Monday, February 28, 2011

Extreme Sadness....Extreme Happiness

I have found that living on a farm and ranch amplifies the circle of life and death. At first, it's easy to see the negative aspect of that statement. As I reach deeper to find meaning in what I'm about to write, my emotions get the best of me and tears fall, not just in sorrow, but in happiness too. I have found that those two emotions go hand in hand. You truly cannot feel one, without feeling the other.

Last Monday was one of the saddest I have experienced here on the farm, another death, and this time it was murder. Two years ago, I brought home a bunch of day old chicks from the local tractor supply store. I picked out two of each kind they had, so I ended up with a hodge podge breeds. I will confess, I was never a chicken lover. I suffered salmonella poisoning not one, not two, but three times due to chicken. So I can honestly say, I had no idea that I would fall head over heels for these little fluffs of feathers.

One hen, more than any other, stood out from the flock as they grew up happy and healthy running around the barn, pasture and garden. It was not just her striking black and white plumage, or her Polish wig feathers, it was her personality. We fondly named her Cruella Deville, the character from one of my favorite childhood Disney movies due to her crazy looking head dress.

Cruella thought she was more of a dog than a chicken, I'm sure of it. She would come to us when we called her. She would vocalize happily when she heard or saw us , and would want to be picked up and carried around for a free ride from one place to another. She was the queen of the coop. The roosters were even put in their place by her. She was smart, and for those who have had chickens, you know that "smart" is not always a word that best describes them. She is the first and only chicken, I had ever kissed.

Our flock only go into a coop at night for their safety, otherwise, they are free to roam during the day. They love their freedom. You can see them from the back porch and the side porch busily going back and forth, one minute out by the barn, the next up by the cows in the front pasture and then ending their day nearby the coop in the organic garden area. It is not idyllic as we have lost a few of them to everyday tragedy, a drowning in a trough, a raid by a neighbors dog, 2 stray cat attacks and the various mysterious attack from time to time. In the very beginning we even lost a few to an attack in the coop, but we had modified it over the years to make it more secure, but alas nothing is forever.

The murders began last Friday, I came home to find two of my Guineas dead, one near the coop and one in the pasture. We trapped a raccoon in our live trap and thought we had caught the culprit. That night our coop was raided again (we didn't know how) and a few of my hens were killed. Andy worked on the coop the next morning and thought he had found an area of wire mesh where something might have gotten in, he quickly fixed it. We awoke in the middle of the night on Saturday to the sound of our dogs barking...went outside and found another raccoon in the coop. This time Andy watched him run to the back of the coop and pop out the back. He had been gaining entry through the top, where he had managed to undo a wired shut latch.

After securing the coop one more time, we were sure that all was well. We even delivered several dozen of our eggs to friends in the city that Sunday evening, as they are coveted by our foodie city dwelling friends.  But alas, Monday morning turned out to be the saddest day of all. Our mare Star came to us with a newborn foal and a surprise pregnancy from her previous home. Our yearling Skully was born last year in February, so I knew the new foal would be here any day. Every morning I would go out and check on her to see when we would need to place her in the barn by herself for the impending birth. I was thinking about the horses on this very windy morning and had no idea what I was about to encounter.

As I walked past the coop on the way to the barn, I saw that there was a cat in the live trap. It was a Persian that we had seen roaming around on our property. I suspected she had been dumped by her city family, as countless other domestic house pets get dumped out in the country. It's a sad situation for all involved. Most farmers shoot stray animals that come onto their property. Lucky for this cat, we have enough compassion to know that this was once someones pet. Instead of shooting her, we were taking her to the local feed store. The owner there would give her a new home to help with mice control in the feed warehouse. I was so glad we had caught her, because now I felt like we had possibly solved the flock murders (both inside the coop and out). People should NEVER dump their animals out in the country, their chances of survival are slim and they can cause heartache to others. More free range chickens are killed by dogs and cats than any wild animal.

