Friday, December 06, 2013

O Tannenbaum

So this morning as I was doing chores, a van pulled into the driveway with some sort of landscaping decal on the side. The dogs went beserk and of course I was running late like usual. Figuring they were lost, I walked over and asked if I could help them. They said they were "here to decorate the tree," meaning our big beautiful pine tree in the middle of the driveway. I've been talking about wanting to put lights on it for Christmas probably since before we moved in, but it's huge and we have 937655 other things on our list of stuff to do. Maybe next year, I've been telling myself.


Guys: We're here to decorate the tree.
Me: Uhh... you know the house has been sold, right? They don't live here anymore.
Guys: [look at each other and smile] No, actually, we were sent here by Jill Baker. We've got a wreath and garland too.
Me: !!! 
Christian: Are you crying right now?

My mother!  What a sneak!  I had no idea, not even a whisper of a clue.  It didn't even occur to me that they might be at our house for OUR tree.  I just assumed they were showing up like they did every year.  But we all know what happens when you assume...

It felt like today would never end.  I buried myself in work and tried not to stare at the clock.  I'm not one to wish my life away, but WHY COULDN'T THE DAY JUST BE OVER ALREADY SO IT CAN GET DARK AND I CAN GO HOME?!

Finally, it did.  The drive home was punctuated by a stunning hot pink and orange sunset, held up by wintry tree bones.  Surely this is what it feels like before the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree.

I arrived to the house just as the sun was starting to slump below the horizon.  And oh, the lights...

There they were.  Our tree!  Our tree.  Wow.

Tyrone [our sheep] seemed transfixed by the lights.  
That, or, he was staring at me waiting to be fed.  
Sometimes it's hard to tell.  
Baaaaa humbug!

BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER!!!!!!! There is nothing better than basking in the glow of lights this time of year. On any given day I can't wait to get home to the little piece of paradise that is Ham Sweet Farm, but tonight is particularly special. 

Apparently the company sent a scout earlier in the week and said the tree was so big, this was probably the only year they'd be able to put lights on it. In a good growing year they can grow 3 feet, and this was the absolutely limit that their ladders and crazy-long cherry-picker poles could reach.  Meant to be?  I think so!

The pictures just don't even do justice. It's truly magnificent. I had to make three trips out to the mailbox before I actually remembered to, ya know, grab the mail out of the box.  And I can actually hear cars slowing down as they drive by...

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Make Love And Lard

Well, we did it.

Raised a pig.

Finished a pig.

Butchered a pig.

Have pork for sale.

The results were better than we had even dared hope.  Our lovely, apple- and black walnut-finished pigs lived a good life and they live on in our hearts and bodies.  This is why we do what we do.  And that marbling!  My goodness.

And in case you're interested in buying any, the first results are starting to come in...  There's nothing that feels so good as hearing that you raised and produced a happy animal and a tasty product.

If you want to try some for yourself, email me at for available cuts and prices.

Thanks, piggies.  We love you.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Practice Practice Practice

This afternoon, I left work early.  Actually, I left earlier than the "early" I had originally intended.  We were due at our local packing plant before 6 pm this evening, but today's nasty wind & rain made C and I worry about impending darkness, loading conditions, and the safest trip possible.

I planned to leave the office around 2 or so, but by 12:30 I was so nervous I couldn't concentrate on the work at hand.  I alternated between bouts of feeling sick to my stomach, and welling tears.  I finished up and left at 1, thankful for the escape to my car and the radio.  Between tears and rainy it was a blurry ride home.  One of my old country favorites came on, and I had to laugh at how the love story might have been about farming...

Going out of my mind these days,
Like I'm walkin' round in a haze.
I can't think straight, I can't concentrate.
And I need to shave.

I go to work and I look tired.
The boss man says: "Son, you're gonna get fired,
This ain't your style," and from behind my coffee cup,
I just smile.

What a beautiful mess!
What a beautiful mess I'm in.
Spendin' all my time with you,
There's nothin' else I'd rather do.
What a sweet addiction that I'm caught up in.
'Cos I can't get enough,
Can't stop the hunger for your love.
What a beautiful, what a beautiful mess I'm in. 

