north carolina home

I've been aching for North Carolina ever since we left the summer before last. We had a good life here. It was warm. You could grow well into Winter. We had browned skin and red clay caked to our feet. We would spend mornings chasing pigs.  And spend summer afternoons sweating through the garden's rows. We would spend evenings in cold bathtubs, drinking beers in the mild of a Carolina sundown. We didn't have to insulate a special coop for wintering chickens. There was never enough weight of snowfall to worry about the character of an old barn.  

Nostalgia is such a beast.  Walking through the streets of Raleigh these past days and lapping up the humidity and the (rather uncommon) high winter temperatures I keep turning to Nick with a shouldn't we?....couldn't we?....won't we? look that is certain to drive him to crazy. And we haven't even been to the farm yet. We had our good reasons for leaving.  Proximity to family. An abundance of water. Support for smaller farms. Universal health care. Thank you, fourfold, to the good quiet state of Vermont.

I am so happy with the shangri-la we have found up North. It is a difficult land to farm but an honest one. Vermont will be my forever home, but part of my farming heart will forever lie in the lolling hills of North Carolina. 

This is where we fell in love with the land. This is where we began our lives as farmers. 

All photos are mine and Nick's from days of yore, except for the last which was taken by the good people of Saxapahaw farmer's market. I just don't know "who" precisely. 


Farm, woman! -- The Farm School

It isn't coincidental that 70% of our visits on this road trip are to other farmer friends. We rarely leave the farm and they rarely leave theirs. One such friend is teaching at the Farm School in Athol, Massachusetts. His girlfriend attends the one year learn to farm program. She is in a class of 15 adults (ranging in ages from 18 to 55). They live, eat, sleep, and work, and work and work and learn on a couple hundred acres of farm and wood land. We were looking over her class schedule for the year and became instantly envious. They are learning a little bit of every aspect of the farming business and lifestyle. They learn to milk cows and work with draft horse power. They learn to tap trees and boil sap for syrup. They learn timber framing basics. From how to take apart a chainsaw to how to shear a sheep they seem to have covered nearly everything. Granted, this program is just a year and to intimately learn to shear a sheep many shearers would tell you it will take hundreds of sheep over many months or even years. But they are learning a base of farming and that is what the Farm School offers. 

The price for one year will seem prohibitive to many hopeful farmers to be. It is $18k for a full year, which includes full room, board, and tuition. To prepare somebody for a life that makes little money, it seems almost sadistic. But if you compare that to one year at a private or public college it starts to look more reasonable. They also offer some financial aid and work-study opportunities. And the Farm School staff isn't living large off your tuition. I've seen that up close. That money is going directly into making the farm a better place to learn and grow. 

I thought I would share the school with you as I have had many inquiries about advice for starting to farm from all manner of folks young and old and this is certainly one option. It is not the only option and it isn't necessarily the one I would choose but it certainly has proven itself an excellent jump start for many young farmers I know and is worth checking out. 


Seasoned Quarterly -Winter 2013

This past fall my friend Julie and her family moved themselves from Boston to the seacoast of Maine to start living a life of making their own food. They now rent a house with about an acre of outdoor which, I imagine, must feel like 100 acres after living at the top of a three floor walk up in Boston. Typically moving somewhere North in the fall would intimidate gardeners enough that they would plan to wait until Spring before planting anything.  Julie was undeterred by the impending frost and made a hoop house in their backyard and within weeks had planted their winter greens. She told me over tea in her kitchen during a visit we took to Maine that she was sick of waiting to act and had made a resolution to herself to start doing. 

During that visit she and Craig had also spoken of dreams of writing a cookbook. As they had before. As they have good reason for dreaming of. They are phenomenally inventive cooks. I have licked clean every dish they have ever put in front of me. Nick too. Which was why we had driven the 180 odd miles up and down and through the White Mountains in the VW with failing break pads to get to them. Why we found ourselves in their kitchen on a chilled October weekend. 

After most dreams I hear from friends I smile wistfully into the corner of whichever room we happen to be in. I usually share something profoundly un-motivating like Oh, that would be hard. The subject is hurriedly changed and we conveniently all try to forget the uncomfortable truths of dreams and dreams that will never come true. 

BUT but but but. Once in a great while you get to be witness to the friend sharing her dream and then actually seeing that dream come to fruition. 

Julie and her new quarterly Seasoned is one such great while. Julie has just published her first issue for Winter. It is filled with recipes for winter lunches and dinners and homeremedies for good winter health. It is beautifully done and you can order a digital copy to save some trees or a print copy to keep in your cookery cabinets. All of the proceeds help her to fulfill her next dream; buying and starting her own farm/homestead. 

