Monday, December 13, 2010

Harder In Some Ways

Woke up today at 7:30. Bitterly cold outside- 50 degrees in the house. Quickly ran through the chores - got everything fed, ice busted up in all the water buckets, fresh water topping them all off. We are in survival mode with our animals, no longer striving for productivity; just trying to keep them all alive. Had a nice breakfast, started a fire, turned on the oven to help heat our 396 square feet. Went back to bed. Awoke again to chaos inside and out. Amid weeping, wailing, cursing, and the gnashing of teeth. Looked at the clock. 2 PM. 2PM?

Finding it hard to stay motivated. Can't work in the garden. Barn stocked with hay and feed, animals secure and relatively warm. House completed inside and out-for the most part- still need a wall painted...this was something I was not prepared for.

In the spring, summer, and fall it's easy to stay motivated. Planting, watching things grow, weeding, harvesting, we are shutting down. I look around and see a small list of jobs and have to decide whether to go ahead and knock them off the list or...crawl back in bed. I did not count on getting this much done so quickly. Now I have to learn what to do with myself now that there is nothing urgent, nothing in crisis, nothing on our list that can't wait for spring.

The transition from full time rat race to semi-retired self-sufficient, simple living has been easy in many ways; but much harder in others. Never thought I would find it hard to stay motivated. I want to write...but when I sit down to do it, nothing comes. I read ALOT. I calculate that I have read over 9,600 pages since my last day of work on June 4.

I ease my stir-craziness by doing what I call "piddling outside"- this amounts to me creating little projects for myself that advance our productivity, comfort, or overall farm organization and appearance, but it becomes doubly hard on days like the last couple we've had. Saturday and Sunday it turned bitterly cold and windy. I mean WINDY! 20-30 mph steady wind with gust over 40 mph. I can handle working in the cold; we're blessed with warm clothes, hats, gloves, and plenty of firewood. But that wind whips you around, makes standing, working with bare hands, walking, and concentrating almost impossible.

I look forward to the next week or two as Aaron, now currently in Afghanistan, hopefully will be home for Christmas. That will be a welcome distraction.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chicken's Well-Deserved Vacation

September 23, 2010- this day, as close as I can tell contained 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of night. The Equinox. Chickens require 15 hours of daylight, on average, to produce an egg. Since the Equinox, our egg production has dropped a little and we are having trouble meeting our egg orders because of it. To paraphrase an old saying, "The chicken farmer's kids have no eggs."
We worked our hens really hard this year to meet the demand. With veiled threats every morning - "If any among you shall not work, neither let him eat." to not-so-veiled threats " I need 2 more eggs by noon or you are going in the pot!"; with motivational speeches (I stopped short of hanging motivational posters in the coop) we generally met all of our customer requests.
There is a way to insure consistent egg production throughout the short days of fall and winter. It requires keeping in-bred hens that have been selected to produce an egg everyday, rigging up an electric timer to turn on a light bulb in the coop at 3 AM, keeping them locked up in this light, and selling off any inconsistent layers. We struggle with this every winter.
We raise heritage breeds chickens and want them to experience the "chicken-ness" of the chicken, its life-style, its freedom, in its natural habitat, with natural habits. Regardless of where one falls on the creation/evolution debate, it is obvious that the chicken, in its most natural state, starts to shut down egg production in the short days of the fall and winter. The question we face every year is this. Do we do unnatural things to our chickens in order to fill egg orders from our very valued customers and friends-or do we let natural reign on our farm. Every year we arrive at the same decision. We let natural reign.
All of that being said, Shamrock and Thistle Farm will not be selling eggs this fall and winter to insure Patt has enough of our naturally harvested eggs to include in her baked goods, and I get a couple of eggs for breakfast every morning. It is time for our chickens to enjoy a hard earned vacation. So till next spring eggs will be a little scarce.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Garden Update

The Large Garden sign on the front gate...An aerial view of the garden... Asparagus that we should be able to harvest starting next spring

We've had good luck with fall tomatoes in the past. If the frost holds out for another couple of weeks this should be our best year yet. Fall tomatoes require patience, late summer watering, and a heavy layer of hay or straw mulch. The key is to harvest all of the tomatoes at the end of "tomato season" and then keep the vines alive through August and September. They return in all their glory, putting out new growth, blossoms, and eventually, slow-ripened fruit.

3 pumpkin plants, started in late July, have set upwards of 14 pie pumpkins. I built simple boxes with a fragment of screen (all salvaged from our burned home) to hold the pumpkins as they grow. This keeps air circulating around the entire fruit and keeps moisture away from it. Pumpkins will tend to rot if left on damp ground too long.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hey Grandpa! What 's For Dinner?

Hey Grandpa! What's For Dinner!?!
Roast chicken stuffed with home grown onions, seasoned with Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage, Rattlesnake Beans, and Red. White. and Blue potatoes smothered in chicken broth gravy, and for dessert, brandied Arkansas Black Apples! Yum! Yum!

