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.

 

 

Do You Save Your Seeds?

Last week I received my seeds from Johnny’s Select Seeds for the winter greens that I have planted in my cold frames for the past 2 years. I only spent about $20 for the seeds that I purchased for this year. With money a bit tight, I ordered a few of the varieties that I have gotten in the past, but I have also learned that I only really need a few packs to get the frames planted for the winter season so I probably had been wasting money in the past.

A few weeks ago, I started prepping the cold frame beds. Herb turned our compost bin and we put our sifter, which is a stand we built out of scrap wood that has carpenter’s cloth wire screen on top of it, and sifted compost into the empty beds. I turned to soil in each bed and mixed in the fresh compost. This added some fresh nutrients and red worms to the beds so that the plants will have a good start with soft soil.

The zinnias that I used for the flower arrangements at John and Erin’s wedding in July were in these garden beds and were just beautiful but I needed the space for my winter greens. I decided to save those zinnia seeds so that next year I don’t have to purchase those seeds. I pulled out the plants and cut the blossoms and put them in a box to allow them to dry out for a week or two. In the past, when I have saved seeds, I use an office sized envelope, lick and seal the flap and then cut it in half. This gives you a packet for your seeds. Often, a charity will send me a “free gift” of address labels to get me to send a donation to them and I save those labels and found those to be a perfect way to seal the envelopes filled with the seeds and then I use a sharpie and label the pack with the seed name and the date. The seeds are then stored in a cool place ready for next year.

Some additional great resources for you to get info from:

Cold Frame Gardening

Visiting the Pacific Northwest and seeing how Seattle is such a wonderful place for fresh vegetables and organic foods and composting and recycling and rain

Grapefruit sized Onions at Ballard Market, Seattle

gardens, (it has been sunny all week, BTW) I thought I would put a new link to my old “how-to” for building a cold frame so that you can grow winter greens and veggies. I have changed the host of my blog since the first posting of it and I think it lost some of the information that had been on there the first time around. Anyway, here is the link for the cold frame guide when I built my frames… I’ll go back next week and try and get my own replanted and the winter greens started in my own backyard. In the meantime, from Seattle, here is a little gardening inspiration for you.

Water Usage…

 

 

 

My oldest son was home for a visit back in April. They moved to Seattle last November after their October wedding. They love Seattle and I am hoping to see their new home this summer when I take a trip there myself. The story that my son told that I thought was fun about their new home, other than Seattle being an incredibly “green” city, was that his new bride had embraced this green-ness by competing against the other residents in their apartment building with overall water usage. The funny part of this is that the other residence weren’t aware they were in a contest. Thomas and Bell live in a building that houses about six apartments that all share a garage like space on the bottom level for their cars etc. Each apartment’s water meter is also in this garage and as they would come into the garage, Belle would look at each apartment’s numbers on their perspective meters. She was trying to gauge how much water they were using in comparison to her neighbors. When she realized that the numbers didn’t reset at the beginning of the month, she kind of gave up because it would mean that she would have to set up a spread sheet and do a daily check of the numbers to see if they were ahead or behind. I just got a kick out of this story and the competitiveness of my new daughter-in-law.

Belle came to visit this week and I brought up this story and we laughed about it. She then said that I would be disappointed with how she washed dishes after I shared how I had noticed other people’s dish washing habits. I’m now wondering how this trend has come about and if people even think about their water usage in terms of what is going to save them the most. The way I look at it, every drop that comes out of my faucet is paid for by me and I want to make that money count with every drop. So, I thought I would share how I try and conserve water in my house and see if I can get any of you to help all of us to save even more water.

This trend that I spoke of to Belle, and which she confessed to doing, is washing dishes with the faucet running the entire time, no stopper in the sink and a continual stream of water going down the drain. I have witnessed this on many occasions, mainly with my kid’s generation.

When I was growing up, you would clean out the sink, and add the stopper and then fill the sink with your hot dish water and soap. Your companion sink, either to the right or left, depending on how your set up is, is filled with hot rinse water. As you wash your dishes you then dunk them into the hot rinse water and stack them into a dish drainer. NO additional running water. I would estimate that you probably are using about 3 gallons of water total. Two for the washing and maybe a gallon for the rinse.

