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Family Farming

Discovery Lab at Green Bow Farm

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Discovery Lab at Green Bow Farm

We are really excited to announce that we are working with Discovery Lab a local STEAM based school to have mini farm school workshops at Green Bow Farm. Our sons started attending Discovery Lab this Fall. They love it and we have been impressed with their hands on learning curriculum that emphasizes child lead interests. We started the year with DL students coming out and observing sheep shearing and also learning how to skirt and card fleeces. This got us excited about doing more educational outreach in our community. It's something we have always wanted to do but haven't made it a priority yet. So this winter with the support of the school's teacher and parents both Farmer Matt and I have worked on a simple curriculum for the students that touches on many different aspects of the farm and also gives them some hands on learning opportunities. The farm is at its healthiest when we are in touch with how all the different animals and plants are working together to create soil biodiversity and food for both humans, animals, and insects. In order to do this we need to closely observe the land on a daily basis and make adjustments to our work and how the animals are moved around on pastures. Working more with the community to teach people about how and why we farm the way we do is another way that we can be responsible stewards of the land and hopefully inspire a new generation to also look differently at where there food comes from . So here is a sneak peek at the workshops that the Discovery Lab students will be participating in. BoosterCampaign Laying Hens

February 1st visit Learn about how we use microscopes on the farm Discovery Lab Students will get samples from two different ponds and compare and contrast using a microscope If weather allows obtain fecal samples from sheep and cattle in the pasture to check on health of animals also using a microscope. Also learn about a permaculture experiment with our ducks 2nd visit Spring Sheep Shearing Observe shearing and help sort fleeces from our flock of Icelandic Sheep Compare multiple fleeces and their quality Compare fleeces from different breeds of sheep Lesson in felting and making a felt bowl

March

1st visit Seed Starts for Spring Planting Lesson on seed germination Make fermented kraut-chi with spring greens from Washington farms

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2nd visit Chicken day Learn about the role the chickens play on the farm Help rebuild small chicken tractors Visit chicks and learn about the brooders that help keep them alive when they are really young and also help add bedding and fill water Help collect eggs

Eat Fermented Kraut-chi if it's ready!!

April

1st visit Lambing Season Visit new lambs see lambs born if we are really lucky Learn about the Icelandic Sheep breed Explore pastures and identify plants with a scavenger hunt

2nd visit Lesson in Beekeeping After a lesson in Beekeeping with Farmer Matt each student will take a turn looking inside the beehives with safety gear on IMG_0669 First Lamb May 1st visit Planting Spring Starts Possibly seed carrots and beets Learn about compost, soil biodiversity, And compost tea. Also how it's integrated into our irrigation system

2nd visit Forage for plants on table mountain for dyeing fiber Bring back to farm and dye fiber. Students can bring dyed fiber back to Discovery Lab for future art projects

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Chicken For Every Pot

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Chicken For Every Pot

In today's industrial food system, chicken is raised by farmers who don't own the birds, only the infrastructure used to raise them. Or at least they own the debt as the agro industrial poultry corporations require farmers to build facilities to their specifications on their own dime, carry the debt of hundred's of thousands of dollars while the corporation has the right to cancel their grower's contract with a thirty day written notice, leaving them with expensive empty buildings to pay for. The feed that is used is heavily made up of subsidized corn and soy grown in depleted soil propped up with synthetic petroleum nutrients and sprayed with herbicides all of which end up in the food chain. The subsidized grains mean that the taxpayer is footing the bill for these less than nutritionally valuable food products and the corporations are able to buy them for less than it costs to produce them. The finished birds are then rounded up and shipped to processing plants where underpaid workers are hired to process them. The parts are then shipped out to the domestic and global market. If all this wasn't enough, the chicken is then often plumped up with saline injections to repair moisture and flavor compromises during growing and increase market weight.

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This ain't no disco

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This ain't no disco

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Scottish Highland The season is in full swing and we have more animals on the farm then we have ever had before. So many chicks, turkey poults, ducklings, and lambs its hard to keep count. We are also without help again and doing it all on our own for the most part. We tried interns for a third time and just didn't work out. Every time we start with high hopes that we are bringing people onto the farm and into our lives that really want to farm. We pick people specifically because they say they want to start a farm of their own but the one thing we have been successful at is showing people they don't want to have a full scale farm. Maybe they want a little homestead, or just a garden, but they sure don't want the kind of responsibilities that we have taken on. We are thinking about and working on the farm 24/7 at this point. There is still infrastructure to build, also a learning curve figuring out how to manage a much larger group of animals, and also experimenting with value added products to make the farm financially sustainable. Everyday is different and full of chances to learn, adapt, and adjust what we are doing. Lets be honest doing this kind of work with a busy family life is not for everyone. The ability to juggle lots of different hats and also do a job that isn't always going to be laid out for you and may require some critical thinking is a tall order but really a must if you want to start your own farm.

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The most disappointing thing about not being able to successfully have interns isn't just the much larger work load and not being able to do all the projects we wanted to do this season but the fact that we wanted this farm be a place where people could learn about grass based farming and also give them a chance to see how a farm is built. We have been planning and building fencing, irrigation, ponds, and shelters for almost three years now and its the kind of thing that many young new farmers would also be faced with because your not going to necessarily get a farm that has all of those things and the amount of land you want handed over to you. So for now we will try to teach people through our blog when we have time or if people want to come visit the farm we will teach them as much as we can but we won't be taking on any interns anytime soon.

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We have been getting by with the help of friends and neighbors lending a hand when they can. I also have a friend that is going to work in the garden once a week in exchange for some veggies so even though the season isn't working out they way we hoped we still feel good about the future. I have also enjoyed working more one on one with Farmer Matt. Our first summer on the farm I was pregnant and last season our son was just a newborn so as you can imagine I had a hard time taking care of three little boys and getting actual work done on the farm. Now I try to wake up before the older boys and Malcolm and I will start doing morning chores near the house, I even have a sitter coming a couple mornings a week so I can help Matt move larger projects forward. We also try to split up and get things done by one of us taking one or two of the boys and vice versa. Its not perfect, things take a little longer, the house is a little messier, and many nights we eat nachos for dinner but we are making it happen. We are also taking copious notes for how we want to do things differently next season. There is always room for improvement, especially in farming. You can't control the weather or the animals most of the time but you can create the best possible environment for them to thrive.

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On a happier note we found out the breeder that we got Lulu, our Great Pyrenees, from just had another litter so we will be going to pick out another puppy in about a month. Lulu, Bella, and our soon to arrive puppy are and will be  integral members of our farm team. Lulu spends time going between the sheep and the chickens day and night keeping prey both in the sky and on the ground away. Bella still officially a pup helps us heard the animals even the chickens, although that is something we have to work with her on on a daily basis so she just herds them when we ask and doesn't chase them for fun. Both of them alert us if something is amiss and I really appreciate Bella always wanting to be by your side especially those night time runs out into the pasture to check on animals or to lock the chicken tractors up. The second Great Pyrenees will help us cover more ground especially when we have groups of animals on separate sides of the culvert and also give Lulu another companion. She spends much more of her time out in the pastures and could use another dog to keep her from getting bored. Lulu was an amazing puppy and although she was and still is  harder to train basic commands to, unlike Bella the border collie, her strong guarding instinct plus her incredible gentle way with the kids make her the perfect dog for our farm.

