Sunday, November 23, 2014

Autumn Farm Chook School Part 2: 4 days old

In the last little Autumn Farm Chook School video you had a peek inside the brooder house, at the day old chicks.

In this video, you'll see the same chicks at 4 days old, on their first day outside of the brooder house, enjoying the sunshine and grass that makes them the tastiest, healthiest chickens around.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hello sailor!

As I mentioned in my post about Edie's reading gloves, I've got a bit of thing for sailing. I've never actually been on a sailing ship (or any kind of boat really, other than a ferry... and a kayak), but I seriously dig the romance of all things seafaring. Possibly because of (or maybe the cause of??) my infatuation with Herman Melville. And the Decemberists.

So you can imagine my excitement when my real live seafaring friend Vanessa (she actually lived on a real boat!!!!) announced she was pregnant - nautical-themed-baby-quilt-time!!!

What would a sea-baby quilt be without some ribbon 'seaweed', a pirate ship and a cormorant?

Bryn hanging out on deck. Custom-made 'let's not have overboard babies' netting can be seen in the background.

Little Bryn's baby quilt has a bit of boat applique (including a little tiny anchor on a 'rope'), a map (of the far south coast!), some sea-birds and other oceanic paraphernalia, all in a colour theme of blues and greens, of course. 

I was pretty in love with it when it was done, and pretty miffed that I didn't at least get an encouragement award when I entered it in the Bega show. But, as the kids say, 'whatevs'. Because this quilt got to go sailing.

That's right: Vanessa and Ian took little Bryn on a 3 month sailing trip when he was a few months old and the quilt got to go with them. AWESOME.

Ships ahoy!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn Farm Chook School

It's been a little over a year now since the first Autumn Farm pasture raised chickens graced the dinner tables of the Bega Valley.

In the last 15 months or so we have learned an INSANE amount, including, but definitely not limited to, 'Dogs are way better than electric mesh fencing' and 'How to run a farm single-handedly while your partner suffers through cancer treatment'. While the learning definitely isn't over (though hopefully we're done with that last lesson), I feel like we've got a good handle on things and we're now pretty comfortable with our operation and all it entails.

A big part of our Autumn Farm vision has been education: educating people about food systems, educating people about sustainable agriculture, educating people about good food and nutrition. It's awesome to be able to share knowledge with people, and to empower people to make positive changes in their relationship with the food they eat. We love love LOVE answering questions and sharing information, hosting farm tours and taking people through the abattoir.
Pearl talking to the group of Making a Buck from a Beetroot course, run by Bega Tafe.

We also get lots of inquiries from people who are interested in our chicken farming methods, which is why we're looking to run some 'chook school' tours from around April next year.

At this stage (we're still planning) chook school will probably consist of a day (6 hours?) at Autumn Farm, where we'll take you through all the components of our chicken system from managing the day old chicks, to growing the chickens, to slaughtering, to legal requirements, and marketing. And a big local lunch to boot!

We're pretty excited,  because we love growing chickens, and we think other people should grow chickens too. It's an awesome way to improve your pasture, make a small income from even a small acreage (we only have 7 acres) and feed your community. 
In the meantime, though, I'm going to be posting some little videos about our system, and about the way we run things.

And here's the first video! This one is called 'Day old chicks in the brooder house', and there will be more coming! So if you're interested in growing chickens, or you know someone who might be interested, please forward this on to them, and/or let them know about chook school.

We're looking forward to seeing some of you at Autumn Farm Chook School next year!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A day

Today was an exceptionally average day. I don't mean average in the way that it's often used to mean "not great" (quite the opposite in fact) but in the sense that today was a day like so many of our days here on the farm. When I think of today, I feel peaceful and full of joy.

Lots of people - friends, family, and strangers alike - often comment on how hard our life seems. It's true that we do forego many of the creature comforts most people in the west take for granted, like internal plumbing, for example. But these 'sacrifices', for us, generally have a flip side, like experiencing the surprising and immense joy of things like bathing and doing the dishes outside. It's also true that many of the things we do take for granted, like carrying 20kg barrels of water and bags of feed over several hundred metres, several times a day, may seem a lot like hard work, but the work keeps us strong, and means we don't have to go to a gym to get our daily exercise.

So what does an exceptionally average day on Autumn Farm look like?

