Posts Tagged With: farming

Memories of My Future

On the loose

Last night I went and saw Mark Shephard talk about his new book Restoration Agriculture.  Mark is a Driftless Area permaculture guru.  The book deals with how one can mimic the native environment and biome to create an agricultural system that is high in calories and nutritional content per acre and is an ecosystem in itself rather than a lack of one.  I haven’t read the book yet but I definitely plan to once I finish the 4 (yes 4) books I am currently reading.   Mark’s farm is well known in the area for his hazelnut operation and the hard apple cider he makes.  He’s also well known for his hilarious band Synister Dane, being friendly and jovial, and taking on several interns each year.  I loved his talk and afterwards my mind was really spinning with dreams for the future.

I am an educator at heart.  It is what I am good at and what I am passionate about.  I am also deeply connected to the earth. I dream of forming a relationship with a piece of land and sharing it with others.  What that means is still unclear to me.  Will I someday own land and operate an environmental, outdoor, and farming education center out of it?  Would that land be mine or would I own it cooperatively? Will I find an educational community that I can make my home and educate from there?  Will I simply live close to the land like I dream and keep education as my day job working at a school or park or writing curriculum? I have worked with summer camps, outdoor education programs, public schools, a semester program, an alternative high school, and others and I have loved them all.  Even the experiences that were less than ideal at the time taught me valuable lessons about my values, strengths, and desires.  Where I am in life right now there is much uncertainty.  Where will I be a year from now?  Where will I be six months from now? Who will I be with and what will I be doing?

When I imagine my future I see images behind my eyes like vivid memories I have yet to live.  I am leading hikes in the rain and discussing vernal ponds. I am shelling beans into a bucket as the sunsets. I am chopping wood for future fires and looking up to watch others neatly stack it to season. I am singing songs round a campfire.  I am harvesting tomatoes with a baby on my hip.  I am skiing through snowy fields in the bright sun. I see fresh baked bread, a pantry full of canned goods, teenagers in waiters ready for adventure, and little kids with fairy wings and nature journals. I see a room of ecology supplies that always smells faintly of mildew in the best possible way.  I see children overturning rocks in the stream looking for salamanders and frogs.   I see my feet hanging from a handbuilt tree house as I read and sip on a tea of wild mint and nettles.  My journal is filled with drawings of encounters with wild animals and new plants. My hands are rough from hard work.  My schedule is busy, challenging, and always changing.  And best of all,  I am happy.

As I walked home from Mark’s talk last night  I decided it is time to embrace the uncertainties in my life.  I  don’t know what the future holds for me.  No one does. My professor Marty at Warren Wilson always to said, “Start small, go slow, but go.”  You can’t sit around and expect your dreams come to you if you don’t work towards them.  With that I am going for a walk and see what this rainy, freezing day has to teach me.

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Four Months Later…

4 months.  That’s how long it has been since I last posted.  As I completed another round of folk school catalog design this week and went to delete “Annie writes a blog called Drift Less, Learn More” from my bio, I decided to instead actually take up writing again. As there is no way I could possibly write an update on everything I have done in the past 4 months, here is a “brief” slideshow of events instead.  Enjoy and come back soon for more updates!

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Biodynamics gathering afterthoughts

This weekend Jamie and I went to the North Central Biodynamics Gathering and since then my mind has been buzzing with dreams for the future.  The gathering itself was really interesting.  I got to hang out with a Warren Wilson person I hadn’t seen since graduation and there was a lot of good food for thought– and my tummy.  Biodynamics is still quite mystical to me.  I don’t fully understand what it is or how it works and the gathering definitely wasn’t set up to explain any of that– it was more philosophical.  In California I used Biodynamic preps for compost starter and compost tea but until I do some serious research it is going to be  mystery.  Below is a picture of me stirring some compost starter and water in summer 2010.  I affectionately called it poop soup.  It made our compost piles shrink a lot faster than the piles we didn’t add it to.  Magic!  One thing I did like about the gathering was listening to Craig Holdredge speak about Goetheian observation and how we can relate it to agriculture.

