You know when everything in life is going wrong and you start to feel like you just don’t belong in a country? That’s been my frame of mind for the past two weeks. No money, no job prospects and no internet. Boo hoo. I even stooped so low as to look at flights to Southeast Asia, because I couldn’t quite make it work in New Zealand. But, the universe wasn’t ready for me to be done with this country. Read More
There are a few easy steps you can take to ensure you find a great WWOOF farm. Follow these 8 Tips for Finding a WWOOF Farm and you just might find yourself happy as a clam, even if you are cleaning chicken coops or illegally crossing borders. It’s all part of the experience, right?
Are you itching to experience something in life that makes you feel alive? Are you looking to make a major change – to avoid getting caught in the 9 to 5 lifestyle? You have the chance. I took a leap of faith last year, quit my job at a prestigious investment firm and began to explore an interest that has always been on the back of my mind: organic farming. Read More
Our last farm on this six-month journey across North America was Lockewood Acres. Nestled between San Franscisco and Sacramento, Lockewood Acres is a small organic farm home to goats, sheep, heritage chickens, fruits and vegetables. Read More
In my former life, Fridays were spent painfully watching the hours tick by until I was free for the weekend. These days, my work feels more like an adventure than a chore. Last Friday epitomized our current lifestyle: healthy, hard work. The weather was predicted to shift substantially over the weekend, and we knew that this may be our last day to hunt for mushrooms. We rode our bikes up the mountain until we reached a spot along the trail that felt secluded. Mushroom hunting is a popular activity in this part of the country and we had to search for an area that had not already been picked over. Read More
Working at Zig Zag Mountain Farm entails quite a bit of heavy lifting, but it also requires that each of us spend at least one day a week taking care of the indoor chores. Each morning AJ asks, “Who wants to be in the kitchen today?” and he is usually answered by all of us looking at one another with eyes that are just begging the person next to us to raise their hand and report for kitchen duty.
I am exhausted. Our first week at Zig Zag Mountain Farm has ended and it wore me out. The month long hiatus we took in Minnesota did nothing for my endurance. I am now sitting in the kitchen, with a blazing fire at my back, sipping tea and reminiscing about our latest road trip. We planned on camping each night on our way out West, just as we did this summer, but this time the weather did not cooperate. Bismarck, North Dakota was our first overnight stop and Chase had picked out a sentimental campsite for us, located along the Missouri River, the same river we camped on earlier this summer when we set out on the road. However, the tornado warnings and torrential rain prohibited us from any outdoor sleeping and we settled on the cheapest hotel.
I do not have a single good reason for why we slept in a hotel on night two, only that we arrived in Missoula around 9:00pm, hungry and tired. We could not imagine searching for a campsite and setting up in the frigid darkness. Finally, on night three, in the middle of wheat country Washington, we camped. Our drive to Palouse Falls State Park was slightly confusing. We knew that we were camping next to a rushing waterfall that drops a sudden 200 feet, but we imagined it would be set within a lush, wooded area, since we had been told that the state of Washington was full of rain. Yet, once we crossed into Washington, it felt like we were back in North Dakota – only flatter. Fields of wheat ran off in all directions for as far as I could see. The road looked like it had been only recently paved and was so narrow that we held our breath whenever another car would pass. It was the type of road just meant for a car commercial. We snaked between farms and never once saw any kind of forest or wetland. Within a couple of hours, the GPS told us that we would be approaching our destination in one mile. Confusing, there was no water in site. We set up camp and could hear rushing water, but we still couldn’t see this supposed waterfall. After walking a mere 100 feet, we set our eyes upon the beauty of Palouse Falls.
