Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Struggle Is Real...

Ah, the quaint vision of the farm.  The serene pastures with happily grazing cattle.  White-woolen sheep in small groups bah-hing for their frolicking lambs to come in to the huddle.  The soft cluck, cluck, cluck of the glossy feathered hens pecking through the yard looking for tasty snacks.  The contented pig wallowing in the mud.  The jolly barnyard, right?  All is calm, all is...

Not really this way!  I've seen paintings of these farms.  I've seen pictures of them in books.  I've seen them depicted on television.  Smiling farmers and their wives carrying buckets of feed to contented critters and toting filled-to-the-brim buckets of eggs and fresh veggies back to the cute little farm house with the checkered table cloth.  Oh, how I wish it was all so glorious.  But the struggle is real, my friends.

Sleeping in?  Nope.  Well, you might get to sleep in, but you will always pay.  I can't count the number of times when the early morning knock on the door pops us into consciousness with the panicked question of "What's out now?"  The 6:00 a.m. phone calls from our neighbors telling us the cows are in their yard.  The late night barking of the dog alerting us to the cattle who are now nibbling the grass in our orchard.  These moments have given us opportunity to bond with our neighbors and make some great friendships.  Early morning walks with the folks up the road bringing the herd home provide quality moments that will last a lifetime.  It even gave our dog and their dog a chance for a "play date".

My favorite (I say half jokingly), was the Saturday when the cows went on quite the expedition.  My parents had to come stay with the kids while we went after our cattle who had gone over a half mile away and joined another pasture of another neighbor's cattle.  It ended up being a several hour and multiple neighbor process of getting them home.  As we were working on sorting our herd from theirs, the other farmer commented on being glad it was someone else's cattle this time instead of his! My feet were blistered as I left in such a hurry I didn't put on socks with my boots.  I needed my coffee.  We ALL needed coffee.  We had just gotten the cattle back in their pen and I looked at our neighbor's t-shirt which read, "Let Me Drop Everything I'm Doing and Solve Your Problem".  I cracked up.  I love a good irony and that definitely qualified!  Thankfully he was willing to do that for us.

Enjoying a late dinner out?  Nope.  Things need to be fed and if I could pinpoint the testiest of the farm animals it would be the pig.  You'd think those things could read a clock.  Their snouts might be the strongest thing in nature and they aren't afraid to use them for evil.  They lift panels with a single motion and are on the run, their babies trailing happily after.  We even have one sow who has learned to make the grain bin a self-serve feeding option.  You've gotta be there and you've gotta be there on time or there is payback coming.

This is Mary, the very independent pig, getting her own breakfast.  
I even think she might be laughing at us.

I love seeing the sheep on grass, until I realize it's actually my backyard and not the pasture they're eating.  Luckily sheep are easy to put back.  God was not necessarily kind when He referred to us as sheep in the Bible.  They will gladly trail any bucket - whether filled with rocks or corn.

Vacations?  Ha.  Once every three years, if we're lucky.  But that's a post for another day.

Add into this equation 10:30 p.m. dinners, missed family reunions at wheat harvest (although this might have been calculated), postponing gift opening on Christmas Eve due to frozen cattle waterers, spending snowy nights pulling people from ditches and missed church services and meetings due to ewes in need of aid, rampant livestock escapees and who knows what other surprises.

But it's funny on the farm because there is the frenzy of fur and feathers when the feeding begins.  Everyone gets excited and the farm becomes a noisy place.  Then there's the calm after the storm.  Swishing tails, hens nestled back into their nesting holes, moms nuzzling babies, babies calmly nursing.  That's what you see in pictures.  What you don't see, is the insanity that ensues just before that picture-perfect moment.  But it's our insanity and we kind of love it, in our own way.

As I sit here typing this, I note the farm silence.  All is fed.  All is well.  For a few hours.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What is Prairie Center anyway?

My husband and I came to the realization a couple of years ago that we are old souls.  We like old things - music, furniture, books, history, people.  We seem to fit better with that group and enjoy learning about the past.  Even as a teen I enjoyed sitting in my grandparents' garage going through an old trunk and hearing stories of life long ago.  One example of these tales is the legend of Prairie Center, Kansas.

Growing up, I often heard my grandma talk about their life at Prairie Center.  If you take Edgerton Road north until you can go no further and look straight ahead you will see its remains.  The grass-covered prairie dotted with small, evenly space buildings is all that marks that location.  Where cows now graze, once was the land of a farming community called Prairie Center, Kansas.

My great x 3 grandparents Jonathan and Irena Gordon were early residents of this community which was founded in 1860.  It was made mostly of farmers and had a population that ranged between 35 and 50, according to some sources. It had many farms and a few businesses including a cider mill, creamery and a school.  There were two churches - a Quaker church and a Methodist church.  For Jonathan and Irena, it was the start of a new life after leaving their home in North Carolina.  For my grandparents, it was where they met and fell in love as a pastor's daughter and a handsome farmer.  It was where their first two children were born.  After passing farmland from one generation of Gordon to the next, this part of the family story came to abrupt halt in 1942.

