May 28, 2012

a dream...

Nate and I once had a dream.

A few years back, in the midst of our 'between farms depression' we took a road trip to the Midwest. The trip was to research a very special farm with a special oven. We actually visited several farms for the same reason, but one in particular stood out. This farm hosted a weekly pizza night and drew quite a crowd. The farm was run by a beautiful, down-to-earth family and we were truly inspired. By the community aspect, by the opportunity for folks to see and experience where their food comes from, and by the pizza.

We had been kicking around the idea but after experiencing it for ourselves, we decided right then that we wanted to create something like that here, in Western Pennsylvania. We didn't have a farm then. But we had a plan.

Since that trip, Nate has worked to perfect his sourdough bread and pizza dough recipe while researching and learning all he could about wood-fired ovens. He spent a lot of last season building it and the oven grew along with the baby in my belly.




After many, many hours of work, sweat, and love, the day has finally arrived where Nate is baking bread and pizza in his handcrafted oven.

Oh my, is that bread and pizza yummy!

In the very near future we'll be hosting weekly pizza nights here at the farm. Our goal is to eventually grow most of the ingredients for the pizza. We hope to be able to offer fresh bread for sale to our CSA members this season and someday have the oven available for folks to use to bake their own bread. Nate would like to have wood-fired bread baking workshops here as well so people can learn about this lost art. More details to come on all of that very soon.

The oven, while the exterior isn't quite finished, is a thing of beauty. Nate did a great job documenting the project in photos, which can be found here.

This oven really is his best work yet.

May 24, 2012

best friends

Zander and Evelyn discuss their day on the farm.

May 13, 2012

two farmers, 350 chickens and a hurricane

Ever heard of Greenhorns?

What follows is an essay I wrote that was just published in the new Greenhorns book. The book is a collection of stories from new farmers and my story is about our first tragic event. It happened 5 years ago, before I even started this blog. 

I cried while writing this story a year ago, and Nate cried yesterday when the book arrived and he read it. There have been many other events that have hurt us since then - some have been worse - but being our first, it was so traumatic for us, that the memory of it is as vivid as that day in 2008. 

They really did a great job on the book. Pick one up here!

Here's the book trailer.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

Two Farmers, 350 Chickens and a Hurricane

It was eight o’clock in the evening and I was doing my rounds in the brooder, caring for the baby chicks, while Nate was doing his rounds with the older broilers outside. I could hear the wind picking up and remember saying to the little chicks, “Be glad you’re safe and cozy in here, little ones. It sounds wicked out there.” 

Just then, Nate came blowing into the brooder building. “It’s crazy out there!" he said. "We’re going to lose the covers on the broiler pens if we don’t do something.” So we ran out to see what we could do.

I have never experienced weather like this before. An eerie darkness had taken over the farm, painting everything a deep purple. Our broiler pens were made of two cattle panels, bowed over to make a hoop structure and covered with recycled billboard vinyl. The ends of the vinyl were loose so that we could roll up the sides during the day and roll them down at night. The wind was blowing so hard that the ends were flapping, threatening to pull off the vinyl and make it fly away. Every time the wind blew, the chickens, terrified of the flapping noise, would cower in the corner and pile on top of each other. We knew we had to do something fast or they would smother each other to death.

Nate acted quicker than I’ve ever seen him move before. He punched holes in the ends of the vinyl sides and tied them to the pens so they couldn’t move. We had four pens of broilers, so he had to do everything quickly. The wind howled and roared while Nate worked and I tried to weight down the sides with cinder blocks. Running out of blocks, I threw my body across the last one and waited for him to finish. The wind blew so hard that it even moved me. 

We were in a pasture flanked by woods on two sides, and the trees were blowing around so fiercely that they were bending and creaking. I started imagining the worst, and I closed my eyes and said a prayer while Nate worked frantically. He finally finished, and the broilers seemed stable. It was well after 10 o’clock when we accepted that we had done all we could and there was nothing more to do but wait it out. 

I didn’t want to leave our animals - that was our livelihood sitting out in that field - but it was starting to become dangerous for us. Branches and debris were flying everywhere. We barely slept that night, waking with every howl of the wind. It broke my heart to think of the animals being so scared. We didn’t know it yet, but we were being hit by hurricane Ike.

Morning came and we were afraid to walk outside. 

This was our first year farming, and the learning curve was steeper than you can imagine. It was demanding, stressful, frustrating, exhausting, dirty and beautiful all at the same time. When we took the leap into farming, overnight we became responsible for several hundred tiny little lives, and the weight of that responsibility was heavy. No matter what, our days were filled with hard work, and now the thought of anything being damaged and requiring more work was overwhelming. We couldn't afford a setback at this point in the game. 

We hopped on the four-wheeler and drove over to the animals. Our first stop was the layers. We had recently moved our first batch of hens into the Eggmobile that Nate had finished building only a month before. We weren't prepared for what we were about to see.

In all the chaos the night before, trying to save the broiler pens, neither of us thought to secure the Eggmobile. Ninety-mile-per-hour winds had lifted it up off of the trailer it was on, rolled it 360 degrees, and crashed it down, right-side up, with all hundred of our girls inside. Hours and hours of Nate’s work, smashed. 

I thought he would lose it right then and there. Still on the four-wheeler, he turned to look at me, his face white. Tears streamed down my face and I couldn't breathe. This was a huge blow. We jumped off to check on the girls, hoping they were okay. Amazingly, every one of them had survived.

Once we knew they were alright, anger overcame Nate as he began to realize how much work lay ahead. And it wasn’t like the work could wait. Those hens needed their home to be fixed so they could sleep in it that night.

We moved on to the broilers, to find that they too had survived the night, with minimal damage to the pens: a gift, a small bit of mercy, from the hurricane.

Nate and I looked at each other, looked over our battered farm, and breathed deep. There was nothing to do but rebuild.

We gathered our tools and began again.

May 5, 2012


Zander has a new friend. I pulled this guy out of the pasture pen and brought him back into the brooder. He's one of the 4 week-old broilers (meat birds). The others were picking on him and I wanted to give him a chance to heal. For whatever reason, they must see him as weaker than the rest. I doctored him up and gave him the run of the greenhouse/brooder. He's very friendly and has chosen Zander as his buddy. I started noticing that no matter what I'm doing, he's never more than a few feet away from Z and is usually parked right next to the stroller. 

I can hear it now...'Daddy, can't we just keep this one?"


rest in peace, tiny

We had to euthanize our old goat this week. Good old Tiny, the troublemaker. Always into something.
      (usually the chicken coop stealing feed!)

See you next time around, buddy.

May 4, 2012

on any given day . . .

This is how Zander spends a lot of his time, watching me work.

It's nap time for batch #3, who just arrived yesterday.

Batch #2 gets to spread their wings and stretch their legs in their new bigger space.

Batch #1 out on pasture!

Nate checks on the pigs and it looks like they've found some mud!

Happy hens.

The greenhouse is packed to the gills! Some of these are to be sold as seedlings but the rest will be planted in the fields for the CSA and for market.

Lynn works hard in the heat of the day prepping the soil in the new high tunnel. The high tunnel is named Fabio. Because it's so shiny, new and sexy.

 These are spent brewers grains that we get from a local brewery to add to our pig feed. It's free but it comes wet, so this is how we dry it.

It was a hot one!