The falls are 198 feet in height and drop straight down into a 400 foot canyon. Tectonic forces and Ice Age floods over millions of years all contributed to the creation of such a spectacular sight. We climbed all around the waterfall for hours and never stopped being amazed. The canyon that contains the waterfall continues it’s winding ways for miles. The best view is from atop the falls, standing slightly behind the drop. I could feel the power in the water that raged over the rock and I could sense the force that it took to form such a creation. There was no doubt in my mind that the energy in this location was palpable. The air felt like it was waiting for a single spark to unleash it’s energy. Standing as close to the edge as I dared, I felt faint when I realized how much trust I was putting in Mother Earth. I was trusting that a cliff of rock and sand would hold my weight. I trusted that the ledge I was relying upon wouldn’t crumble and become part of the pile of fallen rock below. What is it about nature that allows me to trust without question, when I can barely trust my doctor to read an X-ray?
Our night was a cold one. The temperature dropped to 35 degrees, but we were toasty warm in our sleeping bags and sweaters. The next morning we took one last hike around the waterfall and started towards our final destination – Zig Zag Mountain Farm. Along the way we watched the countryside turn from fields to forests. We drove parallel to the lovely Columbia River from east to west, until we reached our turn toward Mount Hood. Our home for the next month is located at the base of one of the largest mountains on the west coast. They say everything here is larger because of all the rainf they receive each year, but it has yet to shed a drop since our arrival. Each day, we work surrounded by Fir trees that rise 100 feet above the ground. The leaves on the Maple trees are massive and each time they tumble to the ground I mistaken them for an approaching animal. They don’t just delicately drop to the ground like Minnesota leaves, it’s as though they are trying to let the whole world know that this is their last moment of life by making as much noise as possible.
Zig Zag Mountain Farm is different from the other farms we have visited this year. They offer a mountain retreat for workshops and classes throughout the summer. The farm manager, A.J., makes sure that the garden is producing and that the land is in pristine condition. Part of his taking care of the land this summer has been completing a massive forestry project. He and the other volunteers have worked to thin 33 acres of temperate forest to promote tree health and prevent forest fires. I hope you realize what an undertaking like this entails, but in the case that you do not, it means taking a thick forest and removing trees until there is on average 10 feet between each tree. This way enough light can filter through to the trees and keep them growing strong. The process began with sawing down all of the unwanted trees. Once these trees were scattered across the forest floor they had to be responsibly removed. The felled trees had to be limbed, bucked and stacked into organized piles. This meant climbing up and down the mountain, carrying insanely heavy pieces of trees and placing them into organized piles. These piles of wood could now be used for firewood, building materials and woodchips. Chase and I worked on the tail end of this project for the first week and I am proud to say that together we can lift most any fallen tree in the woods – once it has been bucked up of course. My muscles are still getting used to this lumberjack lifestyle, but luckily we have a wood-heated hot tub to ease my pain.
My hands are dry; the skin is cracked and hardening. Multiple layers of soil live beneath my fingernails. The muscles in my back ache from bending down each day, reaching to the Earth for weeds and produce. The skin on my arms and legs has never looked this brown. I am probably perpetually dehydrated from the sweltering, Montana sun. Yet, I have never been happier.
I wake up each morning to watch the sun rise over the mountains as I begin my work. I no longer watch the sun rise and fall from inside a tall, glass building. This time, I am part of the day. I feel the sun begin to warm up the air as I am finishing up the morning chicken chores. I take off a layer of clothing before I begin to weed a row of lettuce.
By mid-morning, the sun is scorching. It’s time to put on my floppy farm hat, which may not win any fashion awards, but does protect me from the sun. The winds blow steadily in Montana and I thank Mother Nature for them at this time each day. Sometimes, I am lucky and the wind blows clouds across the sun. Such seemingly small moments are only appreciated when you are outside, working in the elements. In my previous, cubicle-living, work environment I never noticed the clouds or the wind. I only cursed the sun when it created a glare on my computer screen and slowed my work pace.
Not a day passes when I am not thankful for the life changing decision I made to step off the rungs of the corporate ladder and climb into the rich soil of farming. Working outdoors gives me energy like I have never known. I am constantly weeding, harvesting, hoeing, or chasing chickens, but at the end of the day I still feel alive. I spend my evenings reading books, writing, cooking, or laughing with friends. I think this is what people would call a balanced lifestyle. And this is exactly why I changed careers.
