Goodmorning Spring

A light frost last night made the grass glisten this morning: silver in the shade and sparkly-green in the sun.  The cows are outside eating from the hay wagon as their warm breath sends big puffs of air, like clouds, swirling up above their heads.  Gracie the cat walks about in front of the farm store, stopping to look up as a crow flies by, then moving on with her morning walk-about.  John Sr. drives the tractor out to the steers, delivering round bales for breakfast in the field.  All around the farm, green is taking hold as the straw-colored pastures come back to life under the sun and suck in any water that falls.  It is an early spring, and the cows will be happy for it–a few more weeks and they’ll be out in the pastures again.  We, the farmers, will be happy for it, too, as we wake up to the cool spring air, put on our boots, and walk to the fields to begin our days.

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Originally posted on An Intentional Wildness:

The first full moon of spring shines tonight

April’s moon has many names:

Pink, Egg, Sprouting Grass, and Fish

Pink for wild phlox, one of the first spring flowers

Fish for the shad run, which Native Americans counted on after a long winter.

Nobee and I go out to look for pink, but all we find is green:

 

Ours is the Sprouting Grass Moon, then,

And we welcome it fully.

May our pastures return healthy this year,

May this grass feed the animals, and in turn us,

For another green season.

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Farm Fresh Butter

It’s early spring, and the cows are coming to the end of their pregnancies here on the farm.  That means that their milk production has been slowly waning over the past few weeks, and on Monday John stopped milking altogether.  It’s a nice break for the cows and the farmers, a little respite before the calving begins and milking starts up again.  In the weeks leading up to the cows drying off, we stopped the milk-truck pick-up, and began saving milk out to use for butter and yogurt.

Edge and I have been separating the milk and making butter, and Ben has helped with making yogurt from the skimmed milk.  Even though we won’t have milk to drink until early May, we will have farm fresh butter and yogurt.

 

Making butter and yogurt is simple, and all you need is milk (and some culture for the yogurt).

For butter: Separate cream; whip or beat at room temperature until the cream separates into buttermilk and butter; drain off buttermilk (this can be saved for pancakes and other treats); run the butter under cold water and knead it as you would bread to get the remaining buttermilk out–clear water should squeeze out of the butter when you are done; add salt as desired; put into butter molds or form it yourself; eat!  Since we used raw milk for our butter, we are storing it in the freezer, where it will keep until we are ready to use it.

For yogurt: heat milk to 180 degrees F; let cool to around 110 degrees F; scoop a small amount of milk into a bowl and add the culture (you can also use yogurt as your culture–3 Tbs to one gallon of milk) to the bowl; thoroughly mix culture and milk and add this mixture back into the rest of the milk; pour milk w/culture into jars; store jars in an insulated box, a cooler with warm water, or any other device to help regulate the temperature, and store for around 6 hours; remove yogurt and put into fridge; when yogurt is cooled, take a spoon, scoop some out and enjoy!

Unfortunately, because of dairy processing laws, we cannot sell our butter or yogurt, but we encourage you to make some at home.  To get hands-on instruction, check out one of Rural Vermont’s Raw Milk Processing Workshops.  Happy eating!

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Happy 70th, John!

“He’s coming!” someone said, and the room quieted.  We were all waiting in the event hall of the community barn, around thirty people looking expectantly at the door.  In the bathroom the real surprise waited: John’s brother and sister-in-law from Arizona, and almost twenty former exchange-students and their families, who had spent between three weeks and three months at Applecheek Farm during the years when John and Judy hosted students from around the world as part of an agricultural exchange program.  When John, Sr. opened the door to the hall and stepped in, we all began singing happy birthday to you! and when the song was over, the bathroom door opened and everyone filed out with big smiles.

John, Sr. stood staring, a mix of disbelief and awe spread across his face as he took it all in.  Most of the former exchange-students came from Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and they brought a gift of traditional clothing for John, Sr. to wear.  Once he changed, the party really started!

All Dressed Up!

