North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Chickens Got Cabin Fever!

This morning, the chicken watering vessels were torn apart and scattered across the floor, with extension cords barely attached.  The feeders were flipped over, feathers and dust lay everywhere, and on each little red face was a perfect expression of exasperation.  My chickens are in the grips of late winter Cabin Fever!

The turkeys with their long, scaly legs smash down the fresh snow each morning without a care, while the chickens glare at the rising snowdrift just outside their little door with their beady orange-rimmed eyes.  It’s just not fair.  Chickens weren’t made with long enough legs, and they’re not as immune to the cold as their knobby-necked neighbors.

The days are growing longer—but the progress is not fast enough for the chickens.  Each morning, they wait for me to open their door, hoping…hoping…hoping…  Nope, it’s still white out there.  Buggers.  These descendents of subtropical birds huff in disgust and fly up to their roots to grumble amongst themselves over their lot.

Meanwhile, I have those disassembled waterers to pick up, thaw under hot water, reassemble, and return filled with only a little grudging thanks as my reward.  Oh, well, the other reward might be a half frozen egg in the corner (if I’m lucky) or a clutch of warm ones beneath an armed and dangerous lady who puffs up three times her size as I draw near (if I dare). 

Being so cooped up with such fuss and feathers means the notorious dust produced by chickens has collected in the corners, on the cobwebs, and along fencing partitions in the coop until it dangles like Spanish Moss from the limbs of live oak trees.  So, to keep the ladies from thinking that they live in little more than a pig sty, today I brought out the shop-vac.

Yes, you know you’re on a farm run by women when they vacuum out the chicken coop!  Up on the ladder and armed with the black and red nozzled device, I was determined to conquer the dust, but the sudden varooooom sent the whole flock into convulsions of fear—pelting into corners or nesting boxes and staring with wide-eyed terror, their tails smashed flat against the back wall.  It’s a monster!  It’s going to pull off all my feathers!  The sky is falling!

But no, only the dust was falling, and after a while the ladies calmed their fears and watched my shop-vac antics with half amusement.  At least it was a bit of entertainment for the day, which was more than they had to occupy themselves with most wintery afternoons.  These days, even a chunk of suet gets boring.

Sometimes, as I approach the chicken coop in the morning, I can hear a tap-a-tap sound like an army of miniature hammers at the walls of the chicken coop.  Now in unison, now tapping askew of each other.  Are the chickens trying to escape—breaking down the walls of the Bastille?  I open the creaky door to find fluffy golden hens all in a row pecking heartily at the frost that has built up on the insides of the walls from the cold—frozen condensed chicken breath.  Only, to them, it seems more like chicken ice-cream.  Eventually, the peck indentations will circumference the coop, reaching as high as the feathery neck can stretch.

We have too many laying hens to house them all in one coop for the winter, so part of the crew holds over in our smaller hoop house, which stands close behind our home.  During the day, the solar energy keeps them warm as they luxuriate in their sauna dust baths—leaving the floor a virtual moonscape of miniature craters filled with lazy-eyed featherballs.  But the greenhouse has trouble staying warm at night, so I run a few heat lamps to give the ladies a break from the chill.

Dusk falls, and the high tunnel glows a soft golden-orange.  But wait, it’s now the chicken shadow show!  Our cat Pumpkin perches by the window, watching gargantuan black chicken shadows strut across the screen like an exotic paper puppet show.  Do the chickens know they are on parade?  Do the chickens notice their own shadows as well? 

And then the Silver-laced Wyandotte rooster starts crowing at 2:00 in the morning, and we wonder why we thought it was such a grand idea to keep the chickens so close to the house…

Admittedly, it was in part to help ease the burden of chores during the dark phase of the year.  While there are not as many chores to accomplish during the winter months as there is in the summertime, what chores are still necessary are often made harder by winter’s temperament.  The ground heaves and doors no longer want to shut or stay shut.  Water faucets freeze.  Paths must be either trounces or shoveled across the barnyard.  Door knobs and locks are coated with ice and won’t turn or unlock.  And a sudden thaw sends a chicken coop from being a nice, frozen pack of bedding to a veritable swamp in need of immediate cleaning.

But the ice is the worst.  I recall one day of slipping and sliding about with feed and water, chipping away ice from door sills and thawing out of the unplugged turkey waterer.  My hands were freezing, and my feet were numb.  The chickens huddled on their roosts as puffy balls of fluff without any toes to be seen.  Finally, I had my ice-cream bucket full of eggs, and I was heading back to the house!  Enough of this cold, I was ready to curl up by the wood stove and thaw myself out!  As I went teetering along the path down the gentle slope to our house, the ice had the last laugh. 