Uncle Carl outside on the farm
at Prairie Center
In May of 1942, a judge ordered that the town of Prairie Center be purchased by the government and made into an ammunition plant, the Sunflower Ordnance Works, to help with the efforts of World War II.  These families were rapidly displaced into other communities, the churches were moved, livestock was sold and a flurry of activity changed the landscape of this area forever.  I remember my family telling about how they had 30 days to find a new place and move.  For my grandparents, it led to a new exciting chapter in their life where they were able to buy their own farm land and move into their own home, separate from my great grandparents.  Not that this wasn't a difficult time.  They told of milking at Prairie Center in the morning and milking at the new farm at night.  I'm sure it was a wild and stressful time and most likely filled with sadness as an entire community dispersed.  It's difficult to even imagine a town falling off the map that way.  To think of finding a new place for your family in such a short span of time, especially for farmers.

My grandma's father was the pastor at the Friends Church in Prairie Center.  As things began changing in the community, the church was moved to the corner of 143rd and Edgerton Road and then eventually into Gardner.  A portion of the Gardner Friends Church is the original structure from Prairie Center.  My Gordon great-grandparents purchased the land where the church now sits at the west edge of Gardner.  They lived in the house on that property until their death in the 1950's.

Creating our Prairie Center Meats company is a nod to those who used to inhabit this community, to our family heritage.  While the folks moved on, many of those relationships continued, friendships remained.  And some of those changes led to other life changes that have impacted others for generations - including a young Lefmann boy who met a little Gordon girl at a function at that same church that had traveled so many miles from its beginnings.  Deep roots, my friends.  Deep roots make us able to endure the winds of change.  Prairie Center is my deep roots and these deep roots will keep us here for many years to come.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Diggin' the Chicks

It's chicken day!  Our chicks have grown from fluffy cuteness to big ugly birdy-ness.  We (meaning not me) loaded 93 chickens into crates, drove an hour and it's time to unload.   Again, not a me job.  I just do the cooking.  I'm hanging out with Liddy watching a gentle "snowstorm" of what I'm assuming is chicken fluff.  Jack has gone off to play somewhere after talking with the nice Amish gentleman who works here.  It's always an adventure living on the farm and this is our first time wading into the meat chicken world.   I'm excited to try them and am hoping they are super tasty.  I will keep everyone updated on how this all works!

Chicken Quote from my mom:  "If you fry one of those up in a cast iron skillet in lard with cream gravy, that'll take me back to my childhood!'  I think that's a trip I'd like to take along with her!

Our Border Collie, Kit, keeping an eye on her new little friends when they arrived in March.
Kit is completely obsessed with chicks!  I caught her in the tanks with the chicks several times - just watching them.  

The almost final product!  We will pick them back up next Tuesday.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Reason I Learned to Cook

We definitely all have skills and talents in particular areas.  My husband, Chad, always says life is as  much about learning what you DON'T want to do as it is learning what you do want to do.  Life has provided many of those opportunities for me and I had a great reminder of one of them this morning.

My parents had cattle when I was young and I feel as if our fencing was less than stellar.  I have that sense because it seemed as though our cattle spent a great deal of time wandering freely, rather than staying safely behind the fence.  Maybe we had free-range cattle before it was en vogue?

As a farm kid, I had the opportunity (said sarcastically) to help with farm tasks.  This was not a strength of mine.  Really, I was very bad at everything farm related.  I was given a chance to cut cockle-burs out of the soybeans to earn some money.  I bailed after about 10 minutes because my "toes hurt".  I would like to add at this point that this was a legitimate complaint because I did have ingrown toe-nails as a kid.  I had a brief stint as an animal rights activist when it came to helping with de-horning the calves.   Once I had a chance to help do something with a tractor and some cut hay.  The fact that I don't even know what it was called should indicate how well that particular activity went.  All I know is that whatever I did to "help" required my dad and brother to do it all over again!  I hid pea seeds in my dresser drawer to avoid having to plant them all and I totally hated getting up early on my summer break to walk through the corn patch picking sweet corn to sell with all those dew-laden tassles and corn leaves whapping me in the face.  Picking the wild blackberries with all the mosquitoes and thorns in the back thicket of the Bradfield Place was miserable.  But the worst for me was when the cows got out.

I was small, the cows were big.  When you are 8, cows are big.  Unfortunately, when you are 39, cows are still big.  I remember standing in front of those beasts who stared me straight in the eye and I'm certain they smelled my fear.  My dad would yell, "Be big!  Be a fence!"  I stretched my 8-year-old arms as big as I could and I think they just laughed at me, in their bovine way.  I have to confess, that if they made a move in my direction, it was over.  There was no being big, I was done!  Go ahead, Madame Bovine, have your way!  My life was too precious to stand my ground.

