December 22, 2011

but wait, there's more . . .

Jen and Greg welcomed Evelyn Wren Montgomery-Boulos (in pink) on December 12th!

Two new farmers, just 6 days apart!

and then there were 3 . . .

I didn't think I could love anything as much as I love Nate. But then came a tiny little version of him.

On December 6th, our son, Zander Gray Johanson was born. He did not, by any means, arrive the way we intended but we sure are happy he's here.

He's an old soul with a will of his own. Welcome to the world, Zander!

November 3, 2011

once upon a time . . .

... there was a couple who moved to England, where a dream was born.

Ok, I'll spare you. You know the story. Nate and I were living in England when we we started thinking about moving back home to start a new life as organic farmers. With very few friends there, lots of rainy days and a decent internet connection, we spent a lot of our time researching sustainable farming. There were 2 very influential people whose videos sealed the deal for us. Joel Salatin and Vandana Shiva.

You might remember that Nate had the chance to meet Joel Salatin and thank him a few years ago.

Nate's a bit star struck. Can you tell?

Last night, we had the chance to hear the lovely Vandana Shiva speak. Afterwards, we had a private moment where we were able to thank her for inspiring us to become farmers...well, Nate did. I couldn't talk without crying so he did the talking. Damn hormones.

It was a good night.

Here's a great Vandana video which I may have posted before. This is part 1 of 3, don't miss the other parts.

And a great Joel Salatin video...

September 14, 2011


Ok, this baby is really slowing me down. I've developed back problems that are starting to have a huge impact on my ability to do the things I normally do around here. Seriously, I've never experienced pain like this before. It makes me cry on occasion (which these days, isn't that hard). Is this prepping me for what's to come? I'm hoping that between my massage therapist friend, chiropractor and midwife, I can figure this out and get some relief soon. I realize I do not have a back-friendly occupation, especially with this extra weight in the front but folks, I do need to make it to December and I'd prefer to not spend the time on my back.

The good news is that Jen seems to be much better off than me, so at least it's not 2 pregnant chicks who are way less productive on the farm.

And Nate? Well, I feel I owe him my life right now. He has picked up my slack and then some and I don't have words to thank him for his love, support and understanding. On top of our already stressful life 'stuff', he's handling it all so well. I got a good one.

Speaking of Nate, here he is with our cute little turkeys. . .

Here are some of my favorite moments from the past few weeks. . .

My sweet Midge.

When the turkeys were a wee bit younger.

A Khaki Campbell duckling.

My preferred method of getting around the farm these days.

Freedom Rangers

Baby turkey discovers the bump.

More ducks!

Nate works on his baby while I work on growing mine. What's he building? Well, that's another post. . .

August 28, 2011

nursing turkeys and falling in love with ducks

This past week has been a whirlwind. The turkeys have arrived! They arrived, however, with a bad bacterial 'thing' which originated at the hatchery and we've lost quite a few of them.

We have always had excellent luck with turkeys and have always ordered from the same hatchery . . . until this year. For several reasons we chose, against our instincts, to try a different hatchery. Needless to say, we are not impressed. The bacterial thing seems to have run it's course and everyone is now on the mend. We pulled out all of the tools in our natural animal care toolbox but time really seemed to be what they needed. The strong ones survived, the weak ones did not. We've seen our fair share of death on the farm but it never gets easier and certainly not when it's occurring on a daily basis. That sort of thing tends to wear on a person - especially a very emotional mama-to-be.

We are taking a deep breath and moving on. We're disappointed that we wont be able to raise the number of birds we ordered but we're feeling grateful for the turkeys we do have. We had a few other exciting new arrivals along with our turkeys. A small batch of . . .


These are not for production but for fly control and fun and entertainment on the farm. Though they are a little skittish around us still, we're finding ourselves falling more in love with them by the day. I have visions of our children playing with them someday. They have been a breath of fresh air as we've dealt with the turkey losses. You just can't help but smile when you see them. Who would've thought that what we really needed were a few ducks in our lives.