I took the trap with the cat in it and moved it out of the wind, Andy could transport her later to the feed store. I then opened the coop and my heart hurt. Cruella was in the bottom of the coop, not much was left of her, but I recognized her beautiful feathers. I never thought I could cry so much for a chicken, but to me she was my pet. I loved her so and she was the life of the flock.  Oh how guilty I felt, as we had not protected her enough. How could the coop still be unsafe? It's still so hard to talk about that I'm sobbing trying to write about this coherently. Cruella, you will always have a special place in my heart. You changed my mind about chickens and I thank you for that.

But wait, this entry was about extreme sadness but also extreme happiness. After four days of sadness, a bright spot of happiness emerged on the farm. She came in the form of all legs and long ears. Star had a real surprise for us in the wee hours of Thursday, February 24th. She delivered a beautiful paint filly. My heart once again was filled with love. Love for a newborn, born healthy and full of spirit. Star is a beautiful chestnut paint and so is Skully, her first colt. This newborn completely surprised us as she is a beautiful dark silver and white (possibly turning to black & white), reminding me of another pet that we just laid to rest. The world really does work in mysterious ways.

Welcome Yoshimi translation "Beautiful Reason" in Japanese. We named you for our love of music, an homage to The Flaming Lips for uniting us, for better or for worse. This past week we have experienced both. Extreme sadness, extreme happiness for better or worse and so life and death continues here on the farm.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Our 2010/2011 Freakout Flaming Lips Wedding! Yes, we are THAT couple!

Michelle Coyne captures our bliss

Miss me? I've been busy for a few months, but I have a fantastic and unbelievable excuse. The last time I blogged I had a different last name. My cowboy artist and I tied the knot over the New Year's holiday. Yep, we did it....not once, but twice! And we did it in a big way, a big flaming freakout way (thanks to Wayne & Michelle Coyne and The Flaming Lips).

My skull and Michelle's

Last January after attending the annual New Year's Eve Flaming Lips Freakout in Oklahoma City,  I started the year by blogging about Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips and how his words inspired me to write my new year resolutions for 2010. I lived my life (as much as I could) by those resolutions and my year was flaming fantastic. The power of positive thinking is contagious when you surround yourself and others with love.** for 2010 resolutions, click on above link**

Wayne & Andy after plan was hatched

This is not to say that 2010 was a breeze. We experienced a few hardships, a few deaths, the loss of our crops and a very restricted budget. Instead of getting bogged down in what we didn't have, we made due with what we do have, things like : love, laughter, our animals and each other. As I reflect on the past year, it was full of surprises and adventures ~ the biggest adventure, our journey to unholy matrimony!

us as flaming skeletons
How did we manage to get Wayne Coyne to marry us on stage you ask? Answer: we just asked him. That's the kind of man he is. He is the most positive creature I have ever met and I told Andy that if we ever got married, I wanted Wayne Coyne to perform the ceremony. I didn't expect it to be in front of 10,000 screaming fans and broadcast live around the world on, but hey, it happened!

Our favorite holiday is Halloween and we had promised ourselves that we would participate in Wayne's wild Halloween parade "March of 1000 Flaming Skeletons", so we packed our skull make-up, bought our skeleton costumes and hit the road for the five hour drive to Oklahoma City (a road we know well because of Flaming Lips events).

On the way there, we crafted a note to give to Wayne if we had a chance to talk to him. We tried to make it short and funny. I tucked it safely into my skeleton costume and waited for the perfect chance to hand it to him. That chance never came, as luck would have it, something better happened.

It's a good thing that Andy and I are the self proclaimed king and queen of costumes and face make-up. Our outfits caught Michelle Coyne's photographer eyes and as she was snapping our photos for her incredible art book projects, I asked for a favor. I told her our crazy wedding request and asked if she could help us out. She smiled and said, just go over and ask Wayne, I think he might like that idea.

our psychedelic wedding scroll

So, armed with a shot of Michelle's confidence, we approached Wayne while he was hanging out by the prop truck. To our surprise, he said "yes", he liked the idea and "did I text?". Of course I said "yes, Wayne I text". He then asked for a pen and paper, wrote down his private number and said "text me, text me alot" and that was that. I texted him. I texted him "not" alot , but enough to hatch the wedding plan. He texted us from Oklahoma to Asia and back. Every time I received a text, I still could'nt believe that it was really him on the other end. Who does this for a couple of fans? How incredible that this was actually going to happen.