This morning put salt in my coffee.
I put my shoes on the wrong feet.
I'm losin' my mind, I swear; It might be the death of me,
But I don't care.

Had you told me a year ago that C and I would own a little farmstead, in Michigan, and be taking our first pigs to slaughter before the year was out, I wouldn't have known what to say!  Not possible.  Too many moving pieces in Colorado, jobs, the house, our friends... but here we are, and it's a frightful and wonderful piece of work.  It truly does consume most of our time, energies, resources, but the rewards and satisfaction are immeasurable.  The relationships we have with the animals also are their own reward... but it makes parting such sweet sorrow.

When I got home, it was time for early evening feeding and chores.  The pigs get an afternoon snack of some kind every day when I get home from work— they know that when the car pulls into the driveway, snack-time is drawing nigh!  They came running from the back of their pasture, faces and legs black from the rich peat-y mud they turn over in their rooting exploits each day.  They make a particular grunt when they think food is coming to them— not quite a grunt, not nearly a whine, but a higher-pitched singsong call.  

For the last few days, we have had our trailer backed up to the pen, gate down.  We've been feeding them on the trailer so that they're used to getting on and off of it— the last thing you want while trying to load pigs is for them to panic or just plain refuse to go up the ramp.  The two pigs we planned to take typically hang out and eat together, and the two we're keeping tend to eat together.  That makes things fairly easy.  Put some treats in each of our two feeders, one on the trailer and one off, and the pigs will sort themselves out!  

All of the sleep I've lost over the past few days [and truly, weeks] thinking of every single detail I may have forgotten or overlooked, a what-if I may not have considered, a zombie invasion... it all fell away when Jack Sparrow and Rigatoni flung themselves up onto the trailer in their haste to get to the fresh apples and bread awaiting.  Ramp up, pins in, I climb out trying not to bust my nose open slipping on muddy Mucks... sigh of relief, laughter to diffuse tears.  It's go time.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Biting the Bullet

We've been lost in a whirlwind of activity as summer accelerated from the muggy days of August into September and October when everything is coming into harvest.  Jars upon jars of tomatoes are tucked away in our cellar with apple butter, pickles, and alcohol infusions.  Right now we have an entire cooler of the last of the vegetables from our garden that hung on until our first hard frost.  We took our first animals to slaughter a few weeks ago— 10 beautiful heavy ducks.

The schedule of a farmer is different than that of the modern person who considers "summer" to be over after Labor Day.  If tomatoes are still on the vine, I'd say it's still summer.  And only in autumn are meat animals typically ready for harvest.  The ducks were our first, but within the month we will also take 10 Thanksgiving turkeys and 20 chickens for processing as well.

But the really big one is coming up in just a few days.  We are taking two of our pigs to a local slaughterhouse, dropping them off Wednesday night and returning Thursday morning to get a tour of the place and see the kill.  I've been saying goodbye in some ways for weeks... extra treats, extra straw in their shelter, even just lingering near them, watching them play and root around and be themselves.  It is most definitely a mourning process along with the celebration of their life, the sacrifice they make to put food on your

Just before our boar Melvin was slated to go to the slaughterhouse, he succumbed to a week of brutal heat, with temperatures over 100 degrees during the day hardly cooling down at night.  In some ways, it was terrible to have to make the decision to put him down at home.  In others, it was a relief not to have to load him up onto a trailer and take him to a strange place for the last day of his life.  He laid down and it was over.  I took a shot of bourbon first.  I cried.  A somber mood settled over the farmstead.  It was over.

Hopefully, on Wednesday we will load up two of our pigs.  Jack Sparrow and Rigatoni.  They are accustomed to the trailer and we've been feeding them and giving treats on it so they're not afraid of it.  The best you can do as a caretaker of any animals is set them up for success, and do as much as possible to ensure they're calm.  We've done our best and can only hope that everything goes the way it should over the course of the next few days.  I struggle with the emotions of it all, and quite frankly, sometimes I don't do well with it.  I always cry.  It's exhausting but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I've been neglecting this blog on and off for years now, but it's still an anchoring force in my life. The two parts of me that many people have trouble reconciling... until recently, people only knew one half or the other.  Now we live on the Farmstead, and I'm surrounded by many pairs of high heels AND muck boots.  Something about it just works.