Progress on the Cottage

It is difficult to really see the impact of a little color on the walls, mostly because it is difficult to get a good picture whilst standing in a 396 square foot room. But this is the living area. The fan is drying some of the paint on an opposite wall. This winter a small wood stove will be placed about where the TV is located. The TV, not a major factor in our life, will be moved around on a shelf from time to time to make space for other things. This is a shot of the corner in which our bedroom is located. As you can see we have tried to use as much vertical space as we can to store things. Above the bed room is a small loft to hold out-of-season clothes, and of course along the wall is our battery of hat and coat hooks. The bedroom is about 70 square feet. The "college dorm room" style book case along the wall under the window will eventually be replaced by hand built wooded book cases, painted, and better tailored to the space. Before the big house burned in February we had rooms fool of books. Now, by necessity, we have trimmed our collection to our favorites which we like to read over and again. This excercise was painful, but good for us. You can just see me in the lower right of the picture reading one of those books, "Twenty Years After" by Alexandre Dumas, a much ignored and under-rated sequel to the "Three Musketeers". This was a difficult shot and doesn't really do it justice. This is our bathroom. All 56 square feet of it! Painted some color - I do not know what - it looks nothing like its description and happens to be the color we chose for the kitchen cabinets. Not really liking it on the cabinets we tried it on the walls and it looks pretty good.

Pray For Rain

The latest addition of the Petit Jean Country Headlight announced the institution of water use restrictions for Perryville and Perry County areas serviced by the city water supply. Provisions of the restrictions ban the use of water for car washing, driveway cleaning, swimming pools, and the watering of gardens. Yes the watering of gardens. I have two questions.

First, Perry County is covered in gardens. Most of which supply food to the growers. In some cases, like ours, they provide additional or the sole source of income for the gardeners. We have been told by our leaders in Perry County that it is now against the law to water our gardens. The sherrif and his deputies have been given the authority to turn off our water if we are caught in the heinous act of watering the gardens that supply our food. In addition, if caught, fines of $500.00 per instance may be levied against the criminal. Is it possible that this is just one step towards marginalizing and criminalizing one segment of our society simply because of our life style choice- that of self sufficient food production? (Of course, if I had my three wells equipped and running I wouldn't have to use city water for irrigation - how stupid am I?)

Secondly, in 2005 Perry County experienced drought like conditions and extreme water shortages much like we are entering into this summer and fall. Money was set aside, if I recall correctly, to improve the water system (expanding the Cedar Lake which is our source of water, and other improvements) In 2005 Perryville decided to run pipe from the Fourche River to Cedar Lake to refill the lake if it got too low. It was deemed unsafe for consumers, by the board of health, if this was done. Now in 2010, this money having gone somewhere else, Cedar Lake improvements not being made, no additional supply created or provided for, we are now under restrictions again and the solution? Once again they are talking about pipe being run from the Fourche River to Cedar Lake. Do we not need leaders that will take care of the basic things for Perry County residents like water rather than unneeded things like the annual Fourche River Days Biker Rally? I have nothing against bikers or biker rallies in general. But I do like to eat, I like having a reliable water source, and I don't like being criminalized if I water my garden.

I am reminded of a friend's catch-all advice when she feels hopeless. Maybe all we can do is pray...

"Oh God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance; Send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

"O God, heavenly Fahter, whose gift it is that the rain doth fall, and the earth bring forth her increase; Behold, we beseech thee, the afflictions of thy people; increase the fruits of the earth by thy heavenly benediction; and grant that the scarcity and dearth, which we now most justly suffer for our sins, may, through thy goodness, be mercifully turned into plenty; for the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and forever. Amen."

From the 1928 Common Book of Prayer, The Church of England

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Case Against Tyson

This post is not about nutrition. There will be no science; no expert testimony; no film footage; no first hand experience. This post is about philosophy. Its major point is to demonstrate, philosophically, how one may find fault, at the very least suspicion, in the conglomerate food producer. Its secondary point is to demonstrate how, simply using the tool of philosophy one can decide what to do about a particular subject when facts are not easily come by.

Have you had your Tyson today? The pastoral scenes painted on the sides of large refridgerated trucks; the smiling children on a picnic with the perfect smiling family; the big red barns and flowing green fields. The images are attractive; the tag line "Have you had your Tyson today?" says volumes when coupled with these images. Tyson claims to have natural chicken, beef, and pork. Furthermore, they claim that the nutrition packed into their hunks of meat are necessary if you want your lawn to be well manicured. One commercial implies that there is no way a homeowner can keep his property pristine without a daily dose of "his" Tyson.

And just as I have offered no nutritional values or science to debunk Tyson's claim to providing nutritious products; Tyson has not provided the science or nutritional information to back up their claim (the nutritional information on their packaging notwithstanding).