We spent the end of November and the rest of December assembling our unusual wedding attire. We had decided that we needed a festive illuminated look for a proper freakout wedding. I settled on a vintage "Dolly Parton on Acid" concoction and Andy a psychedelic cowboy. We ordered hundreds of LED lights (thank you China) and spent hours attaching them to our clothes.

The proclamation
 Andy painted a beautiful wedding scroll combining Flaming Lips colors with our hand prints made into chickens (symbolizing our farm life) alien watermelons and Oddfellows imagery (symbolizing our association and commitment of leading a benevolent existence). I wrote a proclamation partly based on the Flaming Lips song "Do You Realize" and partly based on the coroner's scene from one of my favorite childhood movies "The Wizard of Oz".

We drove up the day before the show and got settled in to the beautiful, historic Skirvin Hotel. Wayne asked us to let him know when we got there. He asked if we could do a sound rehearsal with the band and go over the final details. After getting over the excitement of being invited to the rehearsal, we made our way to the back staging area of the Cox center a block from our hotel.

Wayne loves the scroll at rehearsal

Wayne jokes about f&%king up

Wayne greeted us warmly and we unveiled the wedding scroll. We spent the next few minutes pondering Wayne's worries about the nasty commercial chicken farm industry.Wayne re-counted the story of being behind a giant live chicken hauling truck with freezing chickens all huddled up.  He was happy to learn that our chickens were free thinkers and free range roamers (btw-I loved this conversation). After we discussed farming and giant disco ball fabrication (trust me, it went with the chicken story), we got down to business. Our initial intention was to get married after midnight on 1*1*11 but Wayne thought the wedding would set the mood of the evening and decided to do it three songs in as a segue to "She Don't Use Jelly" (one of my favorite songs).

Mr. Bear practices being our escort
 Wayne also had a few surprises up his sleeve, like adding a bear to the festivities. Yes, that's right, you heard me...Mr. Bear would be our escort down the aisle ~ a perfect whimsical touch, that only someone like Wayne, would think of! And a confetti gun and chords of their haunting "Firebird Suite" as an impromptu wedding march. Magical! We practiced several times and felt like we all had it down.

The harp arrives on stage

That night we participated in all the pre-show preparations and we got to see the immense amount of work that goes into a Flaming Lips performance. We even had cake and sang happy birthday to the sound man's daughter ,who happens to be the Coyne's God daughter and had been born during last New Year's Eve Freakout.  Everyone from volunteers blowing up giant balloons with leaf blowers to the roadies were in constant motion, Wayne the grand master puppeteer orchestrating even the minor details.We had a magical moment with the band when the harp was delivered on stage. They all loved it, but Wayne seemed to love it most of all. I snapped my favorite photo of the evening when he sat down to tickle the strings. He was most proud of the bright yellow molded plexi-glass made by a local OKC artist.

My favorite pic of Wayne

After the rehearsal, Andy and I ducked out and grabbed a drink at a tiny local pub in Bricktown. We walked hand in hand marveling at the details of our impending nuptials. On foot, on the way back to the hotel, the skies opened up and a hard downpour of rain and sleet began to fall. We actually took this as a good omen, this same exact thing happened on our first real date three years earlier. We barely slept that night with anticipation.

We went out for lunch the next day and the waitress told us she read about our wedding plans in the paper, turns out a newspaper woman we had befriended during the March of 1000 Flaming Skeletons had put a blurb in the Oklahoma Gazette in the Chicken-Fried-News section.