I've been resting on my laurels of going out and starting my own farm for a while now. Julie's ambition for her own dream's gives me pause as I think about what I want 2013 to bring for me and my family and my farm. There are a good many changes coming for Nick and I this year and I want to be sure I steer those changes in the right direction of where I want to be. 

A good hearty toast of congratulations to Julie and her dedication to the dream. 
**All photos taken by Julie from her blog**


laundry days of yore and a road trip

This weekend we are leaving the farm for three full weeks of road trip. Our dear friends Lindsay and Nick are newly arrived to Vermont and we are heavily exploiting their lack of home into a farm-sitting gig. You really must love friends who are willing to stay in your two-room house and cater to your neurotic cats. You must love them more that they will get up in freezing temperatures to feed your pigs and hay your sheep and cows and keep the chickens safe from the winter fox. 

While they tend to the farm's fires we are headed South for warmer pastures. We have a long list of friends and farmers and family on the Eastern seaboard to check up on having secluded ourselves in Vermont since we moved here last spring. I also carry the not-so-hidden agenda of wanting to be warm-er for just a few days. So, we are trekking all the way down to North Carolina to visit our old farm and see Brent and Melissa in Raleigh. I've been checking daily the forecast of Raleigh, and Maryland, and New York and even Boston to drool over the (slightly) warmer temperatures. My last few posts have heavily featured photos from the spring and summer. It doesn't take an advanced degree in psychology to determine I am making difficult effort of adjusting to the Vermont winter. 

I am having a hard time. I think most people would. It is quite hard to go from the mild winters of North Carolina and California to the full blown 5-month winter of Vermont. Even with smatterings of winter months in Massachusetts and the French Alps between. I have faith in it getting easier.  When we come back we still have a solid two months of snow and freeze and will have officially run out of favors to ask of farm-sitting friends and neighbors. This year I need a three-week break. Next year I am naive enough to think I can cut it down to two. The following will just be a one week getaway and before I am forced into a no-holiday winter global warming should have caught herself up to Vermont and there will scarcely be a cold front to flee from. ---I speak in jest, I pray this doesn't happen as quickly as they fear it will. 

So, we will be writing in from the road in between good sleep-ins and meals with old friends. We aren't taking the VW bus. Despite my well argued platform of why to drive it, Nick's better judgement prevailed. He rambled on about no heat, poor mileage, getting robbed in Brooklyn (an ever present Vermont-mouse fear) and lack of snow tires and 4x drive. So we are driving the ever practical and rather boring Golf. We are only taking Rudy for animal company and I have promised to try not to adopt any piglets when we get to Elizabeth's farm. I can only try. Most of these circumstances fall beyond my control. 

So, I wish good thoughts of consecutive weeks of 25°F bluebird days for Nick and Lindsay.  It gives me constant anxiety to think of them dealing with animals in blizzard, or animals in ice, or animals in muddy melt, or in rain or in arctic winds. They are two wonderfully capable farmers but all I want is for this to be as pleasant a welcome-to-Vermont-winter for them as the weather gods can manage.

Meanwhile, you will find me running in shame from the aforementioned Vermont winter. Somewhere between here and Raleigh, N.C. with my tail between my legs. 


lessons in the obvious from last year's garden

This summer was a tumultuous one for me and the garden. I avoided it until I had friends visiting and quite nearly forcing my hands into the dirt. I felt mostly shame and anxiety whenever I passed her. But, by Labor day Nick and I were overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of food she had produced. The resilience of the garden gave me a good boost of growing confidence. Now that the inaugural year of gardening-on-my-own is safely behind me I find myself anxious (in the very best sense of the word) to start planning this coming year's garden. 

After closing out the garden last year I took some time to write in my journal about things I would and wouldn't do again. Here is a sampling. Most of it will seem painfully obvious so please forgive me my naiveté. 