But Tyson is not the only mega-conglomerate appealing to our "idea" of natural foods and what they should be. One company provides 100% organic syrup at a well known national whole foods chain. Look at the bottle of syrup on the shelf amidst the dozens of others and you see in big artsy letters "Maple Tree Farms" (or some such appellation) emblazoned above a quaint picture of a big red New England style barn atop a rolling hill of green pasture. Below the picture one sees in large type: "100% Organic". We picked up the bottle and contrary to our normal routine did NOT look at the ingredients on the back of the label. These ingredients, by the way, are in sub-8 font and barely legible. Before heading down the aisle to our next stop, we remembered our oath to read labels, picked the bottle of what we believed was 100% Organic Maple Syrup from Maple Tree Farms, and read the lable: two ingredients - 100% Organic CORN SYRUP, Maple Flavoring. See how they play on our senses, our inattention, our imagination? Our brains, in this case, said "We need Maple Syrup." Our eyes saw "MAPLE Tree Farms and 100% Organic". Our brains said "We've got other things to get here so let's move on." Our bodies put the pseudo-Maple Syrup in the cart. Not fair is it?

Up to now I've talked about the marketing philosophy of these corporations and the grocers that supply the products. To sum up - no matter how many times they say it, or show it in pictures - they do NOT have your best interest in mind. Their only goal (or I should say primary goal) is to get your money out of your pocket and their products into your basket as cheaply as they can for them and as expensively as they can for you. That's called profit, capitalism, or the ever present "what the market will bear." But I need to move on to something a little less black and white but , I think nevertheless, just as important.

This product you are buying to feed yourself: how was it produced? Whether plant or animal or mineral - where did it come from? Did the animal suffer? What is the impact on the environment? The people that work in your mega conglomerate to bring this product to the grocers - how are they treated?

This is where the philosophical differences between the mass-producer and the local farm, in my opinion, really challenge us.

Watch almost any documentary on our food system - I think Food Inc. is the best - or read any book concerning our food like Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" or "In Defense of Food" and there is a striking contrast between the small producers and the mega-corps. The small producers are the ones opening their farms to tours; they are the ones talking to the media, writing books, publishing pictures in magazines. The Mega-Corps are silent. They refuse cameras, interviews, answer no questions, and simply go silently on with their pastoral propaganda. My guess is, the mega producers know that should the consumer see and smell the production process, it would perhaps prevent many of us from buying their products.

This is our biggest clue to what is going on all along the assembly lines in these mass food producers and, in my opinion, if they are unwilling to open their doors and let us see how they are handling the products, the animals, what they do with the waste, how they treat their employees, then we should be unwilling to buy from them.

I've never been inside a Tyson plant. I've seen footage of the assembly line in one, or another plant like it. But even those images don't tell the whole story I am sure. We made a stop for gas in Clarksville Arkansas a couple of years ago. While pulling up to the pump at the EH-HEM MART we noticed a smell that reminded us of old coffee or skunk (they do smell similar). When we got out of the truck the smell hit us like a brick wall. The air was thick with the smell of roadkill, rotting flesh. As we gagged and heaved about getting the gas in the tank we looked around desperately to see if we could tell where the odor was coming from. We had to go inside the store to pick up some things for the remainder of our trip so in we went. The entire EH-HEM MART reeked of rotting flesh. We held our breath as long as we could, breathed through our mouth when we had to, and hurried out of there. There was something else odd about that whole visit. We were the only ones, gagging, choking, wheezing, and wondering. Everyone else in the store walked and shopped, spent, and worked normally, as if nothing was wrong. I know now that they had simply adapted. It was common enough an occurrence that it was a part of life. It was normal. It was okay. We did not find out what caused the smell until we pulled back onto I40 and headed east towards home.

Next door to the EH-HEM MART was a processing plant proudly displaying a familiar reddish-orange and yellow logo.

I know there would be a lot of people out of work if Tyson shut down operations, but I firmly believe that the best thing for Arkansas, if Tyson doesn't open its doors and do things the right, humane, and clean way, would be for them to shut their doors for good...this then is topic enough for a different discussion.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old Trailer Finally Gone

We had an old brown trailer that sat in the middle of the farm next to the garden for at least 11 years or so. Probably longer. The former owner of the place, a Heifer Project Maintenance Manager and formerly from Wisconsin, had placed it there to store stuff in. It was, he told me, an old bowling ball sales man's display trailer. Honestly. Well I finally got around to doing something with it. Now that we have a barn to store our tools and feed, etc. in, we no longer needed the trailer as storage. The wheel's didn't turn and the hitch had been badly damaged during its sojourn in our pasture.

So, I took my sawzall (the greatest invention of the modern era) and cut the bottom out of it. Attached a chain across the top to our pickup and "peeled" the top section away from the chassis.

I am now debating on whether to recycle the entire thing or repurpose the top half into a mobile chicken shelter. Hmm. I guess you'll have to stay tuned to see what we wind up with.