Wayne is a perfectionist and delivers the maximum amount of entertainment to his fans, it wasn't a surprise to receive a phone call at 3:00 PM on the day of the show to run over and practice the ceremony one more time. We ran through the proclamation and Wayne joked about messing up on something silly, like a name (a self fulfilling prophecy). Here is the rehearsal footage where he gets it right!/video/video.php?v=488731807851&comments

FOX news interview
 All of our friends arrived the next day, and many of them decided to dress up in costume and wear illuminated outfits. We were greeted in the lobby of the hotel by FOX news reporters who had followed one of friends dressed as the silver God Mercury. Next thing you know,we were the lead story on the evening news. This was only the beginning of our incredible night.

the wedding party

we are glowing

The concert began and there was no turning back (not that we wanted to), but the night took on a dream like quality as we were treated like VIPs backstage. There are no words to describe the feeling I had when Mr. Bear came to get us and escorted us on stage. Wayne greeted us with a huge smile and for the moment, it felt like only us and him in the stadium. It was a touching and enchanting moment. We even had to laugh when Wayne fulfilled his own prophecy and called me "Sarah" instead of "Sandra"....oh well, I joked afterward with married the "wrong" woman. Later backstage, Wayne hugged us tight and congratulated us just after midnight. You can watch one of many videos that was taken by the crowd (close-up). Here is the entire ceremony captured by our friend Jason in the audience . There were hundreds of videos being shot all at once, including the livestream on worldwide. Not many people can say they had thousands of balloons and hundreds of pounds of confetti at their wedding reception. We also had the BEST WEDDING BAND ever!

our reception

the moment
We finally joined our dear friends in the audience, who had made the long drive to share in our moment. We got to watch the second portion of the show, the amazing "Soft Bulletin" album set surrounded by friends and well wishers. Every few minutes, fans would come up to congratulate us and ask for a picture. We became instant celebrities for a brief period, even after the concert was over, it took forever to get back to the hotel because of the happy concert goers who wanted to stop and wish us happy new year and happy wedding. Here is an incredible time elapsed video that was mounted at the top of the Cox Center that captures the entire concert process from set up, rehearsal, actual show and breakdown in two minutes (it's amazing)

the wedding walk

We spent 1*1*11 at a Chinese restaurant with old and new friends (lucky new year tradition) and signed our official wedding document with Jason Cohen, dear friend and universal life ordained minister. It may have gotten a little soy sauce on it, but that just makes it even more special. Our wedding, in our eyes, was perfection. This is an open thank you to all who made it possible (all 10,000 of you).

Rev. Jason making us legit

Happy 2011! Wishing everyone love, happiness and many Flaming Lips moments!


Mrs. S.B. Emmons

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Life, Death and a Little of Everything in Between!

I have not posted since the end of August...really? I'm shocked at how time flies when you are living life, and unlike most people, dreading Fridays. The last few months of Fridays have proven to be very unlucky, even though not one of them was on the 13th.

The first Friday in question began as a very joyous occasion. Our Sicilian donkey had given birth to a beautiful, although tiny baby Jack. I came home from the museum and found him in the pasture. I knew he was a few hours old because he was dry and perfectly clean. Dusty (the momma) was nearby but was not acting as maternal as she had with Pearl (her Jenny that she had the previous year).

I ran back to the house and got my cowboy to come and take a look. There seemed to be something wrong with this beautiful little bundle of fur. He had extra soft hoofs, a problem with his tiny jaw and he could not stand on his own. We debated what to do, in the end, we scooped him up and took him to the barn, Dusty in tow.

We made him a fresh bed of hay and placed him in the middle. I decided to grab a chair and sit on the other side of the gate and observe momma and baby for awhile. The scenario that I envisioned never played out. The baby never stood up, never attempted to nurse and I knew in my heart that it did not look good. I knew after a few hours that this little boy needed colostrum or else he would die, he also needed a vet but it was 11:00 PM on a Friday night.

We worked throughout the night giving him powdered colostrum with a special bottle (he just would not suckle) and some electrolyte gel. Thank goodness we have a vet 30 miles away who has office visits on Saturday. Dr. Bennett did what he could, taught us how to intubate and feed him goat's milk (second best thing when equine milk is not available) but said he felt like chances were slim. Upon examination he noticed that the baby's mouth was very swollen and felt like he had been injured during delivery (fallen on his head).

