North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Mud Season

In Wisconsin, they say we have four seasons—Summer, Winter, Deer Season, and Mud Season.  This year has seen a good-old-fashioned kind of winter, with plenty of snow, lingering bouts of cold, and little reprieve until lately.  Everyone is wishing for spring, with warm, sunny days, green, flowers, and an end to shoveling all that white stuff that won’t stop falling from the sky.

But somehow in our poetic waxings of springtime weather, we forget the less-than-elegant part that comes with it:  Mud Season.  It starts when the snow begins drip-dripping off the roofs.  You know it’s coming for sure when you have to start shoveling water out the front door of the barn.  And Mud Season is in earnest when you have to ask the milk delivery truck to stop in the front parking lot rather than at the service entrance—so the axels of her truck don’t sink out of sight in the softened gravel.

The pat-a-pat of rain outside the window is a sure sign of spring flooding.  We scramble about the garage, picking up our bits and pieces of winter carelessness—empty feed sacks, cardboard boxes, wayward buckets, and anything that’s worth saving from the creeping tide of snowmelt that seeks every crack and crevice to seep inside.

 

Winter boots trade out for high-topped rubber muck boots (otherwise known as Wellies), and it’s an on-again-off-again relationship with Yak Tracks…followed by a half-hour search for that one you must have lost somewhere while doing chores.  The snow is crystalline, chunky, and slowly revealing the lost bits and pieces buried in all the winter storms.  There’s where you must have spilled a little feed or where that mysterious hammer went off to.  The melt-off makes its own form of springtime archaeology.

The gathering mud sucks at my boots, drags at my sled filled with fodder and feed, and pulls our little car around on the twisting, soft lane.  Snowbanks slump and settle like piles of disappearing quicksand, and our sheepdog Lena can hardly bound across the yard without falling through the crust and floundering about with a strange mix of panic and glee.

My first robin, spotted alongside the road yesterday, pokes and pries for any bit of food.  White swans honk as they fly overhead.  I glance up to find them in the gray skies, misstep, slip, and land in a puddle.  Mud Season offers that funny parody of “oh good” and “oh dear.” 

One year, the frost was deep in the ground, despite plenty of snow.  And then it rained, and rained, and rained.  Our turkey coop, which sits in a low spot in the barnyard, was soon encircled by a moat.  More rain, and the water continued to rise.  When the tide began to seep into the front door of the coop, we knew we had to act.  Running to town in the truck (there was no way we’d make it out the half-mile driveway in the car), we dashed to the rental center in town to pick up a trash pump and several lengths of fire-fighter hose.

With shovels and hoes, we dug a low spot in the crusty snow below the water for the pump to set.  Chunks of bobbing snow, like gathering mini icebergs, bumped against our rubber boots as we stretched the hose out towards the hill beyond the yard that slopes down to the marshland.  But when we plugged in the well-battered beast, it pulled the water so hard that all the ice collected and choked the system.  So we bared our teeth against our freezing feet, standing nearly knee-deep in the frigid mess, armed with canoe paddles to keep the icebergs away.  Plumped hoses carried gushing water past the woodshed to blast down the hill in a torrent that washed away channels of sod beneath the snow. 

It continued to rain, and for two more days we had to extend our rent, wade the tide, and keep our canoe-paddle vigil.  We’ve since made some landscaping adjustment, but a turkey coop moat is still an annual spring occurrence.  The turkeys hardly seem to mind, so long as their house is dry.  Guess that’s what those long legs are for! 

The ducks are absolutely thrilled with the warming weather, and I’m sure they were out dancing in today’s drizzle.  Water!  They burrow their bills in the crystalline snow, prancing back and forth.  Oh for the day when they can take a bath in their kiddie pool again!  And mud?  Bring it on!  One of these nights, I’ll come in to the coop to find a flock of brown ducks.  Oh dear, well, at least they’re enjoying themselves.

But despite the flooding, the mess, the slipping and sliding, and all the rest, Mud Season reminds us that spring is on its way.  There may still be a few more snows before we’re through with winter’s grasp, but the sun stands stronger in the sky, the banks are receding, and someday eager blades of grass will poke through the mud, followed by crocuses with their cheerful purple faces.

Just recently, our first pair of lambs were born—a sure sign of the spring season.  My chick order is in to the hatchery, we’re planning the garden, and every day new smells greet me during chores.  Nature stretches, yawns, and slowly begins to move forward in the cycle of life from the cold depths of winter.

Keep your spirits up, watch for puddles, and enjoy those quirky moments that are all a part of Mud Season in the Northwoods.  I’ll be shoveling water out of the barn again tonight, for sure, but it’s all part of the process.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.nort
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Gym Time

Just this last weekend, area fitness leaders held a gathering event to help the public get motivated about taking care of their bodies and connecting with folks in the area who specialize in fitness training, supplements, personal care, and more.  Kelli (our first farm intern and continued supporter) and I were representing the farm with an interactive booth—promoting the idea that real health includes local, nutritious foods directly from their place of production.  With fresh greens from the aquaponics system, foods made with ancient grains, pantry goods from local fruits, and grassfed meats, eggs, and local cheeses, it was a great way for attendants to taste the flavor of the farm, learn more about what we do, and meet the people on the front lines of the local foods scene.

