Garden of Ethan

  (Ada, Michigan)
A growing hobby farm in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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March 2012

A set of twins March 12 and 2 sets on March 15 has been a lot of fun.  Rosemary rejected one of her girls, leaving me to bottle feed little Mia, who I named after Mia Farrow from the movie Rosemary's Baby.  Mia finds me in the yard and paws at my leg when she is ready for a bottle.  Thankfully, her grandmother kidded the same day she was born, and has plenty of milk to spare.  I have some fun swaps going with people who bought herd shares.  My latest is receiving baked goods from a chef when he comes to pick up his milk.  

I ordered some jumbo quail hatching eggs online, and now have little quail running around the greenhouse along with baby chicks, ducklings, and goslings.  My geese are sitting on a growing pile of eggs in the orchard.

I am reading books that help me find the poetry of my existence.  I just finished The Dirty Life, and am now reading, 12 X 12.   


November 2009

I have grossly miscalculated my ability to keep up with processing all the birds I raised this year. Slipping an extra dozen into the incubator, and then another, and later finding a hen sitting on eggs, all seemed rather innocent and inconsequential this spring. One morning my mother was letting out the birds, and as the mass spilled out from their pen into the backyard, she declared she had not only reached her limit, but was somehow carried far past it.

I have been harvesting a couple birds a week. We like the word harvest, and joke about sending the birds to freezer camp. My families flippant attitude towards my birds, and their “off with their heads,” remarks, inspired me to start sharing my experience of saying goodbye to these birds. I began carrying them into the house before heading down to the chopping block.

Cradled in my arms, they are so quiet and still once I enter the door. “This is a son of Bubbles the Brave, one of our original Swedish duck hens,” I began to explain as my family looked uneasily at the first duck I brought into the kitchen. “His father was Streaker, who we said goodbye to this spring. Notice this young drake’s dark green beak. Just like his dad.” I encouraged my family to pet him and my mother remarked on how silky smooth his neck was. “Let’s thank this bird for the food he will offer our family. He has had a good life on our little hobby farm.”

After my family declined to give him a little kiss goodbye on the head, I sadly carried the unnamed drake out to the chopping block, telling myself that it should be hard to take a life. A friend told me that we have, “the most loved dinners on earth.” That sounds so strange, yet I believe it is what I have been aiming for. Maybe I have overshot a little and am unknowingly headed down a path towards becoming a vegetarian. I wonder sometimes.

My bearded ladies have grown their winter coats, and are plush and fat. Lily is the only one I am milking, and I have begun making cheese and kefir in addition to selling our excess milk. Lyla is still nursing 3-month-old Lola, who is a giant of a doeling. These Saanen goats look their purest white when I let them out at night to browse. They reflect the moon beautifully, and move as glowing orbs through the black trees as we search out the few remaining leaves on the branches. None of my guidebooks to owning goats foretold of wandering the surreal landscape of the woods at midnight.

It isn’t convenient owning goats. Milking in the rain and wind and mud causes me to reflect on this lifestyle choice some days. I have decided that I raise goats for fresh milk partly because it is hard. I am proud that I can do it. Making cheese has turned out to be fairly easy, and we have been enjoying ricotta and mozzarella. I continue to meet new people who are interested in goat milk, my favorite being a wonderful couple who come and milk on Wednesdays.

I haven’t planted any fall crops in the greenhouse this fall, and the book on how to do so remains largely unexplored. My three siblings I live with help with chores on occasion, but my farming endeavors remain largely my own. I hadn’t expected this, but believe I have accepted it. My agricultural experiments have also been social experiments, and the results are never what I would have anticipated. Therefore, despite not knowing where I am headed with my ventures in homegrown edibles, I find the journey an enriching one.
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