Dr. Bennett was right, our little donkey left this earth behind 24 hours after his arrival. Even though he was with us for such a short period of time, it was very hard to say goodbye. To make matters worse, our little Banty Polish rooster, Bad Ass (named for his personality) met a mysterious death inside the open coop in the middle of the day. My tears flowed freely for both, one innocent and one "bad ass" both gone in a blink of an eye.

At sundown, we buried the donkey near my beloved dog P.I.B with all of our donkeys in attendance. We fed all the donkey relatives some treats and included a few in his little resting spot. Goodbye boys, may you both have sunsets in other skies.

The next Friday arrives without a thought. Again, I arrived home from the museum and my ritual is to whistle for all the animals. On a normal evening, they all come running for treats. Our horses are usually in the corral yard and the bottle fed cows in the pasture next to the barn. On this day they were all intermingled (a gate had blown open a while earlier).

this is after the 2nd day
 I noticed immediately that Skully, our 6 month old colt was standing out in the pasture with an odd stance. At first, I chalked it up to him being in an unfamiliar pasture but as I observed a few minutes, I just knew something was really wrong. I thought he might have his hoof caught in a hole or maybe a snake had bitten him. We decided to investigate. What we found was horrific.

You have to remember, I'm a city girl and farm and ranch emergencies can sometimes involve mass amounts of blood. This one was no exception. My beautiful handsome colt was in shock and precariously close to passing out, I have to say, so was I. Skully's left upper leg and shoulder were ripped apart. I really thought he had been attacked by a bobcat but later, we learned he had been gored by our miniature bull.

Again, a Friday night, again, no vet. This is when experienced neighbors come in real handy and this night was no exception. Tonya Anderson, a high school friend of my cowboy lives a few miles away and she is an experienced horse after care specialist. She rushed over with her son and took charge of the situation.

She was able to lead Skully to the barn, his injured leg dragging but functional. Skully had never been harnessed, so this was a hurdle for all of us. Tonya instructed us to begin hydrotherapy as soon as possible. She also wanted to apply a product called Pink Lady, a wound dressing that would help stop the bleeding and help to heal the injury.

wound after 2 months
 I believe Tonya saved Skully's life that Friday night with those two very important instructions. Again, thank goodness for Dr. Bennett and his Saturday morning appointments. Even though we could not take Skully into him because of the gravity of his injury (it would have been impossible to load him on a trailer), he was able to treat him through technology. I took pictures of the wound and rushed over to his office. He gave me a tetanus/penicillin injection to administer and some puffer antibiotics along with wound spray to keep insects away.

We also had another vet who does barn calls come out to look at Skully as soon as he could (which turned out to be two days later). He added edible antibiotic powder to his feed for 10 days and painkiller paste. He said that Skully was one very lucky horse, if he had been gored one inch over towards his artery, he would have bled to death. As it was, Dr. Bonner was very worried about permanent nerve damage. The swelling was so bad in the beginning that it was affecting Skully's ability to walk and all he could do was drag his foot. As soon as the swelling went down (about two weeks, he was walking and cantering without even a minor limp).

So, for the last two months we have been caring for our horse's wound twice daily with the following regime:

1) Administer a tetanus/penicillin shot as soon as you can. Secure the horse to a post near a high pressured water hose. Give the horse a bucket of tasty oats to distract him, add antibiotic powder and painkiller paste if vet recommended. Begin spraying the wound on low and gradually increase the pressure to as much as the horse will tolerate. The goal is to make the wound bleed profusely. This actually helps regenerate the tissue. It's important to hydrotherapy for at least 12 to 15 minutes per session twice a day for the first month. Eventually, it will be harder and harder to make the wound bleed.

2) Apply Pink Lady for the first couple of days after each hydrotherapy session. Once the bottle of Pink Lady has ended begin applying the puffer antibiotics (just squeeze the fine powder all over the wound). Use the wound spray lightly, it is primarily to keep insects from contaminating the open wound.

