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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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School of Rocks

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School of Rocks

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We knew it was going to be challenging to start a farm from the ground up while raising two, soon to be three, small children at the same time but it is more challenging then we could have ever imagined. In exchange for 14 hour days full of household chores, animal chores, and larger projects like fencing and irrigation we get the luxury of time. When we lived in the city we juggled two different work schedules and tried to work opposite schedules so we could afford childcare.  We didn't have many days off together and we definitely didn't share all of our meals as a family. We haven't gotten to the point where we can get much done as a group on the farm but we have found a couple of things that work.  Out of necessity we decided to move the chicken tractors together.  We had been grazing the chickens on the grass in the front yard but once the sheep had cleared out some taller grass in the paddocks we just fenced we decided to move the chickens out there and move the sheep onto new pasture. This involved using the tractor because moving the chicken tractors by hand more than several yards is a back breaking experience. So with one child on Matthew's lap while he drove the tractor and one child with me keeping the chickens moving forward we slowly made our way at .7 miles per hour. Then we hit a bump in the road. We were almost to our destination when we hit a large rocky area that was  impossible to get the chicken tractor over. We got out our digging bar and small shovels and got to work. Who knew that two little boys would think digging rocks out of the dirt was just about the best thing they could be doing? They would have done it all day if it didn't start to get hot but there is plenty of more rocks to move and we even have a need for them because there is a long section fence that doesn't meet the ground where the land slopes so they also helped me move the small ones and alternate them on either side of the fence to keep our animals in and the coyotes out.

With one chicken tractor move under our belts we decided to try it again but this time we were moving the chicks. I would like to say it went smoother but the chicks were much more challenging.  They seemed determined to get squashed underneath the tractor. Harlow, our 4 year old, was a huge help moving a box of turkey pullets along and keeping them from tipping over while I used a broom to keep the the chicks moving along and we managed to keep them all alive and unharmed.  We have a long way to go before we can actually spend a significant amount of time doing work together but we're slowly getting there at about .7 mile per hour.

At the end of the day when all the animals and boys have been put to bed we collapse in our chairs outside to enjoy the cool air and lately we have been watching as thunderstorms move across the valley. The last one was so tall (35,000 feet) that they could see it on the other side of the Cascade Mountains in Seattle. Here is one of our pictures of that storm.

Cliff Mass has some great photos and things to say about the mammatus clouds on his blog.

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We're in love with a girl

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We're in love with a girl

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and her name is Lulu

We had been searching for a Llama to guard the sheep for weeks but all of the leads were dead ends.  Then we started contemplating the idea of a puppy but with a baby on the way we were worried it would be too much to handle. Everything we read about the Great Pyrenees breed seemed to fit exactly what we needed. They are an older breed that has been used for hundreds of years by shepherds, and also good with children and a family dynamic.  We found a breeder in Spokane that had three female puppies that had grown up in a barn with sheep and chickens. So we made the leap of faith that this would be a better decision in the long run and we haven't regretted it for a moment.  Her first day on the farm was full of trepidation, mostly on the Sheeps part, but soon she was a part of the gang.

A week has gone by and there were definitely moments we were worried that she was going to bond with us more than the sheep, but she now spends most of her days and all of her nights with the sheep, happily even. She is far from full grown and we are not sure how she would hold her own with a coyote so everyone is still locked up at night.  We are hoping in the future we will be able to leave her and the sheep to roam their paddocks and not need the gates and electric fencing to keep them safe at night. This means we will be able to use the pastures farther away from the house, but it also means we have more fencing and irrigation projects to start.  More to add to the to do list but its exciting to be able to utilize more of the land and see our plans become reality.

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Foodie in the Rye

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Foodie in the Rye

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Our path to farming was not purely based on our desire to farm but more so our love of cooking and wanting the most delicious and healthy food for our family and friends as we possibly can produce. My husband and I met in art school both majoring in painting and printmaking but it's really our shared desire to learn about new foods and cooking together (or more often collaborating on how a meal will come together) that fuels us. My husband spent years working as a cook in an Italian restaurant before he went to art school and I have been working in catering, restaurants, and natural food since I was a teenager.  One thing I miss most about my job at a natural food co-op is connecting to a community and both getting to share my knowledge of food and health but also receiving a wealth of knowledge in return.  So in trying to keep that connection I will start sharing some of our adventures in cooking as well as farming.  Bread, Sauerkraut, Pickles, Sausage, Kombucha, Bacon, Jams, Relish, Hot sauce, and Ice cream have been some of the things we loved making on a regular basis in addition to our normal family meals and hopefully our farming schedule will allow us to keep experimenting and be an influence on how we farm.    

    

   

I'm trying to work on some summer staples like salad dressing and popsicles to reduce waste, save money, and partly just for the fun of it. I have always made oil and vinegar dressings but those are not the kids favorites. They like the thick ranch dressings or the tasty tahini based Goddess dressings. So I started making a dressing with some of the staples we have around. I started with some Milk that I add a couple tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar to thicken it and sour it like Buttermilk. Then I add equal parts Nancy's plain yogurt because I love the tangy taste and am convinced it must have more live cultures in it. Then I just add whatever fresh herbs I have around, salt, pepper, and caraway seeds to taste. It's been popular even though it's not quite as thick as the store bought stuff. We have an abundance of veggies this summer so I have been adding it to a mix of chopped up raw veggies and TruRoots sprouted Rice and Quinoa mix(that cooks in 20 minutes!) and it is now one of the easiest and most filling summer dinners we make. I have not been as successful in the popsicle department so if you have any recipes that you love please send them my way.

