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Introducing Short Creek Farm

I’m guessing that this will come as no surprise to many, but this will be my last season at Potter Hill Farm.

My long-time friend, Dave Viola, and I are leasing a new farm in Northwood, NH.  Dave is the guy responsible for the sausages that we’ve been selling.  We’re calling the new place Short Creek Farm, and our mission is to raise pastured pork, grassfed beef, and heirloom vegetables in order to create delicious, distinctive foods that reflect season and are instilled with a sense of place.  We’ll use the best quality home-grown ingredients to make the best meat and vegetable products, all with an eye towards ecology, community, and culture.

It’s hard for me to think of leaving Potter Hill, but Short Creek is an incredible opportunity.  The farm itself is much larger – about 200 acres – and it is in a great location between Concord and Portsmouth.  The land is protected by a Conservation Easement and abuts another 2000 acres of conserved land.  In fact, the farm itself is part of the Northwood Area Land Management Collaborative (NALMC), a group of property owners and stakeholders who work together “to connect with each other and to the land through an appreciation of the natural world.”  At Short Creek, we’ll work to make sure that Good Farming fits right in, and that people can appreciate agriculture as a part of the broader ecological community, where human culture and and nature come together most intimately.

Though all of our animals are still currently grazing at Potter Hill, the transition to Short Creek Farm is actually starting right away.  Our Grassfed Beef CSA and Pastured Pork CSA will be sold under the Short Creek name this year.  You’ll also see some new labels on our sausages as soon as we sell our current inventory.

The good news (well, more good news, I suppose) is that Potter Hill Farm will continue to exist even after I move to NH at the end of the year.  Many of you have already met Paul Grady at pickups or at the Grafton Farmers Market.  At the end of the season, Paul will be taking the reins at Potter Hill, and then it will officially be Farmer Paul for 2016.  Things may not look exactly the same, but I am truly looking forward to what Paul has planned for the farm.  (HINT: cluck cluck!)  Dave and I also look forward to working with Paul to make Short Creek Farm products available in Grafton.

When I landed here in Grafton almost 5 years ago, it was a bit shocking.  I had most recently been living in a 12’x12′ cabin on a farm in a little hill town in the Pioneer Valley.  All of a sudden I was trying to navigate the world’s most insane traffic pattern around the Common.  I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to settle in.  But I did.  It will be hard to leave the farm itself, as I’ve come to know each field and each season by their distinct character.  But it will be hardest to leave the people here.  The neighbors who welcomed me warmly, and all of my loyal customers – some of whom have been with me since the very first bunch of radishes. Friends who welcomed me with generosity into their home and their lives.   Who helped me out of tight spots time after time, who listened to my rants, and who took the time to teach.  Thank you all for your friendship, and for your patronage, and for gracing your table with Potter Hill produce for the last several years.

But this is not good-bye, not yet.  I’ll be here for the rest of the season, and it’s shaping up to be a great one.  If only the weather would cooperate grumble grumble (now it’s a proper PHF newsletter).

See you soon.

P.S. Here’s today’s gratuitous pig video

 

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Still roasting

We got about 36 rain drops yesterday, not enough to make a dent in our >6″ rainfall deficit this spring.  After two years of droughty weather in a row, maybe it’s time to think about a backup irrigation system that consists of more than two watering cans.  This dry weather has been tough on our early vegetables, with poor germination and struggling seedlings.  Forecast is calling for a good soaking from Sunday into Tuesday – let’s hope that’s true.  If we get some good rain soon, I think a lot of what is in the garden will recover quickly.

This Monday will be our last pickup at the Brigham Hill Community Barn, so get your meat orders in.  We’ll be back to our normal pickup at the Potter Hill barn as soon as we have some vegetables ready for harvest.  In the meantime, feel free to shoot me an email if you need something.

In other news… videos of pigs doing pig things.

 

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Rain, please

There is no pickup at the Community Barn on Monday (Memorial Day).
If you’d like some sausages or other meats for your weekend BBQ, please send me an email and we can arrange for you to get what you need on Saturday or Sunday.

Things are in full swing at the farm.  Plants and seeds are going in the ground.  All tractors are up and running (for now) in spite of my best efforts at sabotage.  The pigs have graduated from Stage II Electric Fence Boot Camp, and they have taken up residence down the hill under a big elm tree.  Next week, we’ll start rotating them through 4 acres of pasture.  The beef herd has grown by 1 (It’s A Boy!) – Lois and Abigail are both diligently attending to their babes.  Lois more diligently than Abigail, as usual.

