Posts Tagged ‘Flyaway Farm’

Fall Chores

After a month of Jewish holidays spent in our home town and in Kansas City, where my youngest daughter recently moved with her family, we returned to Maine.  We missed the peak leaf-peeping season this year, although I was able to take a quick series of photos with my cellphone the first couple of days while we were settling in (see below).

Many people from my hometown are amazed that I don’t find life in Maine boring, especially since our location is pretty isolated and we don’t live near other people or activities.  “What do you do all day?” they want to know.

Yes, I do keep busy.  It’s just “busy” in ways that are very different from city life.  I don’t do carpools or babysit or participate in childcare while in Maine.  I don’t work in an office.  I don’t visit the dry cleaners and I don’t drive in traffic.

For my husband, location is irrelevant, professionally speaking.  He has worked from home for a few decades as a software developer/architect and his eyes are glued to a computer monitor and his ears to his business phone.  That said, the view out of his office window (located in our walk-out basement and facing the woods) can’t be beat.

The first few days after returning from our home town were really busy.  As the weather turned colder, the clock was ticking for me to complete all my outdoor chores.  First I pulled up the peppers and tomatoes, chard and kale from my raised-bed gardens.  The first two weren’t going to ripen further and it seemed pointless to keep them going.  The latter were pretty scraggly and tired looking.  Instead, I planted lots and lots and lots of hardneck fiery garlic.  I covered the beds of compost with straw to further insulate them against harsh winter temperatures.

I planted garlic in the composted raised beds and covered them in straw.

I planted garlic in the composted raised beds and covered them in straw.

The apple orchard also needed work.  Many new branches grew over the summer and they needed pruning (although many people wait for early Spring for this task).  The branches were growing upward instead of outward, and by doing so, not only would any future apples be harder to reach at picking time, the clumpy crowding meant that apples wouldn’t be exposed to enough air, space, and sunlight.  In order to train the branches to grow out rather than up, I tied small plastic water bottles to the branches to weigh them down.

plastic water bottles help weigh down and train the apple branches to grow out rather than up

plastic water bottles help weigh down and train the apple branches, so they’ll grow outwards rather than upwards

Basic errands are always time-fillers because of the great distance I live from shopping, the bank, the post office, and the dump.  My Maine dentist is a 2 hour drive away.  Our dog’s vet is a one-hour drive one way, and recently he needed emergency care and that was a 3 1/2 hour drive one way!  A once-a-week trip to the supermarket is usually a four-hour foray (almost an hour each way to the market, and I also try to combine the journey with other errands).  “Taking out the trash” is a 45-minute round trip to the town dump, usually 2x a week (no, there is no trash pickup).  I also like to buy certain things “locally” such as eggs from organically fed, free-range chickens, organic kale, organic apples and seasonal pumpkins and squash from nearby farms.  But each Maine farm has their specialty items so it means visiting several farms to complete my shopping list.  The farms involve a 30-mile circuit drive  – – one in Lovell (Flyaway Farm in Stowe sells their produce and eggs in Central Lovell Market) and one in Sweden (Pietree Orchards)  and one in Fryeburg (Weston’s Farm).  And these are still closer than the nearest supermarket! That said, anytime I drive anywhere the scenery is spectacular, and there is never traffic, so the time flies by.

Once I bring produce home, it needs to be sorted, cleaned, checked for bugs and cooked or juiced, and the unusable stuff, composted.  (The pumpkins were especially time consuming and messy.  But besides using the flesh for pies, soups and stews, I managed to save the seeds for roasting – yum.) I easily spend 4 hours per day cooking and baking from scratch; more time is spent in the kitchen on Fridays to get ready for the Sabbath.

I also made some delicious pickled turnips this week.  It’s odd but if I eat a few of these before bedtime, even though it’s quite spicy, it totally cures my gastric reflux problem.  I guess it’s the “alkaline” balancing out the “acid.”  This recipe is actually a Middle Eastern recipe.  You will find pickled turnips used in street-side cafes in Israel as a relish that is used in pita and felafel sandwiches, or in shwarma and pita, and it couldn’t be easier to make (other than the peeling and chopping time).
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  • Pickling jar:  wash in very hot soapy water and/or sterilize, and air dry. I prefer the wide-mouthed Ball brand.
  • Peel some purple-top turnips, and slice them into small “finger-sized” pieces.  Put a layer of these turnips into the glass pickling jar.
  • Peel some garlic cloves, but leave the individual cloves whole.  Add a 1 – 3 cloves on top of the turnip layer.
  • Peel a beet, also slicing into “fingers.”  Add a couple of pieces on top of the garlic.
  • Now add a whole hot pepper to the layered mix.  I would suggest habanero, jalapeno, or serrano.
  • Add one bay leaf.
  • Repeat this layering order until the jar is packed tight and full.
  • Add 1 Tablespoon of coarse salt to the jar (per quart-sized jar).
  • Now make a mix:  1 part vinegar, 1 part cider vinegar, and 2 parts water.  Add this mix to the packed jar until it’s filled to the very top.
  • Seal the jar.  Shake the jar.
  • Let the jar sit on your kitchen counter for 7 days, shaking the jar intermittently every time you pass by.  After 7 days the pickles will be ready to eat.  Store the glass jar with the pickles in the fridge once the 7 days of pickling are complete.