3) The wound will begin to fill in, although this process can take a lot of time so be very patient. Watch for fever (around the wound or checking the horses ears), infection is the worst thing that can happen. It's normal for some discharge but if the wound looks infected, contact a vet as soon as possible.

We are so thankful for his full recovery!

So that brings us to the final unlucky Friday. No deaths, no injuries, not even a cut or scrape. Nope, this time it was a skunking...yep, a real skunking by a REAL skunk. Let's just say it involved two dogs and one very potent skunk. Bleu and Walter have hopefully learned their lesson, two hydrogen peroxide and baking soda baths later....the white dog is more white and the black dog is....well...a bit more GRAY...and our living room going to have to be burned!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blogs of Note, Who Knew?

(could not do a screen capture so I tried to take a picture)
Well, I sure didn't. It took a day or two to find out that my blog had been chosen by the Google Blogger staff as a "Blogs of Note". There is no warning or congratulatory message, you just wake up one day and notice that hundreds of readers have logged into your corner of the world. I had messages from readers all over the world, its quite an exhilarating feeling, that is until the spammers find you. I could really do without the spambots, robots, spiders, spamcrawlers,spamnests etc..

But, I realized you must take the bad with the good. I'm so happy to have so many new readers. I hope I can live up to the expectations that I somehow feel that Google has placed in my non-manicured, short, little hands. The good really does out way the bad in this case!

Speaking of hands, I'm sure that many of you have no real idea of who I am, or what really makes me tick. Take a peak through the key hole for just a moment, I will give you the penny tour of my life and times and how I got here, writing this entry. Sometimes, I wonder myself!

I am American by birth , a Texan by choice, but really grew up in South America, my motto when I was younger was "my body is American, but my heart is Brazilian".  I actually lived in 4 countries by the time I was 8 , I lived in Brazil the longest and all of my schooling was there. I was more Brazilian than American for a good portion of my life but alas, I returned to the U.S. as a young adult in my late teens and have been here ever since. I went from a life of priviledge to the real world.

I spent many years discovering who I am and found out that in reality, I still don't know! I did find out that I am a strong, opinionated woman who is adaptable to almost any environment. Life is ever evolving and that in order to survive and thrive, I have learned that I must evolve with it. One year I was a translator, another I was working for a radio station,  a few years later I was in the mutual fund business and moonlighting in the photography and modeling business.

Throughout all those years, I was always known for my cooking and dinner parties. September 11th, 2001 changed my life forever. I was living in the largest city in Texas, working in the mutual fund industry and unhappy with the corporate world. I knew there had to be something else than the endless rat wheel of traffic, office, traffic, home, traffic...etc...

So, I cashed in my 401K, got married and moved to a little, tiny town and opened a restaurant. It was the hardest thing I ever did but also the most rewarding, I was praised in magazines and periodicals for my cooking and for the vision of keeping a dream alive. An opportunity came along to move the restaurant to a bigger small town with a University campus. So, not once, but twice I went through the unbelievable experience of starting something incredible from scratch.

Fast forward a few years later...the marriage had crumbled (owning a restaurant will do that), the economy was faltering, food prices were skyrocketing and rents were rising. My life as I knew it, was about to come to an end.

As a phoenix rises from the ashes, so does a stubborn woman! A new relationship developed with an old friend (if only we had realized how great we were together back in the day, it would have saved us years of romantic heartache), but yet again, looking on the bright side - we now appreciate each other and know what true love can be. It is truly amazing to find a real partner in life. That more than anything, is the secret to real love.

Fast forward a few more years, a few more grey hairs and a few fine lines around the eyes. I now live on my cowboy's family farm, mostly happy, healthy and evolving as usual. Instead of receiving food deliveries, we now produce it and it goes directly from farm to table. Instead of dealing with traffic, I deal with wild hogs and deer crossing the road. Instead of pouring over recipes, I am pouring over seed catalogs and wildlife course manuals.