Falling can be something you don’t notice until it’s too late.  I remember looking up as my arms flew skyward, and there was the bucket going up…and up…and up…  The eggs were spreading outward like a multi-colored firework display in slow motions.  And then I hit the ice with a great bump on my rump and tried desperately to cover myself as the sounds of percussive splat-splat-splat pelted down all around me.

The poor ladies.  They would have surely read me the poultry riot act if they had known the fate of their day’s labors.  We took out our scoop shovels and cleaned up as much of the runny yellow mess as we could, much to the delight of the pigs (and the dogs, who cleaned up the rest quite happily).  It was a sore moment, in more ways than one.

But there was no falling on the ice today as I wrapped up the cord on the shop-vac and climbed down from the ladder.  A black-and-white rooster pranced for a hen, with one wing fanned and tail plumed.  A lady from her nest crooned softly and re-arranged the pile of eggs beneath her, while a second looked impatient for her turn to have a nesting spot.  Still, despite the return of normal chicken routine, I could sense the chicken cabin fever lurking beneath the surface.  I can only imagine that at night they dream of grass and slugs and the deliciousness of summer…for a chicken.

I just hope that they haven’t knocked over all their waterers again by morning.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 
 

Valentine Wishes

All in the merry month of May

When the green buds they were swellin’…

Well, we’re not quite there yet, but the days are lengthening and the birds sing their songs from the barren branches more lustily than before.  Slowly, the decorations of Christmastime come down—packed away for another year.  Even though winter still holds its icy grip on the land, we take a moment to warm our hearts with thoughts of Valentine’s Day.

Now, some folks can be rather cynical about this holiday, deeming bunches of red roses and flickering candlelight a frivolity of the Victorian era.  The farm animals certainly don’t notice—the breeding season is a faded memory, with the birthing season not yet arrived.  The snow piles high against the barn (or the barn door), and everyone seems pretty well ready for spring.  But groundhog shadow or not, we still find ourselves facing six more weeks of winter.  It’s not a wonder few are in the mood for a celebration.

But the old songs and stories cut through the dismal chill.

As I roved out one winter’s night

A-drinkin’ of sweet wine,

Conversing with that pretty little girl

Who stole this heart of mine.

 

Who will shoe your pretty little feet

Who will glove your hand?

And who will kiss your ruby red lips

And who will be your man?

 

And it’s just like the old ballads to respond:

Papa will shoe my pretty little feet

Mama will glove my hand,

You never will kiss my ruby red lips

‘Cause I don’t need no man…

Song snippets like these are a good place to chuckle at the nature of courtship—birds put on tremendous displays, other animals sing or preen or dance.  My Tom turkeys strut and puff most of the day, prancing about their ladies, who merely seem to sigh and say, “Ho-hum.” 

Humans might attempt gallant feats or graceful gestures, but in the end we are left to resort to the use of words—pitifully constraining things made up by somebody else.  In many cultures, a variety of words abound for affection, with different meanings for the bond between mother and child, a child and her toy, or a young man and a woman.  In English, we find ourselves with the word love, which is profoundly simple, complex, deep, and shallow all at once.

Do you love an apple

Do you love a pear,

Do you love a laddie with curly brown hair?

In researching the history of the celebration of love, I found only inconclusive evidence regarding the life of St. Valentine, who appears to have been an ancient Greek who was martyred for his beliefs.  It was not until the Late Middle Ages that renowned author Geoffrey Chaucer penned an association with the feast day of St. Valentine and the practices of courtly love.  The connection has stuck ever since.

The discovery of the tomato by Spanish explorers on the American continents brought new symbolism to the celebration.  Known originally as the “love apple,” its outline was gradually transformed by artistic interpretation into the heart shape we know so well today.  At the time, “love apples” were considered an aphrodisiac and therefore appropriate for Valentine’s Day symbolism, even though February is (quite admittedly) not tomato season in northern climes.

I’ll give to you a dress of red

All bound around with golden thread,

If you will marry me, me, me

If you will marry me…

Even if you’re not particularly fond of blind Cupid and his arrows, you can still find some enjoyment during the Valentine season.  For instance, it’s hard not to like chocolate (especially considering its anti-cancer properties), fine music, or the good company of those we hold dear.  At Farmstead Creamery & Café, we’re holding an authentic made-from-scratch Italian-style harvest dinner (completed with home-grown tomatoes!) on the evening of the 14th in honor of the occasion, accompanied by acoustic music performance.  There may still be some seats left by the time you read this, so feel free to call us for reservations (715-462-3453).

