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

2013-06-25 10.08.28

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.

 

 

Woodchuck Woman

woodchucks

two woodchucks

Claudia spent the entire summer storing up food and herbs as winter’s rations. Her hard work has paid off and now she gets to reap the rewards. When I spoke with her last Thursday it was 1° above zero and she was telling me about all the layers of clothes that she was wearing at the time. I’m sure that is what got her thinking about feeling like a woodchuck. I just hope that she remembers to come above ground in time for Groundhog Day on February 2nd. If not, she will at least have a wonderful batch of soup to keep her warm for another 6 weeks of bad weather.

Dear Susie,

I’ve been thinking about woodchucks lately, or more accurately, wishing I were one.  It was 1 degree above zero this morning. Here in New Hampshire we are sure to get colder weather before winter is through, but still it made me reluctant to go outside for my morning walk. I waited until the temp climbed to ten to do that.  If I were a woodchuck, right now I’d be slumbering away below ground, protected from the cold by my thick fur coat and generous layer of fat. The fat would feed my body as well as keep me warm until spring, when I would awake nice and svelte and ready to eat as much as I wanted all the long spring and summer. What a life.

Claudia's pantry

Claudia’s pantry

I’m afraid that over the holiday season I have put on quite a generous layer of fat myself,  but I don’t need it because my burrow is filled with plenty of put-up food.

A few days ago I boiled up the ham bone from Christmas Eve supper to make a nice broth and added a jar of tomato sauce, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, green beans, and a handful of herbs to make a nice vegetable soup.  All that I added, either I, or my friends grew.  It feels good to have a pantry full of put-up food, a freezer full of frozen vegetables and fruits, and dried herbs  in jars as well as fresh herbs from plants on the window sills. This may not be as convenient as living off my own fat, but almost.

Claudia's Dried Herbs

Claudia’s Dried Herbs

Like woodchucks I love greens and I have to say that I am envious of your cold frames full of greens. I’m afraid that the lettuce under my heavy-duty row cover has finally turned to iceberg. Next year I hope to perfect the Eliot Coleman double-tunnel system so I can have salad with the soup. If I can do that there will be much less reason to venture far from home to get previsions. I can now add eggs to food we don’t have to go to the store for. The hens from our little urban chicken project are laying enough for me to have half a dozen a week. I’ll write more about that later. For now I am enjoying eating up the last of the Holiday cookies with family and friends here on the 12th day of Christmas. I’ll start on that weight loss program come February. Right now, I’m looking forward to a long woodchuck sleep tonight. If you haven’t heard from me in a week or so you might want to check and see if I’ve gone into hibernation.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

I hope that you are cozy, and have stored up plenty of winter previsions. Remember that sensible animals should be doing plenty of sleeping in winter, just like Badger advises in the Wind in the Willows.

Claudia

Green Irene noticed my blog

On Friday, I got a comment from the Director of Research, Mike Hollis, at Green Irene on my posting about the CFL bulbs. Last year I had signed on as a Green Irene Eco Consultant and was very excited to become a part of the green movement, but my life as a Green Irene consultant was unsuccessful to say the least. Part of that may have been my fault due to not really pushing myself or the idea hard enough. So you can imagine how excited I was to be noticed by Mike Hollis and Rosamaria Caballero, the owner of GI. I still believe in all the products and have used the items that came in my kit and have been extremely pleased with their quality. I really think that the demographics of my area here in the Shenandoah Valley has something to do with my lack of Green Irene success.

Our valley is changing very slowly and the environment is not something that is really valued. It was frustrating, to say the least, when I performed a practice Green Irene home consultant evaluation and to have the homeowner lecture me on how recycling is not really done and that those items are just put into the landfill with everything else. Just after that, I did a tour of our county’s landfill to find that the manager, Brad Dellinger was doing an incredible job of recycling as many items as he possibly can and if you bring something in that is out of the ordinary, he will do his best to find a recycled home for that item so that it doesn’t go into our landfill. Space is a premium and there are many things that individuals can do to keep that space from filling up too quickly, which means that fees or taxes stay low. It was very helpful to see where things actually end up so that I could be better prepared when confronted with misinformation from potential clients.

So, I am planning to re-introduce Green Irene into my life , and yours, through this blog as a way to give information about items they offer and to help you to see if you need to change some of your habits to become a little greener. Everyday, I see something that other people do that if they could just change their habits ever so slightly they can make a bigger impact on the earth. Whether it be trash, water, electricity usage, energy or healthier eating.

It was really nice to receive the comment from Mike and Rosamaria at Green Irene and a nudge to use my knowledge to help others go green. Feel free to click the link below and find out about Green Irene.