Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Our History... How We Got To 2018






We've been going through huge changes here on the farm, and it's made me sit back, and take a long look at the incredible road we've traveled to get where we are now... May of 2018

It's hard to believe that it's been over 40 years since Marian and I realized that we wanted to spend our lives farming. We were living in Western Mass in the 70's and had started growing a large garden. We learned to can, freeze, and dry all the vegetables we grew.  And we loved it. I was helping out on a dairy farm and we started making cheese in the kitchen from cows I was milking, and we loved that too. Something in all this clicked on a very deep level and we decided that we wanted to live close to the land. Not sure how to make this a reality,  we started looking around to see what other folks were doing for inspiration. Some friends were selling produce to restaurants, others were milking a few animals and making cheese. Cows, cheese, veggies....sure, why not? 

And so, with all of the arrogance of youth, we loaded up a U-haul, our 2 dogs, Tomar and Gabby and headed north to Vermont where we assumed there would be others who shared our vision of making a farmhouse cheese and selling veggies to restaurants. Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find that although there were lots of great farmers in Vt., none were making cheese on the scale we envisioned for ourselves along with veggies too. 

There was so much to learn! Who knew that cherry tomatoes needed to be picked and delivered in pint containers rather than plastic bags so the bottom layer wouldn't
 squish? Zukes  go in a 1/2 bushel, but peppers in 1 1/9 bushel boxes?That lettuce grew great in the spring and fall, not so great in the summer. That some veggies needed to be chilled, others, like tomatoes never chilled?

And cows!! All of the animal wifery we needed to learn. We were constantly blown away by all the miracles. How baby calves stood up so soon after birth. It was all so new and wonderful, and quite often terrifying too. To be the sole caretakers for these beautiful cows was overwhelming. What types of hay cows crave. How a beautiful mixed hay full of clover alfalfa and grasses made their milk taste like melted vanilla ice cream. How to tell when a cow was sick. What ailments we could treat ourselves, when we needed  to call a vet. Summer time came and setting up the rotational grazing was all trial and error... there were no workshops on the subject so we learned and fine tuned as we went. 

And then we had to learn to make a good eating cheese that folks would buy. It's hard to imagine a time when there wasn't a thriving artisanal cheese industry in Vermont, but in the early 80's there wasn't as much as a cheese inspector, let alone other cheesemakers who we could learn from. So we taught ourselves, nose to the grindstone.  After we developed a recipe for a cheese we liked, we had to get out and market it in a market where farmstead cheeses were unheard of. We worked with a graphic designer to come up with a label that could tell the story of our farm in a glance. 
Honestly, it takes my breath away when I think of how much we didn't know.

But we persevered and through the decades we learned that we loved having a farm that flowed and changed with the seasons, that evolved with the years. Making cheese and milking cows during the short winter days, starting seeds and getting into the garden as the days lengthened. Composting the cow's manure and returning it to the soil to feed the veggies.  And through it all, all of the ups and downs we continued to learn from our mistakes, to be aware, to listen to what our land was telling us. Even after all these years, every single time we plant a seed, every single time we experience the birth of a calf, every time we set a vat of milk to turn into cheese we are blown away by the magic of it all. It never ceases to amaze.


So, here we are 40 years later, wondering how long we can keep all this going. How much longer Orb Weaver Farm will even be around. We often thought that our farm would be a one generation farm, one that would fade away from memory after we retired. Not the end of the world, but still a bit sad. 
And just at the perfect moment, as we're realizing that in fact we are getting on in years, and the end of our time with cows and cheese is growing near, into our lives come two amazing and wonderful young people, Kate Turcotte and Zack Munzer. Kate is a self professed cheese nerd. Loves all types and makes of cheese and has had her hands in curds and whey for over 10 years. She loves to talk about coagulation, and ph readings and even dairy sanitation. Zack has milked cows, is a cow breeder and has a loving way with them. Loves all things bovine.  And they love our cheese and are passionate about keeping our farm going. Kate and Zack will continue to sell fresh raw milk from the farm, make our Farmhouse cheese and create other amazing cheeses under the name of Orb Weaver Creamery. Most importantly, we all like each other a great deal, this has become much more than a financial transaction.
It has become clear to us that passing on of our knowledge, the foundation we laid over so many years to Kate and Zack  is what was always meant to be. 
We're filled with wonder and awe with the idea that although we weren't even aware of it, we too have been part of the cycles of our farm and the changing of the seasons.


All of this change has taken so much planning, so much thought. Naturally, none of it has been easy. Marian and I are staying here, in our house and continuing with the market garden. But when the cows calve in December for the first time in over 38 years of cows born here, Marian and I won't be the ones turning their wonderful rich milk into cheese. However, we will be right there with Kate and Zack ushering them into the role of being the next generation of Orb Weavers. 




Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ruminations

Today is December 1st. Except for a few winter hardy greens, the garden is over for the season. We're still picking lettuce, chard, spinach, carrots and parsley, but a thick cover crop of oats and peas now covers most of the garden. The soil is getting a well deserved rest.
cover crop of oats & peas

This year's garden was bountiful. The pantry's shelves are lined with canned tomatoes, peaches, pickles, dried tomatoes and hot peppers, and ruby red strawberry jam.

our pantry

The freezers are filled to the brim with corn and peas, roasted  tomatoes and red peppers. Bags of  spinach raviolis, and eggplant parmesan just waiting to be layered with tomato sauce and baked into a casserole. Shallots, onions, potatoes, winter squash and carrots are in the cellar. Enough food to see us through a long winter,,, and well into the next growing season.

And now it's time to turn our attention to the cows and the dairy, the winter side of the farm. We're milking 3 cows now, and the other 3 will calve by next week, giving us a total of 6 milkers this year. There is a lovely sameness to our winter, the rhythmic breathing of the cows mixed with the sweet smell of the alfalfa clover hay they eat. The sound of the milking machines. The softness of their fur as we brush them. It remains constant.

A thorough cleaning of the cheesehouse is the next step. By next week it will all be cleaned, and sanitized; waiting for the first load of milk to be pumped into the cheese vat and turned into cheese.
There is so much to be done, so much reliance on pure muscle memory that I sometimes forget to stop and look around me. To see the beauty and the magic of it all. And then, I glance over to the cows, and there they are, chewing their cud, taking it all in, and reminding me to stop and smell the roses.

(click on the video below to see our happy cows)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Saving Our Barn


Marian & I have been farming, creating really, our beautiful farm since 1981. We were full of youthful energy when we started.... nothing was impossible. We took a 4 acre hay piece and turned it into a fertile and really productive vegetable garden.






Very slowly restored a crumbling 1780's farmhouse.



Built the first small scale cheese house in the state, and added a cave.





And though we've made minor improvements to the barn, the older north end of it, the part that includes the hay mow has been in dire need of savings for quite a while. It was built in the later part of the 19th century very little has been done to it. And, since it is at the bottom of a hill, decades of rain have washed sand and stone from under the cement, leaving, well, leaving a structural mess. We've known we needed to do something, but were really hesitant to undertake such a large project.

It was with the thought of saving our barn that we started thinking about the fragility of barns, and also farms themselves. We are nearing retirement, and wanted to ensure our beautiful farm would remain a farm forever. This past year we conserved our farm through the Vermont Land Trust, and we were not only able to undertake the barn project but make sure future generations are able to farm here too.

Here are some pictures of the barn work underway:

The Barn, pre work

demolition under way





using a pumper truck to get the cement to the far side






stabilizing barn so old foundation can be removed
cement for new floors

It took a while, but now that it's done, we have a truly wonderful, usable space. The happy cows refer to the new area as the Orb Weaver Ritz









Happy Cows at rest

Saturday, May 25, 2013

May, A Changeable Season

It's 42º and rainy today. A stiff north wind is whipping all the new leaves, flowers and even the birds around. And the cows are hunkered by the barn. It's the end of May.

Truth be told, I love it. After keeping track of the weather since 1976, I know that, in fact, the sun will come out. Maybe not tomorrow, but probably Monday. And it will get warm, even hot. So hot that when sitting in the shade of the tree, the hot wind will feel like a furnace.

The weather is always like this in an up and down sort of way. Just last week we were wondering when 'they' would say that we are officially in a drought. After a relatively dry winter, and then all those brilliant blue skies,we were starting to wonder if the weather pattern would ever shift.
Wanting to harden off the greenhouse plants, we took over 150 flats of veggies out of the greenhouse  Setting up the outdoor tables, we put the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, artichokes and flowers in order for their planting in the garden, which, we felt certain we would be soon.

The next day, with the threat of heavy rains and hail, back they all went into the greenhouse to weather out the storm.




And there they sit, waiting for some drier and warmer temperatures.

The spring has really been rather spectacular. After a great bloom, the apricot tree is loaded with apricots.
And the flower gardens have never been more beautiful

So, after a wonderful winter of milking and taking care of the cows

After a winter of making cheese, and having some wonderful visitors come and watch the magic, 
we stand ready to embrace the summer. With all of it's ups and downs. The cold and the hot. The dry and the wet. And for everything in between!









Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Into The Barn We Go

You'd think that after farming for over 30 years I'd be used to the changing of the seasons. In spring it all begins with a hint of things to come... the swell of the earth as the new and tender shoots poke their heads up, the smell of the sweet loam as the soil is turned for the pea and spinach seeds, the first  lettuce plants to be transplanted into the garden. Although there are fewer dramatic changes during the winter months, there is still a slow unfolding of the new season, the cobwebbing of the barn, the first cow to freshen, the first milk.

But as every season moves on, there is that sharp glint of memory along with transition  The first call of the red winged black birds announcing their return. Then the cacophony of all the birds, the spring peepers, the frogs in the pond. The buds, the flowers, the fruits, the leaves. Most birds are gone. The Goldfinches, Nuthatches, Jays, Cardinals and Chickadees remain along with some Evening Grosbeaks who stop by for a quick bite to eat before heading out.

