The Farm Series: Grassward Dairy

Well, hello there. We’re at this moment in Oregon, volunteering on farms and trying to determine if Quiet Farm wants to be born in this place. We planned to spend a month on one particular small goat dairy, but as we know from previous adventures, travel plans don’t always work out exactly as envisioned. So we ended up living in a vintage trailer (oh, the memories) for ten days here at Grassward Dairy, a micro-creamery just outside of a college town we know and love (go Beavs!).


The farmers have to cross a road twice a day to move the cows for milking.

We’ve now worked and/or volunteered on more than half a dozen farms around the world, and every single one is different. Grassward Dairy sits on about one hundred rolling acres along Mary’s River in the southern stretch of the Willamette Valley; in addition to the three milking cows, there are ducks, laying hens, beef cattle, sheep, a donkey, a llama and a rambunctious cattle dog-in-training.


Harold, on the left, and Hazelita are being raised for meat. Hand-feeding them collards and chard was one of the highlights of our time here.


Cows on their way to the barn for the evening milking.


It doesn’t always rain in Oregon.


We cleaned out the tomato and pepper plants from this 100-foot hoop house, then prepped and reseeded the beds with winter greens.


The guard llama and her flock.

Every farm is unique, and every farm’s business model is unique, too. Grassward Dairy offers a dairy CSA, which means that customers pay a fixed price each month in exchange for fresh raw milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and cream. In this agricultural part of Oregon, it’s easy to eat local just about all year.


Terry the rooster, with one of his ladies. Muscovy ducks and Florencia the guard donkey can be seen in the background.


Hattie, looking regal and proud.


Disking one of the pastures in preparation for cover cropping. While we were there, heavy rains swelled the river and flooded this pasture, among others.


The evening milking.

The more time we spend on farms, the more we know this is the right path for us. Many thanks to the team at Grassward Dairy for letting us be part of their farm family for a short time. And if you’re in the area, you can stay there too!



Eating healthy on the road

Oh, the quintessential American road trip. Our country’s iconic open highways have been immortalized in so many classic movies, like when we thought “the Rocky Mountains would be a whole lot rockier.” Or perhaps you need to bootleg a few Coors Banquets from Texas to Georgia? Maybe two legendary ladies in a ’66 T-Bird is more your style? Whatever your favorite road trip film might be, there is no arguing that eating healthy while driving American highways is no easy feat.


Hello Wyoming, and thanks for inventing cruise control. (Photo may have been taken in 1987 or 2017. With filters, who knows?)

I like to move food. It’s my thing. Whenever we leave our house, it’s a guarantee that there are a few canvas shopping bags and maybe a plastic tub or two stacked by the door. We go to my sister’s for dinner and I bring jars of homemade applesauce, fruit leather for my niece (also known as “repurposed jam”) or gorgeous cheese from these lovely folks. My book club ladies leave with end-of-the-garden produce, dinner leftovers and more cheese. And if we’re off on a trip, whether by car or by plane, I simply will not be held hostage by the American industrial food complex.


Mmmm…McDonald’s or Cinnabon? Why not both?

The vast majority of food in this country is based on two key ingredients: corn and soy. We are very, very good at growing corn and soy, and even better at turning it into cheap meat, soda and processed food. And these “edible foodlike substances” are most of what’s on offer at your standard convenience store or truck stop. And to add insult to injury, it is absurdly priced! I will not play by those rules.


Example A, above. Look! It’s a $2.79 “meal replacement bar!” You know, so we don’t have to eat an actual meal! Can you read the first ingredient? It’s soy protein isolate. The second ingredient is sugar, and the third is soluble corn fiber. If all of your standard meals are composed of soy, sugar and corn, then by all means, please choose this as a meal replacement. But this is just one of many examples of a giant, powerful marketing machine that has convinced the American public that we 1. don’t have time to cook and 2. can eat some junk like this with “PROTEIN” printed in large font and call it a meal. No, no and no.


Absolutely no actual food was harmed in the making of these edible foodlike substances.