There is a story that is part of family lore, and I honestly don't remember it but enjoy hearing it told.  Apparently, there was one day that we were once again rustling up the loose cows and I had had enough.  After being told for the seemingly millionth time to "be big", I said I was done and walked home.  I have no idea where I came up with the nerve to do that, but it ended up being a good move for everyone.  It was from this point on  that I learned to cook.  This was my contribution to the farm.  Everyone else would do farm-y things and I would stay home and make sure meals were ready.  I had the best time planning menus from my mom's recipe box, developing meal themes and even decorating table-scapes to go with them.  It was a total win-win for all of us.  I learned to work within my strengths and my absence was a most excellent blessing to those who actually had work to do on the farm.

This memory came back to me this morning as I was sitting at the kitchen table.  I looked up from posting pictures to Facebook (you know, that thing you do when you should be cleaning the house to get ready for Easter guests?), when I looked out the windows and saw 5 black Angus steers in the backyard.  Chad was in the shower and I felt the fear of my childhood well up inside.  I frantically pounded on the walls to our bedroom, since this was the one morning he had locked the bedroom door.  "The cows are in the backyard!" I yelled.  He yells back, "Are they just in the back?"  I yelled, "So far!"  And then he yells, "Well, just make sure they don't end up in the front!"

Crap, I say to myself.  Here we go again!  So I go out front, and sure enough one had broke off from the herd and was in our neighbor's field heading towards the road.  I kept my distance, but flailed my arms in an attempt to steer him (no pun intended) away from the road.  He headed across the front yard to catch up with his buddies.  I continued to stay back a safe distance and occasionally pulled out my dad's tricks - be big, be a fence, flail your arms wildly and clap then yell "sa-boss" which is supposed to be the magic word that makes a cow obedient.  They stayed contained but obviously did not consider me to be an authority figure.  Soon Chad came running across the yard carrying a bucket in an attempt to lure them back in the pen.  You could see them weighing their options - grass, corn, grass, corn...  They of course chose grass and started to move towards me.  As Chad poured the bucket of corn in the feed trough, they did opt to head toward the pen but then stopped in the middle of the driveway at the pile of corn he had spilled in his haste to get into the pen.  He yells at me, "Walk up!  Just walk up on them!"

I can do this, I say to myself.  I take a step towards the leader of the pack and he looks up at me.  Our eyes lock and I feel that panic.  Chad yells again, "Just walk up on him!"  Deep breath.  I move another step closer, then another step.  His dark cow eyes followed my every step.  Then, slowly he turns and magically leads the herd back into the pen.  My sweet husband pats me on the back and says, "Good dog!"

I did it!  I conquered my fear and helped on the farm.  I'd like to say I won't have that feeling of terror if it happens again, but I can't say I'm there just yet.  But for now all is well and the steers are where I like them - behind a fence.

So, in honor of my learning to cook and to celebrate cows behind fences, I'm going to share a family recipe, one that my Grandma Audrey made for her brood when they were young and passed on to the rest of us.  I hope you enjoy them!

Congo Squares

2/3 c. melted butter, cooled slightly
2 1/4 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. chopped, toasted nuts (optional)
1 c. chocolate chips or butterscotch chips

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Mix melted butter and brown sugar with a mixer.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until mixture changes color (it will get lighter brown).  Add dry ingredients and mix until well blended.  Stir in nuts (if desired) and chips of your choice.  Pour batter into a greased 9x13 pan.  Bake 30-40 minutes until browned and set on top (not jiggly).  Cool and cut into squares.  

My grandma has a note on this recipe in our family cook book that says:
One of our old family favorites and used often.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Here goes nuttin'

My Grandpa Eldon was famous for his sayings.  He always had one that seemed to fit the situation and he even shared this skill with my great aunt.  They would share these sayings at family gatherings and then kind of crack each other up.  One of his favorites was "Around Robin Hood's Barn", meaning taking a less than direct route to a destination, or meandering.  

Grandpa Eldon and his herd of Angus, circa 1960's
When I think about our farm and our family, this is the phrase that seems to encapsulate it the best.  We have not taken a direct route on anything, sometimes leading to frustration and sometimes leading to a greater adventure.  We plan, we re-plan, we adjust and move ahead and then find ourselves back to the drawing board!  I'm going to convince myself that as we age and gain experience, our new plans reflect that new knowledge.  Sure, that's it.  

We've definitely been "round Robin Hood's barn" in the twelve years that we've been married and trying to make a go of this nutty dream of our farm.  We are parents to two kids and foster parents to many.  Currently we have Angus cattle, Berkshire pigs, Suffolk and Crossbred sheep, chickens, Muscovy and a few other random ducks, three horses, a couple of farm dogs and an endless and ever-changing population of farm cats.  We also have a small collection of fruit trees that I hope someday to officially call an orchard at some point and a garden that provides for our brood.  Oh, and there's our "vineyard" - which consists of one extremely tenacious grape plant which we have tried repeatedly to kill.  

This blog will likely be another trip around the ol' barn!  It will include recipes, farm humor and updates, information on our livestock, and maybe even some home school nuggets or ideas for Sunday School and kids' activities!  Who knows what will show up, but it promises to be a learning experience for one and all!  Join us on our journey as we head "Round Robin Hood's Barn"!