We do need some rain – we’re all dried up in all but the wettest spots in the wet fields.  We’ve had “0% – 25%” of normal May rainfall.  I’m guessing that’s closer to 0%.  The seedlings are hanging in there, but it’s harder for them to ward off pests if they aren’t growing vigorously.  Seeds are going in the ground, but germination is spotty so far.  Funny how we went from drought (remember last summer?) to all of the snow in one month and then back to drought.  Does look like some wet weather next week, but let’s hope it doesn’t get all monsoony around here.

I read a couple of thought-provoking short articles this morning – one about soil fertility from Gene Logsdon’s blog, and the second about farm-to-table from Harvest Public Media.  Both recommended reading.  In fact, you should read everything that Mr. Logsdon writes (or has written).

Don’t forget – get your deposits in for this year’s Pastured Pork CSA!  This is going to be the best year yet, with a new feeder for 100% ad-lib feeding and 4x more pasture for the piggies.  We depend on your deposits to keep things running until harvest time.  Beef CSA details coming soon – it will look about the same as last year.

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Never saw it coming

Wow.  If you had asked me a month ago where things would stand on the farm in the middle of May, I would have said that hopefully I’d actually be able to get some tillage started.  After a cold winter and tons of late-melting snow, I really thought we’d be spinning our wheels in the mud until June.  Thankfully, that’s not so.  After 2 weeks of summery weather all wrapped up in a July-style drought, the fields have dried out sufficiently for me to get some tillage done in even the wettest places.  Potatoes, onions, radishes, leeks, mesclun mix, arugula, carrots, and beets are all in the ground after a busy week of planting.  Now we just need a little rain to get those seeds germinating.  Just a little… I mean it, OK?

In spite of the droughty weather, our wet hillside pastures are green and growing like crazy.  The cows have just moved to the field at the very top of the hill.  Feel free to come up and take a look – it’s a nice view with the cows on green spring pasture, dotted with dandelions, and Wachusett in the distance.  Check out the pigs, too, for a different view (see above) while they are still in fence training boot camp.  Once they reliably respect the electric fence, we’ll move them down the hill where they can graze and root on pasture of their own.  And, yes, pigs do graze.  Even with a trough full of grain, they will choose to eat grass and clover in addition to digging for subterranean goodies.

If you like the idea of eating pork that was raised locally in an ecologically conscientious manner, with an eye towards animal welfare and good husbandry, then sign up for our 2015 Pastured Pork CSA!

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And then it was summer

A lot sure has happened in the last week.  For one thing, an entire season went by, and apparently it’s summer now.  The redness of my neck confirms this.

And….. drumroll….. our first calf of the year was born!  It’s Abigail’s, and so of course it’s a heifer (three for three!) and she’s beautiful.  I think her name is Maple, unless she comes up with something better.  Though she has a limited vocabulary, and would likely name herself Moo or Blehh.  Anyhow, the cows are out on pasture, working their way around the garden before we send them down the hill.  The piglets have graduated to Stage Two electric fence training next to the barn.  And after three straight days of tillage, the first half-acre of garden is nearly ready to plant.  Onions will get transplanted next week.  Potatoes will go in the ground, too – right on time, judging by the dandelions that have just started flowering.  The first plantings of beets, carrots, radishes, and arugula are all on track for next week as well.  All told, we’re just a week behind schedule.  I am astounded by this.

Last year’s roots are officially done for the season, but we have plenty of sausage and other cuts of beef and pork for the grill.  Amazingly, we also have a couple of pork shoulder left, in case someone out there wants to fire up the smoker.

For those of you starving for something fresh and green, we have some die-hard green onions that made it through the winter.  They look great, but will only be available for a limited time before they begin flowering.  And for a short while after – onion flowers are pretty tasty.

Get your orders in, and we’ll see you on Monday.  Thanks!

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Basket case

Basket case – I’ve encountered this term a few times in the last week, generally referring to my new International Cub tractor that I bought off the side of the road down in RI.  I was curious about where that term came from, and this is what I found for etymology (courtesy of Wiktionary):

The term originated from WWI, indicating a soldier missing both his arms and legs, who needed to be literally carried around in a litter or “basket.” Today it indicates a state of helplessness similar to the metaphoric removal of the appendages, most frequently in the context of mental health or aptitude.

Pretty gruesome, but I think it applies.  To the tractor, in a way.  And to me, obviously, if we’re being honest here.  A friend told me we better get some good weather (i.e. so I can actually get out of the garage and into the field) or the tractor would really be a basket case. And he’s right – I’ve got the left side final drive off (one leg), the head is off (well, the head), front axle was off (arms), and I’m about to drop the oil pan (metaphor exhausted).

Incidentally, If I wasn’t a farmer, I think I might be an etymologist.  If that’s a thing.  And if it is…. nice.

