Minister or Missionary with Bible

Enterprising Missionaries, Introverted Farmers

When a couple of Mormon missionaries were going door to door, they didn’t expect to confront an angry famer with a shovel.  But when they met my mom, their lives changed. So did Mom’s.

My earliest recollections of community organizing here in West Fulton took place when the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons were going door to door.  Whoever was caught out in their barnyard took the fall for the neighborhood, while whomever managed to be in the house would initiate the first call that would then travel up and down the road, warning everyone to hide indoors or hunker down in the barns.  The culture of rural farm life was that we didn’t bother anyone.  In exchange, no one should bother us.

As kids, my brother and I would hide in the upper barn, watching through the cracks in the boards while the dogs ran and barked ferociously around their cars, until the proselytizers would turn around and leave, but not before one of them would work up the courage to roll down the window just enough to push a pamphlet out through a crack.  We’d watch it flutter to the driveway as they pulled away, then collect it for the fire bin.

When I was home one weekend from college, I was caught at the door.  With no escape, I gestured wildly with my hands and spoke in heavily accented broken English to fabricate a story that I was a foreign exchange student from Andorra, and that I didn’t speak their language.  Meanwhile, Mom and my sister crawled over to the phone to alert the neighbors.  Darned if those Witnesses didn’t come back a week later with a translator.

Another time, it was Mom who was caught out in the open.  We were working in the garden when the car pulled in the driveway.  I crouched down behind the broccoli as I watched her put down her tools.  Leaving her gloves on her hands, she stormed out of the garden and went to head off the visitors.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am,” a man began as he stepped out of the car.  “We came today to bring you the word of God.”

She stared at them, saying nothing, her powerful arms by her side, her head cocked, waiting for the man to continue.

“Ma’am, tell me,” he continued, mistaking her silence for encouragement, “when was the last time you felt close to our Lord?  When was the last time you spoke with Him?”

“As a matter of fact, I was just speaking to my god,” she met his gaze directly, “although he or she may not be your God.  We were having a conversation out there in my garden, when you came and interrupted us.”

The man began to speak, holding up the pamphlet.

“Now, don’t even get started with me,” she squared herself.  “God is here.  In these hills, in this ground, in that garden, and I was praying.  In my way.  Maybe it isn’t the way you pray.  But I’ll thank you to leave me to do it as I see fit.”  With that, she turned on her heel and stomped back to her garden without another word.  The message from our farm was clear.  We won’t preach to you.  You don’t preach to us.

Following that exchange, all was quiet on the proselytizing front for a while.  Until about 15 years ago.  I was still in grad school.  Bob had a day job, and the work of dragging chicken pens, washing eggs and moving fence was wearing thin on mom and dad both.  In a moment of despair, Mom sat down at her computer and typed up a sign.

Help wanted.  No pay.  Apply within.

She hung it up on the outside of the kitchen door, which she uses as her personal venue for self expression.  It was taped just below one of her other signs, which read something like, “Take your F-ing shoes off before stepping foot in this house!”

Satisfied with her creative efforts, she climbed into the truck with dad and they drove off to deliver a load of lambs.  When they came home, another piece of paper was wedged into the doorframe.

The note was simple:

We’d like to help.  — Chris and Tom, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  

They left a phone number.  Mom didn’t call.  She crumpled up the note  and threw it away.  She forgot about it.  Chris and Tom didn’t.  A car pulled in the next day.  Mom was caught out in the barnyard, shovel still in hand.  She didn’t have time to run and make the warning calls.  I made the calls, then crept upstairs to my brother’s old room to eavesdrop out the window.  Two young men in ties and crisp white shirts stepped out.  Mom squared herself.  Whether she intended to or not, she cut a menacing figure.  Once more, she was ready to send them packing with their ideology.

“We’re here about the sign on your door,” one of them spoke.  “We want to work for you.”

“That sign was a joke,” Mom answered gruffly.

“You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it,” he replied.  “I’m Chris.  This is Tom.”
“I’m not interested in your religion.”

“We’re not asking you to become Mormon,” Tom said.  “We want to work on the farm.”

“This farm doesn’t make enough to pay hired labor.”

“We’re not asking for money,” Chris answered.  “Please?”

