March 30, 2010


We're in the midst of exploring some really great new farming opportunities and we're trying to relax and enjoy the ride. Being surrounded by so many supportive and inspirational fellow farmers makes a farmer girl and a farmer boy feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It's hard to not feel so taken aback at the sheer serendipity in all that we're experiencing. It's just crazy.

For now though, in this moment, well . . . we're really missing our girls and the farm life that we loved. Don't worry, we're not wallowing, just remembering. It's amazing to think of what we've experienced so far in our short but eventful farming career. What a gift.

So, for today. . . some memories.

 More to come . . .

March 23, 2010

so, what now?

Well, that's a good question and one that runs through our minds 24/7. Seriously, we are obsessed with farming, folks. All things considered though, I would say that we're handling things well. Don't get me wrong, we do have our moments of sadness and utter despair but we're trying to put that energy towards something positive. Normally we would have planned our season by now and would be getting ready for our first batch of baby chicks, lambs and whatever else we plan to raise. Starting seeds. Planning and prepping the garden, etc. Needless to say, it's hard for us to be idle right now. No hens to wake up for. No sweet little faces greeting us in the morning. It's a bit of a culture shock. And let's not even mention the culture shock of living in suburbia. Yeah, it's nuts.
Nate and I have come up with some really amazing, educational and community-oriented ideas for a farm . . . we just need a farm. We have enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle so far but we're looking for a more permanent situation. This would either be a farm of our own or some sort of long-term arrangement to live and work on a farm. We would eventually like to try our hands at raising a new species . . . human children. But that will have to wait a while.
Unless one inherits a farm, acquiring one is no small task. Thinking of buying a farm is hugely overwhelming as the last thing we want is to enter into a farming enterprise with a huge load of debt. It's also important to take into account whether or not the farm can pay for itself. Is there enough acreage? Is the farm close enough to the city, which is our primary market? Barns and other outbuildings are helpful as well as existing fencing and watering systems for animals.
We are trying to make the best of this 'little vacation' by researching and visiting some inspirational farms. Lots and lots of breathing, internet surfing, idea generating, book reading, writing, grant researching and talking to super supportive friends.
Something amazing is in store for us, I can feel it. A few years ago when Nate quit his job in England and we boarded a plane for the States, we felt as though we were jumping off a cliff. We had a dream to start a farm and it was exciting to know that anything could happen and that new experiences were just waiting to be born. Well, we feel like we're jumping off a cliff all over again.
This has all happened for a reason. My awesome blogger friend, D tells me, "Sometimes everything has to completely fall apart so that the pieces can be put back together the right way."

March 17, 2010

in other news...

We would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support. It really means more than you know. We realize that this is just a bump in the road and we're trying to focus on the positive.
So, speaking of the positive, here is the article about us in the current issue of Table Magazine. Ironically, we had just had a very bad incident on the new farm the day the photo was taken which made us begin to questions whether we'd made the right decision to move there but we tried to smile as if all was well. Obviously, you can ignore the part about our new location!
You'll notice that the article is way too small to read. I could make it bigger but it wouldn't fit on the page. There were 2 other egg producers featured in the article and the text from the part of the article that's about us is at the bottom.
The super awesome photos are by the super awesome Heather Mull. Enjoy.