I used to come home at the end of the day and feel like a zombie, like my brain had used every last bit of juice focusing during meetings and working on spreadsheets. It was all I could do to muster up the energy to eat dinner. I never want to return to such a state of living, because it wasn’t living, it was existing. My life had no balance because my life did not revolve around me. My life revolved around my clients, employees and superiors. I was living to make them happy. I am now focusing on living to make myself happy. Thus far, it is working. I have never been happier.
“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.” – Hans Christian Andersen
The Wild West has won our hearts again. Have you ever been to a rodeo? Okay, yes, if you have been out West, you probably performed your tourist duty and went to a rodeo. But, have you ever been to a ranch rodeo? You won’t see any bucking bronco riding at a ranch rodeo; this type of rodeo is not just about the show. A ranch rodeo focuses on the skills that ranchers use on a daily basis to manage their herds of cattle. Our last weekend in Montana fell on the same weekend as the annual Willsal Ranch Rodeo. The event brought folks in from all around the countryside and each person had a connection to one of the teams competing. The stakes were high and the competition fierce as the winning team in each event went home with over $2,000. Ten teams, made up of four individuals competed in six events. The fourth individual was required to be either a woman or a boy under the age of 15. Proud day for my gender. Luckily, each team decided that a woman was a better teammate than a child.
Now that you are in the mood for some competition, let me walk you through the weekend’s debauchery that took place at Cloud Nine Farm during the second annual Farm Olympics. We had been practicing for what seemed like forever – when in fact it was really only one week. The training was brutal, but it was nothing compared to the battle that awaited us at each event during the Farm Olympics. Six farms, each full of competitive spirit, participated in six events, which combined agility, strength and precision. The events consisted of straw bale tossing, thistle root pulling, row covering, icy fingers bag tying, precision weighing, and chicken catching. The teams presented two worthy opponents for each event and the stage was set for a bloody battle – filled with laughter and encouragement.
|Proud of our homemade Crazy View patches|
Ulrikke and Val started off strong with a straw bale toss that would have made any competitor weak with fear. Alas, a couple of teams must have taken advantage of such fear and ended up tossing the bale over 20 feet. We were not discouraged, thistle pulling was up next and I happen to be a little obsessed with pulling thistle out of the ground. The clock began and we had two minutes to pull as much thistle as we could, but there was a catch, there were no gloves allowed. It was agonizing, but Chase and I gave it our all and pulled through the pain. The goal was to pull the longest, intact root. This may sound simple to you, but this will only prove that you have not picked thistle in quite some time and you may want to start weeding your garden. The roots can easily extend up to a foot into the ground; with one wrong pull you will yank off the tip and disqualify your thistle contestant. Experience proved to win over excitement in this event. Neither Chase nor I placed in the event, but we did have plenty of thorns in our fingers to prove our effort.
|Measuring our roots with the other contestants|
The third event was the row cover competition. If you are unfamiliar with row cover, it is simply a spun-bonded polypropylene fabric which is sunlight, rain and air-permeable. It captures warmth and protects plants from damaging winds, resulting in healthier plant growth and higher yields. Needless to say, in the rugged landscape of Montana they are a necessary part of sustainable agriculture. The competition was to cover a 25-foot row of crops and secure it with rocks. The winning team completed the task in a mere 37.0 seconds.
Now, that we were all warmed up, it was time to cool off. Farmer’s markets and CSAs are a large part of a farmer’s livelihood and both require that produce is clean and packaged. Produce is cleaned in freshly pumped well water, which means it is icy cold. After removing all of the dirt, it needs to be placed in plastic bags and tied in knots that are tight enough to hold but not so tight that the little old ladies’ arthritic hands have trouble opening the produce. The event had Ulrikke and Caitlen place their hands in ice water for two minutes and then tie a perfect knot in a bag of produce before any of the competitors. Crazy View Farm finally had a winner! Ulrikke managed to tie a knot with her numb, clumsy fingers before any other contender.