So it was with great excitement that I learned of this fledgling project, in an article written by Modern Farmer: Photographing the Female Face of Farming.

If you like the project, support it and its creator by visiting the page, and liking the Facebook page.  And give love to Farmers and FarmHers alike...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ham Sweet Farm in the news!

I promise I haven't forgotten about you, little blog!

The passing of time on a farm is marked by empty bags of grain, refilled waterers, ripening tomatoes, and growing babies.  Our ducks, who were once so small that they couldn't be contained inside the small bars of a dog crate, have now outgrown the coop we built for them.  Our pigs outgrew the feeder we made for them, their shoulders growing too wide to fit four-abreast.  When we first got them, all five could eat from one feeder at the same time [albeit with some squealing].

The rotational nature of growing living things is entrancing, hypnotizing, steady.  By the time you catch up on one corner of the farm, another has grown wild and needs attention.  So it is, too, with the seasons.  The bursting greens of spring, the scorching haze of summer, the bounty of autumn, the halting blanket of winter.

With September looming just around the corner, we are starting to think of wintry solutions to what surely will be problems with our methods of feeding and watering everyone.  Currently, you can stumble outside in pajamas and flipflops to take care of morning chores.  A few crisp mornings with dew resting heavy on the grass jolted us into the reality that soon, we will need to be all layered up before we venture outside.  Reality bites.  But it also means an end to the frenetic garden-watering and grass-mowing and fence-building, at least until spring decides to come around again.

The local magazine Capital Gains was kind enough to interview me recently, for an article about eating ethical meat.  I'm always happy to talk about why Christian and I are doing what we're doing.  Check it out below!

Conscientious Flexitarians— eating the right meat

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Sometimes "farm life" really sucks.  Yesterday was a shitty day.  We did the best we could but... this time it just wasn't good enough.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

This Little Piggy...

Last night we had our first on-farm kill... we had planned to take our young boar, Melvin, up to the processor today.  In this extreme heat wave we've been under, he was very stressed— we worried what effect the trailer ride and overnight in a strange facility would have.  We didn't want to lose the meat, nor did we want him to suffer... so C and I waited for him to lay down last night as the evening cooled, and lured the other pigs away with grain, then took the shot.

In many ways, but particularly when it comes to things of this matter, I feel so lucky to have C as my partner.  Even the most merciful of shots is so difficult for me.  C took the perfect shot and Melvin was gone instantly.  The other pigs calmly eating on the other side of their shelter didn't notice a thing, not even the involuntary muscle spasms that accompany death [just not in the movies].  I cried and put my hand on his still-warm cheek, said thank you, what a good boy you were.

We carried him out of the pen and hoisted him on the tractor to bleed him out.  In these moments I always remember the words of Temple Grandin.  "It was here; now it's meat.  Where did it go?"  The Melvin we knew and took care of was gone, and now we had our upcoming pig roast to look forward to.  The chickens and dogs got some of the odd bits, and everything else went into the compost.  We hosed him inside and out, both cleaning and cooling the carcass.  For now, Melvin rests in our refrigerator.  This weekend, we will celebrate with friends his life and the land that sustains us.

His boisterous spirit and silly straw-burrowing will be missed on the farm, but we will eat him so that one less pig is raised in a confinement operation for a miserable dark 6 months of "life."  If you think I did it without the help of a shot of bourbon you'd be sorely mistaken.

Many people find it strange that we name the animals we intend to eat.  But knowing the animal is about more than the name— even without one we would find some moniker by which to talk about that once-living piece of pork versus the other four that we woke up this morning to feed.  In the end, we should all be so lucky as to spend our last day wallowing in silky black mud, playing in straw and eating cold melon, the dappled sun shining through trees.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Words to Live By

"Trying to breed the fat out of pigs 
is like making a yolkless egg."

                    — Brian Polcyn [interview here]

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

First Harvest!

