I know who I was before I was a farmer. I know who I was before I was a writer. But I have no idea who I was before I was a father. That person is a stranger to me.
And I remember the moment it happened, the moment I changed. All of the time I now spend staring at my son in awe, all of the intense and overwhelming love (for lack of a more piercingly accurate word) that I heap upon his very existence – that didn’t start when I found out I was going to be a father. Not fully. Fatherhood was still too abstract of an idea. It started when, after several days of intense labor in the cabin with my amazing wife, I caught his tiny frame in my hands. I probably hadn’t cried in ten years, but I bawled that morning. Some of the happiest tears in all of Bugtussle.
However, something changed that day. Something profound and visceral. Whether it was oxytocin––a contact high from the love hormone that mothers create to bond with their children––or overwhelming relief after a long week, I became a new person, forever leaving behind whoever I was before I was papa.
I knew it then, but I’m writing about this now because it still exists in the exact same capacity. Nothing has changed about this change in me. It doesn’t dissipate, it doesn’t go away. When I look at my son running through the sweet corn, or jumping on the couch, or reading a book with his mama, or sleeping––which I spend several minutes a day watching him do––I see him with eyes that are exactly his age. He asked me the other day, “Are you two and a half years old, too, papa?” And I laughed, but I guess I am.
I am two and a half, too, baby boy. Same age as you.
We give at least four different fresh herbs every year with our CSA: parsley, dill, cilantro and basil. In the below video I take you through the process of chopping those herbs, but I wanted to add a little bit here about usage and storage so you can get the most out of each.
We give an Italian flat leaf parsley with our CSA, but of course these same rules more or less apply to curly parsleys.
Storing: Store your parsley in the fridge, sealed in a ziplock bag or wrapped in a damp paper towel. You can keep it in a jar of water (like flowers) on your countertop, but you will need to cover it with a plastic bag to prevent wilting.
Chop: cut off the stems as best you can and reserve for soups, stocks or to be chopped up finely and tossed into potato salad (our stems are delicious). Pack the parsley against the side of your knife as tightly as possible. Slowly chop until the green are as fine as desired. Large leaves can also be used for chiffonade as demonstrated for the basil in the video. Cut it as you need it, or just chop it all at the beginning of the week and sprinkle over everything. Literally. Read on.
Pairings: everything. Really, I mean that. Parsley’s flavor is simply freshness (with a hint of anise) and it goes with almost every other flavor––anywhere a fresh blast of savory could go. Garnish pastas, soups, salads, fish or even beef with it. You can also make a parsley oil with the herb––recipe to come––to drizzle over soups, salads, etc.. Extremely healthful and versatile, use parsley like mad. Dill
Dill is a flavorful herb whose utility is perhaps broader than you might think (or at least broader than I realized when I first started cooking). Without it we would have no dill pickles… or ranch dressing.
Storing: If you wash it, make sure it’s dry before storing. 1) you can pack it into a jar with enough water to reach all stems (no fronds) and cover it with a plastic bag. Put in the fridge for longest life. 2) To save some space, place the dill in a plastic bag with a dry paper towel and place in fridge. Both ways will get you at least a week.
Chop: Dill makes a very professional garnish. Pick off fronds as shown in the video and garnish fish, salads, or potato salad––great for hors d’oeuvres. You can also cut off the stems, and chop the fronds as you would parsley. Press the dill against a sharp knife and chop until fine.
Pairings: Dill is great with cucumbers, obviously, but also salmon, potatoes, garlic, carrots, parsnips, and goat cheese (that may be a personal preference, but I stand by it).
An herb as divisive as our politics, cilantro is among the essential ingredients from many Latin and Asian cuisines. It’s chemical structure however makes some people genetically predisposed to hating the flavor. In other words, it tastes like soap or metal to some, so don’t assume everyone will love your cilantro ice cream and with sundried tomatoes tart. I will, though. I will.