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 Farmer Matt sees spring in sight

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Farmer Matt sees spring in sight

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It has been a very productive winter for us. We finished our website www.greenbowfarm.com, worked on some grant proposals, but the majority of it was spent planning our next year, talking about what worked and what didn't, and the new things we want to try out and grow into over the next couple of seasons. Last year we were building up our breeding flock of sheep and figuring out if there was a market for our eggs and poultry so we haven't had much to sell this year, but we will have more than double the amount eggs and meat to sell next year at our farmers markets. Last year we tried a little bit of everything and quickly learned what we wanted to put our time and energy into the most but also keeping the key elements that create biodiversity on the farm. EggsInFridgeIn addition, we spent the winter selling at the West Seattle Farmers Market where we sold our late season pasture raised broiler chickens, all our fall lamb, and of course our pastured eggs. One place where we took a risk was investing a large amount of money to send our lamb pelts off to be tanned and turned into lambskins not really knowing if people would want to buy them. Luckily we were overwhelmed by peoples interest in them so much so that we will probably be selling the one that we were going to keep for ourselves. Believe me it's a good problem to have.  We are enormously grateful to all our wonderful customers and all the feedback they've provided us. It's really hard to imagine farming without the community we have found at farmers markets. This spring, we are getting busy on fencing with help from the NRCS and improving our pastures by finalizing our rotational grazing system. It amounts to dividing our  large pasture with two permanent fence lines. From there we will be able to section off smaller pastures using temporary fencing. This style of rotational concentrated grazing improves soil health and there by grass production. It also greatly benefits the animals by moving them to fresh ground regularly and allowing the chickens to follow cleaning up and sanitizing after the ruminants so that when the cattle and sheep return all the manure they left when they were there before has been scratched out by the poultry and returned to the soil, greatly reducing the risk of parasite infection. It is a symbiotic relationship that regularly occurs in nature and with a little help from temporary electric fencing we are able to mimic it. All of these activities builds soil, builds forage production and protects the health of the soil. In effect, we are grass farmers first and the wonderful beef, lamb, chicken and eggs are simply a byproduct.

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Weather wise, winter didn't seem to show up until February. We had some cold spells, but mountain precipitation was absent and the threat of drought was worrying everyone in the northwest. But at the beginning of February, the high pressure ridge off the coast broke up and brought us winter. The mountains began receiving heavy snow fall. Getting over the pass every Sunday morning for market became challenging as it seemed to snow every Saturday night and into Sunday. Once, I even drove from door to door on snow, getting to the market 100 miles away  and shoveling our booth spot free of snow.

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This week our new apprentices arrive on the farm. Ryan and Crystal found us through a social media site and sent us their letter of interest. After a brief discussion, we invited them to come and stay with us for a few days as a get-to-know-you session. We hit it off famously and invited them to be here for the 2014 season. They are very serious about starting a farm of their own and its that desire to learn by doing that feels like it will be a good fit for our farm. We are very excited to have them here and their presence, I suspect will greatly improve our farm. You'll see them at the markets, so please give them a big "Hello".

Our chicks begin arriving soon and with the break in winter weather the workload will begin to increase rapidly. With a couple of nice days in March I already feel behind on all the repairs and building work that needs to be done. With a growing family and growing farm there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel behind on projects but we are hoping to get the boys out with us more often and have more projects be a family affair now that they are getting older.  With a toddler though, that won't always be possible so we'll also try to get some family days squeezed in hiking and camping or just exploring our valley. We have been so busy starting our farm there are still many parts of our valley and surrounding mountains we have yet to explore.

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One Full Year

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One Full Year

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All has been quiet on the blog front but on the farm things keep buzzing along. It's winter so the grass isn't growing, the hoop house is full of chickens so there are no veggies in sight but the laying hens are still giving us eggs and we have a freezer full of grass-fed lamb so we head over every week to the West Seattle Farmers Market. We are so happy to be apart of a very vibrant community of farmers, food producers, and dedicated market shoppers. It's been nice to make connections with people as passionate about healthy food as we are, and it has motivated us to do even more in the coming year. We have also had fun recipe testing and writing so we have recipes to share with market shoppers that work well with our grass-fed lamb. We've tried to find or create recipes promoting the nose to tail eating that we appreciate and also work with cuts that people are unfamiliar with or tend to shy away from.

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Despite having a booth at farmers markets and loyal customers, I still can't quite believe that we made it through one full year of farming. Technically we moved in the year before but we were just fencing and learning how to take care of our sheep so we didn't really feel like full fledged farmers yet. It wasn't until we started having food to bring to markets that it really started to sink in that we did it. We went from city slickers who had a couple raised beds, bee hives, and a gaggle of laying hens to full time farmers with hundreds of chickens, almost 40 sheep, 12 head of cattle in our care, plus turkeys and pigs, and a not so small market garden where we grew an array of fruits and veggies in. It still blows my mind that we produced thousands of pounds of food for ourselves and hundreds of other families with a small amount of resources and only a couple months of interns on the farm. We also finished a quite massive irrigation project in the middle of our growing season and with three little boys under 6 years old it means that Farmer Matt was left with the majority of the work (farm related anyway). So how do we do more and keep a sane family life? The internship model didn't work out because we didn't have the proper amount of time to teach people that had no experience. So for the upcoming season we are hoping to find an apprentice that has at least a couple seasons worth of experience working on farms and is passionate about starting their own farm-- someone who really wants to see and take part in the nuts and bolts of what takes to start a farm from the ground up. Farmer Matt read Joel Salatins' book "Fields of Farmers" and it inspired him to rethink about how we teach on the farm and not give up entirely on helping inspire future farmers. (I am hoping he writes a review of the book for our blog because the model Polyface Farm has could really revolutionize sustainable farming.)

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Our biggest hurdle besides the fact that we have a limited amount of land and hands on the farm is that we have no buildings. There were horse shelters here when we moved in and we modified them so we now store hay there. We built a small three sided shelter for the sheep during the winter and there is one shipping container where we keep tools, poultry feed, and fencing. Spring can have extremely harsh weather in the Kittitas Valley, so last winter and spring we raised our chicks and pullets in our hoop house. We had to move them out early so we could get vegetable starts going and even with many heat lamps set up in the chicken tractor we lost dozens to cold weather. Luckily there is a National Conservation grant for sustainable farms to obtain large hoop houses so we started the process and hope that it might be the answer to our space issues and be a great place to grow even more heirloom tomatoes.