Oh my gosh, I grew something!!  Even after a few years of concerted efforts toward gardening, the feeling of harvesting something from YOUR own garden is still miraculous.  We've gotten great rain so far this summer so I've only watered once... After living in Colorado, the fact that anything you plant can be studiously ignored until you're ready to eat it is a gift.  Rich black earth, forgiving skies and humidity that plants just soak in to produce sweet, tender leaves...

So, what do we have?  3 kinds of basil, collards, cilantro, and the best damn broccoli I have ever had.  It's so sweet and tender, worlds away from what comes from the supermarket.  We also have various herbs that are ready to be picked and dried or used fresh, tomatoes that are quickly growing into trees, eggplant, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, zucchini, a few types of peppers, onions, garlic...  we're also trying sweet corn, which I have had terrible luck with in the past, but it's growing!

We turned up a new section of the garden in what used to be lawn, and the plan was to leave that fallow this year and let the old grass decompose.  But then we bought some carving pumpkin seeds, and decided to sow them directly into the overturned sod.  The pumpkin vines are strong, vigorous and starting to flower.  Looks like we'll have lots of decorating to do for Halloween this year, and plenty of good eats for the animals as well.

Oh, and our hens laid their first eggs.  Two of them.  Dinner!

Here's to the joy that bounty brings.  

Sunday, June 30, 2013



"Goodness is uneventful.  It does not flash, it glows." 
                                      --David Grayson

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The First of Many Porch Mornings

Between the chorus of birds and frogs, the breeze gently bringing the sound of neighbor's windchimes across the fields, and the thrumming of bees, I'm fairly certain the earth is singing a song just for me on this perfect morning.

Home Sweet Home. Ham Sweet Farm.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Shiny & New

One admittedly very nice thing about being back in an office as opposed to the farmhand days of the past few years is the ability desire to actually feel a little bit polished.  When I was last working here in the family biz, it felt like most of my days were spent sneaking furtive glances out the window to the world I longed to be a part of.

A few years in the sun's unforgiving glare, the wear on my body and my heart, the sneaking arthritis in my right hand... those and other reasons have shown me that, beyond a certain scale, farming may not be for me.  This new chapter that Christian and I are undertaking... 30 acres, a blank slate, a haven for dogs and all the other animals we love to care for [and consume], that's a space I can see myself inhabiting for the rest of my days.

And that means I get to actually wear "real" clothes [in other words, not my $2 second-hand jeans and the sweatshirt I found in a dumpster on campus back in the day] unless I'm out doing chores or working on a project.  My high heels to muck boots ratio will finally be in balance.

Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. 
Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food
 as you devote to your appearance.
 Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress.
                                                                               — Charles Pierre Monselet

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oh hey there, Spring.

Spring in Colorado is so very different. Last year, in the depths of a crushing drought, spring showers never quite materialized over the mountain ranges. The green flowery flushes stayed dormant, preserved for a more hopeful year.

I woke up to the steady beat of rain against the windows this morning. Like a kid with a snow day, i was too excited to fall back to sleep. Around home, the crocuses are in full bloom and there are some very fat forsythia buds to be found. I love this time of year when everyone becomes a gardener, checking the ground and trees for shoots and signs that spring has returned.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sandhill Cranes Trumpeting

Springtime in Michigan is one of my favorites, because I love the prehistoric call of the Sandhill Cranes who frequent fallow corn fields during their migration.  The dogs were more excited about all the mud.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Grrls Meat Camp in the news

Grrls Meat Camp has been getting some great press of late.  I'm incredibly honored to be a part of it, as well as to be included in this article.

Women Breaking Down Hogs, Beef and the 'Old Boy Network' in Kentucky Butchering Camps

If you're interested in attending one of these workshops, well, you're in luck!  There's one coming up.  I can't make it, but I'm thinking about crashing the after party/BBQ.

Grrls Meat Camp Workshop in Kentucky, April 12-14

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wisdom & Gravity

"I'm grateful for our house,
for this cozy bed and covers,
for my friends and for gravity....
ya know mom, with out gravity 
we would be just flying around in the sky...."
                    — G. Cure, age 5

Monday, March 18, 2013

Horses Making Weird Faces

This was Roxy, two days before we left for Michigan.  She slipped in her muddy paddock and tweaked her back just before her cross-country trip, to the point where she was limping on two legs.