I also baked corn bread (to go with a pumpkin-and-bean-based chili I made) in a heavy cast-iron skillet.  It was the first time I had tried making corn bread in this old-fashioned way and it was a huge success.  I now own several different sizes of pots and pans and skillets and grills that are made of heavy cast iron.  They are made in the USA by the Lodge Logic company which has been around for a gazillion years.  Their products last for generations and they are extremely reasonably priced.  Food really does cook differently and taste better when made with cast iron, whether on top of a stove or on the ashes of an outdoor campfire.  The more they are used, the more a natural non-stick coating forms, making cleanup super easy.  The important thing is to dry them immediately after cleanup so they will not rust.  Since making the switch to cast iron, I rarely use my Farberware pots anymore.

It was fun to bring out the mittens, gloves and hats and put away the bug spray and bug nets until next Spring.  We also shut off the outdoor water pipes, and put summer tools in storage while bringing out the shovels and rakes to the shed.  I also spent a couple of hours collecting kindling from dead wood and fallen branches in the woods, so that starting our wood stove would be an easy undertaking.

Doing laundry takes a lot longer when you don’t have a dryer and must hang it piece by piece outside on the clothesline.  I also try to get in a walk of 2 – 4 miles every day: more time.  And I am involved in several writing and photography projects at the moment.  And:  am I doing nothing when I am just sitting along a brook or pond, contemplating and praying and thinking things through?  We also try to host guests for a weekend or even a week at a time on a frequent basis.

My point is, I am managing my time differently than I did in the city, and while there is nowhere near the same level of stress — and yes, I am living slower – – I don’t think I am “accomplishing” less than I did in the city and my days are certainly filled and worthwhile.  I do work hard physically and am kept busy, but it’s at tasks that I enjoy. The busy work doesn’t feel like busy work.  And that is a huge thing.

And now for some glimpses of the end of leaf season, taken with my Samsung Galaxy S4 cellphone:

Only 2 days after this photo was taken, all the leaves are gone.

Only 2 days after this photo was taken of our house, all the leaves are gone.

We replaced the screens with acrylic panels so we can enjoy the porch even during cold weather.

We replaced the screens with acrylic panels so we can enjoy the porch even during cold weather.

Now that the leaves are gone, we can see the pond at the bottom of the driveway through the trees.

Now that the leaves are gone, we can see the pond at the bottom of the driveway through the trees.

We actually disassemble the fire pit/campfire every year because it's where the snow plow guy pushes the snow from the driveway

We actually disassemble the fire pit/campfire area every year because it’s where the snow plow guy pushes the snow from the driveway

Our solar panels.

Our solar panels.

The yellow box at left is our backup generator, fueled by propane, which is buried in a 1000 gallon underground tank.  You can see the top of the tank - it's the black cylinder in the middle of the bottom of the picture.

The yellow box at left is our backup generator, fueled by propane, which is buried in a 1000 gallon underground tank. You can see the top of the tank – it’s the black cylinder in the middle of the bottom of the picture.

Taken through the windshield of my car, this is the road leading to my house.

Taken through the windshield of my car, this is the road leading to my house.  You turn left at the second hill.

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My favorite summer swimming spot, Kewaydin Lake, is beautiful in every season.

 

 

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The Creed that is Maine

One of the things I love about where I live in rural Maine is that people aren’t just subsistence farmers, they truly care about the quality of the food they eat.  A lot of local farmers are using organic farming methods, seeds that are not genetically modified, and heirloom varieties of vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables are picked when they are ripe.  But the selection can be sparse and the variety limited because of weather.

At my current favorite farm I noticed that the kale is always sweet.  I don’t know about you, but when I buy kale at the supermarket, it often has a slightly bitter edge.  I finally realized it’s because the supermarket kale is probably 3 or 4 days old since the time it was picked.  The kale I buy from my local farm was picked that morning.  It truly makes a difference when produce is so fresh, not only in taste, but in maximum nutritional benefit.

