December 28, 2008

Even though our farm name was a bit goofed up, we were thrilled to be mentioned in an SF Chronicle newspaper article with regard to our adventures on December 24th.  We participated in a Jewish kosher turkey slaughter by supplying 20 of our heritage Narragansett turkeys to this event and helped out as needed. This was a lot of work for us, up at 5 am in the dark and rain on a day that would normally have been a holiday (and poor Ken’s first day of his annual vacation from his job at UC Davis). 

I had a lot of fears and concerns about participating in this event…anyone who knows me knows that we don’t transport our birds and we don’t let other people slaughter our birds…it’s all part of us being very protective of the humaneness and overall treatment of our animals. Those worries rapidly went to rest as we met the participants and listened to what was said and saw what was done. It felt very affirming to hear a group of people who were from a different background (not small farmers) express such concern for the welfare of the animals and how they were raised–the same concerns that caused our farm and Wind Dancer Ranch to produce sustainable meats in the first place. And usually, the act of slaughtering and dressing is something that most people go out of their way to avoid. Hearing and seeing the respect and appreciation that everyone had for their ability to witness and have hands-on involvement in the act of transforming a living animal into food for their own meal…I just thought very highly of my entire experience with the kosher slaughter. It feels good when I can realize that others, people with whom I’ve had no previous discussion or prior contact, have independently arrived at a similar conclusion to a complex problem–how to have socially responsible food. When I learned that each one of our animals passed the rabbi’s inspection, it made me feel that this stamp of quality was a testament to the care we take with our flocks–we’re doing something right, and it shows in the finished product. 

December 18, 2008

The past weeks have been strange and demanding on so many levels, in ways both good and bad.

Just a few days after my last entry, a major loss was experienced in my world at UC Davis. One of our faculty members at the lab I work at, veterinary microbiologist Dr. Richard Walker, drove to Bodega Bay on a Sunday and ended his life at the seaside. How does anyone decide what to make of it when other people make a decision like this? Here was a man who was nationally regarded as being one of the premier experts in his field. He was private, liked by all, and was a person one would think had everything to live for. He took time for everyone–I know that on more than one occasion he took time to explain things to me about my little poultry questions, or would share his knowledge of what went on under the microscope. So to start the Christmas season, a wife, a 17 year old daughter, and frankly all the rest of us are left behind, with questions for which we’ll never have answers. Contrasting with this, at about the same time a dear friend in the farming community up here experienced a major stroke. In spite of the struggles and the debilitations, our friend has made amazing progress which we all follow via his wife’s blog. They are a couple whose most pronounced trait is their positive, can-do approach to anything life throws at them. Maybe the lesson to take away is that our attitudes, our minds, are very powerful, and they shape our realities much more than events external to us.

Then, our musical season with the San Francisco Sinfonietta went into overdrive…rehearsals, lessons, more rehearsals, and finally our concert at Davies Hall. It was as usual a great experience that all of us worked at hard to do our best. Musically, it was without a doubt our finest concert yet and hopefully indicates how much we can aspire to in the future.

And, it’s the time of year when farming is not such an "active" word. We had unusually warm weather for weeks on end, and now we’re having frosts. The catalogs have all arrived in the mail from the 10 or so seed and tree companies that send me their annual offerings…it’s amazing the analysis that has to go into preparing to purchase seed. For example, the tomato. Last year we were hit by two distinct viruses. We had poor yields on all but two of the heirloom varieties we grew, and we really planted far too many paste tomatoes. So the search is on for a tomato that will perform–in all the years we’ve had a CSA, we have lacked a consistent supply of decent beefsteak tomatoes to include in our boxes. So this year I found a hybrid I think will work, Big Beef or Better Boy or one of those sorts of names, can’t remember exactly. This variety is touted as being resistant to a wide array of pathogens as well as being a good producer. OK, I’ll hope all the words are true. Now the problem lies in that every company that sells this seed goes about it differently. Company A will sell you 20 seeds fo $3 per packet. Company B will sell you 200 seeds for $9. It seems clear, buy the larger amount, except that when you multiply this sale scenario over 40 different kinds of seed, it’s possible to end up spending a LOT of extra $$ on something you won’t use all of and that is only good for so many years. So it’s important to really think about how much of a given item one plans to grow, allow for some extra seed in case of error, but not be stuck with lots and lots of seed that ultimately will go to waste. The tree catalogs are just as bad. First, what do I want, what is there room for? How much does it cost? What will the shipping charges be, how reputable has the company been in the past, etc? So I guess it can be said, a lot of farming occurs in the mind. In front of the woodstove, with apple cider in hand.

We’ve also been busy with cats. There was an influx of strays that led to one kitty forcing his charming way into our already overcrowded home. It took about a day to realize his name is Psycho! (that’s WITH exclaimation point. Feel free to cue up the Hitchcock soundtrack in the background.) He started out as just a poor starving thing, and later it became apparent that he lives for any opportunity to gnaw on exposed flesh. One minute, he’s a happy purring creature. It’s possible to watch him transform–his eyes widen into two saucers, his muscles tense, and then he attacks something. Us, the other cats, furniture, doesn’t really seem to matter. So our new little houseguest had to be cured of severe diarrhea no doubt the product of his former life in the wild. For three weeks he had to live mostly in the bathroom as we tried different diets and gave him stronger and stronger medications. Finally the horse de-wormer (I wish I was kidding) did the trick. Of which I am glad, because I think my bathroom floor is perhaps one of the most scrubbed surfaces ever. I guess his personality is just so interesting that we didn’t have the heart to send him packing. Now to get that little operation…..

And in exactly one week, we’ll be in the Capay valley participating in a Kosher turkey slaughter. We are working with a Jewish organization in the SF area that wants to be able to have our heritage turkeys to eat, in a way that is acceptable to their religious requirements. This is a cultural adventure that is new territory for us, but we’re hoping we’ll learn a lot and forge a business relationship that will keep everyone happy. When you raise heritage poultry, you learn that what you have to offer appeals to a very specific demographic of people. It can be hard, too, to even find a farmer that is willing to give an audience to this sort of request. It will definitely go into the annals as one of the more unusual ways I’ve spent a Christmas Eve.