Friday, July 30, 2010

And then there were ten

Last Tuesday began in quite a planned, expected, and orderly fashion. We each woke up in our respective abodes, completed our morning chores, came together promptly at 8am for the weekly garden meeting, then headed to the potato pasture. Potato beetles – and their removal from our potato plants - were the only plans for the next couple of hours.

It was a hot sun shining down on us at D Acres Farm, and the sounds of pigs rooting, hawks calling, flies buzzing, & the local apiaries twittering their own news pulled our minds away from the sweat vigorously rolling off our foreheads. Slowly, though, as the minutes passed, there was one other sound that finally garnered the full attention of our frontal lobes.

“No way!”
“No, it couldn’t be!”
“How is that possible?”
“She’s a miracle momma!”

To the best of my memory, each of these statements was uttered with various exclamations of incredulity over the course of the next thirty seconds. When that ceased, all we were left with was the looming question: “what do we do now?”

One of our sows had piglets. Ten of them. In the field, and sooner than we were expecting. She had herself intelligently positioned in the bottom corner, a little nest dug into the ground. Even while nursing she was on the lookout, surveying, alert, ready to be on defense. Unnecessarily, perhaps, as our boar seemed to know to leave well enough alone, and the other sow found the day’s assortment of mud and roots intriguing enough; danger wasn’t imminent. There was merely one dead one; the other ten piglets were very much alive. Nine were big and strong, with a tenth runt that immediately won us over with an underdog’s charm.

Our new momma’s hardest work was done. Ours was just beginning. Our prior litter – less than two months old at this point - currently occupied our pig-house suite. Where were we to put them? Like all firstborns they were thrust from the spotlight to the sidelines in a matter of moments. For ours, this meant the bottom half of our greenhouse/animal house/chicken coop cob structure. To get them there meant catching them. And winning.

Now, the last time I wrestled a pig I ended up riding it inadvertently as the pernicious oinker did 0-60 out of its cage with an alacrity unexpected of the average porker. Granted, our two-months-old piglets were smaller than the contestants of that virgin pig tussle, but smaller also means a lower center of gravity and a cuteness that inserts hesitation into a forceful grapple. No excuses, though: success was had and we returned to the field for Stage Two.

The big pigs were distracted with, what else, food, while the momma sow was led inside the pig house with, of course, food. The little piglets were then scooped up lickety-split and spirited away in cardboard boxes to re-join their mother inside. Done.

A week later, the older piglets are now settled into Pigland, out of our greenhouse-animal house and into a home of their own with field space to run and root. The new piglets have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size.

There’s only one problem: the littlest of little guys is hitting the bottle…not too successfully. Which is to say that we’ve begun bottle-feeding the runt of the litter. He gets picked on something awful, and his joints & muscles don’t want to work quite right. At this point we’ve all held him too close, have all pushed his siblings off when they crowd him out or bite his tail…we have to try and help him along, just for a short while.

We’ll see. Life, death, the fermentation of compost, the creation of our next garden space, and the slow growth of winter’s bacon. It’s all right here, a step outside our back door. Remarkable, isn’t it?

as published in North Country News

Friday, July 16, 2010

Berries in the sun

“Wow, this thicket is just bursting with fruit,” she gushed, “do you do anything special?”

Pails hanging by baling twine off my back, I was intentionally tangling myself into our most prolific of raspberry patches along with one of our stalwart volunteers and friends of the farm. Unbeknownst to us, we had three hours of berry-picking ahead of us before we would make it out the other side.

I described our process of pruning and weeding to her. Work, certainly, but less than that required for an annual garden bed. Which is the very idea we’re going for here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead: the development of perennial gardens, and an edible forest landscape. This means berries, yes, but also fruits, nuts, herbals, and medicinals. With time, we’ll glean an increasing number of calories from the land (not to mention medicine, wood, micro-climates, and niche ecosystems) with a decreasing quantity of manual input required each year.

Raspberries are just one example of this, but quite the plentiful model for the moment. Raspberries, and now blueberries, currants, and gooseberries as well, are rapidly coloring our various patches, bushes, thickets, corners, beds, and roadsides. Before too long it will be the cherries, chokecherries, and elderberries of the fall.

Deep reds, blushed pinks, dark blues, dusky blacks, and vibrant green leaves; the splendor of sustenance and the colors of abundance are a sort of art in themselves. A farmer’s beauty (perhaps that’s all it is) built right into the sweat and bugs of a day’s work. I take a moment to swat at some rouge flies and tuck a few stray hairs behind my ear. My hands, and now my shoulder and my ear, are stained – not with dirt (for once), but with the juice of overripe raspberries. A few handfuls land so sweet and tart on the tongue, an excellent treat…

…but a couple of hours and four gallons later, there is the decent conundrum of what to do with such surfeit. Even with the farm’s collection of apprentices, visitors, and overnight guests that’s a hefty bunch of raspberries to plow through.