Going to gatherings and conferences like this one always leave me wanting more.  I love  the community feel and all the gained friends and connections. Jamie and I are currently on the look out for some land and a house to rent so that we can grow a whole bunch of food, raise chickens, and hold folk school classes. We have both done a bunch of farm, garden, and homestead like internships and apprenticeships and we know we don’t want another one but finding a decent place that is affordable is tricky.  Plus since I don’t drive I would prefer to be within biking distance to town.  Living in town generally means more expensive house with less land but close to all the action and community activities.  Living out of town means more land, possibly less expensive, less towny noise, and most likely transportation issues.  I dream of having a tiny  CSA or at least a farmers market booth but is that a dream for this year?  Do we have enough money?  I feel an urgency when I think about all this. And not just because I have to move out of my cabin soon.  It just feels like the time is now and I am ready. Anyone out there in internet land know of a good place in or around Viroqua?


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Right now we are in peak harvest time for tomatoes and my goddess to we ever have a glut of these beauties!  This morning I got to use the food mill for the first time to make tomato sauce. We have a beautiful hand crank mill and it works like a dream.  I was finding that I didn’t like how watery it was when I was using the attachment for making sauce so I decided to use the one for salsa. It has bigger holes so you get a slightly chunkier sauce.  It looks great! We have also been making salsas and soups with the tomatoes.

Last summer the farm had a late blight and they didn’t get as big of a harvest as this year.  The main differences in care have been tying the plants, periodic fertilizing with some manure water from our horses on the roots, and more regular watering.  It certainly would seem that all the hard work paid off.

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In the past week or so Jamie and I harvested all the hops! They are now dried and in large food grade buckets awaiting their destiny of being made into yummy beer!

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Northwoods and Knives

After saying that I would update more frequently I promptly left home and didn’t update. Sorry folks!

What I’ve been up to:
Northwoods Vacation!
Jamie and I took a trip up to Superior country for a few days. It was wonderful.  The lake and surrounding area are gorgeous. I really enjoyed seeing Ashland and Northland College as I had thought about going there way back when during college application times in high school. One night when we were camping I heard some crazy wildlife that I am unfamiliar with and haven’t been able to identify.  I also heard WOLVES!

What Cheer? Brigade!
On Friday night the What Cheer? Brigade took our little town by storm and it was a dance party extravaganza never to be forgotten. Pretty much everyone I knew or have ever seen in town was there and dancing and having a blast.  Not many bands come to Viroqua and it was great to see everyone out and having fun!  I love this community!

Early American Knives!
A full update with photos will follow this but let me just say that I made a knife and its awesome! I’ve never done any blacksmithing or forge work before and I really loved it!  More later.

We recently got a half bushel of peaches and I have been preserving them in various ways all day.  I have some peach rings and fruit leather in the dehydrator right now and I am mid-canning some in a light syrup. Unfortunately the propane tank ran out and I must wait for the new one to get here this evening until I can finish!

We harvested the garlic a couple weeks ago, tied it, hung it in the barn to dry, and yesterday I cut it down, cleaned it, and prepared it for storage! It’s fun to see the whole process and it smells oh so yummy!

More to come and don’t worry, there will be pictures!

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Happy August!

Growing out of some old compost are a ton of volunteer squashes.  To celebrate the beginning of August I harvested a pumpkin and made a special Jack-o-lantern!

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Even kids like me who didn’t grow up in the country knew about hay lofts.  It’s one of those things we learn through osmosis from books or Fischer Price.  Every barn I ever drew as a child had hay coming out of a tiny window on the top floor—why did I never question how it got up there?  It wasn’t until actually experiencing the wonders of the grain elevator this past week that it even occurred to me to ask how the hay got upstairs. Yellow tufts of hay were simply always sticking out of red barns.

Last Saturday we had a work party at my host farm to load hay into the barn for winter feeding.  The hay was baled on my host family’s other property and then transported to the farm in a large trailer made especially for this purpose. Each bale was then shoved off the trailer and loaded onto the grain elevator. The grain elevator takes the bale up the barn’s second floor window where it is, forcefully, dropped and picked up and stacked 5-6 bales high.