What do you think I should do? Scrap it and make a little money or spend a little money to make a move-able pen for our chickens?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Egg Primer

Let's talk about eggs. The picture above speaks volumes on the difference between a store bought egg and a free range egg. Unfortunately the only way to tell is to crack one open. Supermarkets probably would not take kindly to your "opening" an egg before you buy it determine its quality.
Here's the scoop. A confined chicken laying eggs for the supermarket are low in ohmega-3 fatty acids, protein, and calcium. And high in ohmega-6 fatty acids and fat. The color of the yolk is just your second indication of the quality and healthiness of your egg. The first is the shell. When you crack open an eggshell does it break easily; is it paper thin; do little chunks fly off into your frying pan or cake batter? Store bought, confined chicken egg. Free range eggs have a thicker shell, harder to crack, fewer or no bits falling into your skillet or cake batter. Higher calcium content accounts for this. Documentation to this effect can be found from several reliable sources on the internet or in books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.
Here's the rub. Since the USDA has gotten into the regulation of the organic foods industry the word "organic" has lost some of its umph! Now, to qualify as a free-range egg the chickens must have "access" to open air and day light. This is accomplished by mega-farms only after shutting the chickens up for around 6 weeks in a coop. Then a door is opened allowing the hens, if they want to, to roam around a small yard attached to the outside of the coop. The problem with this is; a chicken is, as are many of the people you know, creatures of habit with very little brains, and little to no capacity for abstract thought. The chicken quickly settles into a routine, during its six week confinement, of not going outside. It thinks (I use this term loosely) going outside is abnormal and remains confined of its own free will. But still qualifies as a "free range chicken".
What does one do to insure one is getting the healthiest egg and chicken possible from happy chickens practicing their chicken-ness?
One buys eggs from a local farmer that one trusts. A farmer that welcomes visitors who want to see where their food comes from and how the farmer treats the animals. This is the only way, short of opening an egg in the grocery store to see if you are getting what you need in the way of protein, calcium, and the ohmega-3 fatty acids you need to balance the body and control the weight.
Just Say No to Storebought Eggs!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fall Garden Taking Shape

For the first time ever - we're getting a Fall Garden planted. I've added some pictures. It's now time for me to start generating as much income as Patt does on the bakery side. I am hoping that I can maintain a garden through the winter when most other market gardeners have shut it down for the year. Kale, Turnips and turnip greens, radishes, pie pumpkins, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, and peas are all in and doing well or will be planted starting Monday October 4th. Will also start some head-lettuces in flats in the barn for transplanting later if the frost holds out for a little while.

Next Spring, God willing, we will have asparagus to offer as well.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Best Hen in the Whole World

Chickens were created, yes created, to have a natural instinct to insure the survival of their species by periodically going "broody". This broodiness manifests itself in rather moody, cantankerous, and generally ill-natured behavior. They will refuse to get up from the nest when they lay an egg. They will peck at you and make some interesting grouchy noises. They will pluck the feathers from their breast area to allow the eggs to come into contact with their skin and to insulate the nest. Their body temperature will rise from normal to around 101 degrees farenheit (they essentially get a fever) which last throughout the 21 days it takes for a chicken egg to incubate and hatch. They will not get up from the nest except for about 5 or 10 minutes a day to eat, drink, and um...crap(?). Once the eggs hatch she will keep her chicks close by and will ferociously attack anyone or anything that comes near.

Sadly, a byproduct of the industrial agriculture age is that chickens have been bred and cross bred for selection to yield consistent sized eggs, an egg every day, to live in confined quarters, and to process industrial chicken feeds which commonly contain the remains of other chickens. This broody trait has been all but bred out of most of the chickens you find today because when a hen goes broody she is essentially out of commission of three weeks during the gestation and up to six weeks while she is raising her new chicks. A broody chicken is undesireable to the mass-producing egg farmer. What then? how does the mass-producing egg farmer replenish his laying hens who have squirted out the same old egg every day for the last 5 years. Well, when the hen stops producing enough eggs, they are sold to a butcher which you may buy at the grocers or it is put into dog food, or into other animal feeds. The mass-producing egg farmer then buys another chicken to lock in a 2ft by 2ft cage with 5 other chickens to be force fed into producing an egg everyday. The chicken never sees sunlight, never eats a blade of grass, never gets to act like a chicken.

But, what if...what if you were to buy your eggs from a local farmer who raises chickens, in what I like to call, "The Right Way"?

Introducing the Mother of All Hens. This heritage breed of chicken (Black Brahma) originated in Asia and because it has been bred to BE a black brahma for people like us who raise heritage breeds it has retained many of its natural instincts. Sadly, it is rare even for heritage breeds to go broody now days.

This hen has now hatched out her third batch of chicks since February and we are hoping for more. This one hen has raised 21 chicks for us-naturally, in the sunlight, eating mostly grass and bugs and worms (these are things chickens like to eat!). The only time she has been in a pen without access to the wide open pasture of our farm is when we have a varmint predator killing chickens on the loose or when she goes broody. We put her in a pen during her "setting" to protect her and her newborn chicks. We let the chicken BE a chicken.

