Saturday, August 27, 2016

I almost chickened out...and I'm so glad I didn't!

I love the Fair, and the reason I love the Fair is that I have many good memories of my days there showing my 4H heifers. My sisters and I would be there from early morning to late night, doing stall duty, washing our animals, practicing our showmanship, pitching out the stalls each morning – and nervously participating in classes for animal type and showmanship. The Fair becomes its own little community during that week, and the camaraderie and competitiveness makes for a lot of entertainment with a bit of drama mixed in. It was a week like no other in the entire year, and we couldn’t wait for it to come.

I was privileged to be a member of a 4H club that still endures – Dairyland 4H Club celebrated 50 years of continuous operation this year. The club started with a number of young men from the Northwood & North Lynden areas. I believe that Debbie Van Mersbergen, the little sister of some of those boys was the first girl to be interested. The boys in the club had to take a vote about whether they would allow girls to join, and when they approved this move, my sisters and I were recruited to be Debbie’s companions.

It was a prime way to begin, I must say, as those big brothers and cousins would do anything that we didn’t know how to do, or were too scared to do. Even better, the guys were great fitters and showmen, so we had the best in our corner as we learned what how to show and judge dairy animals.

A few weeks ago, I heard that part of the celebration of 50 years of Dairyland at the Fair, was a showmanship contest for alumni of the club.

It was tempting…but as I am skilled at looking foolish without even trying, my default decision is to forgo the opportunity to look foolish by consent. I have not shown a cow since 1978. That’s…30some…A LONG TIME AGO!

But I often say how much I miss cows, and truthfully, the chance to show one again, no matter how embarrassing the outcome, still tempted me…And then I got a hold of myself, and said, “Self! What wouldn’t you give to get to handle a cow again? Isn’t a little humiliation worth the experience?”
So Self signed up…and then pep-talked one of my sisters into joining.

Self got a little carried away after that and smack-talked Sister Erin, saying how glad Self was that now she knew she would beat at least ONE person.

Self should know better, as she said this to the sister that has hunted wild animals in Africa, and attempted a climb of Mt. Baker…

Oh, Self.

So Thursday evening at the Fair, Erin and I arrived early to spend the requisite time of nervousness required when attempting to appear proficient at something you have not done for thirty-some years.
It was about this time that it occurred to me that I do have a bad shoulder, and should I get a fractious animal, it could be problematic. We also realized that neither of us had ever shown a cow, only heifers, so we stood in quiet consultation at the edge of the ring, reminding each other of all the rules and tips we could remember.

We would be showing in the 3rd class that evening…the Old Timers.

And I am grateful for that because it was an excellent review watching the Youngsters and the Middle Agers, though it began in a very perplexing way when the judge decided to have some fun and made the Youngsters pick up feet, and answer weird questions, and take weird maneuvers with their animals. Erin and I looked at each other in shock. We did not know that showing had changed so much! This was probably going to be more embarrassing than we thought.

Thankfully, then the judge explained that he was having some fun and seeing if the Youngsters would do anything he said. Ha! They did, like good showmen. And Whew! We wouldn’t have to.

The bleachers around the show ring were full of people come to see the spectacle. We hadn’t counted on that much audience, and about this time, I realized that another possible opportunity for embarrassment could be that I might collapse. After a day of HOT, HOT weather, in which I am prone to feel ill, and then potentially wrestling an animal around the ring in a HOT, HOT barn, my lack of general fitness might make me succumb to a fate worse than placing last.

And so I prayed.

Our turn in the ring arrived and wonder of wonders, I didn’t have to show a cow. I drew a summer yearling Guernsey heifer named, Dreamgirl…And that’s just what she wanted to do – dream. She wasn’t just reluctant to leave her hay; she refused. It took some prodding to get her out of the straw bedding and down the aisle to the ring. At least I didn’t have to worry about her running away, though she did make some attempts to thwart movement in the appropriate direction, but overall, she was okay. And it was great to have my hands on a bovine again, and be in the ring, doing the maneuvers that hopefully made my animal look it’s best. I made sure to stroke her dewlap (the soft skin flap that hangs below the cow’s neck – softest, smoothest part of the cow!) because I’ve always loved to do that. It had nothing to do with good showing and everything to do with missing cows!