When she didn’t answer, he continued.  “Look, we have to do two days of volunteer service.  And we’d like to volunteer here.”

“This is a for-profit farm.  Don’t you need to work for a not-for-profit?”

“We think we should volunteer where we’re needed.  Didn’t your sign say you needed help?”

Mom was cornered.  She thought for a moment before responding.  “No preaching,” she barked.

“No preaching,” Chris responded.

“No Bible talk.”

“No Bible talk,” Tom said.

“And lose the shirts and ties.”

“We have other clothes.”

“You can wash eggs.”

At first, Mom and Dad didn’t trust them to do anything more than wash eggs.  But with all that had to be done, those eggs were piling up.  And Chris and Tom showed up on time, every week, and washed eggs.  They broke a lot of them, too.

The Mormons began asking more about how Sap Bush Hollow worked.  As promised, there was no discussion of Bible verses or church attendance.  But my parents found themselves having to answer many questions about the ideology of sustainable farming, about the proper care and stewardship of the land and of the creatures who walked it.

Dad began making sure he put a big lunch on the table each day they came.  They ate heartily.   A friendship grew.

Soon, we came to value their work.  Mom and Dad wanted to send them home with meat and eggs in thanks.  They refused, insisting there was to be no payment.  “Take the meat, or you can’t come back,” Mom tried an alternative tactic.  They accepted the food.

Chris and Tom began coming around more.  They were technically young men, but in their hearts, they were still boys.  They showed up for chicken killing days, taking gruesome delight in the dismembered heads and feet.  They gathered as many as we would allow them, to bring back and play pranks on their church friends.  They got dirty, played with the dogs, and gave Sap Bush Hollow a bank of stories about their adventures.  They joined our family for Thanksgiving.

But soon after, our family learned of our biggest conflict with the Mormon church.  Missionaries have to move on.  They only stay in each location a few months.  We were heartbroken.  But Chris and Tom saw to it that the next generation who came through found out about Sap Bush Hollow.  And those missionaries made sure the next ones came.  And for years, our Thanksgiving table had two extra seats for the Mormons, and Mom and Dad grew quite skilled about sharing the hows and whys of what we do with people who had no experience with agriculture.

And then it ended.  No one ever told us why.  They just stopped coming.  Maybe the church elders disapproved.  Maybe the new crop of missionaries hated farm work.  Maybe they realized someone else needed them more.

No one has come to the door proselytizing in years.  Nevertheless, our family still talks about those Mormon Missionaries.  We laugh about their fascination with chicken heads.  We remember how many eggs got washed, how many eggs got broken, and how many times we had to explain the way things worked on a farm.  At the end of every reminiscence, the same two questions are asked:  “Who was in volunteer service to whom?  Who was the missionary?”

I’d have to say, in the case of Tom and Chris, it was the Mormons in service to us.  Their presence on our farm helped us to step up to our own spiritual calling.

We’ve learned that the wall that divides farmers from the world must crumble.  We can’t hide in the upper barn and peak out through the cracks in the boards.  We can’t crawl on the floor to find a telephone and warn the neighbors to run inside and lock their doors before someone knocks.  If we are going to take our place in creating a better world, farmers have to share what we do.  Unlike the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we don’t go door to door or stop people on the street.  We don’t generally recite scripture.  We don’t ask that people ascribe to any particular faith.  We stay put on our land, or at our market stalls.  But we, too, are missionaries.  We preach the gospel of living in place, of honoring roots, of serving the land and her creatures.  It has been a challenge for us, coming from an inherently introverted agrarian culture, to reach out and open up about how and why we do what we do.  But we are learning.  And thanks to a few egg washing missionaries, we are getting better all the time.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

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Coming this November from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

IMG_3918

Pork Shoulder in the Slow Cooker (how easy can it get?)

The last of the pigs were harvested this week. A few were held back for breeding next year (and have earned the names of Betty Boop and     ), but the rest will be processed in the coming days, giving us a bounty of fresh pork for this weekend at the farmers market.  With our on-farm open house, chicken pick-up and pig processing happening all in the same week (in addition to homeschooling), I’ll be the first to grab a shoulder roast for this super-easy and incredibly tasty slow-cooker recipe.  This takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, requires no searing (unlike most slow cooker meat recipes) and yields delicious, browned, caramelized, fall-apart meat, with a splash of rich juice to pour over the top.