So what are the plans for next season? We are going to double the amount of laying hens we have. People love our eggs as much as we do so we want to try and keep up with demand. We will also raise more Red Rangers chickens and heritage turkeys, not a huge amount but the right amount for our rotational grazing farm model. This year we raised pigs on pasture just for ourselves and one other family but we might raise a couple more next year for sale. We are currently breeding our Scottish Highland Cattle and would love to increase our breeding stock but think we are at capacity to also have enough forage for them through the growing season. I am very excited that sometime in the Fall of 2014 we will have grass-fed beef for sale for the first time.

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Our next big project is to come up with a value added product using the vegetables and herbs we grow that would complement our grass-fed meats and also make our farm more financially sustainable. Small farms like ours that don't have unlimited resources really count on things like jams, hot sauces, and spice rubs to bridge the gap and make farming viable.

I can't list everything we learned this last year but I can show you a little clip of  highlights of our first year of farming.

Looking forward to starting our second year of farming and all the things I am sure we will learn, experience, and enjoy. Happy New Year to you and yours from everyone at Green Bow Farm!

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News both big, small, and in between

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News both big, small, and in between

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Farm Sign There are so many changes and things moving forward I'm not even sure where to start. What kept us up at night most was installing a new sprinkler irrigation system with the help of conservation district grants and after over a year of planning, applying for grants, and 6 weeks of 14 hour days it is finally done and passed inspection with flying colors. We needed to hire a little help once we got into the project and it was worth its weight in gold. This was a concern as our year was already financially burdened with all the infrastructure additions, but it proved to be the best thing we could have done. Farmers seem to talk about three things when they get together: weather, any animals lost, and how difficult it is to find good help.

Irrigation project

Irrigation is not the most exciting topic but the results we have already seen on the pasture have made it all worth it. The plan we designed utilizes tail water so as of now we aren't using the irrigation water we pay for every year which amounts to something like 8,000,000 gallons of snow melt. A huge Thank you to Mark Crowley of the Kittitas County Conservation District for helping us see the plan through logistically and taking a couple of his weekends to help us get the project done. We would probably still be working on it if it wasn't for him. The boys were also thrilled to have his son Wyatt here who has been a farm boy all his life helping his dad raise pigs and cattle. The boy knows his way around a farm and his confidence was inspiring for the boys and in many ways for me to see. We also need to thank our neighbor Cleatus and everyone at the National Conservation Resource Services office, especially Erin who worked some magic for us many times.

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Our first Farmers Market season has been successful, we sold out of our first two batches of broiler chickens and our pasture eggs seem to be sold before we have them. The Roslyn market is done for the season just as our ladies egg production is ramping up and we will soon have more pasture raised lamb and chicken available so we started looking for new farmers markets to try out in addition to our Ellensburg one. We didn't have high hopes for getting in to the Seattle markets so late in the year, but just this week we found out we will have a spot at the West Seattle Farmers Market starting in October. We are really excited about the West Seattle one because it is our old neighborhood and we have had so many people reaching out to us wondering when they could get some of our pasture raised goodness. I am really looking forward to seeing friends and familiar faces from my food co-op days.

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We had a harder time selling our produce. Partly because there is so many people selling it at the markets but also on this side of the mountains they don't put as many regulations on who can sell at farmers markets. In some of the Seattle markets they actually require that you put signs up if you spray your produce with pesticides and they make it their mission to support small sustainable farms so you are less likely to see large conventional farms selling at the Seattle markets. While growing a market garden isn't our focus, we are dedicated to a sustainable local food system so we hope to influence our local farmers markets and community in the years to come. This experience also put us on the path of looking into getting Certified Naturally Grown. It's a grassroots movement of farmers who could no longer afford the cost of organic certification or all the paperwork and record keeping that went along with it once it became a national certification program. Certified Naturally Grown bases their guidelines on organic standards but they make it much more economical to obtain. For a small diversified farm like ours certifying our pastures, compost, garden, and each different kind of animal organic is not economically feasible. We are already transparent when it comes to our farming practices but this will hopefully spark more conversations with people who are unaware or want to learn more. We often tell people at our market booth that if it isn't healthy enough for our family we won't feed it to theirs.

Scottish Highland Cattle

Our biggest piece of news is that we are adding a herd of Scottish Highland Cattle to our farm. We read about a farm down in Southern California called Apricot Lane Farms with a similar farm model to ours but on a larger scale. They also focus on mixed species rotational grazing and utilize compost tea, apple cider vinegar, and full mineralization to keep their animals and pastures healthy. I was reading about them and their Scottish Highland herd that put us on a path to finding some for our own farm. They are a very gentle and docile breed, but the other important quality to us is that they browse and graze similar to our Icelandic Sheep. So in a few short weeks we will have three cow/calf pairs and two older heifers arriving at the farm. We will still keep our family dairy heifer, Love and the four steers we got from Pride and Joy dairy but the Highlands will be our giant leap into breeding our own cattle. It's exciting, terrifying, but most importantly it means we need more infrastructure as far as a wintering shelter and a place to corral them. For now though I will leave you with a beautiful quote from John Chester of Apricot Lane Farms  "You have to trust the magic is gonna happen when your heart's desire is in sync with your conscience. Never in a million years would I ever have been able to predict that simply watching animals eat grass would make my chest feel like it's going to explode." 1

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1. Quote from The Stockman GrasssFarmer Volume 13 #9 "California Grass Farm Focuses on the Symbiotic Relationship of Mixed Species Grazing"

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Farmer Friday

photo(151) It's Farmer Friday and Farmer Matt's Birthday. This is a picture of Matt with our three year old Boden in the middle of our gigantic irrigation project that I am happy to say is officially finished. Farmer Matt inspires us everyday working hard, problem solving, and taking breaks to be goofy and change a dirty diaper when needed. There are many inspiring farmers out there working from sun up to sun down to bring us clean food that is good for our families and the planet. Please give Farmer Matt a shout out and tell us the name of your favorite farmer and what they are doing to create a healthier world.

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The road we travel

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The road we travel

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H on a farm hike

We have been working on putting field fencing up around the perimeter of the farm for over 9 months and we finally finished this week. I would say it's time to celebrate but there are too many things to accomplish to get the farm fully functioning before we can crack open the bubbly. The fencing will help us utilize all of our pastures and we will be a little closer to fully realizing our rotational grazing farm model. One other step in this process is getting a more efficient irrigation system installed. The farm has received two grants for the project but because of the sequester everything has slowed down dramatically. I am not complaining because I feel incredibly grateful to even have the grants and there are so many other things that have lost their funding that are much more essential. We had been planning on breaking ground this month but we are still in the review part of the process. The grants will allow a small farm like ours to use all of our pastures and to grow good quality grass during the months of the year we don't have any precipitation. Right now when we use our irrigation water it runs through a series of ditches and most of the water gets wasted and over waters creating bad quality grass that is not good for foraging. Most of our precipitation comes during the winter months so being able to use a small amount of water during the dry months in an efficient way will make it possible for us to practice our grass based farming in a way that needs fewer inputs (feed for chickens and hay for sheep) from off of the farm.