August 18, 2011


The baby is slowing me down but the growth of my belly is not slowing at all. I'm big enough that I'm beginning to have doubts about how the last months of pregnancy will be on the farm. I've decided, however, to just take a deep breath and go with it. I'll deal with it as it comes.

We have 4 week old chicks in the brooder who are ready to move out to pasture to make room for new turkeys and a handful of ducks coming next week. (Oh my goodness, how are we going to feed all of these birds!!) These are Freedom Ranger chicks and we're loving them. We've raised them years ago and liked them a lot then but ended up sticking with the Cornish Crosses. They were also our first ever batch of broilers so we didn't know much. We have never had chicks this happy, healthy, hardy and active. So active, it's hard to capture them in photos.

For my animal notes:
There are 2 chicks that are tiny compared to the rest. Usually, we just see what happens. Sometimes they make it. I have a great book that has become my animal care bible called "Homeopathy in Organic Livestock Production" and I've just tried, for the first time, a remedy for 'runts' or those who don't seem to be growing. I've been using homeopathy on our animals for several years now with great results. I must say though, I have never had such trouble catching chicks like this. They're so darn fast I even had to use a net! I got one and gave it the remedy but quickly decided it wasn't worth putting the other one through the stress of chasing it down and catching it. But you know? I do believe the remedy has worked. I thought this one was on it's way out for sure. It had that look they we've come to know as a sure sign of imminent death and I've never seen one bounce back from that. Ever. I also gave it a bit of egg yolk and raw milk from a syringe but I'm thinking the remedy is largely responsible. Amazing.

The young hens continue to do well and are laying like crazy. They're happy and healthy. One flock is still in training in their eggmobile. Usually, in our experience, the rooster has helped them learn to go inside just before dark and get up on the roosts to sleep. This rooster, however, is not the sharpest tool in the shed. It even took him a few nights to get the hang of going in at dark and since the girls look to him as the example of what to do, we had some fun nights of rounding up and carrying 100 hens into the eggmobile and setting them on the roosts. They're all going inside on their own now but we still have some sleeping on the floor instead of on the roosts. These issues are a first for us. We've never had a flock with such trouble getting the hang of it but we're patiently working with them. They sure are laying well so we're happy.


Black Australorp

What? Haven't you ever seen a red leghorn eating fennel?

Barred Rock

More Araucanas

And the most favorite Araucana of all, Miss. Lucille (and the baby bump)

As I've mentioned, grain prices have risen this year making raising poultry a bit more difficult and unfortunately, our reliable source is not working out as the wet, wet Spring has made it impossible for a decent grain crop. There is much worry around here about where the next batch of grain will come from but we're trying to stay positive that all will be well.

On the vegetable side of the farm . . . we are approaching week 10 of the CSA which marks the halfway point. How did that happen? We are knee deep, no - make that elbow deep in beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I hope we still see them as beautiful in another few weeks. Last year we sleepily canned tomatoes until the wee hours but are finding that with 2 pregnant mamas in the mix, we just don't have the energy this year so we're having a harder time keeping on top of things. Luckily the rest of the gang has stepped in to help.

The CSA shares are bountiful and just beautiful right now, overflowing with greens, herbs, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, beets, tomatoes and more.

August, in all it's craziness, hard work and 14 hour days, is a beautiful month.

August 10, 2011

23 weeks

This is me and my favorite girl, Lucille, taken a week or so ago. I'm 23 weeks pregnant and completely overwhelmed with life. It is, of course, August, the craziest month on the farm and I'm a little preoccupied with this whole 'preforming the miracle of life' thing. I wish I had time and energy to tell you more . . .

July 24, 2011

the storm

This is how Friday started out. New cute fuzzy chicks.

Oh, to be on a farm in July. It is, without a doubt, one of the most stressful times of the year. I've been finding out that being pregnant can make certain aspects of farming a lot more difficult than I anticipated. Even at just 21 weeks. We've got a long way to go.