So, we keep some for eating…and freeze the rest to enjoy in less bountiful months. By this point, though, we already have eleven gallons of raspberries stored up, not to mention a few gallons worth of blueberries. There’s only so much freezer-space we can allot for berries (bacon, of course, deserves it’s rightful portion). So the next step is upon us: making preserves. That’ll be another story for another week, surely.

In the meantime, we’re busy filling our pails. It’s an every-other-day-or-so endeavor, and we welcome help! If you want to proffer a hand for some manual labors, please give us a ring. Right now! 603-786-2366.

Yes, you can eat a few as you go along, but no-one will believe that you simply couldn’t find any berries if there’s an empty pail at the end of the day…

as published in North Country News

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Day for the River

It’s summertime, which means fresh air and summer sun beckoning us out of doors. Well, granted, here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead we’re outside most of the time anyhow. There’s no growing peas in the office, and weeds haven’t sprouted (yet) inside the garage. But even us farmers want to get outside for something besides quack-grass and potato beetles from time to time. And we’d like you to join us!

Perhaps you haven’t already heard the news: July 10th (I hope you haven’t picked up your newspaper a day too late…) is Baker River Appreciation Day! D Acres, in collaboration with the Calm Post Café, PAREI, and the USFS will be hosting outdoor events 9am-3:30pm, and a community gathering at Rumney’s Calm Post Café 4-9pm.

Those of us from the farm will be coordinating a paddle and clean-up of the Baker River, beginning at 10am. We will depart from the Rumney Rest Area along Rt. 25 and head to the Rumney Main St. Bridge. Paddlers – in their own boats – will collect trash and debris, then enjoy a complimentary lunch prepared by the Calm Post Café and D Acres. Shuttles will be provided for volunteers. For more information, please contact D Acres at 603-786-2366 or

If the water’s not your forte, however, you have other options. 9am-12pm will be a volunteer trail work session at Rumney Rocks with Ryan Harvey of the United States Forest Service (USFS). Volunteers will engage in a variety of trail maintenance tasks, then join the paddlers for lunch by the Main St. Bridge. Space is limited, so please register now! Contact Ryan Harvey at 603-536-6129,, or D Acres as listed above. Meet at the Rumney Rocks parking lot.

For folks interested in other beautification efforts, there will also be a road clean-up within the Rumney Village 10:30am-12:30pm. All participants should meet at the Rumney Library.

And that’s not all. Beginning at 1:30pm, Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (PAREI) will be leading a bike tour of farms and solar homes 1:30-3:30pm. There will be three different routes that bikers can choose from based on experience and difficulty. The bike ride, which will begin at the Rumney Library, is a fundraiser for Local Foods Plymouth; pre-registration is $20 per person. For more information, please contact Melissa Greenawalt-Yelle at

Now I have to say this, so read carefully. Please be aware that all physical activities contain inherent risk. Participants’ personal safety is their personal responsibility. Please bring proper safety gear such as life preserving vests for aquatic activity and helmets for bike riding. Let care and prudence reign, please.

Ok, now for the real punch line. This series of July 10th events will culminate with a community gathering at the Calm Post Café in Rumney. The event begins at 4pm and will feature local, farm-fresh dinner, local bands, local artisans & organizations, and aquatic education. Volunteers with the morning river clean-up and trail maintenance will receive complimentary dinner. All other attendees can purchase dinner – provided by the Calm Post Café – for $10/plate. Beginning at 4:30pm, local bands will provide entertainment: Blue Ribbon All-Stars, The Cable Guys, Black Bear Moon, and The Crunchy Western Boys. PSU professor Kerry Yurewicz will lead aquatic educational activities, local blacksmiths Joe Vachon and Steve Ash will demonstrate their art with fire and steel, and Mo the Clown will provide clever entertainment for all ages. All attendees will receive a complimentary ticket to our door prize raffle. Drawing will be at 8pm for a large handmade bowl turned by Rumney’s Ripple Pottery. Got it? You don’t want to miss this.

With much gratitude, I want to thank our sponsors: Baker River Watershed Association, Biederman’s Deli, Calm Post Café, Davis Conservation Foundation, Off the Hanger, PAREI, Peppercorn Natural Food Store, Plain Jane’s Diner, Rand’s Hardware, Rhino Bikes, Ripple Pottery, Samahas, and Shaneware Pottery. Please show your appreciation by supporting these local establishments!

So be sure to join us for a day of summer fun on Saturday, July 10th! Trail work at 9am, river clean-up at 10am, road clean-up at 10:30am, bike tour at 1:30pm, community gathering with dinner and music at 4pm at the Calm Post Café. Don’t miss out! Contact D Acres at 603-786-2366 or with further questions. We look forward to seeing you along the Baker!

as published in North Country News