If you’re on a road trip, whenever possible get off the highway and into a town supermarket. Gas stations, convenience stores and truck stops are by their very nature stocked with cheap, non-perishable food, so that’s what you’ll buy. Their staff has neither the time or inclination to stock and then dispose of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, so instead you’ll encounter a display like the one above. If you can make it away from the interstate and into a small grocery store, you’ll hopefully have access to a much better selection of food.


I genuinely pity the poor animals who died to make these “meat sticks.” (Also, “thungry?” Is this like “hangry?” Notice that it’s trademarked.)


Part of our road trip survival kit.

So what’s a person to do in the face of this pretend food trash? Easy answer: plan in advance. Just like cooking healthy food at home, eating well on the road requires a bit of time and planning. But if you’re already doing other pre-road trip tasks like checking your tire pressure and refilling your windshield wiper fluid, why not get some healthy food in order? For me, it’s mostly shelf-stable items, plus a few perishables in a cooler. My basic road trip essentials, most of which are easily found in the bulk section of a good supermarket:

  • stellar cheese and good crackers are mandatory
  • dried fruit, including figs, apricots and homemade fruit leather
  • fresh fruit that can last, such as citrus and apples (no berries or bananas!)
  • homemade granola, to eat on its own or with purchased yogurt
  • jerky, either homemade or from well-raised animals
  • nuts, which for us are typically roasted salted almonds
  • rice cracker mix, pretzels or other reasonably healthy salty snacks
  • homemade granola or energy bars, or packaged bars with clean labels (be able to pronounce and understand every single ingredient, and the first three ingredients shouldn’t be soy, sugar and corn)
  • good-quality dark chocolate, preferably without soy lecithin

And for equipment:

  • without question, a good chef’s knife and paring knife, protected in sheaths, and a small polypropylene cutting board.
  • we bring our own coffeemaker, grinder, beans and mugs. We sleep cheap, and I’m not drinking Motel 6 coffee. Not negotiable.
  • cutlery rolls, which include an inexpensive metal fork, knife, spoon, reusable straw and corkscrew. We don’t use single-use items, with the exception of compostable paper napkins.
  • Mason jars with screw-top lids and a few plastic containers. These can be used for drinks, storing snacks or to eat meals.
  • a wooden spoon, rubber spatula and metal tongs
  • a small electric burner plus a frying pan and mini stockpot. This makes meal prep on the road easy – and more importantly – possible.

In all honesty, at various stops along this trip I did notice small containers of cut fresh fruit, hardboiled eggs and some seemingly fresh sandwiches and wraps, which indicates that demand is shifting. But there is no guarantee that every gas station will have these, and if you pack your own food you’ll have a much better selection and save a ton of money. I saw two packaged hardboiled eggs priced at $1.99; with a cooler and ice packs, a dozen well-sourced hardboiled eggs, flaky salt and hot sauce can easily be brought along for about $4 and a few minutes’ work in advance. There is simply no one thing you can do to improve both your physical and financial health more than planning, cooking and bringing your own food. Enough said.

Friends, please remember that your health is your responsibility, and what you choose to eat makes a huge difference in your health. Take some time prior to your next trip and bring food along, and stand in opposition to a system that insists you have to eat what it offers.


Cooking Class: Chiang Mai, Thailand

We’re excited to be headed out on the road again, and in that spirit we wanted to revisit some of our favorite moments from our adventures earlier this year. Some weeks back, we shared a cooking class we had taken in Udaipur, India. And as we’re in nostalgia mode, and I’ve got Thailand on my mind since I just spent time talking to a friend about his trip, let’s return to Chiang Mai and a fabulous cooking class we experienced there. Like our Indian class, this day out was one of the highlights of our trip to southeast Asia.

Thai dessert bowl

Looks like Thai green curry, but it’s actually dessert: sweet rice pudding with bananas and coconut milk.

Thai rice market

Dozens of varieties of rice are for sale at the market.

Thai ingredients market

Fish sauce, a key ingredient in southeast Asian cooking.

We started our cooking class at one of the many local markets, where we sampled various ingredients and drank cold, sweet Thai iced coffee. While the cooking school has an extensive garden and grows many of their own herbs and spices, they still need to shop for a few things. Many Thai homes don’t have refrigeration, so shopping each day for fresh ingredients is both a pleasure and a necessity.

