Polyface Farm, a quick tour

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

 

Claudia came to visit me this week from New Hampshire and recently, she had read a book by Joel Salatin called, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. I remember reading about Polyface Farm in Michael Pollan’s book Omnivores Dilemma. So, when Claudia wanted to try and go and visit this farm, I was excited to take her there. We got up early and headed south on I 81 to Staunton and followed the directions that took us way out into beautiful valley farmland. It was incredibly picturesque and the farms were large and connected by beautiful fields of green, some of them dotted with hay rolls, some of them clearly growing corn, probably for Monsanto and some of them had housing that was probably full of hens and chickens that would be trucked to a processing plant nearby. When we arrived at Polyface, however, you quickly got a very different picture as to how farming is all about a balance of lots of processes and not just one specific crop.

On some days, Joel or his son are available to talk about how they run their farm and you can have some personal time with him to ask questions. But the farm is open every day and that if they aren’t available,  you are welcome to come and walk around the property and see everything they are doing on your own. When we drove up, as luck would have it, Joel was giving an interview on the picnic table with a film crew in the front of the house and he motioned us to come on around. We found a place to park and walked around the property and didn’t want to interrupt their interview.

As we traveled down I-81, I told Claudia that I hoped that we wouldn’t get there and it be the day that they are slaughtering the chickens because I wasn’t sure I could watch them do that. I truly believe that if more of us were to SEE how our food is processed, we would all change our minds about some of the items that we eat. Also, as luck would have it, they WERE slaughtering chickens and that is the first thing we saw and heard when we got out of the car. I did manage to get my nerve up and take some photos so beware when you look, you may want to skip over those in the photo album that I am attaching.

greenhouse with tomatoes

greenhouse with tomatoes

Beside the place we parked the car were some greenhouses full of lettuces and tomato plants. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there were rabbit hutches in the greenhouse lining one of the walls. Clearly, the rabbits were adding the fertilizer to the greenhouse floor and this could easily be racked from underneath over to the plants so they could benefit from this nutrient. The second thing that I noticed was the fact that they were heating this greenhouse with a wood heater. I’m not sure how this actually worked but it was situated in the corner and had a chimney coming out the front of the greenhouse. The tomatoes were tied to the ceiling of the greenhouse and were just beautiful!

wood heater in the greenhouse

wood heater in the greenhouse

The second greenhouse was full of lettuces and greens. Again, it had the empty rabbit hutches lining one of the walls for fertilizer. This one wasn’t heated and I’m sure that, just like my cold frames, these lettuces did fine for them in the cold. The lettuces were close to bolting but were still very much edible.

Next, we walked to a chicken house that had some baby chickens that were about 2-3 weeks old. The chickens on the farm are clearly at different stages of development and, if you have read Omnivores Delimma, then you are aware of Joel’s technique of moving the animals around on the farm so as to get the full use of the animal while it is in connection with the land. These chicks were big enough to be graduating to the next stage and we were able to see them load them up into crates so that they could be taken up onto another part of the farm where they would live for another phase of their lives, fertilizing the land underneath their feet and getting fattened up on the natural elements that are inside their cages.

2-3 week old chickens

2-3 week old chickens

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Claudia in front of the chicken coups

As we walked up the hill we encountered that next phase with larger chickens out in a field. The coups were scattered about on the hillside and as you walk you can see the squares where, clearly, the coups had been in the previous days. In addition to seeing the vegetation that had been fertilized with the chicken manure, you can see that recently there had been cattle in the same area because there was the occasional dried cow pattie that the chickens had been eating the grubs out of, essentially eating what, if left alone, would hatch out as large black flies that would be a serious nuisance. The chickens love the grubs and at the same time they are eliminating something that would make the cows very unhappy and possibly sick.

chickens in the coup on the hill

chickens in the coup on the hill

 

So, we continued our walk on up the hill and found the turkeys. They had their own pen and had a turkey tractor so they could also be moved after they had done their bit in making that section of the farm fertile. They also have a roosting shelter.  This pen also has an electric fence to protect them at night so that foxes or other predators don’t come in and get them.

turkeys

turkeys

 

Back down at the farm, we looked in the barn that the laying hens were in and that is where the rabbits are housed in the summer months. The hens were busy in the roosting boxes laying their eggs. The rabbits were in the hutches above the hens

rabbits and hens

rabbits and hens

and according to Claudia, in Joel’s new book, he says he hasn’t really figured out how to add the rabbits into the field scenario but they do have them for their meat.

So before we left, we went in to the shop that they have on the property, where you can purchase the meats that are grown on the farm and Claudia bought us one of the hens from the freezer case and some of the sausages. She bought a souvenir shirt for her hubby and while we were in the shop, Joel came in and she was able to meet him, ask him a few questions and tell him that she had read his latest book. While she was checking out, I managed to get my courage up and go around the side of the building where they were still slaughtering the hens and take a few photos.

I think we had a great day at the farm and got to see some of the techniques that I’m sure, as Joel leaves his farm and drives out to civilization, he wishes he could stop along the way and teach the farmers that he passes, how to better care for the land that they are tending and to better care for our planet as a whole.