A farmer must know how much to charge for the produce that they are packaging and this is based off of the market price and the weight. The next event had Luke testing his skills at estimating an amount of produce and then getting as close to a quarter of a pound as possible. It turned out to be a difficult task and a long-time farmer ended up winning with a perfect 0.250 on the scale. The final event was catching wild chickens. The beautiful bantams had been running loose for the past few weeks and needed to be rounded up. I fancy myself a bit of a chicken connoisseur and thought that I would be able to win the event. However, my confidence could not conquer the chickens. I ran until my lungs burned. I chased the chickens through sagebrush and tractors with no success. Each one eluded my outreached arms. Luke faired much better than I and managed to wrangle up three chickens before the time ran out.
Storms clouds moved in from the North just as we were finishing up the day’s events. We had been jokingly warned not to win the Farm Olympics because the winning farm is crowned the host for next year’s competition. We came to the conclusion that this thought in the back of our minds must have been the reason we failed to win the gold – it was either that or accept defeat. Our evening continued with a wonderful potluck, warm company and two bonfires. I say from now on all weeding has to be done without gloves, in order to train our hands for next year’s Olympics. I will start tomorrow.
If anyone would like to see the other photos taken at this event or get a copy of those included in this blog, I have created a Dropbox folder specific to the Farm Olympics. If you just send me an email, I will invite you to view the shared folder and you will be able to use any of the photos – all photos were taken by the talented Mr. Chase Vreeland.
The CSA Modelis an agreement between the farmer and customer that provides capital to the farmer during the planning and planting season to pay for seeds, growing materials, equipment, and labor. In return, the farmer provides CSA members with a weekly box of produce throughout the growing season. CSA members are invested in the farm for the entire season. They share in the harvest, when it is bountiful, but also share in the inherent risks and challenges of growing food – drought, frost, wind, hail, to name a few. Shareholders, or families, pay $360 at the beginning of the growing season and receive a weekly share of the produce. That breaks down to only $22.50 per share, per week. Health insurance companies have learned that families and individuals who participate in CSA programs have lower heath care costs. Ask your health insurance provider if they offer rebates for their customers that are a part of a CSA. When offered, health insurance companies typically offer $100 rebates for individuals and $200 rebates for families. Even if your health insurance provider says no, it is always good to be pushing them to look for new ways of lowering the cost of healthy foods for you and lowering the health care costs to the insurance company. CSAs become a win-win scenario for both families and health insurance providers.
|The list of produce to harvest for the day|
|Washing, weighing and packaging|
The second day on Crazy View Farm was a Sunday and it was the perfect day for a long hike through the Crazy Mountains. Our fellow Wwoofers introduced us to the National Forest that protects the Crazy Mountains. We woke up early, made a tasty lunch for the hike and started driving into the wilderness. The majority of the farming in Montana is ranching, which means cows are everywhere. We came very close to hitting at least 15 cows on our drive into the mountains. They all roam along the dirt roads and when you cruise around a corner, they become quite a large surprise. Luckily, neither the Honda nor the cow was injured that day and thank goodness because we were informed that if you do kill a rancher’s cow, you are responsible for covering the cost of the cow.
|Home sweet home in our camper!|
Well, we missed a week of posting our video on the blog – but do not fear, because we did have the video made. You can catch up on our second and third week on New Morning Farm by watching the videos below. We are just finishing up our fourth week on the farm and we are heading back to Minnesota to celebrate the Fourth of July!
We woke up each morning this week knowing that there were hundreds of little, living beings waiting on us to feed their hungry bellies. With this motivation, we stretched, yawned and made feeding them our first priority of the day. As we were wandering over to the chicken coop one morning, I looked at Chase’s curly locks of hair and screeched, “Chase, I think a bird pooped in your hair!” He noticed the white liquid dripping from the ends, touched it with his finger and then licked it. Yes, he licked it. Luckily, he informed me that it was just sunscreen and to this day, I am still unsure whether he knew it all along or if he was prepared to taste bird poop.