Poor Little Miss Cow-Eyes.  The very patient woman standing next to her is a vet based in Boulder who specializes in equine acupuncture and chiropractic.  Roxy absolutely detests needles, so acupuncture was out.  But my normally happy-go-puppydog mare was in so much pain, we had to suffer through some adjustments from the good Doctor.  The picture sums up how it went.

I was very nervous about the horses making the trip.  Would Roxy's sore back make it twice as hard on her?  Would Sam's arthritic hocks flare up?  Would they just plain freak out at the stress, the haulers, the strange trailer filled with strange horses?  Turns out, they were the best-behaved horses out of a group of seven.  We took the drivers out for dinner after Sam and Roxy were unloaded into their new home, a fleeting connection that ended in hugs.

Roxy's registered name is Denver's Ace of Hearts.  She's traveled about 35 miles in her lifetime from her original place of birth.  Sam, well, who knows about him.  My guess is he hasn't gone too far either.  But they are settled in and loving the new digs.  They have more space than they ever have before, with real green growing GRASS!  Well, not at the moment.  But it's coming!  We're all ready for Spring.

They're all settled in and happy [along with their new pasture mate Sparty].  
Now if it would just warm up a bit... 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Starting anew...

... Or am I back to the beginning?  I haven't yet decided.  Here we are back in Michigan.  For good.  I mean that we have moved back for good, but dammit, it just plain feels good too.

Home.  Such a satisfying word to say in a sigh.

Colorado is a breathtaking place, with mountain views and prairie sunsets and tumultuous skies.  But let's face it, I'm a Midwestern girl and I missed the water.  It never felt right to live in a place so barren, so burnt-to-a-crisp, so thirsty for water.  As our vet put it, "there are two kinds of people.  Water people and mountains people.  If you have water in your bones, it never leaves you."

When C and I were home for Christmas, we started looking at properties.  Oh, it was all very innocent at first, but once we realized that we could have land— with WATER— here for far less than we could ever dream of in Colorado, it seemed like an obvious choice.  We could have our "five-year plan" now.  We decided the opportunity was too good to pass up.

We hit the ground running as soon as we could.  Our house in Lyons went up for sale and we started the house-hunt in Michigan in earnest.  C flew back for interviews and house showings, and we worked feverishly on our house to get it in tip-top shape for potential buyers.  The logistical nightmare of planning to get all our belongings...

 my Buttertruck...

our three dogs...

 AND our two horses, goat and lamb home...

well that consumed just about all our energies.  But here we are, all in one piece.  We're still waiting to close on our new home but it's on 33 acres.  Dream life, here we are.  Oh and one more thing...

This year is already getting off to a great start.  I can't wait to keep building...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

There's More to Life

It's been a while since I've posted a link, but this is article is a wake-up call that we should all have more often.  No more snooze-button-pushing!  How we choose to lead a meaningful life changes depending on what moves individuals, but if we each did something every day that felt meaningful, the world would be a much gentler place.  Be the change...

There's More to Life Than Being Happy

My former academic advisor at MSU's Residential College in the Arts & Humanities has started this blog, and out of 365 days is on her 18th.  If you want to feel good about something, here's a little light reading for you...

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Meat You Eat

Butchering animals is a grave thing.

For me, it always starts joyously— the prospect of beautiful fresh meat, raised by a local farmer/friend, pastured and fed a top-notch diet of grain and fresh veggies.

As you pull the door to the walk-in cooler open, the unmistakeable scent of fresh meat wafts out, curling around your senses in all its minerality and rawness.  Try though you might, your animalistic nature is overjoyed at the prospect of this feast.

The pig is neatly tucked into large plastic bags— one side on the left of the cooler, one side on the right, and the head sitting there, locked in a macabre grin with ears splaying out playfully, eyes closed as if the pig's last moments were spent in laughter.  You and your partner make sure you have space cleared for it in the back of the car, and then return to hoist the first side.