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Bella and Wyandotte Rooster

Another way to practice rotational grazing that creates healthy soil and healthy food is to have the right amount of animals grazing for the size of the farm. Right now we don't have quite enough animals to keep up with all the grass we are growing. We are adding on one more flock of laying hens, expanding the number of breeding sheep we will have year round, and looking for a couple bull calves to raise. So what else makes us different from conventional farms besides the fact that our animals are not caged and we don't spray pesticides on our pastures? We keep the number of animals we raise low to create healthier soil by not over grazing and in turn the soil gives us healthier eggs, meat, and someday milk. We produce less food than a conventional farm and we will do it by using fewer inputs (subsidized soy and corn feed) and instead use our own labor moving animals around on pasture. So we produce less food and we need more man/woman hours to do it. What does this mean? It means in no way can we compete with the prices that conventional farmers sell their food for. They are basing their farm models on an economy that relies on cheap subsidized feed and that doesn't give them much room to care about the health of animals and people. In every aspect of our farming decisions we take into consideration the health of the animals, the farm as a whole, the people who eat our food, and the long term health of the environment. So how do we accomplish all of this, farm the way we want and make it economically sustainable? We will have to spend time educating people, taking the time to talk to them about the way we choose to farm and why it is worth their hard earned money to pay more for food. We will also have to make sure we are paying close attention to economic forces and utilizing all the resources we have at hand. It is also why we pay close attention to the breeds we choose. The Icelandic sheep are tri-purpose which means you can get Fiber, Milk, and Meat from them and it will make our farm that much more economically diverse. When we pick a breed of Cattle we will make sure we have one that grazes in a way that will work best with our farm model. We will also be growing the vast majority of our own fruits and veggies (utilizing all the great compost we were able to make with a winters worth of sheep manure) this year and selling what we have in abundance at the farmers market along with our eggs and meat.

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Now that all of our serious business is out of the way we can move onto all the great moments from our first lambing season. It's technically not over because we have one ewe still pregnant but I can't resist sharing this special time with you. In addition we have our bottle fed lambs back and a shelter set up for them near the house. We moved the other sheep into a small paddock nearby so Lulu could keep an eye on everyone and well the grass was starting to look like it needed some four legged mowing anyways.

First two lambs

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Evening Grazing

Lu and Ram Lamb

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Joy and Pain

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Joy and Pain

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Planting I can't hear those two words without the song getting stuck in my head and now the part "it's like sunshine and rain" has a whole new meaning being a farmer. A good rain means growth and more forage for the animals. Pain is having below freezing temps mid April after you have dozens of seed trays started in the hoop house without a good way to keep them warm. Rain is no longer a pain.

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I should really start with the joy of the last couple weeks. We had our first of many lambs born on the farm. It happened less than an hour before we were having a community potluck for the first time. So minutes after we welcomed her into the world we then shared a bountiful and tasty feast with some new friends and introduced her to all of them. There was no drama with the first birth only the beauty of seeing this ewe take on her new role as mom and the little lamb latching on right away like a champ. It was also a huge relief to see how easily it was for Lulu to transition into her new role as protector for the new lamb, never leaving the pairs side and even keeping Bella the border collie from playing too rough. The second birth was also uneventful but the lamb hurt one of his legs the second day and was abandoned by his mom in the pasture. Matt brought him back to his mom and kept an eye on him and slowly the lamb healed up and the ewe was no longer abandoning him.

First Lamb

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Our third birth was one of the ewes who was huge and we suspected she was going to have twins, which is unusual for the first year of breeding. She did have twins but she quickly abandoned the second lamb born and head butted him away, not letting him latch on. It was heartbreaking to see not only his mom but all the ewes do this to him. Luckily we found a local farm that dairys and was already bottle feeding goats and sheep that was willing to take him on and bottle feed him until he is ready to come back to the pasture. We noticed the ewe that had given birth to the twins was showing signs of pneumonia so we gave her some medicine but by nightfall she had died. It was shocking how quickly it all happened and then we had another lamb on our hands with no mother. So now our new farm friends at Parke Creek are bottle feeding both of the twins for the next couple of months and in exchange we are going to raise some turkeys for them. We are still awaiting the arrival of at least 6 more lambs and hoping we have learned a thing or two from the first four births on the farm. This has gotten us interested in doing all of our own breeding so we think our next flock of laying hens will be homegrown.

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While all these births were going on we celebrated two birthdays in the family and also had to put to sleep our long time companion and rescue dog, Cooper. I could think of no other title for this post because I have never had a time in my life that was filled with so much joy and celebration but also the pain of losing animals that we loved. We can look at the death of the ewe a little more pragmatically but the death of a incredibly loyal dog you have known for over a decade is a little harder to get over. We had hoped he would spend his last couple of years enjoying life on the farm but by the time we got here his health was declining and we just did all that we could to keep him comfortable.

Red Rangers

We had yet another experience this week where we felt we took one step forward and two steps back. It was always a part of our farming model to have pastured poultry and we were excited when we got over the hurdle of finding a place that we could process them and also be able to sell them at farmers markets and restaurants. Then we started to look for business insurance and found that there was only a couple companies that would allow us to raise pastured poultry but they were going to charge us so much money that the only way it would be financially sustainable is if we were raising 500-1000 birds a year. We had been planning on just a couple hundred including turkeys. We don't have the right kind of land that it would take to raise that many and we honestly just don't want to raise that many. So we are back to square one, raising chickens and turkeys that will most likely be for ourselves and rethinking our farming model. We do have some exciting plans to bring pastured pigs and cows to the farm in the future but for now we are enjoying our first lambing season, busy moving chickens around the pasture, and looking forward to some planting in the next couple of weeks if it stops snowing.

Birthday Party

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Farmer Matt Reviews the film American Meat

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Farmer Matt Reviews the film American Meat

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Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm. Wednesday nights screening of American Meat at CWU’s S.U.R.C. Theater was well attended by students as well as local farmers and ranchers. The film covered issues that concern conventional farmers as well as organic farmers and the push/pull between the two worlds, but mostly the content focused on the instability of our current food system and what this means to our national security and economy. Interviews with conventional poultry and hog farmers reveal how agriculture has fallen to the hands of large corporations that act as the middlemen of the food system, leaving the farmer and the consumer to struggle with the economics and quality of the whole system. Much like our current health system, it is nearly an impossibility for the consumer or the producer to receive a fair deal while there is a line between the two parties whose goal and obligation it is to maximize profits for its shareholders. Under this model, the farmer doesn’t receive a fair price for his labor and the consumer doesn’t receive a quality product. Meanwhile, taxpayers are unknowingly picking up the bill for this system in the form of crop subsidies that benefit the corporate agriculture businesses more than the tax paying consumer/producer.