The secret?  No liquid in the slow cooker!  I know, it seems strange, but there is enough moisture in the fat to break down the connective tissue in a pork shoulder without adding extra liquid.  This intensifies the flavor of the meat.  Enjoy!

 

Serves 4-6

 

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons coarse salt

2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper

1 clove garlic

1 sprig of fresh rosemary (or one teaspoon dried rosemary leaves)

1 (3-4 pound) pork shoulder roast (also called picnic or butt roast)

IMG_3636

Combine the olive oil, salt, black pepper and garlic in a food process and purée.  Rub the mixture over the surface of the pork roast, then set it fat-side-up in a slow cooker.  Set the rosemary on top of the roast, cover, and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, until fork-tender.  Meat will lift easily off the bone when ready to carve.  Pour juices on top to serve.

One  girl's bad choice could stay with her for life.  Maybe it should.

Regrets: When your past stays with you

One girl’s bad choice could follow her for life.  Maybe it should.

By Shannon Hayes

I was meeting with the school psychologist over Ula’s vision therapy program last week when a wail came from down the hallway.  It grew progressively louder and more despondent as it came closer.  Occasionally the words “I WANT MY MOMMY!”  could be separated out from the cries of despair.  My mother’s heart wanted me to jump up, run to the child, and throw my arms around her.  Her tears were contagious.  I felt my own eyes growing wet.

The psychologist paused in her conversation.  “That sounds like one of the older kids,” she said matter-of-factly, cocking her head to listen.  We did our best to resume our meeting while the lamenting outside the door ensued.

A moment later, the school principal popped her head in the room.  “I’m sorry to interrupt you,” she spoke softly to the psychologist, “But one of our students made a bad choice this morning, and I think she could use a little of your time.”

I like the way she worded it.  “Made a bad choice.”  In our family homeschool environment, I am often out of the loop on the professional language used to describe the actions and regrets of children.  Our expressions for bad choices are more colorful, in keeping with farm vernacular, and admittedly, nowhere near as gentle.  She made it sound like, whatever happened, it wasn’t really so bad. — Just a little slip up that would soon be forgotten.

But from the caterwauling I heard in the next room, I don’t think that child’s bad choice would soon be forgotten.  In a rural community like ours, a bad choice is often glue-sticked into the memory book, a page in the album of everyone’s recollections that will follow that child as long as she lives here.  At forty, I still meet my teachers, the parents of my friends, and my fellow school mates in the library, at the coffee shop, at the bank, on the sidewalks in town, at local concerts.  Many of them have managed to remember (and remind) me of my earlier choices long after I’ve forgotten them myself.

I am certain that child was crying over the horror of the moment she just experienced.  But I am certain that she, too, recognizes the permanence of it in the memories of her classmates and teachers.  And that, I am guessing, is where her deeper pain lies.

Someday, I think, after she graduates, she will make an important decision.  She will be free to elect to leave every bad choice behind her, find a new place to live, and grow into a new identity, liberated from the humiliations of her past.  While she has a few years to go, in adulthood, she can choose to make a fresh start.

Or, she will choose to stay, and let her bad choices become a thread in the fabric of her identity.

I think about my own decision to stay here, in the same community where I grew up.  Today, in this moment, I see myself as a strong woman, capable of making good decisions and taking care of myself and my family. But in spite of my positive self image, all around me are people who have watched me grow, who have known me during weaker moments,  when I failed to take care of myself, when my decisions were faulty.  And I know that it is easy, in a small community where everyone knows each other, to allow that past to define my identity.

Thus, how do we choose to stay in one place the entirety of our lives, knowing that the people around us have all borne witness to our follies and imperfections?  How do we develop into our true selves when we are surrounded by people who think they know us better? How do we become who we want to be in a place where there is no such thing as a fresh start?

I believe that it can happen.  I believe that, in most situations, we can grow into our true selves without having to flee our roots.  I would like to say that this is because my friends, neighbors and family members here in Schoharie County are more forgiving than average Americans.  I would like to wax poetic about our rural tolerance.  I wouldn’t be wrong.  But I wouldn’t be right, either. Truthfully, we are no better than the members of any community or neighborhood across the world.