This extreme heat has not helped either. On Friday we were all busy sweating and harvesting produce for the CSA and for market. Out of nowhere, a storm appeared bringing some much-needed relief and we felt we could finally breathe again. But then the storm kept picking up in intensity and it got darker and rained harder. Thunder boomed, the wind howled and hail fell.

We worried about the greenhouses, the high tunnels, the eggmobiles and other animal shelters. We worried about the crops being damaged.

After the storm we ventured out to check on things.

This is how Friday ended.

The newly-purchased awning over our processing equipment was destroyed but really, it's minimal damage considering what might have been. What was more concerning was that our new batch of baby chicks who had just arrived that morning had gotten wet. They were already a day late arriving and had miraculously survived and extra day of shipping in extreme temperatures. We had set them up in a different space than usual because we thought it would be cooler for them. We had the windows open for ventilation as it was 94 degrees that day. Unfortunately this allowed rain to come in the windows and in addition, there were a few roof leaks we were unaware of. The poor little ones were wet and scared so we quickly replaced the bedding and got them warm, dry and settled.

They're all happy and well now, even after a stressful first few days of life. I think they bounced back faster than we did. Luckily, we don't have to process any birds anytime soon. We're gonna need some time to work on this.

June 29, 2011


Kristen, John and Lynn

Brent and Kristen

Kristen, Jen, Michael Paul, Kristin and Brent


Kristen, John, Brent and Lynn

deep breath

We're recovering from a 2-day extravaganza of processing our first batch of birds of the season. We're overflowing with gratitude as we think about the amazing friends of the farm who donated their time to help out. Everyone did a great job and were genuinely interested, enthusiastic and so helpful. Our birds turned out big, beautiful and from what we've heard so far, very tasty!

On Sunday, once we had processed our last bird and dealt with our last customer, the second half of the job began. Clean up, breaking down chickens, dealing with organs and parts and organizing the freezers. It would be days before we could rest and before the smell of chicken disappeared from my hands.

This processing was a bit more of a challenge than the rest. For starters, it was our first batch of chickens since 2009 at the old farm, but even more challenging is that this time I was almost 5 months pregnant. Crating up birds the night before and lifting multiple crates of 8 birds weighing 6-7 pounds each up onto the truck, only to lift them off the truck again. Standing all day while processing. Unable to take as many breaks as I should have to pee, drink water and put some protein in my mouth. Preparing food to feed the volunteers. Cleaning and setting up the processing equipment, 2 days in a row. Bagging birds and cleaning up afterwards. It was, all in all, a 5 day event and it was a lot harder than it used to be.

All I can say (again) is that I'm most grateful for all who helped. Most of all though, the person deserving the most thanks and who never gets to show up in photos, is Nate. He has the hardest job. He's in charge of the general set up. He does most of the cleaning and the rigging up of tents and awnings and making sure the equipment runs well. Most importantly, he has to kill these animals we've spent the last 7 weeks caring for. . . and he does it with love, respect, humor and grace. It wears on a person, I know. But he handles it so well and I never fear that our animals are feeling anything but calm and happy until their last moments. Thank you, Nate.

Wow. Pregnancy makes life just a little bit harder. I feel like I've run the longest marathon and all I want to do is hibernate for a few days.

I know, I know . . . there's work to be done for the farm doesn't sleep.

June 22, 2011

the start of the 2011 CSA (and chickens!)

The Blackberry Meadows CSA starts today so if you've been planning to sign up but just haven't gotten around to it, now is the time! The form you need to fill out is here and here's a great explanation of why things are starting a bit late this year, though I think you know why.

And . . .

We will be butchering our first batch of chickens of the season this weekend and you'll have a chance to purchase fresh (not frozen), organic, pasture-raised chicken this Sunday.

