Friday, March 28, 2014

Ode To a Vermont Shepherd and Her Sugar Maker

Twas the day before sugaring,
all the buckets were hung....
When all through the woods,
Not a maple was left standing without a spout or a hood.

The buckets were hung round the maples with care,
In hopes that springtime soon would be there.

All over town, sugar makers nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of evaporators whistled in their heads.

At Grand View Farm excitement rose to a clatter,
As the sugar maker’s wife -waited anxiously for lambs as though nothing else mattered!

udders, back sides, and bellies....
He, the sugar maker, settled down nice and calm- waiting for temperatures just above freezing,
While the shepherd, however, found waiting more stressful, trying and teasing.

As much of her time she spent in her wellies,
Down on her knees looking at udders, back sides, and bellies.

With thoughts of who would come first, be it Candy or Bonnie or Gaia or Daisy?
Everyone else in the farmhouse thought she must be plain crazy.

She gets up in the night with flashlight in hand,
Off to the barn-with her beam does she scan.

Looking at her ewes for signs of labor or someone in need.
Being watchful and caring-living out the shepherd's creed.

This vigil continues with sugar maker and shepherd wife,
For all this has become their way of life.

signs of labor or someone in need....
But soon the sap will run, filling the buckets- cool and clear,
Sugar maker will boil, bottle, and jeer!

The shepherd's ewes will give birth and baby lambs will frolic, leap and cheer!
While sugar maker and shepherd will celebrate with a beer!

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Day of Spring in Vermont

March 20-VT Grand View Farm
Yesterday, the calendar ushered in the first day of spring while I shoveled snow from steps and pathways. I have lived in Vermont for over 25 years, so I should know by now not to expect daffodils and green grass on March 20, but my southern upbringing has ingrained in me that spring begins the third week in March. After shoveling, I straightened my back, refusing to give in to the stiffness, and embarked on a treasure hunt. Sure that signs of spring must exist, I began searching.

Clutch of Spring Time Eggs
In the chicken coop, I found 8 colorful eggs in the nesting boxes! This means that the day light has won out over darkness.

Ewe In Waiting

In the barn, I found 6 ewes with bellies round and udders swollen! New lambs will start arriving to our farm within the next 10 days, bringing new life and energy to the barn.

Green Scallions Burst Forth in the Cold Frame
After climbing down the snow steps into the greenhouse, I found new green scallions growing in the cold frame. "Nature's first green is gold..." (Robert Frost)

Spring Beneath the Snow

Bouquet of Daffodils
 At the end of my treasure hunt, I was sure that spring really does exist despite the mounds of snow. Then, my husband came home carrying a bouquet of yellow daffodils. He must have been searching for spring as well.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Farm-Based Education

ABC's of Farm-Based Education
 At VT Grand View Farm, we encourage families and individuals to make connections between their own lives and agriculture. Through year round farmstays, summer classes, workshops, and camps, we provide opportunities to learn about land stewardship, food systems, sustainability, and the value of working with your hands. 
This past weekend, I joined 27 other farm educators with the same passion. Through the Farm-Based Education conference at Shelburne Farms, we explored the many ways individuals learn on the farm. Every inch of the farm became our classroom as we helped one another with program development, and problem solving. 
Now it is time to take what I learned and start planning our summer programs here on our farm! So stay tuned!

Dissecting Tomatoes

Visiting the Dairy

Visiting the Sheep Barn

Learning from the Gardener
In the Sugar Bush

Learning about Calving

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Stills- Snacks

Wood-Fired Pizza on VT Grand View Farm

With the completion of our outdoor wood-fired pizza oven last summer-the word "snack" takes on new meaning. So for Ed's Sunday Still challenge this week, I am posting some awesome wood-fired pizza shots! 

Fresh Kale, & Beet Pizza and Squash, Spinach & Pine Nut Pizza

 Join us this summer for Pizza Night on the Farm!
 For those wanting to enjoy wood-fired pizzas on their own homestead, take our  "How to Build Your Own Outdoor Oven" workshop!

Sunday Stills- Murals and Graffiti (a week late)

The old saying goes, "better late than never". Well I seem to be operating a week behind these days. Last week, Ed called for murals or graffiti for his Sunday Stills challenge. This challenge could not have been an easier photo for me to capture, as graffiti greets guests to our farm and tells them why sheep dot our pastures.
Yarn at VT Grand View Farm

Leisel-Our German Angora Bunny

 Angora/Wool Yarn CSA Share
Angora/Wool Yarn CSA Share
Each animal on VT Grand View Farm plays a valuable role.
Each animal serves its own vital purpose. 
Each produces something of value.