As Willie and Mary met by the seaside

A long farewell for to take

Said Mary to Willie, “If you go away

I’m afraid my poor heart it might break.”

 

“Oh don’t be afraid, dearest Mary,” he said

As he clasp his fond maid at his side

“In my absence don’t morn, for when I return

I will make ye sweet Mary my bride.”

In the end, Valentine’s Day is about making space for special moments with those we hold close to our hearts.  The roses and the chocolates and the lace-embroidered cards are all nice tokens, but offering our time and personal attention (true recognition) is the greatest gift we can give each other in honor of the season of love.  Warm Valentine wishes to you and yours, and maybe we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 

Sustainable Foodie

[We apologize that the imbedded images in this article did not translate.  Please see our Facebook page for the accompanying images.  Thanks!]

Remember visiting Grandma’s farm as a child, helping feed the chickens, or watching her make an apple pie from scratch?  Remember helping haul firewood for the cook stove or climbing down into the earthen root cellar for potatoes or carrots?  Remember the smell of fresh-pressed garlic or the joy of a roast turkey that was raised right on the farm by Grandpa’s loving hands?  While many of these memories are part of our collective past—often many generations removed—these are experiences contemporary food enthusiasts (today called “foodies”) savor as part of a regenerative interest in bringing the eater closer to the rich experience of food production and preparation. 

As part of what has been called “the foodie generation,” I take a special delight in sharing our farm’s unique story, history, and values with the wide variety of folks who visit us—whether this is through a farm tour, a wholesome and homemade meal at Farmstead Creamery & Café, or most recently through educational courses.

The idea that “Those who can—do and those who can’t—teach” is a far cry from our philosophies at North Star Homestead Farms.  So often, the best learning opportunities happens “in the doing”—or what is otherwise called experiential learning.  Most recently, our farm organized a course titled “Sustainable Foodie:  Making a Meal, Making a Life” through Northland College’s Wellness Program, which seeks to round out the liberal arts experience for their students by fostering meaningful life skills beyond the classroom.

“Sustainable Foodie” focuses especially on building traditional food skills, appreciating the value of local foods and knowing your farmer, and exploring the vocational potential for young folks interested in sustainable food’s many facets.  Conceived as a mix of critical theory and hands-on experience that culminates each session by preparing and sharing a meal together, “Sustainable Foodie” is capped at 10 students.  Held three consecutive Sunday afternoons, it fills the requirements for three of the eight wellness criteria required by the college.  Add that statistic to the idea of making and eating food, and it’s not surprising that enrollment filled within the first 10 minutes.

Last Sunday, the dark blue Northland van pulled into the Farmstead Creamery parking lot, and a unique and creative assortment of students from freshmen through seniors piled out and stepped into the transportive world that is our family’s homestead. 

With an in-depth farm tour, cheese tastings, and discussions on finding your local farmer, the conundrum of food miles, and the value of eating regionally and seasonally, we were off to an exciting and poignant start.  But the hands-on learning aspects focused primarily on comparisons to bring the discussion points to full reality.  Along the way, we snapped some photos to document the process. 

The poster child of comparison projects was making salads.  Splitting the group in half, the first five worked in the kitchen downstairs with my mother and sister, while I led group discussion and cheese tasting in the loft upstairs.  The first salad team approached the prep tables to discover their potential ingredients:  a head of iceberg lettuce; two hard, pink tomatoes; an aging cucumber with a withering issue at one end; and a bag of “baby” carrots.  The long carrot is to show that those little carrots don’t grow that way—they’re cut and rounded to size.

After reading the list of ingredients off the bag of carrots, my sister Kara asked the crew, “Now, why do you think these carrots don’t spoil?”  The students looked at one another, shrugging.  Kara smiled.  “Notice that the carrots are wet.  That’s because they’ve been dipped in a chlorine bath as a sanitizer.  Yum, yum.”

The students opted to use the long carrot and did not even bother to open the bag of baby carrots.

After preparing their salads, one student offered.  “Hmm…looks like a nice, em, restaurant type salad.”  Everyone chuckled knowingly.