Chase and I became more efficient with the daily chores as the week progressed. Chase mixed the morning feed for the chickens as I gave them fresh water. Once the chickens were distracted with the morning meal, I collected eggs. The chickens provide us with about 10 dozen eggs per day – which equates to 840 eggs per week! Nancy sells these eggs to eager customers in Winnipeg every two weeks for $4.00/dozen.
Chase and I look forward to saying good morning to the little piggies. They are always squealing around and trying to say hello to us as we feed them breakfast. The pigs have grown so much since we arrived on the farm and they are getting a little too pig for their current pen – they have been tearing holes under the fence, moving their feeders all around, and pushing against the walls. Lorne has a whole field fenced off for them, but before we can let them run around, we had to teach them to “fear the wire.” Training camp started this week, when we hooked an electric wire up to a post in the center of the pen. For the first few pigs who begin to sniff around this new device, they get quite the surprise when they hit the wire. Squeal! Squeal! Although it is never fun to hear an animal in pain, I know it is for their benefit because tomorrow we will be able to let them run free for the rest of the summer.
Our week ended with a celebration of the Summer Solstice at Geoff and Theresa’s inspiring Boundary Creek Farm. Geoff and Theresa have been farming for 11 years now and are committed to trying any and all sustainable farming methods that they read about. This has resulted in a dynamic, successful farm that provides their customers with eggs, chicken, pork, garlic, honey and a bounty of vegetables. We saw, first-hand, how much their customers respect their famers by the sheer number of them that traveled 50 miles from Winnipeg to spend the evening on the farm. The potluck dinner was incredible, Theresa’s mint tea was heavenly and the bonfire, spectacular.
We woke up to another beautiful morning on the farm. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and, best of all, the wind was brisk and warm. I just knew this was going to be a good day. It may not be surprising but one of my favorite things about working outdoors, rather than in an office, is the ability to experience the day. Being surrounded by four walls all day, you forget how warm the sun gets and how much the wind is appreciated during the afternoon hours.
In fact, you forget a lot of things about nature when sitting inside all day and I am slowly learning them again. The thing I learned today was how to complete a task and take pleasure in the task itself, rather than just the pleasure of crossing it off my list. Does this sound familiar to you? I go about my life making so many lists that all I think about when working is how I am going to get the next thing on my list done. In my former life, I worked like a drone, just trying to accomplish the task at hand as fast and efficient as possible. While this may make the ideal employee, for me, it felt like the world was going by and I wasn’t even experiencing it.
Today, we had the task of planting tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplants. Instead of just planting, planting, planting, I actually took the time to feel the dirt on my hands and the way it tickled my skin when it went down my shirt. I noticed all of the life that was living in the soil as it squirmed around my hands. I heard the birds singing their lovely songs in the trees and wished I could carry a tune. I feel so much better at the end of a day, when I know that I witnessed the day first-hand. In my prior life, I would go days without spending more than five minutes in the sunlight. I would leave the house when the sun was still sleeping and I would get home after the sun had gone down. This life seems so sad to me now and I truly hope I never have to live like that again.
The glory of the day continued well after our planting was done. Chase and I wandered over to our favorite animals on the farm, the pigs, and filled their home with fresh straw. They delighted in the wonder of this new, fresh, fun and began to shuffle and sniff it around their home. I could spend a whole day playing with pigs. They are just like people – shy at first, confident with friends and curious as a cat. Everyday I spend time with them and everyday they grow a little more comfortable with me rubbing their backs and touching their wet snouts. One day, I know that they will become dinner, but for now they are my dirty, smelly friends.
When Lorne noticed my love for the pigs, he mentioned that Chase and I are just like Abner and Daisy Mae, a satirical comic that appeared in newspapers from 1934 – 1977. In the comic, Daisy Mae loves the pigs almost as much as she loves Li’l Abner.