Frankly, Dreamgirl and I were not a great team. I think I made her look good but not great, and when I got to trade animals for a big, sweet, calm cow, SHE made me look good. The judge asked me to back her up, and she did, good girl, and kept going when he told me not to stop! I was the back-up champion…if there was such a thing.

Going in to this competition, we didn’t expect the amount of serious scrutiny that we got from Mr. Jay Lancaster, the judge. He made us work, even testing whether we could handle our animals well enough to get their front feet on a board on the ground. (Not something cows like to do!) And while we had to do some serious work, there was a lot of laughing, and joking, and just general enjoyment for each of us showing,  -- and the judge, who knew he wouldn’t have any angry parent talking to him afterwards.

It was hard for me to see what Erin was doing in the ring because of her position in the circle, but every time I caught a glimpse, she looked good. Because some of the participants in the ring had shown for many more years than had we, and had their own family herds, we didn’t expect to finish high. We, vanity of vanities, hoped not to finish last.

So I felt great glee when I saw the judge pull my sister into first place in the Old Timers class! He called her the cow-whisperer as she talked to her heifer throughout their time in the ring, and kept her calm, and looking pretty. Erin was unruffled --even when her heifer didn’t want to cooperate, and was covering her arm with slobber, and she obviously had a good time making her heifer look great. I was proud of her! My sis has grit. She determines to make it work, unlike someone else who spends too much time thinking about fainting and bad shoulders and losing control of her animal.

I placed out of the ribbons, coming in 5th, or in the top of the also rans, which I felt was respectable. I didn’t do anything dumb, neither did I faint! And OH did I have fun!

Even better, Erin went on to win the overall competition when the winners from all 3 classes returned to the ring. The judge complimented all of us on our showmanship, and the Dairyland club for producing so many capable showmen.

It made me proud to be part of such a fine group of people, and to have had the influence of Bud Lenssen (our 4H leader for many years) and others who taught us the skill of showmanship, and the character of good competition. It really was a great blessing in my growing years; and it was also a blessing now to see so many friends from long ago, and reminisce over the memories of good times and hard work.

I’m so grateful to the current leaders and parents of Dairyland 4H for giving us the opportunity to celebrate its great history, and to have the fun of showing again. Hope someday there are great-grandkids celebrating more anniversaries.

And Self, though you really botched it when you smack-talked Sister, but I’m proud of you for not taking the usual easy road, and doing something that stretched you. It was worth the risk.

Friday, August 12, 2016

What's been happening on The Farm this week...

The Farmer and his right hand man, Jake, are busy with the undoing of 12.5 acres of berries. We have 10 acres that are at least 20 years old, and showing it. We have only been doing 5 acres per year, but these are so tired that Randy can’t bear to fiddle with them one year longer. So one 5 acre section will get an extra year to lie fallow – and that won’t hurt it a bit.

As well, we have 2.5 acres of a new variety that we regret planting. They have only produced one year, and they have some nice qualities: nice upright growth habit, large firm fruit and they pick clean. However, they lack the deep color and good flavor of the traditional Meeker variety, our mainstay.

…And, it seems, the block frozen market’s mainstay. As some new varieties come into the market, buyers are specifying that they want Meeker only product. They are dependent on the Meeker flavor and color for their product recipes and don't want to have to re-test, and re-make their system.So our 2.5 acres of experimenting with Cascade Harvest became a real nuisance. It had to be picked separately, and we had to find an order without varietal specs in which to pack it. It required special handling every picking.

 We are nothing if not about efficiency here, so they had to go.