The secret to growing into ourselves with no fresh start, I think, lies in two things.  First, our need for attachment supersedes our bruised egos.  Belonging to a place, to a group of people, is too important to allow our ties to be fractured by bad choices.  The second secret is the reciprocal knowledge.  It is true that my family, friends and neighbors have a clear picture of my colorful past.  But I, too, know many of their own secrets.  These are not scurrilous defenses against blackmail.  Rather, they are banks of knowledge that we carry by virtue of long-standing connections.  In many cases, we know each other for a lifetime.  And that helps us to recognize how ubiquitous bad choices are in everyone’s life path.  Often, holding that knowledge helps us to be more compassionate and forgiving.  More importantly, when we pair the drive for human attachment with the long standing experiential knowledge that nobody is perfect, it becomes easier to forgive ourselves.  And the ability to forgive ourselves is the key to moving forward in one place, with no need for a fresh start.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Coming this November from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

The fall beef harvest has begun.  Time to braise some short ribs.

Teriyaki Short Ribs

The fall grassfed beef harvest has begun.  Time to braise some short ribs…

 

We’ll be cutting beef this week, and with the temperatures turning cooler, my mind is going to the rich, creamy fat of short ribs.  They are an inexpensive cut, but so full of flavor and good fat cover, even the smallest portion will go a long way.  I love the crisp nuttiness of the final splash of the toasted sesame oil that goes on the outside of these ribs, accented by the garlic and ginger in the braising liquid.   Leftover teriyaki short ribs taste delicious re-warmed in the oven, or can be added to meat broth with some chopped leafy greens for a tasty soup with Asian-style flavor.  This recipe comes from my very first cookbook, The Grassfed Gourmet.  Hard copies are available on this page,  and e-copies can be found here (or through your preferred retailer).

Serves 4-5

 

3/4 cup tamari

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1/4 cup honey

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

3 cups water

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole

3 pounds beef short ribs

4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

 

In a large Dutch oven, whisk the tamari, ginger, honey, chives, water, and vinegar; add the whole cloves of garlic.

Add the short ribs.  Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, turn the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender.  If you start to run out of liquid, add 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup tamari.  (Alternatively, braise the short ribs in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours.  You shouldn’t run out of liquid using this method.)  Remove the ribs and keep them warm.  Allow the broth to simmer on the stove top, uncovered, until reduced by half.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the ribs on a roasting pan, meat side up, and brush with sesame oil.  Roast for 15 minutes, or until the edges become crispy.  Serve in warmed shallow bowls, with a few spoonfuls of broth.

This was written by Shannon Hayes, The Radical Homemaker of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, cook, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

 

This chicken knows she's a cat.  Find out what else can happen on an unconventional farm.

The Feathered Cat: Lessons in the Power of Believing

This chicken thinks she’s a cat.  Find out what other impossible things can happen on this unconventional farm.

 

On Thursday, Mom and Dad sit down on the back porch to listen to the chorus of afternoon crickets.  Mom’s cat, Tayla, hops into her lap.  Dad’s cat, Strawberry, hops into his.  Tayla has long calico fur.  Strawberry has feathers.

shannon hayes cat chicken

When Strawberry first came to us, we mistook her for a chicken.  Most people do.  Her beak, comb and scaly feet could fool anyone.  But Strawberry knew her true identity, and patiently corrected us over her years at Sap Bush Hollow.  Eventually, we came to understand that she had no place in the chicken coop, and no place out in the fenced-in pasture with the other birds.  Strawberry roams the farm freely, but like any typical cat, prefers to keep to the back porch.  Like a chicken, she ovulates almost daily, leaving eggs in unlikely places — in Dad’s feed buckets, in the kindling box, beneath the brake pedal of the truck.  She never acknowledges these eggs.  They  are forgotten symptoms of a former identity. Like a true cat, she denies any part of her reality with which she does not agree.  Mom has learned to look out for them, to gather them up without chastising Strawberry; just as she patiently cleans up the droppings Strawberry periodically leaves by the back door (she has not learned to use a litter box).  She is, however, our best mouser.

shannon hayes lap chicken

Strawberry is not the only creature on our farm who created a new reality for herself.  Confit looked like a mallard duck, but she mated with Foie Gras, a goose. Like geese, they were a pair for life, and Foie Gras never (that we know of)  questioned her identity.  She laid eggs every spring, and he guarded her while she sat on them, waiting for them to hatch.  They never did, but neither Confit nor Foie Gras allowed that little fact to come between them.