The film spent a good amount of time with Polyface Farm in Virginia, the home of Joel Salatin and his family. They have become an icon of local food and small farm movement with their back to basics approach to production and direct to consumer marketing. As a result, Polyface produces a superior product over the conventional system both in taste and nutrition without government subsidies or large fossil fuel inputs. The film also presents some statistics regarding what it would take to move all of agriculture back to a system such as Joel’s, a system that was essentially well established before World War II and points out that the average age of farmers today is 57 meaning that fewer and fewer young people are going into agriculture as a way of life or a means to support their family. To get away from what agriculture has become today it would be necessary for a portion of americans to move into agriculture but also for consumers to find it beneficial to pay more for quality food, a tough sell for many americans who struggle to make ends meet. The bottom line is that it will be a grassroots effort for americans to impose a new food system for their country by getting involved. More small farms need to be founded outside of all metropolitan areas rather than crops and livestock being produced on large farms, in concentrated areas and being trucked around the country every step of the way to the consumer. We currently spend 10% of our income on food as a nation while other developed countries spend 40% and until the economics between subsidies and land issue are resolved, it is unlikely that americans will be able to make the tough decisions to pay more for quality food produced by small local farms.

Finally, Tip Hudson offered an article written by Jerry L. Holechek titled “National Security and Rangelands” where he explores what it will mean to reach peak oil, a threat that is likely not far away. He considers this more threatening than global warming and terrorism in regards to our security as a nation and our way of life. The costs associated with globalization, transporting foods and goods around the globe on a constant basis, farming less at home and depending heavily on imported crops while we devote more and more range and farm land to sprawl and preserves will leave us kicking ourselves if not starving, leaving americans holding the bill for our current choices in agriculture.

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What moves us

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What moves us

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Or what keeps us moving might be the better question to ask. When starting a farm was just a small glimmer of an idea, we had a friend over for dinner that had just started working on a farm for the first time. She said her favorite thing about farm work was all the real problems that need to be solved throughout the day. There is no busy work on a farm, it all serves a purpose. We thought we understood at the time and it sounded appealing but we didn't really grasp how much of our days would be filled with problem solving. This has partly to do with us learning how to farm at a rapid pace while at the same time building infrastructure on the farm, but it also seems like it will soon feel like the normal state of our lives as farmers, whether it be five or fifteen years from now. Applewood

I'm not complaining because I love a challenge, especially one that involves research.  Matthew (or Farmer Matt as I sometimes call him) is more motivated by learning through trial and error after some research. He has more practical knowledge than I do from years of teaching himself and learning on the job a huge array of skills. Useful skills like carpentry and mechanics all the way to the other end of the spectrum, things like how to procure taxidermy mountain goats on a deadline. So he can start a project with a basic idea of how he thinks he wants it to go and improvise. I on the other hand will want to research all problems or projects before we make a move, finding multiple resources and narrowing down which way is the best or at least what I think fits our farm the best. Having these two very different approaches makes for a ridiculous amount of talking and compromising but ultimately I think this dialog keeps us moving forward. I try to learn from his practical knowledge and admire his willingness to fail and try again until he gets something just right. While he is open to my research and opinion even if it's partly based on intuition.

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I get the same questions all the time "Do you guys have any farming experience or did you go to school for farming?"- The answer is no, no we did not. We met in art school and we have spent the last 12 years remodeling two houses, starting a small business, and obsessed with cooking from scratch and growing our own food. We felt confident we could handle the challenges of starting a farm because this is not the first challenge we have faced together. Our first challenge many years ago was Matthew teaching me how to drive stick, and I admit I was surprised he still wanted to marry me after all the weeks we spent in empty parking lots . One challenge that we still haven't figured out is our need for more hands on the farm. With three small boys under five there is just not enough time in the day. We are lucky to have found an intern for our first season who is interested in starting his own farm, so the fact that most of this first season will be all about building and learning is something of a plus. We also will have to learn to just let go of some of the more house related chores and learn to live with a fine layer of dust and dirt on everything. Luckily the boys don't seem to mind.

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It's amazing how many resources are out there for new farmers, from blogs and YouTube videos to more traditional forms like books, small publications, county conservation districts and state extension offices. One of our favorite publications right now is The Stockman Grass Farmer monthly newspaper. It has regular articles written by farming iconoclasts like Joel Salatin and Allan Nation, and they work hard to stay at the forefront of current farming issues and finding practical solutions for small farmers. They don't have an online subscription which is refreshing but we also find the many online resources a huge source of inspiration and amusement. So if on a whim you are contemplating growing your own grains and threshing them by hand like we were, there are hundreds of YouTube videos out there that show you the process in excessive detail. A couple years ago I would have told you YouTube was just a place for cat videos and performance artists who need an audience, but today I am in awe of what you can learn from it.

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Then there is just the beauty of what surrounds us. The small bits of natural treasure that the boys collect and bring to us or being dumbstruck by the enormity of the night sky. It keeps us moving forward on those days the hoop house is being battered by the wind and Lulu has gotten into the hoop house and eaten all the eggs.

FarmHouseAtNight

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Percolating

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Percolating

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Percolating_01 With the ground still partially covered in snow and ice and our brains a buzz with plans for spring we have turned our energy towards food and turned our kitchen into a science lab. Cultures are bubbling and ideas are percolating here on Green Bow Farm. We have tried our hand at many different types of fermenting in the past but this winter we have every extra inch of counter space devoted to our fermentations. We have a new batch of Kombucha going which we have made in the past but this time we are trying out a dehydrated scoby (kombucha culture) that we haven't tried before, and a continuous brew method we found on Nourished Kitchen. This is the same great blog we found our recipe for Cultured Veggies for Flu Prevention, which I would love even if it didn't make any health claims because it has a subtle sweet and sourness that works with so many different kinds of food. I might even like it more than sauerkraut. The recipe called for whey which I had never fermented with but we happened to have some from our first batch of yogurt. The whey is a byproduct from the yogurt making process which I've seen used in many recipes but its also used as a health food for people and animals. When we start to milk our sheep and have a large amount of whey leftover from making cheese and yogurt we will definitely be feeding the whey to the animals. It's another way to create a circle of sustainability on the farm and be less reliant on feed that has to be bought off the farm.

Rice Bowl with Cultured Veggies

My favorite dinner right now is a big bowl of brown rice with some baked squash, a heaping spoonful of the cultured veggies on top, and then throwing a mixture of caramelized bacon, onion, and hazelnuts on for some extra goodness. The boys favorite from our fermentation experiments has got to be the sourdough pancakes that have just a tiny taste of sour in them and we can make them on days we aren't making bread, keeping the culture going and the house full of that great sourdough smell. We still haven't made cheese yet but I am sure there won't be any complaints when those experiments start to fill the fridge.