 

 

This Small Space…

It has been a while since I have done a blog post and after time lapses, I start to panic a bit because I know that I need to find something to blog about. But a subject jumped out at me this morning.

Designing My New Small Space

Since I have started on my new endeavor of inventing my new life as a potter, I have been working in the basement of our 105 year old house. The ceiling down there is about 5’6″ where the beams hold the floor joists that hold up my first floor and about 6 feet in other areas. I am 5’4″ tall. Herb is 6’2″. I can work down there and not bump my head, but there is the feeling of that ceiling being very close to me so subconsciously, I am scrunching my shoulders and at the end of a long day, my neck and back ache horribly.

old building

old building

We have two outbuildings on our property and one of those buildings used to be a garage and we now use it as a workshop that houses things like saws, drills, hammers and the like while the other building is basically a storage shed. It is a story and a half with a saltbox sloped roof on it. It is in pretty rough shape and so I am in the midst of trying to get help to convert that building into a space that I will use and move out of the basement.

In the process of doing all of this planning, which I seem to be spending a lot of time on these days rather than working with my clay, I am seeing and finding a lot of great posts on smaller spaces and how to utilize them. Our country is finally realizing that more isn’t alway better and that small can be a good thing. I love the idea of built in furniture and multipurpose uses for storage or furniture. Here are some of the sites that I have come across lately that have helped me to get a vision on how to use the small amount of square footage that I have…

  • LifeEdited is a site that features scaling down and living with less.
  • The Minimalists I heard these guys interviewed on NPR about becoming  minimalists and letting go of a huge house, car and lifestyle so he could be happier with less to deal with. Their blog is full of great info about living with less. You can also listen to more from them here.
  • Shrink Your Super-Sized Life and Become a Better Neighbor  A challenge for all of us to live with less energy. When we think about it, it is really all about being a better  community rather than the race to see who can own the most. Right?
  • Felice Cohen goes from 90 sq ft to 500 sq feet This woman shows how she went from 90 sq ft – 500 sq ft. I think what strikes me most about this video is that  it is her mindset about how the space is used. Especially when she was in the 90 sq foot space
  • Apartment Therapy This article on Ten Tiny houses is one that shows some great use of space.
  • And of course, one of my favorite authors, Sarah Susanka’s the Not So Big House. Sarah is an architect that realized that bigger isn’t always better and has used that philosophy in her business and yet puts a large emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

The building I’m going to move into is only 580 square feet total. That is both stories combined. The upstairs has a sloped ceiling that is not going to be useful for much else but storage of shipping materials, an office space and possibly a sleeping space if my son brings a bunch of people for a visit and there isn’t a bed in the house for them. So my new work space will amount to about 240 square feet.  The good thing about this new space is that the ceiling will be a consistent height of 7 feet and I won’t have to deal with working around support poles. So I will have a large rectangular room and can move freely about.

And of course, there is the recycling that I want to do in order to keep the trash from the landfill or to reuse as much of the old parts of the building as possible. I have found a cabinet maker locally that is interested in the lumber that is going to come out of the building. I have been searching for used items to put back into the building and am trying to have the least impact possible on the natural resources. At first I was going to add plumbing because there isn’t any in the building now. Now I am challenging myself to use as little water as possible, even though I am a potter and need water to make my craft. I am looking at, in the future, if needed, adding a composting toilet in the upstairs, just so guests might not have to come into the main house in the middle of the night.

So, as I work through this process of converting a small work space and getting the dust out of the basement, hopefully, I will blog more about this process and keep you up to date as the building is transformed into a simple minimalistic space that I can spend time creating and enjoying the my new endeavor even more.

 

Here’s a Challenge for You…

Claudia and I have been trying to chat on Google + or via cell phone each Thursday morning and yesterday she told me about a book that she was reading called Making Home by Sharon Astyk. Claudia is living the life that we all should be living. By that I mean, she makes things for herself and her family rather  than going out and purchasing those items. Essentially, she is homesteading. Claudia lives in a small city in New Hampshire and up until recently, she and her family had been renting but were able to purchase a home. Still, she and Steve, her husband of over 20 years, are living a life we all should be living. They don’t have a lot of money. Steve is a nurse and brings in the money for the family but Claudia and Steve together add to that by instilling a handmade philosophy that I truly believe we all need to embrace to a certain extent.

So, in having my weekly inspirational chat with Claudia, I looked online for a Kindle version of “Making Home” and it wasn’t available digitally so I looked at other books by this same author, thinking that Claudia and I could share and trade ideas that we each gathered from the other’s book. I purchased Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front [Kindle Edition]. I just started reading it yesterday so I haven’t gotten very far but I like what I am reading so far and I just want to set out a new challenge for you today. Just something to think about as I read and learn about how we, as a nation, can come together to help resolve some of the issues that we are going to face in the future as our fuel consumption takes on a different life for us.

The Challenge: Find a local person that has a skill (that you spend money and fuel on to go and purchase) and become an apprentice to that person to learn that skill. Be it sewing, canning food, gardening, cleaning, growing a food that you can’t buy locally, and share this with the community so that we can release some of our independence on consumerism.