Isabelle was born to one of our breeding ewes one May, but after the death of her mother, recognized her true identity as a dog.   She does not run away when we try to herd her.  She follows us, just like the border collies, through gates and across fields.  She has never been much of a breeding ewe, but like a good dog, she has proven excellent at helping us to move the flock.

And let’s not get started on the dogs, who believe they are people…

As I watch Mom and Dad sit nonchalantly with Strawberry and Tayla, I observe how our family doesn’t challenge the behaviors of these extraordinary animals.  Many creatures pass in and out of our lives, and there are always a few who prove themselves noteworthy in some way.  We accept them for who they are, granting them permanent amnesty from the chopping block and processing room. These prodigious critters occupy my mind on Sunday when Saoirse and I drive over to visit Aunt Kimmie.

Aunt Kimmie and Uncle Tommy inherited my grandfather’s sheep farm.  It came with a three story stone house built in 1789 on one side of a state highway, and three hundred acres of stunning farmland on the other.  They came up from New Jersey and moved in with Grandpa at the end of his life.  Tommy ran the farm and saw to Grandpa’s needs during the day, trading off hours with my dad and my Aunt Katie.  Kimmie accepted night duty and took care of Grandpa through his long sleepless episodes. But a giant stone house and a three hundred acre farm are more work than they bargained for.

I know she is overwhelmed.  They love the land, but I know this giant house was nothing she wanted.  I know she feels like she can never get ahead of it.  Tougher still, Aunt Kimmie is a tropical fish in a trout stream.  The upstate bugs frighten her.  When she receives the smallest bite, her skin develops welts, her lymph nodes swell, her ears fill with fluid.  She tolerates my family’s pragmatic ways — our culture of meat, butchery, and animal husbandry.  But she is from a different world.

Kimmie couldn’t be more than five foot two, with full feminine curves.  She is a baritone with a Jersey accent.  “Dere’s ghosts in this house like you wouldn’t believe,” she confided to me in her deep  voice one afternoon, as Saoirse and I lead her to a sunny corner of the kitchen for tea.  She squints her eyes and leans across the table.  “They watch my programs with me.”

“They watch TV with you?” I clarify, my eyes wide.

“Yeah.  You know, like Dead Files, or Ghost Adventures.  They stand around the corner, there in the hallway,” she points.  “I tell ‘em, ‘Don’t get any ideas!’”  She pauses, her fingers twitching for a cigarette.  She refuses to smoke in the house, but she fears going out to the realm of the insects.  “They’re not so bad, though.  Sometimes they help me when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup.”

Saoirse’s eyes are bugging out of her head in excitement.  “Aunt Kimmie!”  She exclaims.  “You’ve actually seen ghosts?”

She shrugs.  “They don’t like ta show themselves ta people with freckles.  I don’t know why.….But I’ve caught ‘em staring at me before, standing over my bed.”  She gets up and goes to the doorway for a smoke.

“Mom!  Do you believe Aunt Kimmie?” Saoirse whispers.

“Of course I believe her,” I tell her.

“Have you ever seen a ghost?”

“No.  But that’s because I’ve never wanted to see a ghost.  The idea frightens me.  I think my mind is turned off to perceiving them.”

“But you still believe her?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”  We come from a family that believes chickens can turn themselves into cats, and sheep can become dogs.  There is no reason to doubt that Aunt Kimmie sees ghosts.

On the recent  afternoon when we visit, Aunt Kimmie has been trying to putty over the cracks in all the window sills of the house.  She has to focus on the little issues she can address with her own elbow grease.  She cannot cope with the buckles in the walls, the leaks in the roof.  I suggest she let Saoirse and me take her out for a drive around the farm.  The air is growing drier, the mosquitoes and black flies are abating.  She confesses that it has been a year since she has visited the back fields.  Enthusiasm for the land gets the better of her.

shannon hayes woods

“Sure, let’s go!” She suddenly exclaims and stubs out her cigarette.  “I wanna show you the best place ta summon the Witch of the Woods.”