Leisel-Before Shearing
Leisel, our German Angora bunny is a fiber producing machine. We combine her amazingly soft and warm fiber with Cormo wool to produce a lovely soft and squishy yarn. It has become the most popular yarn we offer as a Yarn CSA Share. We create a blend of 25% angora and 75% wool. I find that this blend maintains the wonderful soft qualities of the angora fiber without being too hot to wear. Angora fiber has a low micron count, its fine texture allows for next-top-the-skin softness. When knit, angora produces a soft "halo".

Leisel-During Shearing
Every three months Leisel's fiber grows to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in length, and must be sheared. In one shearing, she produces about 10 oz. of fiber. That equates to 10 percent of her body weight! In the summer months, I shear her right down to the skin, but in the winter months, I leave a little fiber so she will be warm enough for our cold nights. I then pack her little hutch full of hay that she can nestle down in to. I use a battery powered pair of clippers to shear her. Though we have had Leisel for several years now, I still find that it takes me about 3 hours to completely shear her. My husband will help hold her so I can trim her tummy area easily.

Leisel does not seem to mind the shearing-she accepts her role here on the farm, and our yarn customers are greatly appreciative of this little bunny!

Leisel-After Shearing

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sunday Stills - Things We Take for Granted - Diversity

Shetland Sheep at Maple Ridge Sheep Farm
 Diverse - Different - Dissimilar....

For today's Sunday Stills challenge: Things we take for granted, I have chosen diversity.  Whether thinking about food, skin color, cultures, or sheep-diversity surrounds us. Diversity makes life interesting, full, and engaging. 

Jacob Sheep-Black Sheep & Zuchini Farm
I used to think that all sheep were the same. I had never lived with sheep, and hardly ever seen them. To me, they were all white, fluffy animals. When we decided to add sheep to our farm, and began researching them, I realized that I had been wrong all those years in my assumption about sheep. I discovered that they come in all different colors, temperaments and sizes. Some sheep have horns and others have no horns. Some sheep have long soft wool, suitable for knitting garments, others have course wool, best used for making rugs and chore mittens. Much to my amazement, I discovered that some sheep, do not even have wool, but are "hairless". I also learned that each breed of sheep has its distinct characteristics, tolerances, and dispositions. The task of choosing which breed we would raise, suddenly became daunting. 
Natural Colored Romney Lamb

We began visiting every sheep farm that we could find, seeing the different breeds in person, and talking with their shepherds, helped us learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each breed. As we became more familiar with the diversity within the sheep world, we began to narrow down the qualities that were important to us. On a visit to a Romney sheep farm in Central Vermont, we fell in love with the Romney breed. Their calm dispositions and lovely lustrous long wool appealed to us. In talking with the shepherd, Bill, we learned they made wonderful mothers and were considered a "dual purpose" breed, meaning we could raise them for meat or for their fiber. We also learned that the Romney breed, raised on the marshes in Kent, England, were tolerant to wet weather and pasture conditions. This seemed an important trait to us, as our hillside farm gets extreme weather throughout the winter months.

Romney Ewe at VT Grand View Farm

Not long after visiting Bill's farm, we found ourselves driving home with three Romney sheep in the back of our truck. I feel fortunate to have been able to learn so much about the diversity within sheep breeds prior to our purchasing our first flock. This taught me much about the history of sheep, and the different qualities of wool. Each and every breed has its own unique value, strength, and characteristic. That, to me, is a valuable lesson to learn, and one we take for granted so frequently. A lesson, not just about sheep, but about our greater world in which we live.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Grand View Farm and Holistic Farm Planning

Holistic-"Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts."

For years, I have approached my own health care from a "holistic" view point, which looks at the whole person- body, mind, and spirit, rather than just putting band-aides on the symptoms. I also implement this same holistic philosophy in managing my flock of Romney sheep. I realize that simply treating symptoms does not address the cause of the problem. For instance, within my flock, I see a direct correlation between fleece quality and the health of my sheep. If I treat one, but not the other, I am not getting to the core of the problem.

UVM Extension Services, has coordinated Holistic Farm Planning courses the past several years for women farmers. This winter, I have enrolled in the 4 month course in hopes to learn about how to implement holistic practices in managing our farm. The first assignment focused on writing a holistic goal for your farm. The holistic goal becomes your guide or reference point which you base all decisions upon. The past two weeks, I have spent hours working through the process of writing our farm's holistic goal. In doing so, I evaluated three important areas: quality of life, behaviors that provide that quality of life, and our vision.

