say “wow, carrots, how fascinating!”?
What if my farm consisted of 2 blue sheds with computerized climate control to keep a couple of thousand broilers comfortable, a different batch every few months? Would I be called a “real” farmer by new acquaintances? Is the place down the road a “real” farm, that sea of glass and plastic greenhouses, with automated venting and lighting 24/7, used for growing both veggies and flowers? What about the couple hundred acres of daffodils planted around my area, on land leased by a “real” farmer? Would I be a “real” farmer if I kept a riding stable, had 20 paddocks with horses and an indoor riding arena?
Farming is defined by the Oxford Dictionary Online as: the activity or business of growing crops and raising livestock. Livestock is defined as: farm animals regarded as an asset. Actually, that’s kind of interesting, and I’m tempted to pursue asset and see where it takes us, but let’s not for now.
So does that equestrian centre have a breeding programme? It’s a farm. Greenhouse operation - farm; blue chicken sheds – farm. Carrots? Farm.
Many, many people homestead, or practice self sufficiency, or run some kind of monoculture operation – all of which produce crops or raise livestock. Whether they make money or not is not what defines them as “real” farms. Contrary to nostalgic wishes, farms are not just bucolic landscapes with cows, sheep, chickens and pigs dotted around the green meadows. I have my own ideas of what constitutes good farming practices, and other people have ideas on that topic which differ from mine. I lean toward the bucolic image style of farming, but that’s just me. There are other ways of doing it. That’s fine. The fact that I do not earn my whole livelihood from it in no way lessens my reality as a farmer. I grow food, sell some of it – people eat all of it. How does that make me less of a farmer than buddy down the road with 240 acres instead of 14?
It’s bad enough that non-farming people are unaware of the huge range of models, styles and methods of farming around these days, but it’s even worse when that lack of knowledge is apparent from a farmer.
A local “real” farmer (self-described) read out a letter he had sent to the Agricultural department of our provincial government the other night at a meeting attended by many farmers and like minded folk from our community on the topic of farmland protection. The gist of his letter was a request to consider that protecting farmland was not in the best interest of ”real” farmers – it merely preserved land for pretty landscapes via people with hobby farms or who grew hay – not “real” farming. What is desperately needed, he was saying, was some latitude for “real” farmers (his term) to be able to use creativity and his resources to make a decent living. If that means selling a portion of his land that is not suitable for farming, even though it is under farmland protection, he should be allowed to do it. Compensation packages might be an option to consider to help “real” farmers have more viable businesses. He made reference in the letter to the fact than only a few “real” farmers were left on the peninsula – dairy, beef, vegetable growers, orchardists – all gone due to the financial reality of farming challenges in our area, like processing, transportation and distribution. One had to wonder who he thought he was reading the letter out to, if not a bunch of people who farm with the same restrictions he faces?
I respect this particular farmer for his persistence in the face of considerable adversity. He does indeed raise crops (Oxford Dictionary Online: cultivated plant grown on a large scale commercially, especially a cereal, fruit or vegetable), selling them at several local grocery stores. He is under tremendous financial pressure to pay a substantial amount of the value of the total farmland he owns to his estranged brother (who left the family business some years ago), something that has been hanging over their family for more than a decade. Schemes to bring a chunk of land out of protection to become medium density housing (about a mile from the nearest service area) failed, as they didn’t meet with the official community plan. Commercial composting was promising but eventually shut down due to neighbourhood complaints about smell and noise. A major warehouse fire. A freak winter storm that destroyed a number of greenhouses. His attempts to sell separate parcels of land, 3 that I know of each around 40 acres, each with an asking price of $1 million or more – no buildings, no services – and because they are within the farmland protection area, very restricted land use. They’re not selling like hotcakes, needless to say. This guy is definitely in a hard place. But to consider himself a “real” farmer because of the scale of his operations, and all others who grow crops or raise livestock on a smaller scale as less “real”, well, that gets my goat (livestock).
Time was that farmers were people who grew crops and raised livestock, and sold the surplus beyond what they needed for their family. Some of them planned a pretty big surplus, mind you, but still their primary goal was to feed their family first. That’s where our mind’s eye picture of “farm” comes from, that historical farming model. Farms were, by necessity, very diverse. As specialization came in, the amount of surplus for sale grew, the amount raised for family use shrank, and was instead purchased with profit from that aforementioned “planned surplus”. Eventually of course, we got to large scale farming as we know it today, which is very efficient at providing food in sufficient quantity for processing and grocery stores. I’m guessing that many large scale farmers now buy most of their food from a grocery store.
I grow hay. That’s a crop. I keep a flock of laying hens which provide me year round with eggs, which I sell as well as use for home consumption, making them not just an asset but an investment, probably with better returns than whatever my remaining financial investments might be doing – which is to say they are most definitely livestock. Broiler chickens? Yup, livestock. Let’s not forget those pigs. Livestock plus a freezer full of ham and sausage.
And just in case there is any doubt, I do these things not just because I love the lifestyle (I do), but also for profit. I make money at it. I have no debt. That might just mean that I have more net worth than the “real” farmer who thinks someone like me is not “real”. I’d rather be an unreal farmer with money to show for my efforts and a freezer full of sausage than a real farmer whose bank owns most of what he touches and whose greenhouses are full of flower bulbs, which may indeed be a crop, but are not good eating.