Pearl, Oski and I rose at around 6.30 (a little later than usual) and set to work tending to the animals - letting the chickens out, letting the dogs off, making sure everyone has food and water. It was an overcast morning, but we could see the sun trying to bust through the clouds. We cheered it on, for the chickens' sake - they've had enough dampness these last few days.

When we returned to the homestead, Olive had woken up and was reading in bed in the loft. We made tea and hot water with lemon, and the kids had spelt pikelets with the last of the preserved blackberries from last summer for their breakfast. We packed lunchboxes (leftover veggie dumplings, more pikelets and fruit) and Pearl headed off for her day's work cooking at a cafe in town.

The kids played wild games with the dogs as I did the dishes, and then Olive got the bus to school.

With the 'morning rush' over and done with, Oski and I set to work on the important business of sewing  and harvesting and preparing food, which took up the rest of the day.

I made 3 skirts for the Mumbulla spring fair, and a bolero for my friend Genna (she's making me a hat as a trade!), sitting at the big table outside where we do pretty much everything, while Oski played around me, making 'jam' from some mulberries he'd picked. 
My dad came over to chop up some firewood for us, and we chatted, he played with Oski, and helped me to move the chicken houses and top up food and water before heading off.
Around lunch time, Oski and I harvested 2 massive bowls of broad beans. We sat together at the table and shelled them, then blended half of them with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, grated parmesan and mint to make a broad bean pesto, one of our favourite springtime treats, which will provide snacks and lunches for the next few days. The other half we reserved for our dinner. We then dined on a pretty random but delicious luncheon of broad bean pesto, leftover chicken, kimchi straight from the jar, fruit, nuts and the last of the pikelets.
Our appetites sated, we once again did the rounds of the chickens, played with the dogs, admired the new ducklings in the orchard, and tended to the 5 day old chicks in the brooder house.
A few days ago Pearl's dad had caught us a massive salmon, which was to be our dinner. Inspired by one of our favourite cookbooks, Moro East, we stuffed it with fennel, lemon and parsley, wrapped it in foil, and set it on the barbecue to cook. As the most delicious smells started wafting from the cooking fish, we headed into the orchard to take out the compost, admire the babies again, and collect many many eggs.

The afternoon is maybe my favourite time of the day for wandering and looking, and it was especially beautiful today given the weird mix of sunshine, big black clouds and enormous, intermittent raindrops.

And then Pearl and Olive came home, and much catching-up and storytelling, pesto-tasting, kissing and cuddling ensued. Final dinner preparations (cous cous with broad beans and yoghurt dressing and a simple cabbage coleslaw) were made as children played and water was delivered to the chickens.
Dinner was, as always, chaotic and rowdy and delicious. We're all pretty exhausted by this time of the day, but it's also a joyful catch-up time, especially on days like today where we've each been doing our own things. Meal times are possibly the times we feel most rich, because we feast so well on a bounty of home-made and home-grown goodness that is almost ridiculous, looking out over our beautiful valley, listening to the birds and, tonight, watching the kangaroos. It's hard not to feel blessed when your meal-times look like that and home made chicken liver pâté and fresh broad bean pesto are your go-to staples.

After dinner was Oski's 'pretend birthday', complete with a sand cake and pass the parcel presents.

The light was starting to fade as we got Oski ready for bed, and he and I retired to the loft for stories and cuddles and sleep, while Pearl and Olive locked up all the chickens and delivered the dogs to their night-time chook-guarding posts.

In all, I'd say that from wake-up time to sleep time, we spent a total of about 15 minutes inside the house. It was a lovely, average day, and I wouldn't swap the hard work for all the creature comforts in the world.

How was your day?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

So we barter

When I was young and idealistic I entertained various fantasies of being self-sufficient: Building my own house, growing my own food, and basically being a hermit. No environmental footprint for me.
Now that I'm older (though still idealistic) my feelings about self-sufficiency have changed. For starters, I now have a family who don't necessarily share my hermit plans. But more significantly, now that we've really and whole-heartedly embarked upon a life where we are attempting to provide for ourselves in as many ways as we possibly can, we've realised how bloody hard it would be to actually produce everything you need by your own hands. Not to say that kind of life wouldn't be rewarding - I'm sure it would - but my feelings about 'how to save the world' have ripened a bit now, and my ideology has ultimately found a home in community-building.

What do I mean by that? Well, I mean talking to people. I mean valuing the work people do. I mean supporting people who are creating and growing things in our local area. I mean sharing and providing food for people. I mean sharing knowledge and information and encouraging people. And maybe more than anything else, I mean swapping and bartering as much as possible. 

