Things that are great, vol. 2

Modern lives contain way too much negativity, a cycle perpetrated by a fear-mongering media looking to sell us stuff we don’t need. In the interest of combatting that mentality, then, we present our second “Things That Are Great” link round-up, highlighting news stories and trends that we think are worth celebrating. (Read our first positive link collection here!)

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Photo clearly not taken in Colorado.

If you had to guess at the largest irrigated crop in America, you might well assume corn or soy. You’d be wrong; however; according to a 2015 NASA study, lawns represent about 40 million acres in the U.S., or about three times as much land as corn. All this grass comes at a steep price: 9 billion gallons of water per day, plus hundreds of millions of pounds of fertilizers and pesticides and other chemical treatments, all of which eventually end up in our water sources. And yard waste, including grass clippings and leaves, represents the largest single occupant of our landfills, too. All this for a crop we can’t even eat? Ridiculous.

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Thankfully, though, forward-thinking companies are working to change that antiquated attitude. All across the country, edible landscapes are “unlawning” America. Converting pointless, thirsty lawns into healthy, local human food? Yes, please. These edible landscapers often face a lot of resistance from restrictive HOAs, but progress is still being made, albeit slowly. If you’d like to replace your lawn with native plants, check with your local extension agent – they’re often the best source of information for what will grow best and still look nice in your region.

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A helpful guide to Quiet Farm wildlife

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Lots of people move out to the country to escape from society and get closer to nature. (We did.) This is all well and good, but more often than not that human-wildlife interface becomes difficult for both sides. On the Front Range, for example, dozens of black bears are killed by wildlife officials every year because they show little or no fear of humans and are regularly caught breaking into homes and businesses to scavenge for food. Many more are hit by cars. Mostly, this is because we continue to encroach on the bears’ territory, and because ignorant humans continue to place unsecured trash in places where the bears can access it.

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Here on Quiet Farm, then, one of our biggest challenges will be how to live in harmony with our local wildlife, rather than against them. For us, deer pressure will absolutely be the largest issue we face. There are thousands of deer in the nearby area, both whitetail and mule; we’re also surrounded on three sides by apple orchards, which attract deer and lots of other creatures who love fresh, crunchy apples, too. As we plan our vegetable beds for next season we’re still debating how best to protect those vegetables from the deer; these animals can do thousands of dollars of damage in one hungry night and we have no interest in opening an all-you-can-eat salad bar.

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The Farm Series: Western Culture

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Now that we actually have a farm, we can get a bit more serious about researching where we’ll obtain our animals. We plan to raise dairy goats and laying hens, with the intention of producing enough milk, cheese and eggs to supply our own kitchen as well as our cooking school. Because healthy animals produce healthy food, it’s essential that we know exactly where our animals come from.

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We still have a lot of work to do on both our chicken house and our goat barn to get them ready for animals, and we don’t plan to purchase any until next spring. We want to make our reservations now, however, so that when we’re ready we’ve got animals waiting for us. Small dairies especially need to know in advance how many animals they can sell during a given season so they can plan their breeding program.

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The Farm Series: Desert Weyr

Of late, our Western Slope farm visits have taken us to pick delicious cherries and to meet happy pigs. How about we introduce you to some unusual sheep?

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Desert Weyr is perched high on a mesa above the town of Paonia.

In the late 1990s, Eugenie “Oogie” McGuire decided she wanted to craft herself a traditional medieval cloak – from scratch. It would be made from wool, of course. She purchased one ram, five ewes and a loom, taught herself how to spin, weave and sew, and eventually made the cloak. As she says, “It’s more accurate for the 18th century. It took me six years to weave the fabric, two more to get up the courage to cut it, and two weeks to hand-sew it.” But what commitment! Now, Oogie and her husband, Ken, raise a large flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep on pasture above Paonia.

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The Farm Series: Colorado Pastured Pork

We’ve (sort of) relocated to the Western Slope, and we’re focused on meeting as many local farmers as possible. If we truly intend to start Quiet Farm here, and if we intend for it to grow into a thriving business, building a strong local producer network will be key to our success. To that end, when we’re not driving around looking for property, we’re visiting farms and ranches who practice the same sort of farming we plan to embrace.

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The Western Slope – specifically Delta County, where we’re currently based – has a long history of agriculture, but most of those ag products were shipped to population centers in Denver (to the east) and Salt Lake City (to the west). Now, with “local food” and “agritourism” evolving as valid ways for poorer counties to earn revenue, there is a movement afoot to encourage small farmers and other sustainable, innovative producers to make their mark here. Surprisingly, Delta County has more acres of organic farmland than any other county in Colorado (I know, we thought it was the Kingdom of Boulder, too).

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Let’s learn about goats!

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This is not the first time we’ve posted photos of #totesadorbs baby goats, and it certainly won’t be the last. We’ve known since we first invented Quiet Farm in our heads that we want to keep milking does, so as with all other aspects of farming, we’re learning how to do that from books and the University of YouTube and on-farm experience, too. By the time we actually find our farm, hopefully we’ll (sort of) know what we’re doing.

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Some fun facts about goats:

  • Goats have a reputation for eating just about anything, including clothes, trash and other inedible items. This is entirely untrue; goats are browsers, rather than grazers, and are naturally curious. They use their lips and teeth much as we use our fingertips – to investigate unknown objects – and they’re actually quite fussy about what they’ll eat. Goats also only have teeth on their bottom jaw, not their upper.
  • Goats are fantastic climbers and love to quickly attain the highest perch available – hence the popularity of goat yoga. Goats can climb trees!