The front leg is so heavy, with that big shoulder and rib cage, that you can't even lift it.  You switch places, picking up the back leg instead.  The plastic sighs and stretches, and you wrap your hands around the ham as well as you can, staggering out into the light and towards the car.  It fully spans the length of your car from rear door hatch to drivers' seat.  You return for the second side, this time going straight for the rear leg, and resolving to lift more weights in the farming off-season.

The head you nestle between the sides where it won't topple or slide around as you drive home.

When you pull into your driveway, you look around the neighborhood, curious if anyone will bear witness to the cold carcass you are about to lug into the house, one side and then the next.  Ours must surely be the strangest household in town.  You wonder what neighbors think as you sharpen knives and don aprons, cleaning the countertop and laying down plastic and a cutting board to keep things clean.

By the time that carcass has come into your possession, it is most definitely meat.  It looks like the meat we all know, cold to the touch and bloodless.  If you start to glance across the landscapes of reds, pinks and whites, you can see cuts waiting to come out.  The marbling and the fat cap are enough to make your mouth water.  But that pig waited for you to bring "slop" this summer— veggies, fruit, the occasional cracked egg.  You knew that pig, although not closely.  No names were exchanged.  This stranger is now coming to rest in your house, in your freezer and eventually, the bellies of you and your friends and family.

And then, you begin.  With that first grasp of the leaf lard, lifting, gently tearing, you have begun to butcher an animal.  The sound of leaf lard separating from the tender organs and muscles it protected is like the sound of a peeling grapefruit.  It's crisp, the detachment is audible.  You wonder if your body would come apart so easily.  The sound makes you thirsty, a Pavlovian response that surprises you in the context of dismembering something.  But it's January, and grapefruit are in season.

As you settle into the carcass, you remember things.  Separate the legs right in the joint, popping the tendons and putting downward pressure until the two bones part ways.  Cut at the 7th rib, use the weight of the shoulder to break through the spinal column rather than cutting with a saw or cleaver.  Look for seams, and separate at the silver skin with your fingers first, following through with the tip of the knife.  Let the weight of those large muscles and pieces fall away from themselves.  Butchering is tough physical labor, but some of the work is done by the pig.  It's ironic, the way our bodies betray us.

Bit by bit, you realize that what was a nearly unmanageable half of a pig has become "primals" which then are whittled away into things that your kindergarten-era memory recognizes.  Chops, loin, belly that still looks unmistakably like bacon even though four days ago this animal was waiting expectantly to be fed each morning.  Through it all, that is what you remember most.  You take care not to waste a single thing.  Anything that falls on the floor are eagerly cleaned up by your dogs, and you set aside a bowl for scraps to grind later.  Even the bones will be turned into rich stocks later on.  Your reptilian brain tells you not to waste a single morsel, because it is all sustenance.  Your modern-day brain tells you not to waste anything because the thought of any of this beautiful animal ending up in a landfill along with the neighborhood trash makes you queasy.

The hardest part for me is the head.  There's no way around how personal it is to slice the jowls off of this creature's face, but the jowls are plump and sumptuous.  First, the ears are cut off and saved for dog treats [although they're good eating, too].  Then, right under where the ears used to be, make your cut.  Scrape the knife as closely along the cranial and jaw bones as you can.  Suddenly, the sound of a blade scraping against teeth.  You inhale sharply, close your eyes, take a breath.  Proceed with care, but remember that this animal was alive.  You cut just under the eye, still locked in smiling disregard.  When you've removed both cheeks, the jovial pig has been reduced to a hollowed-looking monster, teeth clenched in a grimace.  Some part of your brain tells you to take this skull in your hands and say thanks.  You murmur it, and know that you will use the head, too.  It will stay with the body for now, just in many more parts than three.

It never gets any easier, never stops causing me to take a sharp breath and be thankful.  The day I stop caring about the meat as I did the animal— or vice versa— is the day I should put down the blades and perhaps farming itself.  The things that make farming and eating meat difficult are the same things that make it joyful and rewarding.

After a long evening of butchering, Christian and I collapsed on the couch, nearly too tired even to wait for rice to cook.  We had a simple dinner, rice and a skirt-type steak from the pig.  It was just what we needed, and each bite was rich, perfectly seared, and inspiring.