Thus the regret – because now we have 12.5 acres of replanting preparation work. Lately, they have cut down the plants tied to the top wire (500 plants per row, 32 rows). Taken the staples out that hold the top wires to the posts, and the wire vices in the end posts. Pulled and rolled up the top wire. Pulled out the side wires and rolled them up. Removed the wraps that hold the suspended drip tape to the wire, and saved all of them...boxes & boxes. Took end posts out of one field and put them in place in the newest planting. Did regular maintenance mowing, and put wires up to highest hook, holding in the canes growing for next years crop.

And that’s not all of it, but you get the idea…

Here you can see the side wires pulled out of the Cascade Harvest. 

Wire ready for pick up...and you can see that canes in this row are cut short for the first two post lengths...Because every day for the goats evening feeding, I come out here and cut a large bunch of canes for them to eat. They LOVE them. Raspberries are gourmet to them, and hey! free food. It's a win-win! Oh how they would love to get out into this!

Here are the rows that Jake has cut down. The canes that have fruited are dying down, and because we knew we would be taking these rows out, we did not allow new canes to grow -- less foliage to have to work into the soil. But it's still a lot of volume!

Also this week, Randy hired some of our winter workers in to do the first tie on the baby field. These Meekers were planted at the end of May, and are growing well. To keep them upright and out of the way so that Randy can go through the rows with the tractor without damaging the canes, they were tied up to the top wire, even though they don't reach it yet. This means, as well, that Randy & Jake had to get top wires out in this field, stapled to the posts, and end posts placed so the wires could be tightened for the load. These babies will continue to grow, and will be re-tied later in the Fall.

Last year's Meeker babies have grown beautifully this year, and barring winter damage, should do well next spring.

Bonus for the week! Randy was able to get a whole bunch of manure hauled on the 5 acres that we will plant in the spring. It stinks, but people! it's the circle of life!

The intense pressure of harvest is past, but there is still the pressure of much to accomplish before the fall rains set in. Long days are still the norm for The Farmer. Usually, the sun has set before the work of the day ends. We are thankful for a good week of productivity this week, with room to enjoy the good things that farm life offers.

Author's note: I corrected the amount of plants per row. 500 NOT 1500...oops! Still a lot of plants.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

...well, almost.

Usually, we are returning to normal life after harvest in the middle of August, not the middle of July!

We finished picking last Friday, the earliest finish ever. Monday the 11th was our last day of picking into flats for the processing plant. We were fortunate to make arrangements for picking for juice (into barrels) for the final time over the field. When it came to Friday, we only had a half day of picking left -- and after the kids had worked 4 hours for 4 barrels, Randy said, "It looks like we were done yesterday."

Oh well, we were close.

And could be certain that we had not left too many berries out in the field -- a good way to end.

Now we are back to normal living, still plenty of work to do, but not the pressure, or the unceasing schedule. No kids laughing on the deck at lunchtime. Not so many back rubs for Daisie. No more reminders about food safety rules, No more visiting with great kids, who are funny and clever, and kind. No more Otter Pop or ice cream bar breaks.

But it's all good. The crop quantity was good. The quality was great in spite of all the showery days that we picked through. There was very little mold. No breakdowns. The crew were troupers, working in showers for twelve of the thirty-one days the machines were in the field. That's a lot! No complaints, and good attitudes.

Our harvest spanned 5 weeks -- 35 days, picking on 31 days, rained out 3 days, off for one.

Inevitably, after being together day after day, and doing the exact same things day after day, we are all eager for the final day to arrive.

But when it does, it always seems like an abrupt end. There's just a touch of sadness that you won't be seeing these people who have been your whole world for the last 35 days daily anymore.

We all decided that we should have one more get-together with everyone there...a Turn In Your Hours Party. But already, the crew is busy with new things. Some can make it one day, others can't make it til another, some are already out of town...It usually goes that way. We want to, but it's hard to work it out.