  1. Quality of life simply allows you to think about and articulate what is of value to you. You decide what quality of life you would like to live, what is important to you, and why. Through this process, I looked at relationships, financial concerns, physical and mental health, on farm activities, and off farm activities. 
  2. Behaviors that support and encourage the quality of life you desire need to be identified. If I value time for creativity and fiber arts, then I schedule time in my week for working in my studio and knitting!
  3. The vision statement determines what needs to be in place in order for you to sustain your quality of life. You must take into consideration what character qualities you need in order to sustain your customer base, how your land/farm must look in the future, as well as what services must be in your community in order to support your quality of life.
Now I can use this holistic goal as a basis for decision making, time management, and financial planning.

1x1 Ribbing
So what does all of this have to do with knitting? Actually, it has much to do with knitting since our farm revolves around our flock of Romney sheep, their amazing wool, and the products we create using their wool. I also find that knitting, while listening to lectures, helps me stay focused on the speaker. I have used my time in class this week to begin my gansey sweater, which has been the focus of my Yarn Along posts the past few weeks.  Since last week, I have decided to use an entirely different yarn for the project. I am using a natural dark gray, which is a blend of our Romney wool and mohair. I feel that the recipient of this sweater may prefer the darker gray. I only have 1.5 inches of ribbing to knit, and then I can begin the body of the sweater!

Resources for Holistic Management has many books on holistic management.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Yarn Along-Gansey Progress


From Sheep to Gansey

I thought for today's Yarn Along-I should give an update on the progress of my VT Grand View Farm Gansey. I have gathered several books to inspire me, and to instruct me on my quest to design and knit our farm gansey. Choosing which stitch patterns to include did not take long, however, my biggest challenge has been trying to figure out the best way to graph my design. I imagine, these fishermen did not need graphs or patterns or books to knit their own sweaters. They simply needed to pick up their knitting needles and yarn, and their hands knew the way to go.

Copying and Taping Patterns to Graph Paper
A couple of years ago, I had farmstay guests at our farm from Switzerland. These two sisters, went into my yarn studio, and began designing sweaters in the air. I stood back and watched, unable to keep up with their thoughts, and unable to understand a word of their German. They would line the yarn up along their arms and across their chests, exchanging one skein for another until they had it just right. Then, they began discussing cardigans, color-work, and cables until at last, they each had a huge armful of wool yarn and smiles on their faces. Reverting back to my language, they began telling me the story of how when they were young, they had to knit mittens and sweaters for the men who were in the war (World War II). They said that their grandmother taught them to knit without a pattern. They could construct a sweater in their minds, and just sit down and knit it. They asked about the sweaters that I knit, and I had to admit that I had never knit cables before.

So, the next morning, after they ate their breakfast, they insisted that I come into the B&B for a knitting lesson on cables. We sat side by side on my sofa, she speaking German, showing my hands how to do the stitching, and I speaking English, following along. We laughed at the differences in how we knit, English vs. Continental, and we laughed at the terms we each used to mean "knit" and "purl". With knitting needles in hand, there was no language barrier, our hands spoke the same language.

Natural Gray Yarn or Over-Dyed Yarn?
So the past couple of weeks, I have longed for another knitting lesson from these two sisters from Switzerland. I am sure they could get me started on my project without the use of books, excel spread sheets, graphing paper, or colored pencils. Alas, they are not here, and so I have stumbled along, trying to figure out the best way to go. I have graphed the front and back out on graph paper, mainly to help me figure out how many repeats I will need for each design, but in the end, I will most likely use written instructions while knitting. I found it easiest to copy the graphed designs from my copy of Knitting Ganseys, and tape them to my graph paper. This proved much faster, and easier on my hand, as opposed to coloring in each little square on the paper.

In Beth Brown-Reinsel's book, she says that she likes to knit the body of the sweater before starting to graph the sleeves. I like that idea-so I can begin to see some progress before tackling more graphing and figuring. I am toying between whether or not to use a natural gray or blue yarn. I have over-dyed some of our gray yarn with blue, and love the results. I also love the gray and blue together so am pondering a way to combine both yarns in the sweater.  Today, I will knit a swatch, just to be sure of my gauge and hopefully, by next week, I will have begun knitting!

My Flock of Sheep
My resources for inspiration and encouragement:
Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel
Super Stitches Knitting by Karen Hemingway
Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts
VT Grand View Farm Yarn
My farm and my flock of Romney sheep
My friend, Jennifer, at The Sachem Farmhouse in CT
The new friends who encourage me from Yarn Along