And so, for the next hour or two (we lose track of time), we noodle about the fields.  She leads us into a place she calls The Enchanted Forest, and stands amidst the trees.  Her eyes have come to life.  “And if you stand here,” she explains.  “And make a little altar right there,” she points to the ground, “you should probably focus on that tree.” She points to a maple.  “The Witch of the Woods will walk right out of it.  You can ask her anything you like.  But,” she meets my eyes directly.  “When she says she wants ta go, ya gotta let her go.  That’s the deal.”  She walks on a few steps, pointing to places where the water runs in the spring, where Silver Birch branches have fallen to the ground.  Then she stops and stares at me.  “This is it,” she says, opening her arms in what I see as an uncharacteristic gesture of joy.  “This is what it’s all about, you know?”

I smile.  I know.

shannon hayes wolf tree

Uncle Tommy finishes evening chores and comes out to join us.  The four of us pile into an old Jeep, leaving my car behind.  He drives us to a corner field, where he dreams of putting up a small solar house.  He and Kimmie argue over whether they should be closer to the tree line, to avoid the winds, or farther away, to allow more sunlight.   For just a few minutes, I see their hearts grow lighter.  They are believing they can have their little house, that they can sell the big stone house, that they can make this life work.

We drive past a ravine.  “I don’t like that place,” Kimmie tells me.  “I’m pretty sure, when the Indians raided this town back in the 1700s, there was a guy who hid out down there.”  She points a little way down.  “He died under that rock.”

“How do you know?”  Saoirse seems skeptical.  “I had a vision,” she says, matter-of-factly.  She makes Tommie stop the Jeep so she can step out and pick an unfamiliar wildflower.  Saoirse leans in to me and whispers what has become a repeated question during our visits with Aunt Kimmie.

“Mommy, do you believe Aunt Kimmie?”

“Absolutely.”

On our drive home, Saoirse is full of excitement and talks non-stop.  I grow dizzy trying to follow her conversation.  She bubbles about how she wants to have a cafe and bakery someday, where people from town, who are used to McDonald’s food, can find out how delicious healthy food can be.  “I want them to learn that they don’t have to eat food made from GMOs,” she effuses, “so we can put McDonalds out of business.  Or, at least, maybe Wal Mart and McDonalds will learn that it is important to stop selling GMOs, and to stop selling all that nasty garbage.  They’ll see there’s a better way,” she explains,  “and they’ll change what they do.”  “And,” she adds, “I want to have a toy shop.  We’ll make all the toys by hand.  Because I think that, if people knew how wonderful a hand-made toy was, they wouldn’t want all that cheap plastic crap.  They’d see that kids can be happy with just one or two simple, well-made things.”  Soon her conversation moves to her next business idea.  “And I want to have a fashion shop. We’ll make all the clothes by hand, using all kinds of interesting things.  People can start thinking about fashion as art, rather than just buying stuff to look like everyone else.”

My brow furrows in the dark as we wind our way back up to our own mountain.  She doesn’t see my face.  I am considering explaining to her about Americans’ obsession with cheap food and cheap consumer goods.  I am considering delving into the details of corporate greed, which inhibits Wal Mart from become an ethical business venture.  But I stop myself.  Those things, I decide, are lessons in cynicism.  And cynicism is the easiest lesson to teach, the easiest to learn. Once it is mastered, we become paralyzed to take actions to change our world.   Right now, there is a greater lesson to learn: power of believing.

If there is one key to making it in the unlikely venture of a family farm, or of any business or lifestyle that thwarts the trend toward relentless greed and destruction of the planet, it is the ability to believe…To believe that, in spite of cold springs and dry summers and tumultuous rains, the seeds planted in spring will emerge as the fruits of fall.  It is to believe that, if you do things right, honoring the earth and her creatures, someone will step forward and honor what you have to sell.  And when it comes to a child dreaming about a future where her community is rich in healthy food, happy children and artistic expression, learning to believe is far more important than mastering the cleverness of cynicism.