I will not include eggplant for 2013. We had four lovely plants dripping with purple and white fruits and we didn't eat a damn one.
I will refrain from sowing the entire packets of not one but two pickling cucumbers. The little suckers were terrifically prolific and their stamina outmatched my own by tenfold in the processing kitchen. 
We do not need 9 different cherry tomato plants. We are not a pickyourown free-for-all. We are a civilized home garden. 
I will plant radishes on a pre-determined schedule. This is to avoid being overwhelmed with them one week and searching in vain for a pair the next. 
I will never again conflate the growing season in Vermont for the one in North Carolina.
Thus, I will plan winter squash in early June not in July. 
I will order seed potatoes in the winter and not wait until Memorial Day. 
I will plant more cabbage, more broccoli and more brussels. 
I will write-up an actual plan for a fall garden. 
I will build a modest hoop house for the late fall and winter greens. 
I will not allow the garden's foot paths to go to the weeds. That was a rather poor choice. 
I promise to more faithfully worship the practice of stringing tomatoes. We will cut stronger saplings for stakes instead of the lazy cheap ones they sell at the garden center.
I will plant more flowers, for a purely utilitarian garden is a somewhat boring one to the eyes. 

There now. The 2013 garden can't fail. I'm sure there are hundreds upon thousands of don'ts and dos for the summer garden. I hope my journal will be overflowing with them in a decade's time. For this is  the only way I will meekly progress to feeding my family well. 

I'd be curious to hear if you have any lessons learned from your own gardens this year?


Made in the USA -Winter

I feel a bit silly and insincere with this post. I try to expound an ideal of living inexpensively and modestly. But, truthfully, I am every bit into loving and wishing and consuming beautiful things as the next. I have tried my very hardest over recent years to be more contemplative in my purchases. Concentrating on the whether I really need it and if it appears well made. I believe that with these two doctrines I have greatly reduced the amount of crap I bring into our home. I have cut out superstores in favor of Goodwills when I need tupperware or sheets for the guest bed or extra wineglasses for a dinner party. It is my fierce belief that most things can be washed and made as (almost) good as new.  Sometimes, however, I find myself pining for the New. A New blanket, or a New sweater. Not one with small holes. Not one with fading stains. 

When I do want to treat myself to something New I look first and fore-mostly at where it was made. It is not my intention for this to be an anti-made-in-China and thus anti-hard-working-people-of-China post. Nor do I mean for this to be an inherently elitist post for the price on the items below do -at first blush- seem prohibitively expensive. I argue, however, that products, like the ones below, are made with care and accountability in the USA and that such a product is a better investment than a shopping cart full of breakable plastic from Target. It is an investment in the artist, or in the American company that is keeping Americans employed. It is an investment for yourself in shoes that will carry you through 30 winters, or a blanket to keep you and your husband warm. It is an investment in your country and your fellow countrymen. If I lived on a cow-dairy farm in Bretagne this would be a Made in France post. If I lived on a sheep farm on Prince Edward Island (as I have always dreamed) this would be a Made in Canada post. But I live and farm in Vermont, so this is a Made in the USA post. 

Without further ado, what follows below is a compilation of winter appropriate Made in the USA pieces of art and function that I have found and loved.

I found Maura through the gorgeous way she documents her quilting via Instagram. She has a red bus and I have a yellow one. She can quilt and I can make yogurt. I thought it was a pretty good match. Sadly, she hand-makes these gorgeous quilts in Texas so the chances of us trading skills are small. If I had the ability I would cover every bed in my (imaginary) farm house with one of these, starting with this Jackson quilt beauty. 

Snowshoeing has become a way of life up here. I hadn't expect that. I certainly hadn't expected loving it. The two times I tried my feet at it before I had found exhausting and cold. Quickly, however, in Vermont it has become one of only two ways to get any exercise outside (the other being xcountry skiing, and I guess to a much lesser and silly extent, sledding).  Handmade in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by Iverson these wooden snowshoes are not only gorgeous but promise better flotation in fresh snow and a quieter ride than the newer aluminum ones. Available here too. 

I gave Nick for Christmas a copper sauce pot from Brooklyn Copper Cookware. I had the privilege of being their 300th customer. Nick says it is the best because of how even it heats throughout the pot. He requested that I get him a new sized pot or pan from them for each birthday or Christmas. Its a nice, if wickedly pricey and unrealistic idea. But the pot itself is stunning, they have a terrific warranty on the tin lining, and it is something you will pass on to your kids. (image via).

I have the traditional bean boot but there is something so oddly sexy about the taller versions of the llbean maine hunting shoe. They are made in Maine as most of the bean boots are. If you get them lined in Thinsulate they are warm enough to snowshoe in a 10°F night as I did last week-end. Waterproof and warm. All you need to get the chilly toes through a winter of chores and snow. (Right now they are having a sale on insulated boots until 1/14/13).

I have no real use for this other than to say that it is beautiful. I find that Etsy is a terrific source for handmade in the USA items. Surely, it can be a viciously addictive website. I don't think I have to warn any of you of that. But you can find this handblown terrarium made by Justin Bagley in Seattle, Washington or you can buy it here and support somebody faceless for twice the price. 