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One of the things that first got me interested in fermentation is the slowness of the process, the sometimes long term experiments that don't always work out because of the many variables but when they do they are incredibly satisfying, a lot like farming. My first real understanding of fermentation came when I got a copy of Sandor Ellix Katz's book Wild Fermentation and now 10 years later my head feels like its going to explode with ideas when I crack open his newest book The Art of Fermentation, an almost 500 page guide to fermentation possibilities from every corner of the world. There is a quote from The Art of Fermentation about culturing food that says a lot about the importance of fermentation but I think it also says something about the current rise in young people getting involved in farming, "the word culture comes from Latin cultura, a form of colere, 'to cultivate.' Our cultivation of the land and its creatures-plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria- is essential to culture. Reclaiming our food and our participation in cultivation is a means of cultural revival, taking action to break out of the confining and infantilizing dependency of the role of consumer (user), and taking back our dignity and power by becoming producers and creators."

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Nose to Tail

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Nose to Tail

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Butchering Ram When we went to pick up our Icelandic Ram from the breeders they offered us a second Ram that they couldn't use for breeding because his horn was growing right into his eye. He was a young Ram so we decided to use the opportunity to learn more about butchering and finally get to try the Icelandic Sheep meat we have been hearing so much about. There happened to be a Lamb butchering class at Farmstead Meatsmith so Matt headed over to Vashon Island to learn as much as he could. Farmstead Meatsmith is a small family run business that teaches small farms and homesteads how to harvest and butcher their own livestock. Last season Matt attended a Farmstead Meatsmith class on Pig butchering that was hosted at a small farm in our area and he was able to learn a lot about their Nose to Tail philosophy. The philosophy of Nose to Tail is a fairly new term but like most things its roots are much older and go back to how everyone used to farm and eat. The idea is that you use everything that you harvest from an animal and not let anything go to waste. It's partially about being sustainable but it also says a lot about the respect you have for the animal that will feed your family.

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The Ram was not here long but he did spend time with our puppy Lulu who still doesn't like being in the paddock with the other Ram and Ewes while they are breeding. To be honest, when Lulu was in their paddock she spent a lot of time trying to play with the Ram and he let her know immediately how uninterested he was. The other Ram on the other hand tolerated Lulu and her puppy play.

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Another project we added to our list was 70 free bales of old straw we found on the local farm exchange. Of course it was all loaded and unloaded by hand by Farmer Matt, so not entirely free but totally worth it because we now have plenty of straw for mulching our enormous garden, filling the hoop house while the chickens winter in there, and we are going to use some of it to make bays for piles of compost which will also double as a small windbreak for the garden this spring when it gets incredibly windy around here. We are anxious about our first full season of growing vegetables here because everyone we have talked to said it can be incredibly challenging. We have planted trees that in the future will help us with the wind but for now we are hoping the right placement of the more delicate vegetables in the hoop house and heartier vegetables and root vegetables outside of the hoop house will help.

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The most exciting new is that the hoop house is done and the Chickens are moved in after so many months of work. The doors were covered in plastic thanks in part to wiggle wire which made this diy hoop house possible and the finishing touch was Farmer Matt's mobile Chicken roost. He made one that could fold up and be stored easily up against the side of a building once spring comes around and the hoop house is used for gardening. Moving the Chickens into the hoop house was a two day and night process, which included Farmer Matt running around at night with a headlamp pulling Chickens out of trees and putting them in their new home. For some reason they have a hard time being moved. Even with their food, water, and nesting boxes all being in the hoop house they still didn't quite get that it was their new home and they would wander all around the yard looking for their chicken tractor. Things really are slowing down around here but we were finally able to find some local help so we are going to try to get another pasture fenced in before everything starts to freeze. This year the winter has been more about rain than snow which is unusual for this area. We really want more grass for all of our Ewes to graze on once spring comes around so the strange weather pattern is working out in our favor. For now its all about looking forward while at the same time trying to make the most of the resources we have available to us in the present.

Tractor and Straw

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Thank Full

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Thank Full

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To begin to list the things that we are thankful for this year feels like a daunting task. There is an equally long list of challenges we faced but we wouldn't be facing them if we weren't given this extraordinary opportunity to pursue the dream of starting a farm. Every moment on the farm is full: full of chores to do, food to cook and share, animals to feed and care for, conversations about growth and discovery, and last but not least full of three little boys and all the joy and challenges they bring to their family.

We are so thankful for the three healthy boys that fill our days with their creative energy, love for one another, humor, and for now seem to love the farm as much as we do. Well, the newest one hasn't had much of an opinion yet but he also doesn't seem to protest much either.

We are thankful for all the rain and snow we are now experiencing after one of the driest summers on record. Thankful that we can look up at Table Mountain and see it covered in snow instead of smoke and fire. Thankful that the surrounding hills that were turned completely black after the Taylor Bridge fire are now mostly covered with lush green grass. Thankful for all the lessons learned even the ones that were gut wrenching. I'm personally thankful for a quiet day to cook with my favorite farmer and sit down and share all of our favorite dishes with the wee ones and their grandmother. I am also thankful to be able to share our experiences with all of you and hope you and your family are enjoying the holiday.

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Power In Numbers

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Power In Numbers

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From a very young age I have memories of being on a picket line in downtown Minneapolis when my mom and her fellow union coworkers were striking against the phone company that they worked for. Many years later I chose to work for a cooperative natural food store that was unionized and eventually took part in negotiating a union contract with a small group of people all trying to collectively be a voice for a much larger group of people. When my son was born it seemed like a natural fit to be apart of a cooperative preschool even though it wasn't always the most convenient fit for my work schedule. I won't tell you that any of these experiences were easy or perfect but each time I walked away with a wealth of knowledge, enriching new relationships, a feeling that my voice had been heard, and an overwhelming conviction that people have power in numbers.

Farming has not changed this conviction, if anything it has shown me how even more reliant we are on friends, neighbors, and complete strangers the more we strive to learn skills that will make us a sustainable farm. These skills are seen by some as means to be completely self-reliant but I think the idea that any one person or family can be completely self-reliant is a myth. It's partly the upcoming election, and partly from reading one too many farming blogs that focus more on how to keep the neighbors from learning that they are stock piling food instead of growing food for their community that made me feel like this was an important thing to be said. It also comes from a great appreciation we as a family have of the three different weekends having groups of people come out to the farm and help us accomplish building two shelters and one hoop house. Not to mention our immediate neighbors, and community loaning us tools, giving us advice, offering help, and a warm welcome to our new town. We did not move to a rural area to get away from people and become autonomous but instead to broaden our community.

Really the hoop house is only 90% done but the hard part is behind us and the rest is about tweaking how the sides of the house will come up and installing the doors on both ends. Here are some pictures of our progress.

We hope that we will soon be able to give back to our friends and community by producing the most delicious and nutrient rich food we possibly can. I hope there are other ways that we will be able to give back that we can't even conceive of yet. No matter how self-reliant we become this will always be a part of our bigger picture.