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Animal Farm

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Animal Farm

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This week has been full of thunderstorms, double rainbows, and getting to know our 13 Icelandic Sheep.  They were a little worked up after making the long trip from Whidbey Island in a little trailer Matt had made for them. We were also a little nervous not having found a Llama to guard them so we made one of the horse shelters as secure as we could and breathed a sigh of relief when we woke up in the morning to find them all there and ready for us to let them out on the grass. They are warming up to us a little bit but still a little camera shy.

The chicks and turkey pullets have doubled in size since we got them just a little less than a month ago. Between them growing out of their watering trough and having lost one turkey during the triple digit weather we hoped they would fair better outside in their chicken tractor with some added protection from tarps.  They seem to be enjoying their extra freedom and rolling around in the grass. They are also learning how to use a water feeder with nipples, which we had to switch the older chickens to also because so much of the water was getting tossed out when we have a windy day in the valley.

We have also adopted a young rooster from one of the Seattle Urban Farm Co-op members and although he has grown much larger than our hens they still spend most of the day bossing him around. He is a dapper young man with some of the most beautiful plumage I have ever seen. He's been slowly working on his rooster crow and what once sounded like a dying seal now sounds like the real thing. His first call of the day is usually around 4:30 am.

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Sustainability

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Sustainability

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It's a word that's used frequently lately, and I used it a lot myself working at a natural food co-op for over a decade.  I always had a vague idea of what it meant when it was describing the way something was produced or the general idea that we were all trying to lead a more sustainable life and leave a smaller foot print, but when we made the decision to farm the idea started to become more concrete for me. We want and need to make the farm sustainable in itself in the way we choose to farm and also make living on a farm financially sustainable in what we choose to spend our money on. The best thing we can do in farming practices would be to bring as few of what is commonly called inputs onto the farm. So we will be working towards breeding all of our animals and eventually growing our own hay.  In the small amount I have read about farming and experienced at other farms I have a feeling the more diverse your farm is as far as what you grow and the many different kinds of animals you raise can not only enrich your soil and the overall health of your farm but help in its long term sustainability. Those are all goals that we will chip away at overtime but in the immediate future we want to  grow as much of our own food as possible. We are missing the abundance of veggies we had in our city garden so even though we were planning on just doing cover crops this year, someone couldn't wait and tilled additional garden space around the cover crops we planted so we could get a little something started.  It was nice to finally have something we could do together as a family, even though it was much more challenging then planting in our little raised beds we had in the city.

It took us awhile to figure out how to all work together on such a large project. There was a lot of arguing about who was going to do what and lots of little feet stepping on plants but eventually everyone found their own task, and when things got out of hand there was a berry eating break. By the looks of these photos it seems like we are getting a lot of free child labor but I swear there is no reason for the feds to come knocking on our door.

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Blank Slate

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Blank Slate

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We are starting out as farmers with only a small amount of experience and working with a large piece of land that has almost no infrastructure and very few trees. Working with this blank slate, both the land and ourselves, is one of the most exciting parts of this new venture but also the most frustrating. We don't have a rhythm to our day with set farm chores or an exact idea of what we will produce or how we will sell it to people.  What we do have is an enormous amount of ideas, future plans lists and current projects lists, and his and her stacks of farming books to read. I will let you guess which one is mine and which one is his.

Here is a short list of plans we have for the farm-

  Current                                                                                                Future

Reinforce fencing for Sheep                                            Build Sauna

Three new gates to separate paddocks                           Build High Tunnel for Garden

Finish second Chicken tractor                                        Winter Chickens in Tunnel

Start Turkey tractor                                                          Build Barn

Plant late summer veggies                                                Find a breed of Pigs

Amend soil for healthy spring garden                              Build Pigs a Home

When I make lists one of my favorite parts is crossing off the things I've done so I will share with you a couple of the things we have accomplished. We had a work party with friends and planted 75 saplings, Built a Pond and Culvert so we could drive a tractor to the back pastures and for future irrigation plans, and tilled our first garden and planted alfalfa and wild oats in it to enrich the soil.

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Here we go....

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Here we go....

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   Our boxes are packed, our last days of school and work will soon be here and then what? It's off to live on the farm full time. There is so much planning and doing to be done that its hard to remember how we got here. It all started with an idea that we could grow and raise our own food. We started with some very small city gardens, then came the chickens, then the beehives, and even more chickens. We didn't produce a substantial amount of food but we thoroughly enjoyed what we did produce and turning it into things other people could enjoy. We visited farms and went on road trips where we day dreamed about having enough land to grow and raise whatever we wanted to. Then somehow without really looking for it we found a piece of land that had more space than we had ever imagined having and more than enough to grow food for ourselves. So then we had the second idea, why not grow and raise enough food for other people too?

     There have been many people and places that have inspired us along the way and here is just one to start with.

The Jubilee Farm in Carnation, Washington (jubileefarm.org)

    

    

    

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