And the eggs!  When you crack open an egg from chickens that have plenty of space to roam around and, well, act like chickens, instead of imprisoned in tight confinement and never breathing outside air, you’ll see that their eggs look totally different from what you buy in the supermarket.  The egg yolks from a naturally-raised laying hen aren’t pale yellow – – they are a deep marigold yell0w-orange color whose flavor is so rich you will wonder how you could ever possibly think of buying a supermarket egg again.

The color of the eggs is determined by the breed of chicken.  There are at least 4 breeds of chickens represented by these eggs.  They vary in size as well.  But they are uniformly fresh and delicious.

The color of the eggs is determined by the breed of chicken. There are at least 4 breeds of chickens represented by these eggs. They vary in size as well. But they are uniformly fresh and delicious.

What I love about Flyaway Farm is . . . everything.  It’s a family farm in the truest sense of the word:  a back-to-the-land sort of family, slightly hippie, living very simply off the grid in a remote area, homeschooling their hard-working kids, growing what they need to survive, and selling the surplus for some extra cash.  Oh my, do they work hard!  There is little respite.  Since they are an organic farm, they are constantly coming up with creative, ingenious ways to thwart the notorious Maine bugs and crop destroyers without the use of toxic pesticides, and improve their soil without the use of chemicals.  Like any farmers, they are at the mercy of nature:  too much rain or not enough; killer frosts.  And still they keep at it, knowing that it’s mostly a losing game but worth the cost because life is good.

There are a lot of good people in rural Maine who barely get by.  Many grow what they need as subsistence farmers and hunt to supplement their food supply.  No one wants to be poor, but I can say with conviction that few people in Maine make it their goal in life to be rich.  Some would arguably concur that Mainers lack drive or ambition.  But most people live in Maine because they want to get away from the rat race, and live slower.  It’s hard to do that while wending your way up a corporate ladder.  Rural Mainers want to make enough to have the basics and a little left over for an emergency or an occasional splurge, but rural Mainers are the least materialistic people I’ve ever known.  Their lives are guided by this question:  do I really need it, or do I just want it?  Can I make something similar with my own two hands, or from spare parts sitting in the shed/barn?   Can I barter for it with something I already have?

 

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At my local farm, I can also buy seedlings for herbs and vegetables for around $2 per plant. The structure above the seedlings is called a hoop house.

 

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Freshly picked greens are put in bags in the stand's  fridge, waiting for customers.

Freshly picked greens are put in bags in the stand’s fridge, waiting for customers.

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The sign reads, “We are committed to using only non-GMO, untreated seeds. Many are heirloom and organic. We feed our plants with certified organic fish/seaweed fertilizer. NO CHEMICALS. It’s healthier for us, our children, and our environment. Thank you for supporting a small family farm.”

 

Each week when I buy vegetables, I write down what it is that I’ve taken (this week it was 4 bags of kale, a bag of snap peas, and some fresh eggs gathered that morning from their free-range chickens), and record how much money I’ve paid.

The owner is not always at the stand, so I write down what it is I've taken and how much I've paid.  You can see the lock box and change box in the rear right corner.

The owner is not always at the stand, so I write down what it is I’ve taken and how much I’ve paid. You can see the lock box and change box in the rear right corner.

I put the money in a little lock box, although there is another box with about $20 in bills and coins in case I need to make change.  It’s all about the honor system and it’s not just a convenience, it’s a creed here in rural Maine.  It’s a great and holy thing when you can trust not just your most intimate acquaintances, but the majority of the population, even if they might be strangers.

When you live in an environment that is consistent in honesty and decency it changes a person.  Life just seems more livable and more meaningful.  And soon, you can’t imagine living any other way.

The thought of returning to the city, where people are cynical and skeptical and mistrusting, because they’ve been burned more than once and expect to be burned again, is astonishing.  Why put up with such ill-begotten behavior if you don’t have to?  And you learn that we all make choices, and then wonder why anyone would choose to live in chaos, or get so used to the corruption of certain values that they forget that life can be different in such a positive way.

The state motto is, “Maine:  The Way Life Should Be.”  There is a lot wrong with the state of Maine, but mostly there is a lot that’s right.  It’s the important things that count:  that basic decency and honor and craftsmanship and pride of place that is the very definition of rural Maine, that is sadly lacking in so many other places.

 

The most popular supplier of organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds, bulbs, potatoes, and trees in Maine is Fedco Seeds.  That’s where I order my garlic bulbs and they’ve been great.  They sell to commercial organic farmers, serious hobbyists,  as well as weekend gardeners. You can order a print catalog or just look online.  Their catalog has a wealth of information and makes for great reading.  They only sell seasonally.  I highly recommend them, and they ship all over the US.