“And mom?”  Saoirse interrupts my revelation.  “I think the cafe should have a special section for the ghosts,” she says. “Because they need a place, too.  They need to feel like they’re welcome here.  I think people need to stop being afraid of them.  They should feel like they’re part of a community.”

I am beginning to visualize the evolving future of Sap Bush Hollow Farm….Chickens who turn themselves into cats, ducks who turn themselves into geese, sheep who become dogs, a Witch of the Woods who offers counsel, and a special corner for all wayward spirits to gather for a homemade meal.  It is truly a vision worth believing in.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm –radical homemaker,  farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

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Also by Shannon Hayes

This recipe is taken from Shannon Hayes' cookbook, Long Way on a Little: An earth lover's companion for enjoying meat, pinching pennies, and living deliciously.   Available here, as well as through all major booksellers.

Moussaka

This recipe is taken from Shannon Hayes’ cookbook Long Way on a Little: An earth lover’s companion for enjoying meat, pinching pennies and living deliciously, available  directly from the author here, as well as through all major booksellers. 

Moussaka

I love going down to my local farm stand and taking in the piles of eggplants that nearly spill off the table this time of year.  Since this time also coincides with our peak lamb harvest, I take every chance I can get to pair the two together.

Most people make moussaka with ground lamb or beef. Done this way, it tastes delicious.  However, it is also a wonderful way to use leftovers.  If you roast a gorgeous leg of lamb for your Sunday dinner, consider mincing up the leftovers for this dish, and you’ll get several more meals out of it.  (Oh!  And don’t forget to save your lamb bone for broth!)

Serves 8

5 tablespoons lard, butter or 3 tablespoons lard or butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds ground beef, lamb, or pork (or a combination thereof), cooked and crumbled, or 2 pounds cooked lamb, beef, pork, chicken, or turkey (or a combination thereof), finely diced

2 cups diced fresh or canned tomatoes

1 cup meat broth

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or 1 tablespoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons potato flour (any other conventional flour will also work)

2 cups heavy cream (or milk)

3 eggs, beaten

Coarse Salt and ground black pepper

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 eggplants (about 1¼ pounds each), peeled and sliced into thin rounds

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the fat or olive oil, if using, in a large skillet over a medium flame.  Add the onions and sauté until clear, then stir in the garlic.  Sauté 1 minute longer and stir in the meat, tomatoes, broth, herbs and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Heat the remaining fat in a saucepan over medium heat.  When the foaming subsides, blend in the flour until smooth and stir until lightly browned, about a minute.  Slowly whisk in the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook 3-5 minutes, until slightly thickened.  Slowly whisk a quarter cup of the hot sauce it into the eggs, then stir them into the sauce.  Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, and simmer until thick and creamy.  Turn off the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in half of the parmesan.

Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish and arrange half the eggplant on the bottom.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top with all of the meat sauce.  Arrange the remaining eggplant over the top, then pour the custard evenly over it and smooth it with a spatula.  Sprinkle evenly with the remaining parmesan . Cover and bake 1 hour, then remove the cover and bake until the top has lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes longer.

This was written by Shannon Hayes, The Radical Homemaker of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, cook, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayes girls doing science

Anything But Science

“Anything but science.” I’m not sure when that became my mantra. Maybe it was in ninth grade, in Earth Science, when the belligerent varsity soccer coach/teacher loomed over me as I stared through the stereoscopic lenses at the aerial topographic photograph. Lacking depth perception, I couldn’t see a single three dimensional image. He breathed heavily through his nose in disgust. Maybe it was in tenth grade, dissecting the grasshopper, when the messy anatomy of the formaldehyde-drenched creature looked nothing like the drawings I was supposed to label. If I couldn’t see and identify the parts in the workbook, I would fail the lab portion of that class. I had to go home and look it up, filling the blanks in from more flat drawings. Maybe it was in eleventh grade, when I couldn’t understand the path of electricity in physics outlined on the written sheet, failed to follow the instructions properly, and burned up the fuse on the ammeter. I had to copy the answers to that worksheet from my lab partner. If there is a subject that makes my body tense with anxiety before my eyes glass over in self-defensive dismissal, it is science.