Filson is one of my favorite outdoor clothing companies (Duluth Pack being my other favorite). Filson mainly focuses on manly clothing but every once in a great while they provide something truly useful for women. I have been fantasizing about this lovely wool packer coat ever since I laid my trusting little eyes on it. Chores coat. Outhouse coat. Fetching firewood coat. Feeding the sheep coat. Shoveling driveway coat. Oh the possibilities!

So, I hope you have all forgiven me my brief foray into the Land of Consumerism. I do believe in the healing power of buying oneself something nice. I also believe in the power our dollars can have on turning our economy, our country, and the quality of the things we buy around for the good. 


the january thaw

Sarah told me, at the end of fall when I was starting to get anxious about winter, that every January we have a thaw. The temperature rises into the 40°s and when you've been dealing with 20° below 0°, those 40°s feel like 70°s. I noticed it yesterday. We rarely look at the weather report in winter, as it is usually cold and snowy and any deviation from that is just colder and snowier

So yesterday Nick and I were snowshoeing a potential farm property. A charming 125 acre bowl of pasture and maples with the sweetest 1938 brick home in the center. The last time we saw this place it was 9h45 and a whopping 7°F. I didn't notice the dramatic change in weather at first as we broke trail through the stand of pine's ready to be harvested, and I didn't notice it as we climbed higher still into the  scattered grove of birch. As we came down into the front pasture through maples we eyed for sugar-potential the sun began to sink, resting just above the tree line. We stood still to take it in and I felt it. The thaw. I promptly stripped off the wool jacket, the down vest, and the wool sweater I had put on out of habit. I threw off my gloves and with a manic half-smile just stood there to embrace the mild.

My theory is this thaw exists to give those that live in the north a hope and reminder of the other side of winter. This weekend the temperatures will continue to rise to the 40°s each afternoon. We are scheduled for precipitation and so that means rain during the day and frozen sleet at night. It will make a mess of home, barn, and skiing trails. It will make morning and evening chores a slushy, muddy, poopy affair. But in no time at all the temperatures will drop again and we will have snow on the ground for at least 60 more days. We will hay the animals for at least 100 more days. We will have cold nights and hard frosts until the end of May.  We won't be in the pond until the end of June. In other words, winter is far from over. It has really only just begun. But the thaw is most welcome in my home as I grow accustomed to the Vermont cold.

And the above is me and my new guitar and Rudy learning to share a space with it on the bed (and the couch, and the comfy chairs). And that light (!!) coming in is from sunrises we didn't see all December. 


performance review

I always dreaded performance reviews when I worked at Facebook. I've never enjoyed comparing my goals to how I am actually preforming.  It's never good. Goals are there to make us feel terrible about our real selves. 

Of course there is the primary school mumbo jumbo about goals being there to push us and give us direction. 

We can safely assume that any negativity I have with the idea of goals and performance reviews stems directly from my fear of failure. And that there is no clearer measure of failure (or progress) than through the analysis of your goals.

So with the I loathe doing this but I hear its good for me disclosure I want to talk about the food we hoped to preserve this year verse how that food is actually feeding us.

When I made my seed order last year I had a tenuous (at best) grasp on the reality of a big garden of one's own. I had been gardening with a gang of others in North Carolina, western Massachusetts and the farm outside Boston. I worked as a part in a chain in gardens that turned out a terrific amount of food and I thought that would be easily transferred to our smaller scale.

My lofty aspiration last spring was to grow and preserve the lion's share of calories to feed my family of two through the winter until next year's plants began to fruit. I think its a common (if not ignorant) assumption of new backtotheland-ers that they will move to the country and sow the only seeds they need to live. Growing and harvesting grains and sugars and all of your vegetables and protein is a daring amount of work.

I am woefully guilty of the (presently) untenable vision of my own homegrown oats and cornmeal in the first years of my farm.  But my experience of the last 3 years, and in particular this past year, has proven to me that such self-sustainability cannot be bought or read in a book. It is a vicious amount of work that requires years/decades/a lifetime of learning and making mistakes and carefully planning out garden rotations, and soil amendments, and harvesting techniques.


This year we put aside what we could. We experimented with kimchi's that went rotten and cherry tomatoes in apple cider which carried a smell that could only be described as putrid.

We buy flour, rice, oats, sugar, lentils, and grits in bulk from our co-op. With the base of these items plus our eggs, beef, milk, honey and the list below I can honestly say we have fed ourselves well.