Thai cooking tables

We’ll grind our curry pastes and chop our ingredients here.

We left the market and traveled by minibus to the school, where we were offered iced jasmine tea and given a tour of the property. The cooking school is perfectly set up to accommodate guests, with spaces for prep, cooking and eating together.

Thai garden chilies

Tiny, fiery Thai bird chiles. Typically, the smaller the chile, the bigger the punch.

Thai ingredients basket

Fresh herbs and aromatics, just harvested.

The cooking school has acres of gardens, where they grow lemongrass, basil, coriander, mint, galangal, ginger, kaffir lime, chiles and many other ingredients for their classes.

Thai cooking kitchen

Our indoor-outdoor kitchen, with cooking stations set up for each student.

Thai ingredients board

Thai ingredients bowls 01

Thai ingredients bowls 02

All of the components for the recipes we would make in class were neatly laid out for us. I emphasize this classical French technique a lot in my own cooking classes: it’s called mise-en-place, and it literally means “to put everything in its place.” When you’re cooking, assemble all of your ingredients like this in advance; it may seem tedious and time-consuming, but it actually makes preparing your dish much, much easier. Trust me.

Thai cutting board spoon

Fresh herbs and tamarind paste, like fish sauce, are key to classic Thai cooking.

Thai pestle mortar table

Although you can of course make curry paste in a blender, traditionally it’s prepared in a stone mortar and pestle.

Thai pestle mortar

Grinding aromatics for red curry paste.

Thai wok stir-fry veg

A wok allows for quick, high heat, so vegetables and proteins remain crisp and fresh.

Thai wok stir-fry tofu

Pad thai, a favorite Thai dish. In Thailand it’s not quite as sweet as it often is in America.

Thai red curry

Vegetarian red curry soup. Good Thai food is most often a delicate balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet.

Craving some Thai food after reading this? Me too. Try here, here or here. And if you have the chance, definitely book a cooking class on your next adventure. It’s well worth the time and money to cook and eat like a local, if only for a few hours.

On the road again + best travel tips

It’s early October, cool and crisp. N and I have been home from our round-the-world adventure for about four months, and it’s time to go again. We’re at the moment in a flurry of last-minute preparations to head to Oregon for a month, where we’ll volunteer on another goat dairy. This trip is quite a bit easier than the last one: no worrying about visas or passports, no cramming everything into just one bag, plus we’ll only be gone for one month, instead of five. But in the spirit of adventure, we thought we’d share some of our most useful travel tips, gleaned from nearly two decades (!) of short- and long-term travel.

Travel Books.jpg

There are vacations, and then there are trips. One could argue that a trip is a bit more serious than a vacation; it might last for more than a month and involve a committed disentanglement from the everyday world. And nowadays, with opportunities for remote work increasing, it’s more likely that you might be able to swing that four-months-or-more abroad plan you’ve been ruminating on for ever so long. Below, our most useful tips for those of you who might be thinking about making the leap from a standard holiday to a trip.

  • Identify – roughly, at least – what you expect to get out of your travel. If you’re just traveling to capture Insta followers or get paid for blogging, fair enough. Or if you’re running away from a difficult situation, be honest about that, too. But don’t go traveling without at least a reasonably clear idea of what you hope to accomplish. Any less, and you’re asking the travel itself to do all the work. You have to show up, too.

Travel Blur.jpg

  • Make a budget. Then increase it by 25%. The old adage goes like this: “Lay out everything you think you need. Then take half that and twice the money,” and it holds true. For our five months overseas, we budgeted generously for two adults and still went over that number by 20%. They may say that the best things in life are free, but the truth is that travel costs money, and there is no glory in arriving back in your own country completely, totally broke. Account for the unexpected; for us, that was the high cost of point-to-point travel in Japan and unexpected gratuities required literally everywhere in India.
  • Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your return date. This seems like a surprisingly obvious tip, but you’d be amazed at how many travelers are caught out by it. Different countries have different requirements, but having at least six months’ validity, plus at least three or four blank pages, in your passport will make border crossings much easier.