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Fall Forward

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Fall Forward

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The last two weeks have given us only one day of clear skies and many days where the air was considered too hazardous to breath for any extended period of time. Our self imposed deadline of the baby arriving and the one created by nature are still looming with several projects left so smoke or no smoke things must still move forward. That means some days getting work done with a mask and most of the time doing work in fits and starts. It also means constantly revising our to do list to prioritize what can't wait and what can be put off till spring.  The first thing to get taken off the list was a wood burning stove. We live in a large barn that was converted into a house and it doesn't have the most efficient heating system so we wanted to add a wood burning stove to keep our energy bills a little lower for the winter. Luckily we weren't counting on it for heat this winter so we will still have a nice cozy house to spend time cooking, reading, researching, and planning for our first full year of farming in.

One project we did accomplish was getting water and electricity to the pastures closest to the house. This involved hiring an excavator to dig a long ditch three feet deep (keeping below the frost line) from the yard near our house all the way out to the sheep shelters, running pipe for the water and electrical conduit inside the ditch, installing a frost proof hydrant, and an electrical outlet. What we thought would be a two day project turned into more than a week long project. There was one day a pipe burst because of a bad part we were sold, then there was a lot more time spent putting the fill dirt back into the ditch since we were using our tractor and not an excavator to get the job done. It was at the top of our list of things to get done because it means we will no longer have to haul 5 gallon buckets of water out to the pastures everyday and there will be an outlet to hook up a stock tank heater to keep the animal's water from freezing this winter.

My favorite part of getting ready for winter is putting up food. It's exhausting when your 8 months pregnant but when I look at all of our jars of tomato sauce, applesauce, apple butter, sauerkraut, frozen blueberries and pitted cherries and think of all the great meals we will make during the winter months it makes all the late nights worth it. We are still  hoping and planning for some more cabbage and beets from our CSA so we can make some fermented kraut-chi (from Sandor Katz's "The Art of Fermentation"), there is also quite a few apples left in the fridge from an apple truck that turned over down the road from us so more applesauce and apple butter, and if we are lucky enough to get any pumpkins from our very late planting, some pumpkin butter and pumpkin pie. We aren't putting up enough food to get us through the winter but its a small step to becoming a more sustainable farm. We are putting up enough hay to get the sheep through the winter because we don't want to be paying an exorbitant price per bale come January. Matt has loaded into his truck and then unloaded into the shelters three tons of hay and one ton of straw. We are thinking about getting a fourth ton of hay just to be on the safe side and looking into large quantities of grain to make feed for the chickens this winter. Every time we take something off the list we seem to come up with a new sometimes smaller project to add on.

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Why Grass-fed?

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Why Grass-fed?

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As a family we came to appreciate the health benefits (and taste) of eating grass-fed or pasture raised meat, eggs, and dairy products but now that we are trying to produce these foods ourselves we are learning and seeing even more reasons of why animals foraging for their food on grass makes more sense than grain-fed animals. If you are unfamiliar with the health benefits of eating pasture raised eggs, meat, and dairy there is a lot of great information out there but the most concise piece I found is from Eat Wild. There are many compelling health benefits like the meat having lower and healthier fat content and there being no need for antibiotics because the animals are not crammed into feed-lots but the most significant one to me is the higher levels of Omega-3s.  Having worked in a natural food store for years I saw a dramatic increase in people being told by their doctors to take a fish oil supplements to make up for a poor diet lacking in essential fatty acids or therapeutic doses for people suffering from things like cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure. With the population growing so quickly its hard to imagine that everyone taking fish oil supplements to make up for this deficiency will be sustainable long term. Not to mention all the processing they have to do to the fish oil to take the heavy metals out. Eating grass-fed food would probably not be considered a therapeutic dose of essential fatty acids for people suffering from chronic diseases but if everyone was eating more grass-fed foods to begin with maybe we would see fewer of these diseases in the future? This is just speculation, I have no credentials to back this up but after years of reading about nutrition, talking to nutritionists, and people seeking a healthier lifestyle it all seems to lead to people going back to more traditional ways of growing and preserving foods. More grass-fed, less processed, more fermented, and less pasteurized foods leading the way to better health.

I have used the term "intensive rotational grazing" several times on the blog and realized I never really explained what it is or why it's important. Being grass-fed is important for us but the way we do it through land management is as important for the health of the animals and the health of the soil. With a "intensive rotational grazing" system your are moving you're animals to new grass more often, rotating what types of animals you have on that grass, and putting a limit to how many animals you have on any given piece of land. It's more labor intensive than traditional farming practices but you see the benefits in the health of the animals and the soil. The healthier the soil, the healthier the grass will be, the healthier the animals are, the healthier your food will be. Eggs are a perfect example. When we moved our city chickens to the country we started rotating them to new grass every week and we saw a huge improvement in the color, taste, and quality of their eggs. Even some local pasture raised eggs we bought didn't come close to the deep color and quality we started getting in our eggs after starting our rotational system. Here is a photo of two store bought egg's, the first one on the top left is a conventional egg, the one on the top right is a cage-free grain-fed with omega-3 supplementation egg, and then there is our grass-fed rotational grazing egg on the bottom.

So we have seen first hand the difference grass-fed rotational farming has on our eggs and all the lush green grass that grows once we rotate animals onto it but we keep learning even more. One of the best benefits of what some call "holistic grazing" is that it puts carbon back into the soil increasing the soils health and building topsoil. The argument that grass-fed farming could save the planet is made more persuasively at Small Footprint Family but I will leave you with one quote from the article because the claim is so amazing its hard to believe- "Converting just half the U.S. corn and soy acreage back to pasture(for holistic grazing) might cut carbon emissions by as much as 144 trillion pounds—and that’s not even counting the reduced use of fossil fuels for vehicles, machinery, fertilizers and pesticides that would also result." It's astonishing that such a simple idea like letting animals forage on the foods that they were meant to eat and live a more humane lifestyle could result in reversing the damage we have done to the planet. The more we read and learn through experience we are convinced that the path we are on is best for the health of our family, our farm, and the environment.

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Barefoot and pregnant on the farm

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Barefoot and pregnant on the farm

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The 8 week countdown begins. 8 weeks until the baby arrives give or take a week or two and about the same for the first frost.  The first time I was pregnant I had lists of all the things I wanted to do to get the house ready for the baby and lists of the many pieces of must have baby gear that all the books insisted we would need. This time around I am not sure if its because I'm more experienced at having babies or because I am so preoccupied with the farm but we have no lists. We do have about three lists of projects that need to be done on the farm. The possible future projects, the near future projects, and the must get done before it gets cold and the baby turns our world upside down list. We are making some incredible progress for only having been here a couple of months but with each passing week I get slower and need more rest which means the whole farm slows down. We have two different weekends of friends coming out to work on projects and an auger that the boys preschool teacher lent us so I have a good feeling we will get our list done before we bring home the baby and the ground begins to freeze.

