Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
[ Member listing ]
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
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
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
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
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 02:50 PM CDT
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):
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)
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)
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
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)
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):
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!
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)
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)
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.
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
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 02:41 PM CDT
Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader
(if the above image doesn't open, click the link below to view our monthly newsletter, thanks!)
Posted by Ann, Laura, and Kara
@ 04:34 PM CDT