One thing that hasn't changed for me since those heady early days of ideological veganism and Grass Roots idolatry, is my belief that money is pretty much the root of all evil. Unfortunately for us, (and even more unfortunately for the billions of impoverished and enslaved peoples around the world) we live under capitalism, which means that, short of the aforementioned hermit lifestyle, you kinda need to participate, at least a little bit, in the money economy. So what can you do about it? Well, you can be super-hyper vigilant about who you give your money to. Yes folks, it's true that under capitalism, one of your most powerful weapons is what you do and do not choose to spend your money on. Ask yourself: What kinds of things is this purchase supporting? Child labour? Slave labour? Crapy living conditions for factory workers? Environmental destruction? Cultural destruction? If you're answering yes to any of these questions, find an alternative, or go without.
Springvale community food swap at Linda and Paul's, down the road. What the heck kind of  shop comes with these views, cups of tea, cake and friendly advice about gardening and craft???
While that may seem like a kind of crazily austere or strict regime to adhere to, let me tell you that it's actually a ton of fun, because in the process of seeking alternatives, you'll probably meet people and make connections you wouldn't otherwise make, and you will strengthen your sense of community. By supporting local people you will build resilience in your community, and you will help people find alternatives to the confines of capitalism, even if just for a little bit. Liiiiike.... you might start or participate in your local food swap, or you might think of some other way you can barter for the things you need. 

And more food swap action at Autumn Farm

You might get involved with a local food co-op, or you might start buying your produce (and I mean all of your produce) direct from the person who grew it. You might start growing more of your own, and sharing it with a neighbour!

We are pretty much massive bartering devotees these days, bartering our chickens and craft for as much as we possibly can including acupuncture, veggies, fermented foods, art therapy,  spoon carving lessons, pork, art classes, lamb, hand-knitted gloves and bread. Yes, many of these things we could produce ourselves, it's true. But you know what? Our friends Thea and Tim have the most amazing market garden. But they don't have the time and inclination to also grow chickens, just like we don't have the time or inclination (or watering prowess) to grow massive beautiful bunches of coriander and celery. So we barter.
Bartered veggie box from Thea and Tim's Fish Bone Farm
 Similarly, our friend Emily makes incredible sauerkraut,  kefir and kimchi. Yes of course we could make these for ourselves, but that's her thing, so she's really good at it, just like we're really good at growing delicious chickens. So we barter.
Bartered fermented awesomeness courtesy of Emily
I can't knit, but I really wanted a pair of rainbow-hand-dyed fingerless gloves for riding my bike in the early morning chill, and Vee really wanted one of my skirts. Her handy man Grimm knits beautiful fingerless gloves. So we barter.
Awesomely awesome riding gloves knitted by Grimm, bartered for a skirt
You see what I'm getting at? By valuing other people's skills and interests, you don't have to be super-skilled at everything yourself. And besides which, sharing the love just feels plain old awesome.

Fish Bone Farm abundance gracing the Autumn Farm kitchen. Happy days..

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The vagaries

It's been a little over a year since the first batch of 100 day old chicks arrived at Autumn Farm. It's been a massive year of learning, surviving, nourishing our community, learning some more, working hard, crying, laughing, asking ourselves (and being asked by others) "why the hell are we doing this??" and "is this really worth it??" and then realising that yes, it is what we really want to be doing with our little piece of land - feeding people.
And while it is tremendously rewarding and for me, at least, the fulfilment of a childhood dream of wanting to be a farmer, there have been times when we've had a tiny taste of the tragedy and heartbreak that also comes with trying to make a living from the land, where you're ultimately always at the mercy of Nature. Like my 3rd-generation-dairy-and-sheep-farmer neighbour said: "some days you wouldn't give it up for ten million bucks, the next day you'd give it all up for 10 cents". It is really like that.

In my mind, The Hardships of Farming always kind of took the shape of drought and flood - images of sheep lying dead in a desert-like paddock, old gnarled farmers in check shirts and akubras with their faces in their hands, murmuring desperately about being forced from their land. Or the other extreme of cattle being lifted in helicopter-slings to save them from being drowned.

We, in our extremely small-fry operation will never be vulnerable to these kinds of desperate extremes. But that doesn't mean that we don't experience a little of the rollercoaster. 
On hot days, we spray the chickens with water every hour or so, to stop them from overheating

Take the last 2 weeks. A fortnight ago, the weather was sunshiny spring. The chicks were loving it, the big chickens were loving it. Everyone was happy and healthy and growing well on the beautiful spring pasture. Pearl's and my moods (inextricably linked to the health and happiness of our chickens) were high. It was a 10 million dollar kind of a time.