Our evening salads chart the course of the season, from the first tender salad of greens picked in the greenhouse, to the heartier lettuces grown in the garden mixed with spinach, next comes the cherry tomatoes, then big beautiful heirloom tomatoes along with red peppers and cucumber, and then back to head lettuce. Last night's salad was lettuce, with the very last cucumber and red pepper of the season along with just harvested shredded  carrots, truly a lagging indicator of what's to come, when our salads will be only red cabbage and carrots.

last night's salad


Now the carrots have all been harvested and only the covered chard remains in the garden.

And though the seasons spin on by, I look forward to each new step of the year.
There isn't sadness, but the eager anticipation of what comes next. I love how as the days shorten and grow cold, we turn to our indoor life. A life where instead of seeing the cows every 2 days when we change their pastures to a life where we see them every day, twice a day for milking. The warm sweet smells of the barn. The reassuring aroma of fresh milk.

And this is where I find myself today. Ozzie was the first cow to 'freshen' with a bull calf this past Sunday. Yoyo will be next, followed by Pookah. The milk room has been cleaned, the milking equipment is all tuned up for our winter season. The barn has been cobwebbed, the gutter cleaner greased. Into the barn and the cheeseroom I go.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Really Special Creamed Corn

While corn on the cob is special in itself, taking it off the cob and creaming it really elevates it to a delicacy. Quick, while there is still fresh corn available, make some of this fast & delicious creamed corn. The touch of lime makes it really special.

Here's the recipe:
6 ears fresh corn grown by your favorite farmer
2 tablespoons butter
1 lime
salt to taste
pinch of cayenne
1/2-3/4 cups cream

scrape kernels off the cob into a bowl to catch the kernels and the 'milk' on the cob
zest the lime using a microplane or a zester
cut lime in half


In a saucepan, melt butter and add corn kernels, salt to taste, along with any of the corn 'milk'. Squeeze 1/2 the lime into the butter corn mixture and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 10 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup cream, the lime zest and the cayenne.


Cook another 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.


served here with meatloaf, zucchini sautéed with shallots, and a fresh tomato cucumber salad
YUM!!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Height Of Summer


Because the weather has been so hot and dry, the quality of the tomatoes this year is superb. All the delicious subtleties of intense tomato taste shine through.  Every meal becomes an ode to the tomato. Cubed in a salad they are like little jewels of sublime taste, slow roasted in the oven they become a quick and incredibly satisfying sauce over pasta. This summer I realized that missing from our tomato repertoire was a chilled tomato soup. I wanted an easy to make recipe that  reflected the sumptuousness of the season. As usual, Cook's Illustrated came to the rescue.  Here is a tomato soup that hits all the buttons, no dairy products keeps it light so the taste is pure tomato, and because it's blended and then put through a sieve, the texture is as smooth as silk

Here's the recipe:


CHILLED TOMATO SOUP

2 pounds field grown vine ripened tomatoes
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons tomato paste
 pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
A few grinds pepper
1/4 cup good quality fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Preheat oven to 375°
Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet

Cut 1 pound or tomatoes in half horizontally , and arrange cut side up on the baking sheet
Add sliced shallots and garlic to one side of sheet
Roast 20 minutes, and remove shallots and garlic to a small bowl
Return tray to oven, and continue roasting 10 more minutes, until tomatoes have softened.
Remove from oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining pound of tomatoes into chunks. Add to blender along with roasted tomatoes, the shallot, garlic, salt, cayenne and pepper.



 Blend for 30 seconds, or until blended. With blender running, slowly add the olive oil in a thin steady stream.



The soup will become creamy and light in color. Set a sieve over a deep bowl, pour the soup into the sieve, and with a wooden spoon or spatula press the soup through, leaving the solids behind ( don't skip this step, it what makes the soup so exquisite)


Add the sherry vinegar. Mix, and let chill. 


ENJOY!!!






Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes are probably our favorite crop. First of all, a tomato grown out of doors ( not in a greenhouse) tastes like a tomato should. Bright and juicy, with the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Secondly, it's also a thing of great beauty. From planting, to weaving or trellising it resembles a beautiful dance... there are certain rules we adhere to, but there are always variations to the method.
Here are the first steps in our tomato dance of 2012: 

First the ground is prepared by tilling, then the rows are marked 

To insure straight rows, a string is run between the rows before the tomatoes are set out

Plum and round tomates are 'determinates"and green metal posts are put between every 2 plants

Mulch is added between plants and the aisles

8 foot posts are put in between every 4 indeterminate cherry
tomato plants 
for trellising
A wire is strung across the tops of the posts, and 2 strings are
 attached to each tomato  plant



As the cherry tomatoes grow we train them to grow up the strings
 by twirling them around the twine weekly until they reach the wire 


The shorter tomatoes are 'woven' 5 times throughout the season



As the season progresses I'll be sure to post more pictures. The beautiful rains of yesterday and today have been quite the boon for growth. Stay tuned!