The groups switched and the second team came down to the kitchen for the salad project.  All traces of the first salad had been hidden away and a new tray lay ready.  This time, all of the ingredients were harvested that day from our aquaponics greenhouse and included butterhead lettuce, mixed leaf lettuce, elegance micro greens (a mix of baby bok choy, mustard, kale, and Chinese cabbage leaves), broccoli raab, and fresh radishes.

The students marveled at the mix of colors, textures, and flavors, filling a bowl with a medley of purple, red, and dark green.  “Yum!” one student exclaimed.  “Can I eat this now?”

Later that afternoon, we shared how to make homemade applesauce from local apples and created individualized locavore pizzas (being a locavore means that you choose to eat locally).  All the toppings, from the tomato sauce or pesto to the sausage, onions, garlic, and cheese, were grown and prepared here or from area farms.  As we enjoyed our handmade meal together, each group introduced their salad before passing it around.

I encouraged the group to try some of each salad, but the community opinion (despite the best verbal marketing efforts of each salad team) was quite apparent as we cleared the table.  This is what remained of the iceberg salad AFTER supper was finished.  Did anyone even try this?

And this, good friends, is what was left of the aquaponics salad.

Need I say more?  Remember that our individual choices, based on our learning experiences, can make a difference.  This week, I hope all these students are making new and critical choices about their food, which is an important cornerstone in everyone’s wellbeing. 

Feeling hungry for a salad?  We’ve got some!  (And I promise not to serve the pale stuff.)  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 

 
 

2013 Summer Internship Program!

Have a passion for animals and plants?  Wondering if local and sustainable agriculture might be an ideal lifestyle for you?  Looking to stay active and be outdoors this summer?  Want to build skills in the farm-to-table movement?  If these ideas appeal to you, then a summer internship at North Star Homestead Farms, LLC might be an exciting opportunity for you.

Tucked in the boundaries of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, North Star Homestead Farms is a model representative of small-scale, intensive, sustainable, humane, and wholesome agricultural practices.  Our pursuits include pasture raised poultry, sheep, and hogs, as well as a large market garden for CSA and Farmer’s Markets, honeybees, fruit production, herbs, aquaponics tilapia and produce, and a fully-licensed Farmstead Creamery & Café (which includes food processing, bakery, grocery, and dairy plant).  Because this is the Café’s second season, we have an internship position available this summer for an enterprising person who wants to focus on food preparation and customer relation skills related to local, sustainable foods, as well as our farm-oriented positions.

Our focus is on building community, connecting people with the land, maintaining transparency, and giving great service.  Owned and operated by three enterprising women, North Star Homestead Farms, LLC offers a constructive environment for personal growth, learning, teamwork, and humor in the everyday rigor of farm living.

2013 is going to be a busy season at the farm, and we are in search of eager hands and positive attitudes to help make this season successful.  While previous farm or garden experience isn’t necessary, we’d love to hear your story and why you may be interested in being a part of our farm’s enterprise.  We are looking for interns who are available for four months (approx. mid May through mid September), though we are flexible for extenuating circumstances, such as beginning or ending college semesters.  Due to changing labor laws, applicants must be 18 years of age or older.  A modest stipend is available to interns, but the real value you will receive from this experience is learning-by-doing—building real knowledge and skills in this exciting food and cultural movement.

Accommodating rooms are available in our renovated farm house, and most meals will be shared with the Berlage women.  Wi-Fi is available on the farm campus, as well as unlimited long distance phone service (within reason, of course).  Our goal is to help you have a fully integrated experience of homestead living.  In return, we expect our interns to work eagerly alongside us, to listen to our council and advice, and to practice responsibility and self motivation.  Small scale, localized food production offers an environment to gain personal skills that can serve you in any field, including problem solving, public interface, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, and meaningful goals.

We hope that the opportunities available to summer interns at North Star Homestead Farms, LLC are exciting for you, and we would love to talk with you further and introduce you to life on the farm.  Please contact us at the above information to receive an internship application, and we are of course happy to take any questions you may have.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Laura, Kara, and Ann Berlage, North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

Kara, Laura, and Ann Berlage

 

11117N Fullington Rd.

Hayward, WI 54843

(715) 462-3453

yourfarmer@northstarhomestead.com

northstarhomestead.com 

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On Being Neighborly

On these blustery cold days and shivery cold nights, sometimes we can feel a bit cooped up in our homes, huddling by the wood stove with a dog or two close at hand for added warmth.  Chores begin by encasing oneself with copious amounts of wooly or downy armor against the frigid winds—leaving only one’s peering eyes with frost-edged lashes open to the elements.  Even the chickens huddle as puffed-up balls in the coops, their taloned toes firmly tucked inside their down. 