So the next time we run out of eggs, please don't get frustrated. It's natural and to be expected. The next time you stand at the grocery to buy a dozen perfectly shaped, monchromatic, thin-shelled assembly line eggs, just say no! Just Say No To Mass Produced Eggs! If you can't buy from Shamrock and Thistle Farm, buy from a local farmer that is raising chickens the Right Way. Shop your farmer's markets online or downtown. The eggs are healthier, more natural, raised by someone you can get to know and trust, they are fresher, and, well, you will be helping to insure the biodiversity our planet is known for, supporting your local economy, and helping chickens be happy chickens!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Suspicious Characters

Had a run in with the police today. Well not a run-in but we had some explaining to do. We finally got Aaron's car running and hope to let Ronny drive it back and forth to college. 37 mpg is alot better than the 12 mpg my Dilse (my old farm truck) gets. Problem is this 96 Dodge Neon is a stick-shift and Ronny has never driven one before. So, lucky Dad gets to teach him how to drive again!

In my experience, teaching someone to drive a stick shift is kind of like nailing a raw egg to the wall. Difficult, messy, frustrating, and you usually end up breaking something. Anyhow, I knew I would need a wide open space to let him get the feel of starting from a dead stop in first gear, reversing, and listening to the engine rev when getting up to speed. The highway was out. We do not yet have a W-M- parking lot in our little town, so we went up to my dad's auction house on Thornburg mountain to practice in his parking lot which completely surrounds this former church/now auction establishment.

Ronny had some trouble at first, the obvious jerking stops, killing of the engine, squealing of tires, and revving of engine but then he soon got the hang of it and I had him drive laps (at low speed of course-never getting out of first gear) come to a stop, reverse, stop again, and the take off in first gear for another lap. After about 15 minutes he got the hang of it pretty well so we decided to head for home with me driving.

As we started to pull out of the parking lot onto State Highway 9/10 a police officer (with his wife in the front passenger seat) pulled up to us and rolled down his window. My window was already down because Aaron's Neon has not an operable air conditioner.

"You the fella dravvin laps round dis here bildin?" he asked (I am spelling like he talked)
"Yes sir" I replied.

"We got us a ree-port that dere was a sespishus man in cover-alls standin behind da auction house and a reckless driver doin laps round da building. Da ree-port says dere's a girl drivin."

I looked over at Ronny and giggled. "My Daddy owns this place", I said, "I'm just teaching my son how to drive a stick shift. "

"Ya know, dere rilly ain't no-place round here ta teach sumboddy ta drive a stickshift safely. Ceptin mebbe down at the duck field just afore you git inta town."

"Right now we're just working on getting into first gear. I didn't want to teach him out on the road."

The officer smiled; his wife was doing well to hold in a great big belly laugh that I could see was trying to work its way out. "Well, dat's da way it shood be done."

"Sorry for the trouble." I was trying to end the conversation but was unsuccessful.

"Hey dat's okay. I'm jest glad I ain't gotta wrat out a ree-port. Sumboddy jest called it in t'us."

"Probably one of my Daddy's spies."

"Uh-huh. Well you fellers have a good afternoon."

I got the feeling, as we drove back down the mountain, that the officer and his wife were returning to a now cold fried chicken and tater salad supper.

Now anyone with any common sense could see that we weren't doing doughnuts, or making Dukes of Hazzard jumps and spin-outs, never getting over 10 miles per hour, plenty of halting jerky stops, one person standing outside the car observing and an obviously inexperienced driver in the car; what crime could we be committing? I think the level of paranoia in this country is way out of proportion. In the old days (the 80's) if I had been the teenager in this situation, the neighbors would assume I was learning to drive my first stick shift and go about their business. But today I was suspicious because I was wearing overalls and standing behind the auction house in the parking lot and Ronny was a girl driving recklessly.

I blame Fox News.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good Day Today

Cool weather, in its mysterious way, brought us the energy and the will to get some stuff done today! Here's what we accomplished:

1) Cleaned the house.

2) finished demolishing the old chicken coop that sat between the cottage and the cabin. You may be able to see the remainder of the rock foundation in the picture above. Eventually there will be a gravel walk way from the cottage to the cabin, a fire pit to have cookouts, a lawn for croquet, and perhaps a marble court for future grandkids if ever we live that long.

3) Sanded and repainted Aaron's big desk that we were able to salvage from the fire. (It has been sitting outside since February.)

4) Finished putting up most of the interior walls in the guest cabin and moved the desk in there to give Ronny a place to keep his books and study.

5) Cured a bloating goat with baking soda disolved in water using a 60cc syringe and one drop of Prednizone in its left eye. (really)

6) Read three chapters from Les Miserable

7) Patt made a peach pie!

8) Patt made Chicken Parmesan for dinner ( with tomatoes canned by our friends Chuck and Lucretia.)

9) We ate a big breakfast of bacon, toast from Patt's bread, fried eggs from happy chickens, hashbrowns from potatoes we grew this Spring, and a strong cup of Starbuck's coffee.

10) Posted on our blog!

Whew! I am tired. But it is a good kind of tired.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

So this is it?