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Meat your maker

We eat very little meat these days. This shift has come about for a number of reasons, primarily concerns about our own health and that of the planet’s – truthfully, the best thing you can do for the world (besides avoiding disposable straws at all times) is to reduce or eliminate your meat consumption. We also went vegetarian for our round-the-world adventure last year, and when we returned home it was easy just to carry on eating plant-based.

What meat we do eat comes from sources we know and trust, primarily wild-hunted game and animals raised on friends’ farms and ranches. We know how these animals lived and also how they died, and that matters. A lot.

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Tools of the trade.

As we prepare to move from our first house, we’re not only downsizing books and furniture and knickknacks – we’re also downsizing a fairly impressive pantry. I’ve always kept a lot of food on hand; this habit stems from our time on the boats, where we traveled to some pretty remote places; often, we didn’t know when we’d be able to provision, or what would be available when we got there, so I tended to stockpile. I’m focused right now on cooking with what we have, and part of that plan involves using up the remainder of a bull elk hunted by a former client of ours.

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You can tell this is wild game by the almost total lack of fat in the meat.

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Ready for the grinder.

When you’re accustomed to cooking with standard American feedlot beef and pork, wild game – most commonly deer and elk in these parts – takes some getting used to. As a general rule, you either slice it thin and cook it super-fast and hot, such as for a stir-fry, or you cook it low and slow, as in a stew or braise, to tenderize the tough fibers. Because we’re not really eating meat as the centerpiece of our meals any longer, I think the highest and best use of lean game such as this elk is making it into jerky, and thankfully N agrees. Once it’s made into jerky we can keep it indefinitely, and it’s great to have along for road trips and other adventures.

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Saddle up

Howdy, pardner! Are you one of the over twelve hundred people who relocated to Colorado last month (just like every month for the past three years or so, which makes us one of the fastest-growing states in the country)? If you’re new here, you might not know that January means only one thing in our town, and that’s the National Western Stock Show. Never been? Get your boots on and let’s go.

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“Ladies and gentlemen, please remove your hats and stand for our national anthem.”

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For a long time, Denver was embarrassed about its cowtown reputation. We were embarrassed that we weren’t seen as elegant and sophisticated, like New York or Los Angeles. We were embarrassed that we didn’t have fancy restaurants but instead had an abundance of steakhouses, particularly classy joints where they’d cut your necktie off. We were embarrassed that we wore blue jeans (pressed) and boots (clean) to just about every gathering, formal or not.

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Enough

Back in the Ye Olden Days, N and I worked on boats. One of these boats – the one we met on – was a scuba diving liveaboard that plied the waters between St. Maarten and St. Kitts, in the Netherlands Antilles. Much of our history together, along with thousands of other people, was erased earlier this year with the landfall of Hurricane Irma. The island we knew so well doesn’t exist any longer.

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Every year, they promise the PERFECT Thanksgiving. And every year, we buy it.

On this particular dive boat, there were as many as eighteen guests and eight crew. I cooked, and N guided dives. And because provisioning in the Caribbean is never easy, the weekly menu was set by the home office, and it was the same, week in and week out. We had Taco Night, and a barbecue, and because most of our guests were American, every Thursday was a full Thanksgiving spread. Because – trust me – there is nothing you want to eat more in the middle of a humid Caribbean July than the heaviest meal known to man. Every. Single. Thursday.

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We’re so rich in this country that we will give you a free turkey!

I’ve cooked well more than fifty full Thanksgiving meals in my time on this planet thus far, and I’d like to state here and now that I am done. Unsurprisingly, N cannot stand the meal either. I’ve talked about this before in my classes – how much I really, really loathe this season – but this year, it’s worse than ever. I simply cannot embrace the excess. The waste. The sheer, utter, obscene overconsumption just for the sake of pointless tradition.

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Over two hundred million pounds of food will be thrown away on or shortly after Thanksgiving. The USDA conservatively estimates that over one-third of all turkeys raised for this one day will be thrown out, uneaten. These animals lived a horrible life and died for nothing. This is the season both for abundance and for waste, when we’re both begged to donate to hundreds of needy charities yet told at every turn that we need to buy more, eat more, consume more. I can no longer support America’s most gluttonous holiday: we’re the only country in the world that celebrates Thanksgiving, and we do so with such little regard for the shocking overconsumption that we promote to the rest of the world. And then there’s the day after Thanksgiving.

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Because nothing says “giving thanks” like buying a bolt-action rifle on Black Friday.

A holiday devoted to proudly eating oneself into a “turkey coma,” followed by camping out so we can buy ever-larger televisions or the latest iPhone? Or a new gun? What is there to celebrate, honestly? While this holiday may have actually originated as a rightful celebration of having enough, now it’s about having more. More of everything. More food, specifically the dishes we just “have to have at the table.” You know, Aunt Mildred’s casserole that everyone secretly hates but it’s tradition. And so it sits there, congealing, and is quietly thrown out at the end of the evening because no one, no one wants to take it home. Or the two meat main courses, because everyone really needs both ham and turkey. And everyone really needs eight different side dishes. And everyone really needs three desserts. And everyone really needs to throw all this excess food away on the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving because, quite frankly, everyone is f*ing tired of looking at it.

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How about this year, we declare it enough. We have enough. Enough food. Enough electronics. Enough guns. Enough unused things in our house collecting dust. How about this year we agree to eat less, to buy less, to not feel sick at ten o’clock at night while we’re camping out at Bed Bath & Beyond. How about this year, we don’t worry about what do with all those leftovers because we just cooked enough. How about this year, we just decide that what we have is enough. And how about we leave it at that.

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!).

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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.

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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.

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

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It doesn’t always rain in Oregon.

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

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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.

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

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Hattie, looking regal and proud.

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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.

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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!