Winter can create its own sense of isolation, as if everything outside stops, hunkers down, and waits for the warmth of springtime to reawaken.  I think the “settling in” of winter happens to everyone up here in the Northland, burst open at times by the overwhelming sense of “cabin fever” needing release. 

Things have been quiet on the farm and at Farmstead Creamery & Café as well.  This allows the luxury of leisurely chats with the brave clients who do venture forth amidst the ice or wind.  Except, that is, for the days when cabin fever reigns and the Creamery is unexpectedly packed by community member who simply cannot stay inside any longer.

Back in the day, cabin fever was tempered by the knowledge that winter was the time for “visiting.”  Farm families would finish up the morning chores, hitch the team to a sleigh, and go off to spend the day with neighbors—share a hearty meal, play games, tell stories, or bring over a favorite portable instrument and dance together.

Grab your fiddle and grab your bow

Circle round and Do-si-do

First to the right and then to the left

Then to the one that you love best.

 

Get outa the way for old Dan Tucker

He’s too late to get his supper

Supper’s over and dinner is a cookin’

Old Dan Tucker just a-stands there lookin’.

Having something to do together was helpful as well—maple sugaring in the early spring, splitting wood in late autumn, quilting bees in between.  And even if a particular project wasn’t apparent, bringing over a fresh pie or needing to borrow a cup of sugar could make an excellent excuse for spending the rest of the afternoon in good company.

Today, as I drive home from an evening event, I can’t help but notice that the glowing rectangle of wide-screen TVs appears to be the company we keep in wintertime.  No wonder cabin fever abounds!  Turn off that chatterbox and get neighborly again.  Here are a few practical ideas to get you started.

Invite a friend on a snowshoe hike in the woods (or other quiet recreational activity).  Few people like going out alone in the winter, but with a friend there’s plenty of thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams to share as you enjoy the outdoors together.

Find a way to swap work.  Everyone has a project they’ve been meaning to get to but it just works better with a helper or two.  Whether this is painting a room, finishing a quilt, cleaning out the garage, or hanging new curtains, offer to help a neighbor with a project if they’ll help you with one as well.  You’ll both be active, have company, and feel good about making progress on the “to do” list.

Offer to help an elderly neighbor.  Winter is tough for everyone, but it’s hardest for our elders.  If you can, lend a hand with shoveling walkways, pick up a few extra things for them in town, or just stop by to give them company.  If you are an elder, invite folks over for a hot drink and “a little something” while they help make the winter a little easier for you.  Remind folks that it’s good to have a break from the normal business of their lives.

And, of course, there is the tried-and-true method of stopping by with a freshly baked homemade pie.  In farm country, you can’t hope to go visiting without either bringing or receiving something to eat (if not both).  Sharing nourishment is part of sharing the camaraderie and trust that is part of neighborliness.

Not convinced?  Well, you’re certainly welcome to improvise your own methods for breaking cabin fever with the folks who live near you.  Throw a party, host a house concert, pick a day each week to meet at the kitchen table with tea and a deck of cards—whatever appeals to you as good, old-fashioned fun together.  If you find yourself wondering who some of your neighbors are, winter might be an opportune time to find out.  Remember, hot pies or cookies with a smile open doors.

Sometimes we get to know our neighbors by accident.  Recently, friends of ours whom live down the road a bit were heading in to town for a live performance.  There were four tickets but three attendants (the fourth was ill), so they called us up to see if we’d like to come along.  On the dark and wintry ride into town, they recollected their first adventure on the farm.

“We like driving down the back roads.  We knew this had a “dead end” sign on it, but we thought, why not?  So here we were on this gravel road, and we meet this tall, elderly gentleman walking a little white dog.  We waved and he waved and we kept on going.

“When we got to the corner, we could see that the road ended in a farm and didn’t go any farther, so we turned around and came back.  But along the way, we met your Grandpa with the little white dog again.  We apologized for bothering their place, but he said, “Oh no, not at all, come on down and see my farm.”  So we turned around again and learned more about what was going on back here—we had no idea.  Who knew there were folks still farming out here?”

So turn off the TV, kick up your heels, and shake off those winter-time blues with folks who are just as shut inside with this cold and wind as you.  Maybe you don’t know them yet, and maybe you do, but being neighborly certainly doesn’t hurt one’s spirits during the dark time of year.  We can each create greater cheer together as we muster on until the warming days of spring.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 
 
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