Everyone goes back to their regularly scheduled programming...with good memories of another summer on a job that seemed like it would go on forever, but is already in the rear view mirror.

It's a nice view. Now onward...

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Abner & Dexter...

Abner and Dexter left home today…

Ten weeks have already passed since that eventful May evening they were born.

In the meantime, I pondered whether to keep all the babies but realizing how overnight I went from a pair of goats, to a HERD of 6, I thought it the better part of valor, to part with two.

As God would arrange it, my friend, Jamie – whom I mentored in prayer group when she was in high school – was quite interested in becoming a goat farmer. She saw my baby goat posts on Facebook and she with her animal lover youngest son, Lincoln, came to visit.

And they were bit by the goat-lover bug. Perrrrfect!

Soon she brought Kyla and Bennett, her other animal lover kiddos. Eventually, her husband, Eric, who was not completely immune to the goat-lover sickness, came too, and acquiesced to the majority of goat fanatics in his family, saying YES, the goats could be added to their little farm.

In my opinion, this was indeed, perfect!!

Before the babies were born, I had decided I would keep any girls, so Clementine was a keeper, no question. After that it was very difficult to decide…I love Dexter’s coloring the best, speckles are my favorite. Abner has the symmetrical markings, though not the coloring of his momma, and he is the most laid back. Bo is striking with his bovine markings, and he is the friendliest of all…

After much, agonizing, I decided that Bo was the boy that was going to stay. If Jamie and her family wanted them, Abner and Dexter were theirs.

They spent the next few weeks coming often to visit, winning the skittish Dexter and shy Abner over with their quiet attention, and well-placed raisin treats. Eventually, Dexter was coming up to them without coaxing. Abner was a relaxed heap in their arms. I was privileged to hear the giggles and see the excitement of the kids – human ones, playing and snuggling the caprine ones. And don’t think that Jamie wasn’t in on it…She was as excited – maybe more so – than her daughter and sons!

I loved their visits, and they were wise to invest the time, because by today, Abner and Dexter knew them well, and trusted them. They knew their smell and that they always brought treats and fun. So without much ado, Abner and Dexter went into the crate on their way to a new home.

Jamie and I had expected a bit more drama – desperate bleating at the separation of mom and babies. There was some noise-making when they left the pen, but then it was mostly a non-event. Imogene did not cry like she has when I had taken the kids to the vet. Clementine was unfazed. Bo looked around for someone to play with, and eventually decided that Barnaby would do. They butted heads for a while and rammed each other off the teeter totter. Then it was business as usual.

Jamie reported that on her end of the transaction, Abner and Dexter were a bit cautious but very curious about their new home but soon were eating, playing on their new table, and napping.

It seems we had our timing right, and Jamie’s visits made a nice easy transition for the boys. I couldn’t be happier about the home they have! Jamie and I are peas in a pod when it comes to loving our animals. They will get the proper care, and lots of love – and I can still visit them now and then! Part of my goat farm dream was that I might be able to provide animals to others who would enjoy them. Already that has come true, in a better way than I could have imagined.

So I am not sad tonight. I am thankful, and happy. If Imogene was crying, I admit that then I might be too. But if she knows that the time is right, and it’s all good, I think I can handle it too.

Best wishes Little Cheerful Abner & Dexter! We’ll always love you. Go bring good cheer like you were raised up to do.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Garden Grumblings...

I'm drinking coffee, and looking out my west window where a big dark bank of clouds is hanging. Not encouraging. But -- I am thankful for a good breeze that's drying the bushes, and brief sun breaks. Should be a better day than yesterday was.

Because we picked for a LONG day on Wednesday, we were able to let the kids go home after a half day yesterday. We had covered all the fields that were a day late on being picked because of our July 4th holiday. Of course, it stopped raining when we stopped working...

But it was okay. The kids were troupers, once again. Oh, I appreciate them! We'll pick it up today where we left off, not really behind on our rotation, and not under great pressure to cover ground.