ON THE MICRO-FARM by Cynthia Navadeh
Happy hens. More like pets than livestock, 85 hens
come a-running to greet Nate and Kristen Johanson.
Their soft clucks blend into a joyful chorus that is
nothing akin to the strident bwaa-awk! of cartoon soundtracks.
“If it weren’t for the fence, they’d follow us
around the farm,“ Kristen says, cuddling one brown
hen while another flaps up to Nate’s shoulder. “We
are very fond of them.“
It is two years since Nate, a former toy designer,
and Kristen, a massage therapist, launched careers
as organic farmers, after growing disenchanted with
factory farm-based food chains. Today, they raise
small flocks of chickens for meat and eggs.
Hen heaven must be like this: an endless supply
of organic grain, a heated water trough, a roomy
enclosure in which to scratch for bugs. Come warm
weather, the chickens will be moved to fresh pasture
every day or so and roost in portable hen houses
at night. These practices result in healthier, more
flavorful food, the Johansons say.
There’s not much money in this kind of farming,
but Nate and Kristen cite freedom and good eating as
non-monetary compensation. “I’m rich,“ Nate says.
Meat chickens, raised May-October, may be
fast-growing and broad-breasted Cornish Crosses or
the less common Red Rangers, with smaller breasts
and more dark meat than typical supermarket fowl.
Last year, the Johansons sold about 1,500 meat birds,
each ready-to-cook bird weighing 4 to 6 pounds.
Egg production, at its summer peak, will total five
to six dozen a day. The egg layers, raised year-round,
include Red Stars, White Leghorns and Araucanas,
known for friendly dispositions and pale blue eggs.
After two years, those happy hens are slaughtered
and sold as stewing chickens. That’s the way it has to
be on a farm, but Nate and Kristen have soft hearts:
last year, they each chose one favorite hen to keep.

March 15, 2010

war paint

My hope is that this will serve as an update for our friends, family and customers who have been wondering what we're up to. We have kept quiet about things until now because that's what we needed to do for us. Thank you for your love and support. It means so much.
Where do I begin?
I have been very selective in my blog topics as of late and for good reason. I wish I could freely write about what Nate and I have been experiencing the last few months but, however juicy a story it would make, I simply cannot. I sometimes regret the public format of this blog. I was encouraged to start this blog as a way to share our experiences by a good blogger friend, Danifred. I became so inspired by Danifred's blog and admired the fact that she was contributing daily to what would someday be a keepsake for her children. I knew that I would love to have a record of the trials and tribulations of starting our farm for our future children to read someday. I also wanted it to be a way for our friends, family and customers to be updated on what's new with us as well as a way to understand the struggles we go through to make it all happen. They are all common struggles for entering farmers and we feel strongly that people need to know that side of things.
This means that this is a public blog instead of an anonymous blog which really limits me in times like these. I desperately need to write in order to work through my feelings but cannot risk having my words read and misunderstood by the wrong person. Oh how I wish I could tell you the whole story but for now, I'll keep it brief and general while saving the real story for a book someday. I hope you'll understand.
I'll begin by saying that it has been a long, emotional, frustrating and painful road which has just finally come to an end.
As you know, we have spent the last 2 years trying to achieve our dream of a farm. If you need a refresher, you can read our story here. Knowing that the land we were farming was for sale, we knew that our time there was limited and we spent those 2 amazing years thinking about our next move. Obviously, we were hooked on farming so there was no question in our minds that we would continue, but where? Should we try to buy a farm? Could we buy a farm? Is there another arrangement similar to this one? We didn't know what we were looking for and hoped we would know it when we saw it. We poured over the farm realty websites daily, asked everyone we knew and posted a few ads. We had a few very interesting offers and options but kept looking.
As you may also know, we settled on moving to this farm just before Christmas though there were still so many unanswered questions. Some of those unanswered questions were important - like where we would live, but we convinced ourselves that the potential outcome at this farm was so worth it that we should just forge ahead. There were many, many incidents that made us question our decision but we just kept telling ourselves that we needed to stick it out. And stick it out we did, though hard as we tried, it just became too much. We found ourselves depressed, deflated and compromising our integrity and self-respect. Nothing in this world is worth that. Especially not a farm. It was time to honor ourselves and to do what was best for us.
With the support of our family, we made the decision to leave right away. This decision required an even more difficult decision, one that was hard to accept . . . we needed to get rid of our hens. They were what was keeping us from being able to just pick up and leave. We would be staying with my mother but what about the girls? I can't begin to tell you how painful it was to even consider this. Anyone who knows us, knows how much we love those hens but we had to consider the big picture. Our constant misery was not good for the hens as they inevitably pick up on our stress. A dear farmer friend had just lost a large number of hens to predators and was still in shock from her loss when we proposed that she take our girls. She agreed and we left the farm that night moving the hens to their new home. I wont lie and say that it wasn't excruciating to pick up each one as we unpacked them from their crates and set them in their new eggmobile but we did what we had to do. Chickens are resilient and adaptable, more so than humans. They will settle into their new surroundings in no time. It was us that I worried about. The first few days were far from easy. Nate and I barely spoke to one another as we tried to recover from the shock of our reality. We were emotionally drained. What just happened? Have we completely failed at our dream? Can we bounce back from this? How do we even begin to move on from here? Tears flowed freely.
But then we started to remind ourselves of all that we've accomplished and all of the knowledge gained in just 2 years of farming. Wow, did that help change our perspective! The more we told our story to friends and family, the more confident we were that we had made the best decision. And were those last 2 months at the new farm a total waste of our lives? No way. We are so grateful for the experiences, even the awful ones, as we have learned so very much.
We are unbelievably fortunate to have such a support system in our family. What a gift to be able to take the time we need to pick up the pieces, research our options and attempt to plan our future. We have taken back control of our lives and guess what? We're discovering that there are so many exciting possibilities out there for us. In fact, there are big plans in the works. We're just not sure if things will fall into place in time for a 2010 farming season, which is a bummer.
So, gone are our beloved hens and gone is the farm life that we loved. . . but not for long. This is only the beginning and we are more determined than ever to make our dreams come true. As a good farmer friend told us in response to our current situation, "No way have you taken a step backwards. You're ahead of the curve. Look out world, Nate and Kristen have their war paint on!"

