Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our Four Minutes of Fame

We all know farming has been on the downslide for decades. But in some measurable ways, it's starting to take on a resurgence, mostly in the form of small, urban farms. Farmers markets are full of buyers and sellers, and many growers are earning an income through CSA shares, where customers pay up front for produce delivered weekly all season long. The backlash to the industrial food complex is persuading many of us to eat differently and even some of us to give up corporate careers to be the producers of naturally raised and organic food. Well, most of us have dreams of fully giving up our careers while we tepidly put a toe in the farming waters. It's still a risky business.

But many like-minded people are giving it a go. Take the Grow Your Farm course offered through the MU Extension Michael and I took this winter. The 11-week class offered us more than expert speakers on topics ranging from resources, insurance, marketing, finance and more. We made new friends of fellow wanna-be farmers -- all of whom, interestingly, were choosing different paths under the wide umbrella called agriculture. One wanted to start a market garden, another to create a place for art and herbs; there was an elderberry grower, grape grower, pork producer, gluten-free baker, and then there was us. We started the class not knowing exactly what we wanted to do with our land. By the end, we had narrowed it down to a workable plan: a farmstead B&B using fresh produce, eggs and honey to supply our overnight guests with groceries and meals, as well as access for them to explore the farm.

The word we kept coming back to was: experiential. We want people to enjoy the same pleasures we have here at the farm -- without them having to do the actual work, of course.

Anchor/Reporter Abby Eden of Fox 4 picked up on the back-to-the-land trend and showed up at our class one evening to take notes. Inspired by our agritourism slant, she asked us to be part of an in-depth story she was working on about new farmers. She visited us in December and put together an accurate look at our lives -- including the bantering in Michael and I's marital relationship! We definitely laughed out loud at some of the sound clips they chose to represent us!

We don't have much to offer the public at this point, but as we continue to design and build this farm and the B&B next door, this exposure gives us extra motivation to keep moving forward!

Check out the video link here: Back to the Farm

Friday, February 15, 2013

Picking Up Chicks

I wonder how many people have ever invoked the term "chicken emergency" before, but that was my argument to the parking coordinator at the Metropolitan Lawn & Garden Show last weekend. (I find myself saying these kinds of odd things more and more as we get deeper into farm culture.) I had just arrived for my shift as a vendor at the expo when I got a call that the post office had a left an undecipherable and/or incomplete message about our order of 26 live chicks. On a Saturday. At 4 p.m. Daddy was on Sophia time, and I was just 8 minutes from the hood where the processing center would be open who knows how much longer. The chicks wouldn't last until Monday. And I wouldn't want to get into that neighborhood after dark. So, having just paid my $7 in parking not five minutes before, I finagled my money back and sped over to pick up chicks.

In their tiny box packed tight, they chirped like they'd just been born yesterday, stuck with vaccination needles, spent the whole day on a truck from Iowa and then were stored in a cold, noisy factory until their next unknown destiny arrived. Which, of course, was exactly their plight. I'd be upset, too. But there they were: a diverse, multicolored pack I'd selectively chosen for chicken-watching rather than for being good egg-layers. A blend of Araucanas, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Golden Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Light Brahmas, New Hampshire Reds, Barred Rocks and Black Australorps will look gorgeous roaming the property.

I signed for the box and headed back to the expo. This time in the lot, I snagged a primo parking spot up front -- lucky for me because when I walked out four hours later and the sky was pouring, I wasn't totally drenched. I couldn't very well leave the chicks in the car, with temperatures in the 40s, so hugging the box next to my body, I carried them into the arena, where it would at least be in the 60s. They made their presence known, and we were the hit of the night. (I inadvertently hit on a major marketing scheme I'll have to tell my publisher about. My table was surrounded for hours!)

We set them up in the sunroom in their tub with a heat lamp, pine shavings, and fresh water and food I had had the foresight to pre-purchase. That much considered, I had not anticipated the chicks needing sleep training like my own child. Instead of quietly falling asleep at dusk like the hens in our coop, the chicks chirped all night, and we got no sleep. I had wanted them upstairs as Sophia and I's winter farm project, but she was picking them up by their wings, spilling their water and sticking her hands in the poopy shavings, so down to the basement they went on their third day of life. We visit daily to get them used to us and brought them up today for a professionalish photo shoot. Check out these ladies!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bye, Bye, Bunny

This has been a tough winter for our animals. A couple of months ago, a raccoon (we assume, as the perpetrator was never identified) rampaged through the chicken coop four nights in a row, feasting on our flock, decimating the menagerie from a raucous 17 down to a petrified 6. Emphasizing natural selection, said vandal removed all the old biddies, leaving only the newbies and a single, original araucana hen from our first batch of chicks three years ago. After that incident, she stopped laying, I assumed because of anxiety or old age, but strangely began producing again a few weeks ago. She's the last supplier of our beautiful minty green-colored eggs.

Now that all has quieted down in the coop, we move our melancholy to the rabbit hutch. Last week, while giving a tour of the farm, I noticed Midnight's head was tilted oddly to one side. It looked like the girl was in serious need of a chiropractor. I began checking on her more regularly, but it seemed her health was worsening daily until I doubt she was eating and her intestinal track was obviously experiencing major trauma. Every day, I expected death to have visited overnight, but there she was alive, lying uncomfortably contorted and in a growing sticky mass of feces.

This circumstance launched Michael and I into conversations on end-of-life treatments. As a farm animal, were we to let her die naturally? Were we to "do her off" on the chopping block, as we do the chickens? Were we to take her to the vet, and depending on the prognosis, to what degree were we to get involved financially?

We inherited the bunnies last spring from a family friend whose daughters had "outgrown" them and didn't want the responsibility anymore. We thought they'd be great manure-producers for the garden and a hands-on petting outlet for Sophia. They lived reasonably happy lives here, receiving regular visits from her and voraciously accepting the multitudes of carrots she shoved in their hutch.  

This fall, I was jolted by the sound of screeching like I'd never heard before around midnight. Awake and reading in bed alone, I rushed to save my animal. Wearing nothing but my undies and a headlamp, I slipped on Michael's heavy work boots by the back door and grabbed a bat, chasing an unknown assailant in darkness. Whatever it was disappeared, and I found Midnight lying still in the grass. She was unhurt, with only a bit of saliva on her neck. But maybe she had been infected at that point. Was that the cause of her contortion months later?

Midnight and I bonded that night. I had saved her life. And now I was about to take it.

As I discovered at the vet's office today, after a week of waffling about taking her in, I was much more attached to Midnight than I had previously known. Dr. Hodges identified torticollis, the name for her head tilt, and said its cause was most likely related to a parasite. His somber expression told me what I knew was inevitable: that we could try aggressive treatments but that most likely she would die of starvation or infection on time's own watch. She looked so miserable and defeated that I gave the OK to create the outcome I knew was heading our way. He handed me a tissue box. Sophia waved bye-bye and thankfully didn't seem confused by my tears or even that the nurse took Midnight away wrapped in a towel. The bunny was calm. I put my hand out for her to sniff so she knew I was there and gave her soft ears a last caress.

Maybe we'll get another bunny friend for Fluffy, her sister, who appears to have avoided this fate, as we're surely getting replacement chicks in a few weeks, but tonight, I'm just gonna cry for my pet.