In times of drought here in Virginia, I have used a plastic dish pan in the sink to wash the dishes in and rinse the dish above that dish pan of wash water capturing ALL the water and then that water in used to put on the garden in the evening to help keep a plant alive during those dry spells. I believe this is probably the best way to truly salvage all the water and not let any of it go down the drain.

I’m told that using the dishwasher is absolutely the best solution because it uses the water in the most efficient way. However, I see people washing their dishes in the running water method BEFORE they then load them into the dishwasher. While most dishwashers, mine does, should be able to handle the dirty dish without even rinsing off the foodstuff, I understand that some don’t and the dishes may need a little help before they go into the dishwasher but I believe that you could probably get away with a good scraping with a rubber spatula into the compost or trash instead of involving any water at all. I worked at a YWCA camp one year in college and each table had a rubber spatula that the kids were required to “squeegee” their plate before stacking them up, eliminating the extra pre-washing before loading them into the commercial dishwasher in the kitchen area.

I use a lot of water conservation techniques in my pottery too. I have a dishtub in the utility sink in our basement and try at all costs to avoid any of my chemicals going down the drain. That dish pan gets really full of waste water and maybe gets dumped out into my grass once a month. That same water is used to wash out brushes, containers, glaze buckets and even rinsing off my hands before I finish for the day.

Drinking Water Brochure Outside

Drinking Water Brochure Inside

 

This topic could obviously be a completely new post due to all the chemicals that get flushed down the drain daily and end up in our watersheds.

My hope is that you will share your dishwashing techniques with me and help others to think more about their water usage and maybe even get into the competitive spirit of my sweet daughter-in-law, who is having fun trying to save the planet in her small way in Seattle. Good luck Belle and I hope you can figure out a way to get your neighbors involved in your game! I really love the spirit of this idea!

My pottery frog plate.

October 8, 2011

As many of you know, I do a lot (A LOT in capitals) of volunteer work for Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Seven years ago, we decided to do an annual fish fry as a way to fundraise for the issues surrounding the Shenandoah River. Four years ago now, we have been asking local artists to participate in this event by decorating an object that we then auction to raise funds for that purpose. Initially we were going around to local businesses to find items to auction and that idea became stale very quickly. I had the idea to obtain large fiberglass sculptural fish to have local artists decorate and when I began the research I soon realized that it was a huge expense just to purchase the fiberglass pieces. Horse Mania in Lexington, KY supports much of the arts with the proceeds from this kind of event. They are actually repeating the event again in 2011 from 2000.  So why not scale the idea back and find something less expensive. That first year we did terra cotta planters, with a River Visions in Terra Cotta theme and they were wonderful. The idea took off and we had artists wanting to know how they could participate. The next year we did floorcloths. And last year we did wooden cottage benches.  The items have been so successful that I overheard some grumbling from some of the attendees that the items were selling beyond their means. And really, each year it seems the prices have risen to certainly more than I would pay for some of the items. And while we don’t seem to raise the kind of funds that the LexArts folks do we still need to make the items reasonable for our local demographic.

The idea to offer a silent auction item was put into play and I came across a site for a gallery in Oregon that was doing a benefit for CERF (Craft Emergency Relief Fund) and asking potters to submit a plate to be auctioned online. The submissions for the gallery in Oregon were wonderful and I contacted the Mary Lou Zeek, the gallery owner and found out the details and decided to give it a try to offer a less expensive item at this year’s fish fry. The minimum bid will be $25. Hopefully the prices won’t rise too high and folks will see that we are making an effort to make items available to everyone. Even those of us that the recession has hit.

My plate has frogs that are coming out of the pond of fish. The frogs have expressive faces and the fish in the center is a slip trailed image of a fish. Not necessarily a Shenandoah Fish. Water lilly  leaves form a circle around the outside edge and they are glazed in a celedon with a slip detail of the leaf showing through.

As this year’s  fish fry gets closer, there will be other potters submitting works and the collection of plates will come into view. We weren’t able to get 100 plates or potters on board but the dozen that we have will hopefully give us a starting point to getting a new item of our fundraiser off the ground.

Tickets will be going on sale soon and the event is October the 8th this year. Mark your calendars and plan to attend. The larger item that other artists are decorating this year are Adirondack chairs with a river theme. Those should be lots of fun to see too. I didn’t do one of the large items this year with my fall being full of family events but I can’t wait to see what the other artists come up with as their vision appears on the chairs.

The Frog Plate…