Held at the Middle School gymnasium, the chatter of eager voices hoping for spring mixed with the BOOM-BOOM of the bass drum from the CD player at the front of the room.  Instructors were giving demonstrations of Zumba, kickboxing, piloxing, and more, working up a sweat in their tight black-and-pink outfits.  Attendants of the event could join the open floor space at any time, punching the air, stretching, and moving in sync with the relentless rhythm.

“You know,” I turned to Kelli with an insuppressible grin.  “They should just come help with chores.  They’d get a workout and get something done at the same time.”

Kelli laughed as we watched red-faced competitors executing burpees at another stand.  She kept her voice low, though the room was so loud it hardly mattered.  “Yes, I challenge anyone here to work a summer at the farm, and see if they can make it without quitting!”

Oh yes, I thought, how about that third day of making hay in 90 degrees, stacking on the wagon and then into the barn.  How might that compare to a workout plan?  I wonder, instead of paying a fitness center to use their equipment for a couple hours a day, how about a farm chores fitness plan—what would that look like?  Let’s start with yesterday’s activities on our farm as an example.

March Monday Farm Workout Plan (Morning):

  • Fill and haul five-gallon water buckets from the indoor sink, up the hill to the pigs.  Pound the ice out of the pig water dishes, then refill.  Haul two 50-pound feed sacks across the yard and over the pig fence to fill the feeders. (agility with weights and lifting, balance)
  • Load another feed sack, plus five trays of fodder and a bucket of apples onto the sled and pull the load over to the barnyard, filling feeders and waterers for the poultry.  (resistance walking, weights)
  • Wrestle amidst pushy sheep to lay down feed troughs, scoop feed, toss hay, haul water buckets, and climb up the ladder to the haymow to throw down more bales of hay.  (remember that you’re waring 17 pounds of clothing too, so more agility with weights and lifting)
  • Perform 18 squats while hauling water to plants in the aquaponics, lifting and haling seed for fodder sprouting, bending and stretching for harvesting lettuce.  (stretch routine, muscle conditioning, balance, and some yoga)
  • Unpack the load of 100 bales of straw we picked up yesterday in the stock trailer and restack in the Red Barn (resistance training, weight lifting, and sustained heart rate)

I’m in the stock trailer, sinking the claw of my hay hook into the end of a bale crammed up against the trailer’s ceiling on the top of the stack.  Bracing my legs against the golden bales below, I’m pulling and tugging until the Velcro-tight friction between the packed bales gives way.  I drag the specimen to the end of the trailer, weasel my awkwardly gloved fingers under the two strands of twine, and give the bale a good heave out to the mounting pile in front of the barn. 

Kara then lugs the bales from my pile over to where Mom is stacking them on the pallets beside Belle the donkey’s pen.  Belle thinks this is pretty nice entertainment on a lazy, early-spring morning.  It might only be 16 degrees out, but we’ve shed our coats and hats, leaving our workpants and gloves as protection against chafing.

“So,” Mom can’t help but comment.  “I’m lifting 40 pounds of bale plus 17 pounds of clothing gear—that’s half my 106-pound bodyweight, easy.”  She gives a bale a heave up onto the stack, “And then I’m climbing stair steps with it.  And they’re bale-sized steps, not regular ones.”

“I don’t know,” I huff, throwing bales up to her for a while until the stack lessens and I’ll climb back into the trailer again.  “I think we’ll have to go to the gym later today.”  It’s our running joke on the farm after a tough chore or job.  Yup, no exercise around here…surely we need some time at a gym…haha.

“Yeah,” she laughs.  “I think I need to do some burpees.” 

Once the trailer is unloaded and driven up to the pig pen, we break for lunch before heading into the afternoon’s endeavors.

March Monday Farm Workout Plan (Afternoon):

  • Load hogs—haul fencing out of snowbanks, build catch pen, back trailer, and herd hogs inside. (remember, 9 hogs 300 pounds each).  Two neighbor friends came to help, so they got a workout too!
  • Tear catch pen apart and haul fencing away.  Feed and water hogs in the trailer and spread bedding.  Reattach trailer to truck, so it’s ready to go in the morning.  (aerobics, lifting, and teamwork)
  • Pack lettuce order for Northland College and the food co-op in Ashland.  Kara stays home to fill baking orders while Mom and I deliver the large boxes of lettuce, run a few errands, and return for chores. (stooping, lifting, brisk walking)
  • More squats and hauling water in the greenhouse, harvesting heavy fodder trays, and then back to filling pig water buckets and a general repeat of the morning chores for sheep and poultry.
  • Return to the house, at last, and collapse.

On our farm, because of the Farmstead Creamery schedule, Mondays are often filled with big farm projects, such as unloading straw and loading hogs.  But any other day consists of three hours of chores, at least, split between morning and evening.  Add in cleaning chicken coops, shoveling enough snow for three traditional driveways, and chopping ice, and it’s no wonder we find the thought of gym time rather humorous.  We’ve got our own right here, all the time, with no extra fees!

And rather than walking on a treadmill or lifting weights, we’ve actually gotten something done.  There’s clean straw stacked in the barn for lambing, the finished hogs are in the trailer for the morning’s run, the lettuce has been delivered to hungry northern eaters, and the animals are fed, watered, and happy.  And goodness, am I tired!  Guess that’s what’s supposed to happen at a real workout, even if it’s farmer style.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com

 

 
 

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