I was planning to work on my garden, and clean the goat pen today. One thing I like, and one, I don't. Rain may keep me from doing the one I don't like (the garden); but it won't keep me from cleaning the goat pen. I love doing that! For a person who is not really into details, it's much easier to get a goat pen clean than a house!

My flowerbeds are reaching a stage where I do enjoy them as they are yielding bouquets for my table. Don't the zinnias look good in the old milk glass vase? :)

The garden? Not yielding much but aggravation despite the early start. I wish the Farmer had more time to give to the garden crops, though maybe after our early harvest, he will. My plantings are looking puny. I'm not sure why I keep planting more garden...What is the big compulsion for me to add work I don't enjoy for results that are barely profitable to my summer? Somehow I have defined this as "responsible", and heaven forbid that I should be IRresponsible!!!

The amount of veggies I harvest really does not justify the compost problem I create by growing them... The cost of seed and plants outpaces the value of the yield, especially when you consider that the veggies I am growing are at their cheapest in the store at the same time. If garden yields are good, you need to can. Canning {anguished face}-- I look forward to the day when I can retire from canning. You always need to can on the sunniest, hottest days of the summer, when you could be sitting in the Not Hot Tub reading a book, or when you want to go to the Fair.

And yet, every spring, I feel hopeful and enthusiastic and plant the boxes full. This year I even added 20, count them, 20 dahlias!

Spring fever is real, folks. I am perennially delusional when it comes to spring planting...and am paying for it now. I can only hope that August brings renewed enthusiasm because of a sufficient harvest...But it won't be until after the beans are canned and in the pantry. I can guarantee that.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Another Rainy Harvest Day...

It’s another rainy day in this harvest season, which is 4 weeks old as of today. We’ve endured a lot of showers this harvest, which is quite a contrast to last year’s endless summer. When it was so warm in May, I expected another endless summer – but now I’m wondering if that was it. Hope you enjoyed it.

Rain during harvest just makes me sad. I hate sending the kids out in it. And it creates a lot of questions and decisions to make… Pick or not? Will the quality be good enough for the product we are packing? How much mold will come as a result? What can we do to minimize the impact?

However, we are at the tail end of harvest, and these issues are less pressured since most of the fruit has already been picked.

I’m thankful for all the excellent resources we have to assess the weather of the day. I have several sites that I visit, and try to average out the info to predict when the rain will come during the day. Looks like today we will start with rain, then have a break until late afternoon. Predictions are not for rain steadily.

So the kids will go out in the field…and I will watch from the house while drinking coffee, and feeling badly for them.

It’s tough being the boss.

Yesterday we learned that the company which receives raspberries for juice will not be taking any more fruit this year. We usually finish out our season with a few days of picking berries into barrels for juice. The last week of harvest there is not enough fruit to justify running the processing plant, but still enough to pick, so we pick into barrels for juice. Not sure what we will do now. And we are fortunate that we do not pick most of our crop into barrels. There are others for whom this is a greater blow.

Oh, Farming! You grow your crop, pick your fruit – the expenses are all the same, even if you don’t have a place to sell it! But as I’ve said before, no one is forcing us to farm.

In other news, the all goaties are still present on my Little Cheerful Farm. It seems I was wrong about when you can wean kids and send them away from their momma. Not 8 weeks – 10 -12 weeks is the preferred age. So Dexter and Abner are still with us, and their delightful new family comes to visit them and add fun to my day! Yesterday we attempted to take them all out of the pen on leashes…EXCEPT Momma Imogene did not think this was a good idea and would not budge a step toward the gate. She was calling out alerts to the kids so they were not keen on stepping outside either. We only succeeded in creating a rodeo with a swarm of little goats flying around the pen. I know when I’m licked, so the leashes came off, and we tried to regain our preferred status by generously passing out the raisins. The Foursome all have their collars on now – which basically acts as a goat handle – and they look so cute!