March 8, 2010

upside down

Our lives are a little upside down right now as we try to make some important decisions about the future of our farming. So for now, we’re just breathing.
Oh, and this just happened this morning…
Farmer R had been away for a few days for 2 Organic Agriculture speaking engagements in Canada and left us in charge. All went well and there was even a calf born on our watch…only we didn’t watch. We went to check on the cows just after 1am and there was a new, wet little face. Nate held the flashlight while I dried his ears with a towel to keep them from freezing. His mama did the usual not-so-thrilled grunting but was surprisingly calm. He was still wet and judging by the remnants of the placenta, we knew she had just given birth. We also knew that it was more important that we get out of there and let them bond, than it was to get the rest of him dry. So we left.
The next morning when we went to feed bales the calf looked good and we assumed all was well. He was running around later that day. Farmer R returned that night and asked if we had felt his belly to see if he had nursed. I said that when I last checked he was lying down which made it hard to tell.
When we checked this morning, Farmer R could tell that he had never nursed and that we had better get going if we were going to save it. We needed to get that calf to nurse. The mother and baby have the best chances of nursing successfully within 12 hours of birth. After that, things change and anything goes. It’s now more than 24 hours since birth and mama’s udder is engorged and painful. And she is not cooperating. Her instinct to nurse is now gone and her engorged udder is very painful. But she has to nurse. The calf has been sucking on her brisket (the flappy fur0covered skin that hangs off of mama’s chest) in an effort to find the teats. Obviously, there is no milk there but since he sucked the brisket during the crucial imprinting period, he now thinks that’s where he should nurse. So we had to teach him how to nurse. Mama, however, had a different idea. She was so uncomfortable and so frustrated that she knocked us about for a bit. Miraculously, no one got hurt aside from a cut on Farmer R’s hand from holding the rope to steady her.
We set up some gates to segregate them and Farmer R guided the calf towards the teat. There was more resistance by the mama and she heaved herself over the gates a few times scaring all of us. I fell twice while she was kicking and had to roll away to escape her hoof. I got up close and personal with the calf’s butt in an effort to get him to nurse. As I mentioned in another post, the mama licks the calf’s butt after he’s born to stimulate him to nurse so I had to mimic that action with my hand. It worked. It was touch and go there with an unhappy mama but he nursed enough to save his life and we’ll most likely have to work with him to remind him how to find the teat again.
Before we left things were going really well. Hopefully mom and baby will continue to do well and Nate and I are grateful for the experience.
All that, before breakfast.