The Austrian Girls

Live Music From Friends

The Clark boys: John Jr, John Sr, and Jason

Throughout the afternoon and evening, friends and family from near and far got up and shared stories of John, Sr. and Applecheek Farm.  Listening to the stories and hearing the incredible emotion in each person’s voice, I was struck with how incredible a place and a family this is.  John, Sr. and Judy, and then Johnny and Rocio, Jason and Sara, have tied their families to this land, and in turn have reached out to so many people in Vermont and around the world, creating the physical and emotional connections that make up a family farm, and I saw again how a family goes far beyond blood ties.

Being that we celebrated on the farm, we had a delicious and seemingly endless buffet of duck, ham, potato salad, greens, local cheese, coleslaw, and more.  When it came time for cake, we sang once more, and John, Sr. blew out his candles.

That farming is hard work is an understatement, but what that hard work brings equals out to more than food.  It brings a life rich in soil, fields, and fresh air; a life rich in relationships between people, animals, and the land; and it brings a life worth celebrating, because there is so much to be thankful for.

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The Two-Week Sugaring Season

After an almost two-week non-stop run, the sap has slowed to barely a drip, and sugaring season has come to an end.  It was a strange season to say the least.  We finished boiling when we usually begin; our sugar house has dates of first boils going back to the mid-1970s, showing the start of runs beginning around March 20th.  The past few years have begun earlier and earlier, though, making the maple syrup business that much trickier.

When we started boiling, snow still covered the ground and we welcomed the steam from evaporating sap as it warmed the sugar house and us.

Sugar House at Night

Evaporating Sap

Finished Syrup

 

By the time we all celebrated with sugar on snow (thick syrup poured on packed snow–a delicious treat), John Sr. had to search for the snow to use before we gathered at John Sr. and Judy’s house under warm sunny skies.

Pickles and Donuts to eat with Sugar on Snow! (The pickles cut the sweetness of the syrup).

John Pouring Sugar on Snow

Rocio Eating Sugar on Snow

Ben and Nicole Eating Sugar on Snow

Judy and Edge Adding Some Tunes!

 

Despite the short-lived season, we made some delicious syrup!  We have some on sale at our Farm Store; stop by to say hello and get a sweet treat!

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Sap Season

It smells like spring.

Yes, there are still a few feet of snow on the ground, and the roads have hardly become muddy yet, but the sun is shining, the air is warming, and the sweet smells of hay and manure in the softening snow signal that a change is beginning.

In the last weeks, we have installed new lines in the sugar woods and completed tapping around 400 maple trees.  Now the sap is beginning to flow into the sugar house, and soon the boiling will begin to thicken the sap into syrup.

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The Hyperlocal Meal

Last night John and Rocio had Ben, Edge and I over for a heritage turkey dinner.  John made a fruit stuffing of peaches (canned by Ben this summer), Vermont cranberries, and pistachios.  Hatchbrook Garden mashed potatoes, and kale that John and Rocio froze for the winter also graced the table, making it a true farm dinner.  To top it off, we even had a choice of home-brewed porter or maple champagne.  It was my first time eating a heritage turkey.  Up until last night broad-breasted turkeys always held the center of the table at mealtime, but this was a delicious change.  The turkey was only six pounds, but it’s meat was so dense and juicy that it made up for its small size.  Never before had I enjoyed such a deep flavor from a turkey, and the fruit stuffing on top of the crisp skin melded so perfectly with the meat, it was as if the bird had been fed peaches and cranberries all summer.

There is something very powerful about meals like this that we share on many levels.  Everyone at the table last night spent energy bringing the meal together: raising the turkey through the spring, summer, and fall; planting and harvesting the potatoes and garlic; preserving the fruit; brewing the beer and champagne; and supporting one another through months of chores, haying, planting, weeding, and harvesting.  I have heard a new catchword lately—hyperlocal—and this must be what it means.  A whole meal from one farm, and that farm being the place where we live.

As the local food movement expands across Vermont and the US, let us remember the meaning behind words.  A movement is nothing without deep commitment and passion for a greater good.  Local is more than the number of miles traveled.  Local is a relationship between people, a relationship between people and their food, and a relationship between people and the land.  These relationships are always magnified in the winter, when we look into the root cellar and freezer and can feed ourselves without driving to the grocery store.  Instead, we are receiving back the energy we gave away this past summer and fall when we worked to raise our food.  I find myself thankful again, long after Thanksgiving, to be part of this cycle of land, food, and people—to be part of this cycle of change.

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