And I am, officially, the owner of Little Cheerful Farm as I have become a bona fide member of the American Dairy Goat Association. I have a registered herd name, and can register any babies that have registered parents. I will be registering Little Cheerful Clementine. Doesn’t that sound good? And it’s true besides!

I think I’ll hang out with Clemmie and her brothers today. I could use a Little Cheerful.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Surprise Visitors from Bulgaria...

Yesterday, berry production jumped! We were on our strongest section of the field, and Randy had to unload the picker after each round – just not enough room for all the flats they were getting off each row. Exhausting for the crew to handle so many berries! And a long and busy shift at the plant later!

To add to our busiest day yet, a group of berry farmers from Bulgaria showed up at our place for a tour…a tour that Randy forgot to put on his calendar. (oops-mumblemumble) Of course, they would arrive when he was gone to town for supplies. My crew came up to the deck for lunch and excitedly told me that a whole bunch of Bulgarians were walking in the field, getting in the way of the picker and taking pictures of everything – even crew members!

I wondered if I was having a dream since I had just roused myself from falling asleep at my computer. “Bulgarians? Is this real?” I was wondering. “I think I’ve had dreams like this before…A whole tour group showing up and I’m completely unprepared…and I don’t speak Bulgarian.”

But it was very real, and gracious Bev, our researcher friend and director of the tour, briefed me on the event and told me that she had already talked to Randy who was on his way home and apologetic for his lapse.

So I ran to get my clipboard and get the signatures of the visitors on our Food Safety required Visitors Log, and tried to explain to people who don’t speak English what our Food Safety practices are, while attempting to corral them out of the harvest area. (Not entirely successful, I might add.)

Then I answered questions with the sound of confidence, though really, I was not sure of the veracity of some of my statements. How much does a harvester cost? How many tons of fruit are picked? What sprays are used?  Randy arrived back home just in time to unload the machines, answer a few questions and then leave to bring fruit to the plant. A couple of earnest-to-learn Bulgarians were visibly annoyed.

I invited the now restless tour group to the deck, quickly cutting my Royal Raspberry Cake into small squares and serving it with ice water – as if I had planned it all along. (Thank you Lord for prompting me to make a cake!)

Fortunately, before a few of the most…um…assertive guests became frustrated, Randy returned to answer more questions and show them more equipment. Before they left the farm to briefly visit the processing plant, they graciously presented me with a gift for our hospitality.

Then they continued their zealous investigations at the plant…which is much more sacrosanct than our harvest field. Thank you to JT for the security services…Oh my…I promise it won’t happen again.

It was really not a great day for visitors, as we were running around trying to keep up with the fruit production. We didn’t have time to give much attention, (and it didn’t help that we forgot they were coming {eye roll}). On the other hand, it was a great picture of the contrast for the Bulgarian farmers, where they do not use machines to pick raspberries and must get hundreds of workers to harvest their crop. I wouldn’t want to trade places.

They spoke of the great trouble they have getting enough labor to harvest their crops and asked how we keep our workers coming back each year. When I asked where they got their migrant workers, they said that there is a lower class in their country, the Gypsies, that provide manual labor -- no migrants. However, they are illiterate and undisciplined, wanderers, and obviously not respected by their employers. It struck me how politically incorrect Americans would find this information. 

Most of the guests were courteous and thankful for the opportunity, and the leaders of the group were very appreciative, and respectful. But they have their hands full with some of the group who are pretty assertive in their quest to learn, and unfamiliar with our culture. It’s obvious that US growers are far ahead in food safety requirements and procedures. They were not familiar with that at all, and very surprised and disbelieving about a number of rules that we must follow.

Some days, I am disbelieving about the rules too…but our guests lack of knowledge of food safety rules reminded me once again that food from the US is the safest in the world.

And I was also reminded to be more diligent with our calendars.

About Me

Needing an outlet for various thoughts rattling in my head, I've created two blogs -- One about my real life ( and one where I can vent. (