Travel Diary.jpg

  • Please, research your destinations – and their visa rules – before you go. Again, different countries have different requirements and all of this information can easily be found online, most likely through your home country’s government. “I didn’t know” is simply not a valid excuse at any international border crossing.
  • Also, do a bit of research on your destinations and their customs. In many countries, it’s not appropriate to show shoulders and/or knees. Women might be expected to cover their heads. Certain countries may only eat with the right hand. Knowing this in advance can save a lot of awkwardness once you arrive, and you should always, always be respectful of the customs of the country you’re visiting.


  • If possible, sign up for a debit card that reimburses ATM fees. In the U.S., Charles Schwab provides some terrific options that can save you a lot of money. Find out if any banks in your country offer similar programs because ATMs are simply the very best way to withdraw local currency and avoid usurious fees. Money changers – especially in airports and train stations – should be used as an absolute last resort. (Thanks, India, for only having broken ATMs in your airports so we were forced to use money changers.)
  • Get travel insurance, and know its limitations. There are a number of great plans out there, but they vary enormously based on your home country and where and how long you plan to travel for. Do your research and don’t skimp on the essentials, and make sure you understand what will be covered if you’re required to be repatriated to your home country for additional treatment. Oh, and know that you’re rarely, if ever, covered for high-risk activities like skydiving, bungee jumping and so on.

Travel backpack.jpg

Five months in just one backpack each.

  • Pack less than you think you need, and buy your travel clothes at your local Goodwill or op-shop. It sounds counterintuitive, but you actually need far less for travel of more than two weeks than you do for a standard holiday. Bring some concentrated biodegradable laundry soap, and get used to washing your smalls in a hostel sink. Pegs and a simple washing line come in handy, too. Don’t take any article of clothing that you absolutely treasure – my favorite jumper is lost forever somewhere on an Indian train, or hopefully keeping someone else warm. You can always buy things on the road and donate what no longer serves you.
  • Ziptop bags, duct tape, safety pins and a small sewing kit are absolute necessities. If there is one thing that long-term travel teaches you, it’s to be resourceful with what you have. Especially if you’re traveling extensively in underdeveloped countries, you’ll find that things we take for granted at home aren’t always available. Being able to successfully repair your own kit is good for the wallet and the psyche.

TajMahal 1.jpg

Oh, this? Just doing a few renovations at our summer cottage.

  • Identify your priorities, and leave the rest to chance. In any country, there will be a few must-sees. Choose your top two or three mandatory sights, and let the rest of your trip happen as it will. Serendipitous travel moments rarely occur when every single second is carefully plotted out.

Above all else, go. Don’t let this or any of the billions of other pre-travel posts out there scare you – just go. There are few experiences in life as enriching as long-term travel and it will change you in ways you never even knew were possible. Grab your passport and your backpack and get out there. The world needs you.


Backyard chickens

We have made no secret here at Finding Quiet Farm of our love for backyard poultry. Honestly, what is there not to love?

Black Star

A Black Star from our most recent flock.

They monitor the rodent population. They keep weeds under control. They are ridiculously entertaining. And most importantly, they turn food waste into incredible eggs.

Pullet Silver Wyandot 01

Our young Silver Wyandotte pullet at about six months.

Pullet Barred Rock 02

Lovely, but these chickens are NOT supposed to be in these raised beds.

Okay, sometimes they (repeatedly) escape the run you’ve so carefully built and they eat your tomatoes. But the eggs are worth it, we swear.


A Barred Rock (upper left) and a Silver Wyandotte.


A strong, proud Australorp, one of our favorite breeds.

We’ve had two flocks now at our suburban home, and we encourage the entire universe to keep backyard chickens. They’re less work than dogs or cats, with more reward. They need food, clean water and shelter, of course, plus the ability to run around and eat bugs and weeds and kitchen scraps and what-have-you, and they need protection from predators. Where we live, those are unfortunately rampant – hawks, owls, raccoons, foxes, dogs – but thanks to N’s superlative coop-building skills, we never had a single bird taken.


The windfall apple clean-up crew.