We will have to increase the numbers of staples grown next year. Particularly onions and potatoes  This summer we will harvest our first garlic.  We hope to tap our first maple trees in late winter and to increase our honey bee population so that sugar can be one of the first things we stop buying from the co-op. Little steps to making our home and our garden a self-sustaining beast.

Without further ado, the pantry as it stood, as it stands:

32 quarts of dilly beans/ 10q. left
1.5 gallons of dried soup beans/ 1 gal. left
24 quarts of pickled cucumbers/ 12q. left
5 pints of blackberry syrup/ 4pts. left
4 pints of blueberry jam/ 3pts. left
45 quarts of tomato sauce/ 32q. left
a random assortment of mushrooms preserved in oil, pistou, and sun-dried tomatoes in oil all delicious, all treated as delicacies.
500 onions/ approx 250 left
2 bushels potatoes/ 1bu. left
2 bushels carrots/ 1bu. left
2 bushels beets/ 1bu. left.
15 squash/10 left
5 pints ghee/3pts. left

Next year we will try for more variety in preserved fruits. I want to tackle a certain farmer's strawberry crop in particular.  We also want to add celeriac, turnips, radish, garlic (loads of), rutabaga, and cabbage to next year's cellar.  We need to plant 25% more onions and potatoes. And I need to work up a cold frame for winter brassicas so the weight of snow doesn't prematurely end our enjoyment of brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, and chard. We will try to focus more acutely on the preservation of cream for ghee and butter as we are out of the latter and nearly through the former.

I'm not sure how this puts me for our subject of goals. I spent roughly $200 on the garden this past year. After the initial cost of seed garlic for 2013 and efforts at seed saving and collecting that we began this year I expect that amount to drop dramatically with each ensuing year. I certainly did not accomplish all I wanted to in the garden and in the preservation of the garden this year.

 If we were living 100 years ago in the Alaskan wilderness (which is where and when I like to pretend we are) it would appear that we would both die before spring.

Fortunately this is not the Alaskan wilderness and it is 2013 where two charming and overpriced co-ops lay just 40 minutes from the boundaries of our land. Someday though, I want to get to that ability, that self-sufficiency, that knowledge base of my imagined Alaskan frontiersman. It won't be 2013, or 2014, but I have high hopes for 2023 and beyond. This gardening and preserving and farming will become more natural, will make more sense, will start to sustain us more.

...Finally a random photo of Nick and me that I found today and quite simply loved for it made me briefly feel the warmth and comfort of summer on the farm when food is plenty and spirits are high. 


pictured, not pictured

I know I have been neglectful of this blog. The truthful excuse being that, while we are cooped up indoors (mostly) hiding in terror from morning chores in -17°F below temperatures, I can't bring myself to be attached to the computer. It makes me feel too cooped, if possible. Instead we've been eating, playing with christmas gifts, playing with friends and babies, playing with cats, and venturing out of the two-roomed womb for chores and snowshoes.

So, I thought I'd start off a back-to-the-blog with a visual and non-visual recount of what is happening here.


1. The snow that finally stuck.
2. The impossibly sweet natured baby that belongs to Noah and Meghan.
3. The first of the seed catalogues and a shamelessly out-of-season smoothie to match.
4. I have no excuse for how fat they have grown.
5. Pound cake; similarly I offer no excuse for how much I have grown.
6. Half the pile of books I have promised myself to this winter.
7. Ominous.
8. Nobody here will play chess with Nick. Which makes me feel guilty, but not guilty enough to learn to play.

Not pictured:

1. The four chords of Wagon Wheel my sister taught me on the guitar. Played ad nauseam.
2. My one and only resolution to "learn" how to play said guitar this year.
3. Two barrels of cow water and their corresponding heaters left unplugged the night it dipped to -20°F.
4. Nick's frozen beard.
5. Frozen water pipes in our home, and a kitchen with the ensuing 2 1/2 days of mile-high dishes.
6. Thursday's fruitless search (in a string of many) for farmland to have and to hold as our very own.
7. A visit from the parents of the pictured baby.
8. A New Year's night of best friends congregating in Vermont and killer banh mi sandos for dinner.
9. Peeing outside in the middle of the night in subzero weather.
10. The clarity of the stars ogled at during the aforementioned pees.
11. The indignation of the sheep on being snowed in.
12. My excitement for my first weaving class tomorrow.
13. Eggs that freeze and crack before we have the chance to collect them.

I hope you are enjoying winter in whichever nasty or pleasant form it takes for you.

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