I am convinced. Nothing will change my mind. After long thought, weighing the evidence, listening to the news and weather reports. Seeing and feeling the drudgery day after day, time after time, minute by minute, second by long, absurdly drawn out second I am now a true believer. The equinox passed last night, the first full moon on an equinox in twenty years. I marked this day on our calendar, it has been entered into my farm journal. This day should be the harbinger of cool, leaf-changing weather. I have seen a drift in the timing of the autumn change. Nine years ago - only nine - the first blast of cool weather came into central arkansas on September 14. Each year it seems, the summer lasts longer and longer. Now I look at the clock and see the second hand slowly, tick...wait a few minutes...tick. Time has slowed, energy is draining away, the universe is winding down. Yes. It's just going to be hot forever. Have a nice day!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Disallowed Marketing Strategies #1

Buy Shamrock and Thistle Farm Produce and Baked Goods or the puppy dies.

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #2

Teen-age girls and young women, Leo D. is living on Shamrock and Thistle Farm while taking a break from making movies. Come on out to visit our farm and bakery and maybe you'll meet the star himself! And while you are here pickup some Apple Walnut Scones for the trip home - only $6.50 for 8 large scones.

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #3

Shamrock and Thistle Farm Produce and Baked Goods are just Groovy Baby!

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #4

You don't buy organic produce and baked goods from Thistle and Shamrock Farm and Bakery in Perryville Arkansas? Well you're dumber than a sack of hammers!

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #5

Wives, feed your husbands Shamrock and Thistle Farm produce and he will end up looking like this:

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #6

Husbands, buy Shamrock and Thistle Farm Produce and your wife will look like this:

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #7

As you can see from my Before and After Photos above. Only a month after committing to buying and eating only locally grown produce from Shamrock and Thistle Farm and farmer's markets near my home I have shed the pounds and become the buff movie star my fans have come to expect once again. Thank you Shamrock and Thistle! - G. Butler

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #8

Shamrock and Thistle Farm and Bakery

Selling Nutrient Dense Produce and Baked Goods to Yuppies at Greatly Inflated Prices

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Disallowed Marketing Strategy #9

9. This spooky little girl will follow you around unless you buy our stuff.

Disallowed Marketing Strategies #10

My House Burned Down - Buy our Stuff.

And the Winner Is...

I had many very good suggestions for a name for my truck. Some, not so good. But anyway I've decided on a winner. Below are most of the entries and the included reasons for the entries... and then the winner. So in reverse order here are the top 10 names for Boyd's old Dodge pickup.

Number 10 - The Yellow Submarine

Number 9 - Clyde (after a ram we had on our farm as kids-this ram was famous for butting Mom into the chicken coop and not letting her out all day.)

Number 8 - The D150. If you say you drive a D150 and the people you are talking to know its a Dodge then you know they are friends.

Number 7 - Old Faithful

Number 5 - Brownie after my Dad's old farm truck

Number 5 - Trevor :Trevor is a nice name...

Number 4 - Satan (Ronny has to drive it to college 2 times a week)

Number 3 - Trusty and if it gets much older you can drop the 'T' and call it Rusty

Number 2 - BP (for Boyd and Patt or BP because of the large amount of oil it leaks)

Number 1 - Disle (pronounced Jeel-sheh) This gaelic word means faithful.

It really was a close contest but the Tidwells in Fort Mill South Carolina played the Scots-Irish-Gaelic card and edged out the pack...bread should be on the way soon!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Good day today. Eventhough we ran out of money with still two weeks left in the month. God sent us a rainbow to show us that there is still hope. Checks start coming in this week too! Now some people - they shall remain nameless - consider the rainbow just a scientific phenomenon. While science may be able to explain why it happens - what science can not do is explain why it happens when it happens. So there!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Living Parable

Put 7 rabbits in the freezer this morning.

Butchering our own meat is not some kind of masculine form of getting in touch with one's basic killer instincts. It really isn't In fact, for us, its brutal and detestable. Its distastefulness is only diminshed in that I refuse to Disney-fy our animals, refuse to make friends with the ones we eat, and work hard to give them the happiest healthiest life we can - we let the rabbit be at one with its rabbit-ness - before it is sacrificed for our nourishment.

It is a reminder to us that the gifts of God, which many of us thank Him for when we gather at the dining table, do not come, originally, from a styrofoam package at the grocers. It is a reminder, just as Christ died for us to make us healthy spiritually, emotionally, physically, something is still dying for us to live in this world. Animals.

I appreciate the vegan who sees butchering and eating animals as brutal. I do too - although the eating part can be pretty tasty. The vegan attempts to live out this beleif which is admirable. But humans need protein. Where does a vegan get protein? Some form of supplement. Unless God were to hand out gift certificates to the tropical smoothie place, GNC, or make powdered protein or fava beans easily accessible, I have to believe, as in the old and new Testaments, God gave us animals to accomplish three things. We can enjoy them! We get protein from them! and in the slaughtering of them for our food we get a picture of something (one) dying to give us life.

This ends the lesson. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Tale of the Perpetually Packed Parcel

There once was a man who received a package in the mail.
It had obviously been packed by his mother as it was bound in layers of packing tape that resembled the dig of an archeologist. Layer upon layer, small bones, cutlery, ornamental jewelry, ancient scrolls, and ceremonial headress rested in their respective layers. Try as he might, he could not peel off the successive layers and having no knife or scissors or otherwise handy multi-tools available during this era, he drove to the store to buy a really nice box-knife, pocket kniife, and pruning shear tool; bright metallic red in color, and presumably factory sharpened - and encased in a hard plastic package with no flaps, seams, creases, or perforations along which to open it.