I have not transitioned completely to country life, I work in town as the county curator for the history museum, we have taken up ghost hunting as a hobby (the museum happens to be haunted) and I still cook elaborate meals, even if it is just for two. In the coming months we are attempting to get a few new ventures off the ground, leading us closer and closer to a sustainable life style.

Here is a bit of what really makes me tick:  I love Halloween, I am not so much about Christmas, I love true and unique individuals, I hate conformity, I love different cultures, I hate bigots, I love New Orleans, Rio, and New York but I love small towns and the rural life too, I hate urban sprawl and ugly strip shopping centers, I love history, I hate wrecking balls, I love wine, I hate light beer, I love real butter, I hate margerine, I love maple syrup, I hate artificial sweetener, I love Indian food, I hate fast food, I love art, I hate sports, I love television (I think I am smarter for watching it), I hate video games, I love speaking my mind, I hate having to hold my tongue (which happens too often). I love sunsets and the in between hour.

I'm not rich in cash terms and probably never will be. I have mastered the mystery of money does not equate happiness. You must learn to bloom where you're planted, or else you will wither on the vine.

Please forgive me if I don't blog regularly. You will find that I only blog when I really have something to say.

I really would like to thank Google and Blogger for choosing my blog, to all my old friends for reading this, and to all my new readers for following along on the next adventure.....

Wow, Blogs of Note, who knew?

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shutterbug: Cosmic Hitchhiker & Kali

Sunset on the farm, a beautiful ending to a long, hot July. This is one of Andy's small sculptures. Our alien greeter is one of the many things that makes Feed Me Farms unique. Andy is adept at taking old discardable junk and breathing new life into it. One day, we hope to open our place to other visionary artists and visionary art enthusiasts. I wish this Kali gate was going to stay on the farm (because the cows really seem to like it), but its a commissioned piece destined for an old Victorian home in town, (The Dentage) right on the main road, at least we will get to see it everyday!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bird's Nest on the Ground

"A bird's nest on the ground" describes some thing or some situation that is rewarding to the owner in a very big way. Another similar phrase: "low hanging fruit." Meaning a task that is done easily.

I don't know about tasks done easily but here goes:

This is the first post in almost two months, but Feed Me Farms is back with a new look and an even bigger vision. All this after a very disappointing summer growing season.

It's very hard to admit failure, but I admit, we failed miserably this summer with our farm venture, but the best lessons learned are the ones that are built upon failure. So as we come to the end of this season (much sooner than we anticipated), we look ahead to fall, winter and 2011. 

What happened? We are not sure, but we know that this years crops were nothing like last year. Last year we grew beautiful heirloom tomatoes, greens, okra, peppers, melons,squash, tomatillos to name a few. This year we have been lucky to coax a few tomatoes and squash off our vines, and our okra although plentiful, is nothing like last years bounty. We believe it had to due with a number of factors : late winter, dry spring and summer, early heat wave, unbalanced soil...farmer error (our timing), the list goes on and on.

But, have we given up? No, in fact, we are more determined than ever to have a viable, sustainable and ethical food production operation. We want to grow clean, nutritious and incredible tasting food for ourselves and for others. We want to be good stewards to the land, the animals and the impact that we can make with it.

In our quest to take care of this bird's nest on the ground ,we now know that there will be many trials and tribulations along the way. We know too,  that this way of life is a grand experiment and that flexibility and resilience must be two virtues that farmers and land stewards must possess in order to survive. Our ancestors had to possess these amazing qualities, and we too, need to embrace these two little words.

There is a tremendous learning curve and we have found ourselves at the very bottom, and now know that there is much to learn and from many different sources. We have also learned that diversifying the risk means we must open our eyes to more options, but where to start?

Luckily, we live in the great state of Texas and we have discovered that there are others out there just like us (in our way of thinking) and are willing to open their gates and share their knowledge and expertise. I think farmers and ranchers are some of the most generous people to work with in the world, they seem to love to share their own bird's nests on the ground.