Bottom line: I have a real farm, with or without pigs. And though it irks me that a farmer in my community considers me to be less real than him, in the end, it doesn’t matter. I know that bigger isn’t always better, and I know just how real I am.
Our oldest daughter went to Normandy with a school trip two years ago, and visited a Canadian cemetery while there. She told us that the number of crosses and markers in the cemeteries is just overwhelming. Standing at the viewpoint, the patterns made by the rows were mesmerizing in their magnitude and symmetry.
It was not until she got to walk between some markers that she really absorbed the fact that each one stood for a person. As she stood there in a sea of white markers spread around her, contemplating the name on the cross nearest her, she fully understood in a way that no textbook, test, video or parent could have taught her, the cost of war.
Lest we forget.
I might have mentioned in a previous post that hubby got a Bradley Smoker for his Father’s Day present back in June. Well deserved, I might add. One reason he got it was so that we could try smoking our own pork – hocks, bacon, etc. but the pigs were still pretty small back in June, and in the meantime, it turned out to be very handy at our larger barbeque gatherings, since it is also an oven – not only did he cook the sausages in it for the barbeque we had on Labor Day weekend, but it is was also great entertainment, because most people thought it was a weird kind of beer fridge and kept opening it and getting a surprise.
I have to tell you, Bradley Smokers are like the microwaves of the smoker world. You punch buttons on the digital face to set how long you’re smoking your meat, you can set the oven temperature if you want heat with the smoke, you drop a stack of little round wood chip pucks into the wood chip puck holder thingy, fill the bowl that sits inside with water (there’s a little tray at the bottom of the stack that moves the pucks along inside while they’re burning/smoking – they fall of the end of it into the little bowl of water and stop burning). That’s it. No further involvement required from you, the cook. On the other hand, you can sit and watch it if you like - it has a digital flame display to liven things up :). The little pucks look remarkably like small rice cakes, and come in boxes that look much like cracker boxes, not helped by the fact that they also come in flavours – apple wood, cherry, hickory etc – I was tempted to leave them casually lying around at the barbeque, but hubby didn’t want them wasted…
I poke a lot of fun at this toy of his, but I shouldn’t, because I sure appreciate the wonderful things he’s produced so far: smoked gouda, smoked cheddar, smoked salmon, salmon candy, and now - smoked pork hocks and bacon!
Because, yes – our pork is ready at the processor. We got some belly, a jowl and a couple of hocks fresh last week when they started the cutting, and brought them home to brine or cure ourselves prior to smoking them. We followed the instructions in “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman, our favourite choice from a wide selection of books on smoking and curing available from our library.
The pork hocks took about 3 and 4 hours (one was bigger than the other). The bacon (belly and jowl)took about the same length of time, and he did it on a separate day. He had brined the pork hocks for a week, and the bacon was cured for a week. We have cut the finished bacon slabs into 1 lb pieces to freeze, and look forward to doing a taste test when the bacon from the processor arrives tomorrow. I don’t know if I can wait that long!
We’ve been so busy all summer, it’s been hard to fit relaxing moments in, and even harder to fit in time to share with neighbours and friends. Thank goodness for the changing seasons, allowing us to change our pace, slow it down a little.
Thanks FOR having us over! Great FIRE… FOOD …and FELLOWSHIP with FRIENDS on a FALL…FRIDAY nite
That was the message a friend sent after we had a couple of neighbouring families over to share a campfire this weekend. We cooked most of the food in or on the fire: baked potatoes, veggie kebabs, corn, baked apples and s’mores. We also had sausage dogs, hot apple cider and hot chocolate. Everyone was so stuffed we just sat peacefully around the fire, chatting, telling stories, and flame gazing.
In fact, it was so relaxing, I think one person almost fell asleep.
It seems to be a peak moment in the fungi world, perhaps due to our mild, damp, cool weather just now. Every morning, when I’m out with the dog around sunrise, I am astounded at the variety of mushrooms, toadstools, and other organisms of that ilk that I encounter. I never remember to take my camera with me that early, but fortunately, I was out on the field the other day to put the pasture pens to one side and get them ready for winter, and almost stepped on yet another mushroom I’d never seen. I went back to get my camera and spent a happy hour delaying the work of the afternoon while I traipsed all over the 14 acres looking for elusive mushrooms that seem ubiquitous at dawn, but bashful in mid-afternoon. I don’t know the names or types of any of them, but here’s what I found:
The one picture with no fungi evident is just to show how different the grass is where the broilers were on the field, just a month ago.
Five months worth of pigs on the farm. Tons of fun.
Hauling the pigs to the processor went far better than I had dared to hope. We were helped out by a friend and neighbour who parked his trailer next to the pigs paddock overnight so we could let the pigs load themselves by feeding them dinner in it. The plan worked like a charm, and we were able to get going first thing in the morning with absolutely no stress for pigs or people. Thanks to Bryce from Saanichton Farm for hauling them to the processor for us. We stopped at True Grain Bread Bakery in Cowichan Bay on the way home and tasted some delicious pastries made with wheat from that Bryce had harvested. Awesome.
The absence of the pigs has left a hole in my day – morning and evening chores are practically non-existent now. I miss the eager greeting “did you bring us something” whenever I go past the back of the barn. We’ve raked and reseeded their paddocks with a grass mix with clover in it, hoping the soon to come autumn rains soak it right in before the sparrows get all of it.
We’re already making plans for next year’s pigs. Can’t wait.