If you’re thinking of adding chickens to your family homestead, check your local regulations first. We’re allowed five hens and no roosters where we live, but laws vary widely from city to city. Know what you’re buying, too; many a rooster has ended up abandoned at a shelter because it was sold as a hen. It’s not common knowledge, but you don’t need a rooster to get eggs – and they’re illegal in most communities.

Garden Snow 02

Winter is coming. Seriously. And the chickens need to stay warm.

If you live in a particularly cold area, make sure to buy cold-hardy breeds and that your coop protects your birds from winter drafts. It’s actually easier for birds to stay warm than cool (those trusty feathers) but icy winds can be very detrimental to their health. When planning your coop and run, keep in mind that chickens also need adequate shade in hot summer months. Keeping their space clean and dry doesn’t take much time or effort, and you’ll be amply rewarded.


Chickens are not vegetarians, no matter what your egg carton says.

Oh, the “vegetarian-fed hens” you see advertised on your egg cartons? They’re only vegetarian because they’re crowded into miniscule cages and don’t have the opportunity to eat what they actually want to eat, which is mice. And bugs. And lettuce. And sandwich crusts. And overly ripe peaches. And leftover sausage bits. And the aforementioned tomatoes. Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians. Please remember that the next time you buy eggs, and don’t be swayed by meaningless packaging terms – or by bucolic pictures of peaceful, verdant farms. In the U.S., at least, laying hens have by far the worst lives of any production animal.

Chicken eggs

Small pleasures: collecting still-warm eggs from nest boxes.

None of the other labels on your egg carton mean anything either, by the way. Whether “farm-fresh” or “natural” or “pasture-raised,” not one of these is regulated by any governing body. You can pretty much slap whatever you want on an egg carton and call it good, and people will pay more for pretty words that make them feel better. “USDA Organic” is actually regulated – if they can find enough inspectors to do some real inspecting – but it only indicates that the chickens consumed organic feed, not that they had any sort of decent life. Well over 95% of all commercially produced eggs in the U.S. were laid by hens who lived their entire lives in less space than a standard piece of paper. They never went outside, they never hunted or pecked, they never dust-bathed,  they never saw sunlight or grass, they never even flapped their wings because they didn’t have enough room. That’s why eggs are cheap, and also why salmonella outbreaks are rampant. Bottom line: buy your eggs from someone you know.

Eggs Thai pink

Eggs for sale at a Thai market.

Americans are often shocked when eggs in Europe and elsewhere in the world aren’t sold in the refrigerated section. Yet another example of our obsession with “safety” and “hygiene,” in this country we wash all eggs prior to shipping and sale at grocery stores, superstores and warehouses. This removes the protective coating that eggs are laid with, and reduces their shelf life, thereby requiring refrigeration. Eggs in the rest of the world aren’t washed until they’re used, and so can be stored at room temperature.

Eggs Basket

Although brown eggs will cost you more at the grocery store, there is no nutritional difference. The color of the shells is determined by the chicken’s breed, not by what it eats or where it lives. Most supermarket eggs are white because they were laid by Leghorns, the most common breed in the U.S., whereas brown supermarket eggs were probably produced by Rhode Island Reds. Blue and green eggs come from Araucanas and other unique breeds. You’re not getting any extra nutrition by paying for brown eggs.

Eggs Comparison

There really is a difference between eggs laid by battery hens and those laid by true free-range birds. Notice the backyard egg, on the right: the white is thicker, with more color and viscosity, and the yolk is definitely more yellow. This indicates a varied diet, including foraged protein.

Eggs Frying Pan

And when they’re cooked, the backyard egg (again on the right) stays true and tall, but the battery egg sort of melts. Supermarket egg yolks are weirdly chalky and sticky when cooked, while backyard eggs have a buttery creaminess. The taste difference, honestly, is night and day. Good eggs taste the way eggs ought to taste, instead of some insipid manufactured version thereof.


According to legend, the one hundred pleats in a chef’s hat represent the number of ways they know how to cook eggs.

Whether or not you keep chickens at home, know that eggs from well-kept hens are one of the best inexpensive protein sources available. Ask at your local feed store or farmers’ market to find eggs raised near you and support backyard poultry, or start your own flock! Go here to learn more.