Matt has made some progress on fencing, finishing off a second paddock in the pasture closest to the house and also finishing fencing and a gate in the front yard so we can move the sheep to the many acres of green grass near the house, provided we also use a portable electric fence to keep the sheep out of trouble (ie: eating what little we have growing in the garden). We finished a grant proposal for installing a more modern irrigaition system for the whole farm. Right now we have flood irrigation which was a good system when our smaller piece of land was apart of a larger farm and it really did flood the ground with all the water that was needed. Now with all the acreage split up into smaller parcels there doesn't seem to be enough water volume to irrigate the land the way it once did. This funding from two different sources would cover a significant amount of the materials needed and a small part of the labor costs but we would still be putting a large portion of our own money and labor towards the project. The best part of this project is it would allow us to use land that is now sitting empty, expand the variety and number of animals we have on the farm, and we could begin to truly practice the intensive rotational grazing that we are interested in. It might even allow us to grow our own hay someday on one of the small pieces of flat land we have in the back pastures.

We also put together a design and order for a hoop house that is on our must be done before the ground freezes list.  This will allow us to have a good space to winter the chickens in, it will provide some much needed fertilizer for our garden, and be a good place to begin vegetable starts in the spring.  This is one of the more exciting projects on the list, most of the other projects are about building winter shelters for farm equipment and straw. That and bringing in and moving another ton of hay into the shelters to feed the sheep this winter.

It's a daunting list but one that will be well worth it once spring arrives and we'll be ready to really start farming full time. It feels crazy to be doing all of this when we are about to have a newborn but it also feels like it's just the way it was meant to be. I was born during a time that my mother moved back to her parents farm in Missouri and spent the first part of my life and then every summer after that at on their farm until they sold it almost a decade later. Spending so much time on my grandparents farm and having such beautiful memories of my childhood have really informed who I am today.  A huge part of those memories are of my incredibly strong, fierce, loving, hardworking, and capable grandmother. She raised not only her own children on that farm but a had a huge part in raising several of her grandchildren on that farm.  She is who I think about when I start freaking out wondering if I will be able to handle all of the responsibilities and challenges that we have taken on. She was an anchor for me growing up and continues to be to this day, many years after she passed away. Here she is on her farm and her beautiful smile.

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Mountains to sound and back again

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Mountains to sound and back again

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There isn't any progress to report this week. The smoke was so thick we couldn't get much work done except daily chores. Then the weekend rolled around and the smoke became so thick at night that it became hard to sleep. The boys and I packed up the car and headed to cleaner air on the other side of the mountains.  It was nice to visit friends, spend time on the beach and do some of our favorite city activities like train watching and eating Thai food.

Meanwhile back at the farm.......

Matt stayed behind and took care of the animals trying to get some work done outside but as you can see sometimes it was not that easy especially when it was also very hot outside. There were calm days where the smoke was almost undetectable and other days when the fire and smoke would start up again and it was almost as bad as the first days of the fires. The very last day we were gone there was a huge black cloud of smoke that hung in the valley and the wind picked up just enough the entire inside of the house was covered in a fine black soot. The boys and I are happy to be back at the farm helping with animal chores and breathing clean air again. We are almost back to normal but a couple of weeks behind on projects we wanted to accomplish before the first frost comes and the new baby arrives. The landscape however has been changed for what seems like will be a very long time. Here are a couple of Before and After pictures taken with Instagram.

This view is from the sheep shelters and the next set is from the farm house

I have been taking Polaroids for a couple of decades now but with the onset of Smart Phones and all the great apps like Shake it up, Hipstimatic, and Instagram I find myself using less and less film. Here is a great piece about Instagram from Mike Hipple's blog that you should read if you are a lover or hater of Instagram- Why I love Instagram.

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The New Normal

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The New Normal

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( Photo by Mike Hipple)

After months of packing, getting settled into our new home and starting a dozen farming projects all at once we were excited to take a break and throw a farm bbq and camp out.  It was partly a birthday celebration for our son Harlow and his buddie Cam whose birthdays are a day apart , a 4oth birthday celebration for Farmer Matt, and a way to share all or our hard work with friends. A farmwarming. There was a maze cut into our cover crop of wild oats and alfalfa for the kids to run around in, lawn mower rides, water fun to keep everyone cool,  and of course lots of delicious food brought by our friends and grass-fed beef hamburgers from Heirloom Cattle Company. It was a happy accident that we planned the party on the same night of the Perseid meteor showers.  So the evening was spent sitting around a beautiful fire pit our neighbor Cletus made watching shooting stars while the wee ones slept in their tents.

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

Everyone enjoyed a huge breakfast spread the next morning while the kids played in the maze for the last time and then started to pack up and say their goodbyes.  The family and I spent the rest of the day catching up on sleep and giddy at how much fun we all had and how well our first big event on the farm went. Less than 24 hours later a dark column of smoke appeared across the valley in Cle Elum.  For a moment we were just in awe of its beauty and how fast it was taking over the sky.  The colors were constantly changing and it covered the sun in a way that made it look so small with barely any power to illuminate the sky anymore.  The smoke moved quickly and soon we saw flames on the horizon near the wind farms on Hwy 97.  It was time to start planning but for what we weren't sure. The areas that were being evacuated were so far away from us and the fire still looked far away. Eventually we did evacuate when the smoke got too thick.  We packed some travel bags, boxes of family photographs, and anything we couldn't live without and left for a hotel in town. It was our dog Lulu's first night sleeping indoors and she seemed upset about being away from her sheep.  Matthew and I spent the night listening to the scanners hoping the fire would not spread to our road.

Early the next morning Matt went to see if they would let him back on the farm so he could check on the animals and feed them. It feels weird to say we were lucky, the word doesn't feel quite strong enough, but after listening to other peoples homes being consumed by the fire all night its the first word that came to mind when we found out all of our animals were alive, the house, and even the pastures were untouched by the fire.  All around the valley in almost every direction there are houses and pastures that were devastated by the fire. No homes on our small stretch of road had any damage and most of the fires that were in our area are now contained or at least smoldering. The fire is still a powerful force in the Cle Elum and Liberty areas and they have fire fighters from all over the state working around the clock to put it out.

A couple of days after the fire started there was another large flare up in the Cle Elum area and more evacuations.

During this whole ordeal we had neighbors checking in on us offering help and advice, the boys new preschool teacher came down our road with her horse trailer looking for us to see if we needed help loading the sheep, and even one of the local land management authorities who we have been working with called to see if we needed any assistance. So in addition to feeling incredibly lucky, blessed, fortunate, or whatever combination of those words could possibly come close to describing how it feels to not have lost everything, we also have a new sense of community. Our friends in Seattle didn't forget about us either, we had dozens of phone calls and messages offering help, moral support, and also help in finding some of the best online resources for the progress of the fire. So we would like to give a huge THANK YOU to everyone that helped out in all different ways, near and far.

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