We've switched to certified organic feed this year for all of our poultry which has been a long time coming. We haven't been able to afford it and we haven't wanted to ask our customers to pay more for chicken but we just can't morally feed or consume conventional grain anymore. Unfortunately, that means the price has to go up. Just as we were making plans for a season's worth of chickens, the cost of grain skyrocketed forcing us to decide if we can continue to raise poultry. We're still hanging in there for now and instead chose to do a much smaller batch this time.

That means numbers are limited so we need you to pre-order between now and then. We'll confirm your order by email until we run out of birds to sell.

Hope to see you!

May 22, 2011

long overdue update and some news . . .

I'm so behind on things. It's been a challenging spring. I know I've said that before but it really has been. The rain has been killing us. We managed to get into the fields with a tractor to transplant kale last week before the rain started again and now we're back to the waiting game. Honestly, we're done feeling stressed and overwhelmed about being so behind this season. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Nothing to do but wait. Everyone else is experiencing the same rain and it's putting a damper on their plans too, farmers or not. Please just know that we farmers have it exceptionally rough this year. Be kind, understanding and offer some love. In the meantime, we've continued weeding and transplanting by hand. It's hard on the back but we have to get food growing somehow!

The hens
The hens are doing great! The older girls are loving life outside and so are the little girls. They're in eggmobile training and they have taken to sunshine and grass like fish to water. I might say this every time but I think they're our best flock yet. So sweet and well behaved. They're really a joy to have around.

And remember our favorite little white girl? Well, she's still Nate's one and only. He's smitten.

The lambs
They're great too. They're outside nibbling on grass and slowly getting less and less bottle feedings as the days go on. (yay!) Meet Clarice and Midge!

Clarice and the milk mama

The chicks

We got broiler chicks a few weeks ago and they're doing really well. They're already much older than these photos. They're looking like chickens now and will be ready to move outside very soon. Here are some photos of their younger days...

The goats
We have 2 goats on the farm, Tiny and Sugar Pie. Sugar Pie is Tiny's grandmother and the two are inseparable. Sadly, Sugar Pie left this world last week. It has been a challenge keeping Tiny's spirits up since then but he's making progress. It's been heartbreaking hearing him cry for her and watching him continue to search for her. He's finally getting back to his old self though. Poor guy. We miss you, Sugar Pie.

Tiny and Sugar Pie ~ Summer, 2010

The high tunnel

... is DONE!!! WooHoo!!! Many thanks to Nate and Greg for their countless hours of stress, sweat and frustration. And thanks to all of those who donated their time to help!

The farmers
Nate, Greg and Lynn, traveled to Southern Virginia last weekend to attend a workshop on working oxen. All of this rain has gotten us thinking . . . we could get into the fields to do work with animals a lot earlier when it's too wet for tractors. Also, they require a lot less fuel and engine maintenance so they just may be in our future plans. The gang learned a lot and had lots of experiences to share upon their return. Nate's off this week to a 3 day grazing school in Ligonier to learn from a master grazer.

This farmer
Well, this farmer has some news to share which might explain why I'm so behind on things. I'm pregnant and the baby is due in early December. This has definitely contributed to this being one of the hardest springs EVER. I have much to say about farming and pregnancy as well as much, much more but right now, I'm trying to decide if this farm blog is the place for that sort of thing. I'm thinking of starting a personal blog so if you're interested in following me on this new journey as well, stay tuned. And if anyone has any feedback on that, I'm open.

Me, miss hen and future farmer baby

If you thought that was it . . . think again. There are actually 2 babies scheduled to arrive on the farm in early December. Jen's pregnant too! I know it sounds crazy and impossible but that's just the way it turned out. Now I can really be honest about how hard it's been around here and quite frankly, we couldn't have made it through our first trimester without our hard-working intern, Lynn. She's truly amazing and has insisted on working while we were feeling awful and trying to sneak in much-needed naps. She's so brave and understanding taking on a farm with two pregnant women. Thank you, Lynn. You rock!

Future farmers in the making at Blackberry Meadows Farm, folks!