Even though Andy always has and always will be an artist, he was also born into a family of farmers and ranchers and their love of the land left him and his sister with this beautiful patch of Texas soil. I think somewhere in the back of Andy's creative mind, he always harbored an idea to bring this patch of soil back to life in ways that would honor his ancestors. I know this because, as I was cleaning out a book shelf one day, I found this old ,yellow, faded copy of East Texas Farm & Ranch News from March, 2006.

I almost threw it away but the cover grabbed my was a picture of an old cabin with raised vegetable beds surrounding it with the caption " Roots Farming, East Texas farmer growing plants the natural way. Inside it highlighted the work of Moon Swanson, who shares a similar background to Andy's (more of a music loving artistic soul than a traditional farmer), now I knew why he had kept this article for so long.

I decided to keep the article and knew that one day, maybe Andy's and Moon's paths would cross, and if not, maybe I could hasten the process. It took four years but that day finally came. I knew from the article that Moon's family owned one of the oldest operating old fashioned basket companies in the United States and it was less than 60 miles from here in Jacksonville. I also knew that Moon's farm was even closer, in a little township called Neches just outside of Palestine.

We decided to take a day trip with Andy's mom to purchase some vegetable harvesting baskets and some display baskets for our vegetable cart (at the time, we still had high hopes to be selling our bounty at a farmer's market this year). On a hunch, I asked the woman behind the counter if Moon was there. She replied no, I explained that I really wanted to meet him. A few minutes later, she came out of the back office with Moon's cell number.

I called it and left a message, a few minutes later I got a return call. I explained to Moon that we had just moved back to the family farm and ranch and really loved the old article that had highlighted his methods and the next thing you know, we were on the way to his place.

We passed through the gates of the Diamond B Ranch and knew that we were looking at our future. What a serene, picturesque setting, even more amazing, this garden of Eden was feeding many locavores in Jacksonville and Tyler at their weekly farmers markets. Moon, his father Martin and their families have done an outstanding job blending traditional methods with modern conveniences (drip irrigation systems, decorative but functional arbors and hoop houses, even a beautiful old fashioned chicken coop surrounded by a modern predator fence system). He assured us that this was a long and ongoing process and that he was lucky enough to have his father's guidance and some additional help.

It was wonderful experience sitting on the old seed cabin porch, munching on fresh white peaches picked right from the orchard and talking fresh vegetable feasts with Moon's lovely wife, and their toddler son, happily playing with a fresh tomato. Andy's mom was savoring the taste of her peach and marveling at the fact that it was grown without pesticides. We sat for a while and found that we shared many similarities and that they had done what we so want to do, feather our bird's nest on the ground

Thanks to the Swanson's, we have a renewed outlook and a vision. We do not have the additional help so we know now, that this will not be as easy as picking low fruit from a tree. We are going to have to stretch ourselves and learn to grow in more ways than one. But we need to consider how lucky we truly are to have this bird's nest on the ground!

* besides our empty farmers market trailer, all of these photographs were taken at the Texas Basket Company & The Diamond B Ranch*

Monday, May 24, 2010

Shutterbug:Learning to Fly

 One of my favorite annual events is the return of our swallows each year. They have made their nests on our porch for years. There is a nest in each corner of our wrap-around front porch, they have now spread to the back porch and the tractor barn as well.

My favorite nest is the one right by our front entrance, the generations of swallows who have filled it are not afraid of us and the babies like to watch our comings and goings. As they begin to fly, they like to swing on our wind chimes. This year we have noticed that the butterflies like to chase the little swallows as they dip and dive through the air. I love their chatter outside our windows and their patterned flights over all the pastures and barns.

The swallows stay all Summer helping with insect control and then, just as they appear overnight, they disappear one morning. We will wake up and they are gone and I'm sad for a day or two, but I know in my heart that they will make their way back again next year.  Swallows will always be welcomed guests here at Feed me Farms. In fact, we will always keep the porch light on for them.

happy hour @ FMF

happy hour @ FMF
party till the cows come home