He struggled with getting this presumably marvelous tool out of its packaging and realized that he would need a box-knife, scissors, or otherwise handy multi-tool available during this era to open his box-knife contraption. He searched far and wide for such a tool that was not packaged but soon realized that either because of stupid children or stupid parents more like, there were none to be found.

Saddened; he returned home. Lamented his unopened package. He picked up a pen and carefully across the front marked "Return to Sender" and placed it back in his mail box.

The end.

What to do for those involved in a fire...

One of the things we realized shortly after our home burned in February is that people do not know how to act towards you. That's okay - we didn't know how to act either. We found that many people rushed to help. Some bringing cash, some bringing household goods, some bringing clothes, some offering hot meals in their homes and some offering places to stay.

Many of those who gave to us were thanked and will always be remembered. Some who brought us things were politely refused and I think went away a little offended. This post is to try to describe the kinds of help victims of a house fire need most of all - especially in our case - we lost everything.

1) Cash. We didn't ask for cash until we saw that it was going to be impossible to continue living until the insurance money came in. Insurance companies don't just send you a check for living expenses once you are homeless. They may advance you a little. Ours did. But they won't settle up until you bring the receipts at the end of everything. And even then you will only pay additional living expenses. If you spent $100 a week on groceries before your home burned down but that went up to $200 a week because now you are eating out alot, the Insurance will only pay the difference- $100 per week. It still cost you $200. Cash flow is critical to the burned out family. We were always having to top off the gas tank in our truck just because we didn't know where we would need to go that day. Or we needed to go to the department store to get a container to hold all our receipts. A final hint: If you give the family cash and expect to get paid back either with money or a thank you card, if you will be offended if some form of repayment is made then keep your money. We thanked as many people as we could with cards, emails, etc. but I know we didn't get them all. It was not intentional. During that traumatic time, the last thing we thought of doing, or were even capable of doing is keeping an itemized list of who gave what. But here are some that gave cash that we did not thank appropriately. Arkansas Children's Hospital took up a collection from employees. We regularly got checks in the mail and often just in time to pay a bill or buy a tool that we needed in rebuilding. Conway Locally Grown. The farmers took up a collection, or donated a part of their sales to us and it was greatly appreciated. We were able to buy a computer for Patt to be able to continue internet sales, banking, and the computer was vital to our researching replacement costs for our insurance documentation. St. Andrews Anglican Church announced our troubles and checks started rolling in. So CASH is of primary importance.

2) Clothing. We lost everything. Our friends Clay and April from church visited us where we were staying at the Heiffer Project Lodge (6miles from our burned home and thanks to cash donations). They brought tubs and bags of male and female clothing. It being February, that kept us warm. It also let us get back to normal and me back to work. Although I did experience a wardrobe upgrade in the process. I went from a Target guy to a Dillards guy overnight. Thank you Clay and April!

3) Food. And not the traditional Baptist casseroles. We had no way to cook or keep large quantities. Arkansas Children's Cafe donated cold cuts and bread that we could keep. That was a blessing. People gave us gift cards to restaurants. And our friends the Chuck and Lucretia fed us several meals from their home in Perryville. Thank you Chuck and Lucretia. The cash donations also fed us.

4) Get-away things. Dr. Jerril Green offered us the use of his lake house should we need to take a break. Shonda, a nurse at the hospital gave us a Barnes and Noble gift card because she knew we lost all of our dear books. And the gift card let us buy the books we wanted when we were able to store them and have time to read.

Hopefully this will give some idea of what can be useful in a time like a house fire taking a family's life away. Some other ideas that occur to me are Day Care. Offer to keep the kids for a day or even a couple of hours. Pet sitting. My brother took our dogs to their home for a week or so. The Red Cross were there to offer us gift cards for essentials. I bought a heavy work coat and gloves, rubbermaid containers to carry everything around in.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Friend Travis

In case you are in awe of how I was able to single handedly renovate our workshop into the red&white cottage you see in our pictures and build a new chicken coop and pole barn in just 6 months - let me explain. No wait, no time to splain - let me sum up.

All the new construction was done by Travis Short Construction in Perryville AR. We've known Travis really for 8 or 9 years or so dealing black market farm goods and a $100.00 car way back. Formerly the construction manager at the Heiffer Ranch he has gone into business for himself and I can testify to the quality of his work.

Barn Finished!