Storing: Much like dill, cilantro leaves need to be dry for storage to avoid rot. So do that first––get them dry. Then same as dill, either place in a jar, cover and set in fridge or in a plastic bag with a dry towel. Good for one to two weeks.
Chop: Remove the stems and save them for juices or salsas. Gently chop the cilantro leaves as you would parsley or dill, using a sharp knife so as not to bruise the leaves. You want a chop, not a mush. That is where the flavor lives.
Pairings: Cilantro goes with anything you would put in salsa––beans, tomatoes, lemons, limes, onions, and garlic. It is also excellent with avocados which itself is excellent with all those salsa things. Another fun pairing? Roasted chicken with cilantro butter or heck, just try your hand at some bahn-mi.
Definitely among the more familiar herbs, basil is a powerful member of the mint family that grows like crazy so long as it’s warm. Cold? Not so much.
Storing: Basil loves to rot. It’s a pro. And it hates the cold. So––both for purple and green basil––if it’s long-stemmed, store in a jar with water not touching the leaves, changed every other day. (Sometimes the basil will even begin sprouting roots, at which point you could plant it and extend the season!). Otherwise, if small stems and leaves, make sure the leaves are dry and place in a plastic bag with paper towel in cool but not cold place.
Chop: Basil is a bruiser. It will bruise under the slightest pressure. So however you choose to chop it, be gentle and use a sharp knife. The chiffonade in the video is the most common cut, but you can also turn those strips and dice them for a nice garnish.
Pairings: Basil and tomato. Basil and Mozzerella. Basil is versatile. Use it to top salads, in pestos, and over almost any dish that has tomato in it. Basil is also known to go with fruits like strawberries, but I had a basil and blueberry popsicle recently that was on of the best flavor pairings I’ve had in years.
I want to share something––something we haven’t really had a chance to say in our blistering sprint to get this farm started: we really like the new place, and we’re really happy here.
The move was scary. Truly. With so many unknowns about this new farm while leaving a place we knew we loved, a cabin we had built, and customers we adored, made it particularly frightening. But now, a year after we first decided to go for it, we are feeling good. We are feeling like this was the right decision for our family, for our business, for all the reasons we had decided to move in the first place.
Decisions are challenging occasions and rarely pristine. There are always unwanted sacrifices that must be made one way or another, and knowing you made the right ones isn’t always tangible thing. Our business is growing and our garden is doing well this year––both of which we can measure––but those aren’t the only measurements of success in a decision like this. For two people, now parents, who got into farming more or less to homestead, the success of a decision like this is measured, for lack of better word, in feeling. A year later does it feel right? Does it feel good? Are we heading in the right direction? Can we build the life we want here? And when I ask myself those questions strolling through the garden at six in the morning, or moving the sheep around the pasture, or watching Further chase the ducks out of his kiddie pool, the answer is unequivocally yes. It feels great. It feels like home.
We have received a lot of help, love, and support over the years, and we know how incredibly lucky we are for that. We have learned how critical it is when starting one farm––let alone four (yeah, this is RDF’s forth)––to have people believing in you. We are so thankful for everyone who has helped get us here and stood by us through the ups and downs, written us letters, supported our cabin campaign, bought our produce and t-shirts, all of it. Ultimately, this farm is the product of your support, and we hope you feel an attachment to it. You helped get this small farm going and we hope it feels that way to you––like your new farm, too. And in that spirit, I have to say, guys, I think we did good. I think we got a keeper.
We promise ourselves, at the beginning of every season, “NO LIVESTOCK THIS YEAR.” No animals, only vegetables. That’s what we always say. Livestock adds a whole new element of chaos and unpredictability to farming that we often find exasperating and demoralizing. Livestock adds the emotional gamble that comes with loving creatures alongside the inevitability of death, through loss or slaughter. Livestock adds a lot of work to our already impossible list of chores. And yet – here we are again. We find, year after year, that a farm (to us) just doesn’t make sense without animals. The life they bring to our farm – through fertility, through their nourishment to our family, or simply just by their very presence – is key to our sustainability.