Before going on let me describe a grain elevator in case, like me, you’ve never seen or fathomed one before. In simple terms a grain elevator is a massive metal contraption that brings hay bales up.  In my opinion they would be more aptly named hay escalators because they move at an incline not straight up and down like I had pictured in my head while eating breakfast that morning. Our first task of the day was secure one end of the elevator (its about 40 feet long) to the window we want the hay to go through and one onto a platform that  we made by stacking palates. Maybe newer models of grain elevators have figured out how to make this an easier task but what we simply tied a rope to one end and pulled it up and tied it off at the top. To start the machine a string it pulled much like a lawn mower and a large chain with hooks starts quickly going round like a bike chain or really large chain saw.  The hooks are what the bale is places on that that 9 times out of 10 they don’t fall down and endanger the people below.  It’s quite a formidable machine.  Definitely not one to wear dangly jewelry around.

So anyway, I was one of the three stackers in the hay loft which I can say with all honesty is one of those jobs that I wouldn’t want to do more than once a year.  Don’t get me wrong—we had a blast up there but it was very hard work.  The bales bound and bounce through the window every 10-30 seconds and in that time we would race to the other side of the barn while lugging a bale and heave it upwards into a neat stack to the ceiling.  Once we blocked the back window and lost our airflow things got a little rough.  Hay dust and high temperatures threatened to beat us but we kept on! The two trips to restock the hay trailer had given us two swims in the cool creek and an afternoon coffee break kept the energy up. Hours flew by and before we knew it the hay loft was full.  At the end of the day as we sat outside with our beers and scratchy throats we felt nothing short of victorious.

Question of the Day:  If each hay bale is between 40-60 pounds and throughout the day we stacked around 500 bales and if a polar bear weighs a standard ton—how many polar bears did we lift?

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Annie’s Hiking Club!


The farm where I live has 3 horses, 2 goats, a couple dozen chickens, 6 cows, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a ton of wildlife. The dogs, Freddie and Dolly, and the goats, Abe and Lily, are my favorites.  One day while everyone else was out I decide to go on a hike with all my special friends.  I put Abe on a leash and everyone else just followed.  We went to the creek, through the woods, up the driveway, and all around the pastures. What a grand adventure!

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Obligatory Introduction Post

My name is Annie B. and I am a 23 year old college graduate doing what many of my peers are doing in this economic climate—traveling, doing internships and work-trades for little or no money, and blogging about it!   Growing up in Massachusetts, spending summers at camp all around the Northeast, and going to college in North Carolina has all contributed to my current state of wandering and I couldn’t be happier with all the experiences I’ve had. After graduating from college with a degree in Outdoor Leadership Studies I stayed on campus as a Resident Director where my duties mostly included planning under attended events for my residents and writing up or lecturing loud underage drinkers.  I then moved to California for a year-long position as a Community Intern for the Woolman Semester—a radical semester program for high school juniors, seniors and gap year students based on peace, sustainablility, and social justice.  As an intern I wore many hats including: “grown-up”, gardener, vegetarian chef, trip leader, nanny, camp specialist, chaperone, etc. and loved them all. Now my wanderlust has pulled me to Southwestern Wisconsin where I am a work/study for the Driftless Folk School.

Driftless Folk School is a community based program focused on sharing knowledge, skills, and passion related to sustainable living.  The school has no physical location and classes are held at various homes, schools, farms, and homesteads around Viroqua and Vernon County. Classes are signed up for individually so that a person can take as many as they want throughout the year. Local experts and enthusiasts are hired to teach skills like pickling, natural building, chicken butchering, cheesemaking, blacksmithing, etc.  As a work/study I live with a host family on their farm outside of town where I work for room and board and a couple hours per week for the Folk School itself for a small stipend and free Folk School classes.  The folks I am living with out at Turtle Hollow are absolutely fantastic and I feel so lucky to have this opportunity!

My goal for this blog is to make it appealing to family and friends as well as those interested in Driftless Folk School, folk schools in general, or farm/rural life.  I feel I should mention that each work/study lives a very different life depending on what their host farm is like so it would be impossible to represent each experience in my blog. I’ll just keep to what I know! To follow will surely be photos, recipes, anecdotes, class reviews, and whatever else spills out of my brain. Enjoy!

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