The barn is nearly finished, save for a few small pieces of metal, and we started moving in today. Well we aren't moving in but we are moving alot of stuff that has been stored in the cottage and tools and things that have been sitting outside around the farm. As you can see from the photo we should have plenty of room for everything plus the animals we plan to house in it starting this spring plus room enough to pull our trucks inside to do some work like today. It was raining - Thanks Be To God - most of the day but I was still able to tighten the belts on our old Dodge. I really must come up with a name for her. Old Dodge isn't very flattering. So for those of you that read this blog. (Right now it's just me) I will give a free loaf of Patt's bread to whomever comes up with the best name!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Love My Truck

About 8 years ago, or so, I bought a 1988 Dodge Ram D150 Pickup from the father of my one time secretary, Tammy Temple. A pick up was one of those items of necessity that we did not have when we first moved to our farm. It was beautiful. Ivory Cream. Big engine that roared when you started it; able to haul anything we needed to haul and, I am sure, we hauled some things we had no business hauling in a half-ton pickup. Over the years it has served us well. The starter went out a couple of years ago and as I was working full time at Arkansas Children's Hospital, and having little to no experience in auto mechanical type work - we let it sit.

Then the house burned down and my 2006 Dodge Charger went with it. Needing another vehicle we took it to the local mechanic here in Perryville AR (the best mechanic I've ever known) and he put a starter in it. After sitting for two years - the truck started up and sounded beautiful as we drove it home.

Now it has come into regular use with quick trips into town and our son taking to college at least once a week.

On one trip we made, to Farmington AR to visit my brother Roland, his wife Jennifer, and their daughters, Abby and Molly it did great. Until we tried to start it on Sunday morning to go to church with Roland and the family. It wouldn't start. I called Roland, who had already gotten to Sunday School to let him know that we wouldn't make it, and that I would be working on the truck. Roland left Sunday School to come home and help me. I am not sure if this was piety on his part (helping someone in need) or relief (whew I got out of Sunday School). We were able to trouble shoot the problem, eventually, to a bad voltage regulator that tells the alternator to charge the battery. We replaced this $13.00 part and we were on our way.

During our hail storm this spring the windshield wipers stopped working. I took the panel covering all the linkage off the truck and saw that all the bushings had rotted off the mounts. These hard plastic bushings keep the wiper arms attached to the motor assembly and rack system. Just like the voltage regulator we replaced a couple of months before, these original, 22 year old parts had just worn out.

Last week I finally got around to fixing the windshield wipers on Wednesday. It took me only a couple of hours - Because all the arms and linkages fell into the tray in front of the windshield I had no idea how it all went together. I had found an authorized dealer manual for the truck on the internet for $40.00, bought it, and now was putting it to good use.

Friday, as Patt and I were making farmer's market deliveries in Conway and Little Rock, Ronny called us from the college he attends in Morrilton- 20 miles away. He said the power steering went out on him. I told him, unwisely, I think, to limp it home. When Ronny got home, he called us again and said the truck was really hot and was making terrible noises. When I got home I popped the hood and saw that all three belts were broken and twisted around the cooling fan. Next morning I headed to the local parts store to get belts, antifreeze, and oil. The only way to see if we had damaged the engine was to get it all back together again and try to start it. My plan was, if every thing turned out okay was to replace the antifreeze that had boiled out of the radiator, and change the oil. After all, it had been several years since this was done. I usually practice the Roland Hutchins Method for Oil Replenishment in Old Cars System of oil changes. Or the RHMOROCS Oil change. I just add more when it gets low...

The parts store had everything I needed and in a surprisingly quick turn around, I had the belts replaced, the fluids replenished, and the truck up and running. I do not know when the last time the belts had been replaced but they must have been ancient. I've had the truck for 8 years and I never replaced them and I remember them looking old when we bought it. Could they be original 22 year old belts? I wouldn't be surprised.

This thing was built to last and built to be worked on. Standard parts that I can get from just about any branded parts store and with the manual, I am learning the ins and outs of how everything works. Before we lost everything in the fire and I retired from the rat race, I would not have had the time or the patience to work on something like this myself. Now, spending a day and $15.00 to figure it all out on my own is gratifying.

They don't make trucks like my old 88 Dodge anymore. I can hear Merle singing now - "I wish a Ford and a Chevy (and a Dodge) would still last 10 years like the should"....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things are taking shape around shamrock and thistle farm. Finishing up the summer garden which was much better than we expected after getting a late start because of the fire and then time to recover from the hail storm that cut all of our tomato plants in half. Now it seems, that we are the only ones in the county still selling tomatoes! Finished up deweeding the garden and am now, slowly due to the heat, getting the rows turned over for our fall garden. Lots of greens and such being planted this weekend. We've got four pie-pumpkin plants established (that was a battle because of the bugs, heat, and dry weather!).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fast Forward

I fast forwarded to present day to give you all a recap of what has happened to get to the now - what I call our "is-ness". Patt doesn't call it that because I think she thinks I'm a little off.

But the highlights follow:

I quit my steady, very fulfilling job at Arkansas Children's Hospital to go into full time subsistence farming and to help Patt with the bakery business. We are completely debt free, all insurances (home and auto) payed in advance and we are learning to adjust to this new life while we clean the place up and start building.

Right now the finishing touches are being put on our cottage, the old house has been disassembled by a raging fire (this time we set the fire and made sure it burned safely) and the barn is beginning to take shape. I figured pictures could tell the story better than I could in words so here goes.