So, when our friend reached out to us about some ducks he wasn’t able to care for properly, we were excited. There is a large pond behind our house, overgrown with algae, desperately in need of some movement and life to clean it out. Our neighbors have chickens and are always willing to share chicken eggs, so ducks seemed like a perfect fit!
The ducks arrived and we quickly set up their coop and electric fencing to encircle the pond. We released them and watched as they waded into the murky pond, jumping and splashing about and just looking blissfully in their element. It took maybe ten minutes before one duck let out a loud squawk and started flailing about, swimming in tight little circles as if stuck. We stared in confusion as it continued to spin around, growing more and more tired as it began to go underwater for longer and longer periods of time. We thought it must have gotten its leg tangled in something and, unwilling to watch it slowly drown to death, Jesse and I waded into the pond (luckily, we had friends visiting who were able to watch Further during this adventure!). Jesse used a long stick to push the now completely limp duck to the edge of the pond.
Well, maybe you have already guessed what we were oblivious to, but when I pulled the duck out, attached to the back of it was a SNAPPING TURTLE. I screamed and quickly pulled my legs out from the pond, falling onto the shore. The turtle slipped back into the pond, and we sat in shock, realizing that we had just released the ducks into one large death trap.
In a literal matter of minutes, we experienced all the emotions that come with having livestock: the joy and pleasure of watching animals living in their ideal habitat, the sorrow of pain and loss, the anger and frustration of being at odds with predators just doing what they naturally do. For the next few days, we didn’t let the ducks have access to the pond while we tried to catch the turtle. And to make the story very brief and short on gory details, we caught the turtle and killed it. We waited and didn’t catch another one, so we are hoping there was only one. The injured duck seems like it will survive. The ducks are now back in the pond.
We hate this part of farming, but as any farmer knows, death is a part of farming. If we could have thought of a way to remove the turtle without killing it, we would have. I know this story may bother some people. But this is what worked for the time and situation: we had to remove the turtle, a danger to our animals and to our son. I am horrified thinking of all the times Further and I walked barefoot around the edge of the pond, wading into the edge to grab a cattail or frog.
And with this hardship of death comes the promise of life: more eggs already than we can eat, feeding our family and other families we love. Happy ducks rejuvenating an anaerobic pond. A cleaned-out coop adding bountiful material to the compost pile that will grow more food in years to come. It is hard, and it is good. And so it goes.
It has been quite a spring, and this poor space has been so neglected. We apologize for that! We are making it a priority to start finding the time to post here – social media makes it easy to fire off quick photos and captions, but we miss our little blog community!
So, here is a very brief update of our past month or so, to catch you up:
We put up two high tunnels, thanks to an NRCS grant and the fine folks at Grow Appalachia. The tunnels were immediately filled with plants overflowing from our tiny greenhouse: cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, basil, cucumbers, and squash. We also installed drip tape irrigation in the tunnels – a VERY new experience for us as we have never really used any type of irrigation before, other than praying for rain! We are still getting the hang of it, but everything in the tunnels looks great!
We now have SHEEP! We took a trip back down to Bugtussle to visit with our old neighbors, and while we were there we picked up seven Katahdin sheep. Their main job is to help us control the 6+ acres of pasture that we are definitely not going to mow. We have loved having them around and also loved that they are already trained to a rotational grazing system and an electric fence!
The CSA started and the season has been going great so far. We are enjoying getting to know the new members and, although we miss the social aspect of the farmers market, we spend so much less time doing the deliveries and one of us is able to stay at the farm while the other does the drop-offs.
We also have DUCKS! This is a very recent addition and also a long story, in need of its own post, but they are a fun new chore to add to the list and our counters are already overflowing with delicious eggs.
Well! That is what we have been up to! We miss you, blog friends, and hope to be more regularly visiting this space! Happy summer!