We’re back at the Community Barn on Monday with meats (and shockingly still beets), but note that pickup time is changing from 4pm to 6pm.  We haven’t had a customer yet before 4pm, so we may as well get another hour in at the farm.

Finally, I’ve been remiss in not mentioning this until now – Zach Kerzee is selling his Simple Bread at the barn with us on Monday.  Please place an order through his website if you’d like to pick up a loaf.

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It’s pigs

Picked up our first batch of feeder pigs yesterday from the Natick Community Organic Farm.  And they are very pink, and yes, I’ll admit, they’re very cute.  But, I promise they stop being cute right about the time they tip the scales at 200 lbs.  And to go from 20 lbs to 200lbs in 6 months, they need to eat.  A lot.  Help us pay the grain bill and sign up for a 2015 Pastured Pork CSA Share!

If you want to try some sausage (or restock your freezer), place an order for pickup on Monday.

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Spring

Kind of a gray and rainy day today, but even so… what a difference a week makes!

Last week, it really seemed like all hope was lost, but things are looking up.  After a number of beautiful bright sunny windy days, we’ve gone from soupy mud to just plain wet mud around the barn.  The grass is greening up, and looks like it’s just about ready to start actually growing.  The cows are intent on getting that first bite of green in their small piece of winter pasture, to the extent that they even ignored a fresh round bale for a little while yesterday.  The peepers are peeping, and there’s just a hint of a yellow haze on the forsythia.  We’re still probably a solid two weeks behind, depending what the weather brings…. but at least now it seems possible that we might get out and do some tillage before the end of April.

Grilled Bratwurst
The secret to good grilled brats is to simmer them in beer first.  Simmering helps to seal the casing so that you don’t lose all the delicious juices in the coals.

Bring a couple of cans of beer to a boil in a medium saucepan and then reduce to a simmer.  Be careful when heating up the beer – it will want to boil over, so pay attention.  Drop your brats in the beer and simmer gently for 5 – 7 minutes.  Remove brats from saucepan and finish on grill with indirect heat – this should only take a few minutes.  Serve with sauerkraut and grilled onions.  Do the onions first, they take awhile on the grill.

 

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Falling behind

Gratuitous Barley picture is from this time last year.  Note the greening grass and distinct lack of snow.

They’ve been doing a series on WGBH radio this week called “What Winter Did.”  Some intrepid local reporter has been going around talking to experts about the effects of the extremely cold and snowy winter that just passed.  (Or has almost just passed – was not thrilled to find a good coating of snow and ice up on the hill this morning.)  There were pieces on the impact of the cold and snow on wildlife, and fishermen, and farmers.  It’s official, and has now been documented on public radio – this has been a tough winter, and we are weeks behind in the growing season.

Now, you can be forgiven if you’ve tuned out my sky-is-falling attitude about the weather, and if you’ve learned to just skip over the parts of the newsletter decrying the wet, heavy soil on our north-facing slope.  Especially for spring-time newsletters.  Every year, I just about give up hope that the soil will ever dry out enough that we might get out in the field and get to work.  This year, it seems real.  It’s mid-April, and it just barely feels like mid-March.  Normally, at this time of year, I’m contemplating turning the cows out into a cover crop of 6-inch-high winter rye to give them their first taste of spring.  This year, the rye hasn’t even begun it’s spring growth spurt.  It looks like a stretch of good weather is heading our way (finally!), but it’s going to take a lot more than a few seasonable days to get things back on track.  That said, as the sun gets stronger by the day, things can change in a hurry, and so we continue to hope for the best.

While the first harvest of spring greens may be a ways off yet, you can support the farm now by signing up for a Pastured Pork CSA Share.  If you were considering signing up for a share, please send in your deposit sooner rather than later.  Your deposits will really help the farm get through this frustratingly slow-to-start growing season.

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Freeeeeeedom!

The snow finally melted enough that Paul and I could get out in the barn pasture and fix the electric fence.  So much snow had buried the line, pulled it to the ground in many places, and broken a bunch of the plastic clips that secure the fence wire to the posts.  Paul tells me that the cows were very happy to be free of their winter quarters.  He opened the gate and the whole herd did their spring ritual of galloping around the pasture, with even the old girls bucking and kicking like heifers.  Sadly I missed one of my favorite sights – as I was clearing Phragmites from one corner of the fence, a shard of reed buried itself deep in my thumb, deep enough that a trip to the ER seemed like a good idea.  Talk about an invasive species!  Yukyukyuk.

Thanks to all who came out on Monday to get sausage.  There’s plenty left, but it’s going fast.

Finally, I’m finalizing the details this week for this year’s Potter Hill Pastured Pork CSA.  Please let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll send you an order form as soon as it’s finished.

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