And then we had a cold rainy snap. What does a cold rainy snap mean for a little pastured poultry enterprise? First of all, it means that we need to buy straw. There's no point moving the chicken houses onto wet ground, so the daily house move is replaced by houses filled daily (sometimes twice daily) with dry straw, to keep the chickens healthy, if not happy. Buying straw means our (already slim) profit margins go down, so while we love and need the rain, it's always in the back of our mind.

It means days of trudging around in raincoats at all hours of the day and night, tending to feed and water and straw, making sure the chickens are managing to stay dry. It means slipping over in the wet grass.
And, sometimes, it means death. This last cold rainy snap came at an unfortunate time for our chicks in the brooder house, who'd been happily acclimatising to the warm spring weather. They'd been born during mild weather, arrived on our farm during warm weather, and we'd been slowly lowering the heat in the brooder house in preparation for their move to pasture. So when the temperature dropped 20 degrees literally overnight, they had no preparation or resilience for cool weather and, in spite of the heat lamp in the brooder house, they piled up and crushed, out of desperation to keep warm.

The temperature, at 10 degrees, was nowhere near as cold as our winter chicks tolerated. But they were used to it. Not so these springtime chicks.
It is really sad. As the peeps at Buena Vista Farm put it, "Who'd be a farmer, eh?" (they have an excellent post with that title, and I strongly recommend you read it if you'd like to understand a little more about the human energy goes into producing your food). Those are the 10 cent days.

But now here we are in the sunshine. The chickens and chicks are all happy again. Yesterday we sold 120 chickens to some very happy local people, who hopefully feasted well last night. Today, across the Valley, people are cooking up bone broths and chicken soups. And that is what makes us keep going. But it's hard - no bones about it.

* Thank you Jay for taking beautiful photos of our chickens

Sunday, October 12, 2014

For the love of Niki and David

Last weekend I had the absolute honour of being present at the wedding of my beautiful friend Niki and her beloved David. As you may know, I'm quite partial to the old wedding celebration, but this one was extra-super-special and extra-super-loved-up, partly because Niki's one of the most beautiful people I've ever met, and partly because Niki and David have waded through a ton of heartbreak and tragedy this year, so a celebration of their enduring love was a pretty special thing to be a part of.
David in classic tux, Annie in brand-new hair and Niki in vintage pink

But what to make for such an amazing occasion? To be honest, I actually suffered from quite extreme crafter's block on this one. It seemed like there was nothing I could possibly make that could convey my feelings about their wedding and about them as individuals and how much I love them. I was stumped.

But I kept coming back to an image I had from a story Niki had told me about how much Lucien loved watching birds and leaves moving in the sunlight. While Niki and David's wedding was obviously about Niki and David, it was also beautifully and oh so poignantly about their little Lucien, so my wedding gift to them needed to honour him in some way.

And so I set to work crocheting them a little Lucien-love-bird, and I thought of him, and them, with every stitch I made and yes, many tears were shed.
The yarn was bought from an awesome "one-woman, one-cat" yarn and fibre studio based in Melbourne called Yarn vs Zombies and is hand-dyed in a colour scheme called 'outback rainbow', which just totally reminded me of Niki.

The lichen twig is from our land, and the heart was cut from a piece of wool felt which was shorn, dyed and felted by our friend Tabitha, using wool from her sheep.

It was important for me to not only hand make them a gift, but to include lots of things that had a personal connection to us and our land. I don't see Niki nearly as much as I'd like to, on account of the combined tyranny of distance and busy lives, so I like to give her little bits and pieces of 'me'. Also, Niki and I spent some super-fun and super-treasured times camping on the land (and hanging farm-gates in the rain with nothing more than a bush-saw and a ton of determination) long before we'd even moved to Bega.

I also made them a little crochet-monogram-wedding-cushion, like Jemima and Bhavani's (to be honest, I think this is going to be a wedding gift tradition from me from here on in) but I strangely forgot to take a photo of it before I gave it to them. 

But let's face it: the bird is really the main event, though it's only a teeny-tiny and, quite frankly, profoundly inadequate representation of the immense love and admiration I have for Niki and David: YOU. GUYS. ROCK. And I love you to bits.