When Bob and I decided to homeschool, we made a deal. He was teaching science. Or, in his absence, my dad, the animal scientist, would handle it. I would handle everything else.

But that’s not how things have been going these past few weeks. Our intern went back to school, and Bob cannot predictably get a day off to handle science instruction. Last week he quickly covered the textbook content of Saoirse’s lesson, then pushed the rest aside. “She needs to go to a pond and study water samples and aquatic life,” he mentioned in passing. “I need to move fence. It’s just not happening.” He took Ula birding quickly in the early morning, then headed down to the farm. Saoirse was left with her textbook to finish out her lesson.

Saoirse is a sponge about everything she reads. I knew that Bob’s need to rely on the text for a week wouldn’t result in any educational loss. Thus, I left her to her work, and turned to Ula. In order to complete her lesson, we were supposed to write briefly about her experience, and she was to draw a picture of what she had seen.

She and her dad had been watching nuthatches. Thus, to help us out, Bob left behind a field guide open to a picture for us to refer to.

Ula is not able to write up her observations on her own. According to the doctors, her visual impairment limits her ability to read. She cannot form letters correctly unless I give her lines to trace. She is unable to change focus from one distance to another, and she has poor visual memory. Staring at a drawing of a nuthatch and then attempting to create her own was a recipe for disaster. Within seven minutes, she was in tears.

Here we are, at the start of the new school season, the science expert is down on the farm, and this kid is staring at me through her thick lenses, wondering when I’m going to teach her something worth knowing besides eye charts and the proper direction of a lowercase b.

The simple truth about me is that, if it can’t be read out of a textbook, I don’t know to teach it. That works fine for Saoirse. But it is becoming clear to me that Ula’s education will not come from a textbook. Seeing her tears over her failed drawing, I take her science notebook and put it in the cupboard. I don’t know how to help her, and we’ve both had enough frustration for one day.

The next day, while out on my morning hike before starting lessons, I observe that the sky is a glorious late-summer blue, the goldenrods are resplendent, and the earth is vibrating with the hum of crickets. A pang of guilt shoots through me as I review my morning lesson plans, where Saoirse and Ula will be hostage to homeschool at the kitchen table. And suddenly, the math, the reading lessons, and the spelling all seem trivial next to this day. I think about Bob’s unfinished science lessons, and decide to muster my courage.

I return to the house and enlist the girls’ help. We gather drawing boards, tupperware containers, colored pencils, binoculars, bottles of water, and a few snacks. We head up into the state land, to a pond that rarely sees foot traffic. We settle ourselves down by the water. Saoirse begins scooping up pond weeds and catching frogs. Ula looks to me for instruction.

“What do we do now?” She asks.
I hand her a drawing board and the colored pencils. “We wait,” I tell her, “and see if something comes along. In the meantime, just draw what’s around you.”

She begins sketching a castle. I forget that it is easier for her to work from her imagination than it is for her to translate what she sees in front of her. “No castles today,” I take away her paper and hand her a fresh sheet. “You need to draw from what’s here. You don’t have to draw all of it,” I tell her, “just choose something that it is here, a small bit of it, and do your best.”

shannonhayes girl doing science 2

We work for over an hour, barely speaking. I lose myself in the landscape, in trying to capture the reflection of the forest and clouds on the water, the first red leaves on a few of the maples, the shape of the conifers as they reach for the cerulean sky. Ula is so quiet, I forget about her sitting beside me. I lose my awareness of Saoirse’s fieldwork.

shannon hayes wetland

A snipe flies across the water, then settles in front of a fallen log in a shallow section. It seems to have disappeared. Ula hands me the binoculars so that I can find it for her, and I marvel how, the bird is so well camouflaged against the fallen log, I must stare at the reflections in the water to pick it out. Thus located, I hand the binoculars to back to her, worried that she will be unable to find the creature. But she does. And there she sits, watching it, completely still, until it takes off and flies from view. Ula goes back to her drawing.

An hour later, the chiming of my alarm alerts me that it is time to go. But first, Ula wants me to help her write up her notes. This is what she dictates:
I saw a bird and drew a perfect picture of it. He flew away, but then he flew back again.

I hand her the lined paper so that she can trace her letters, and she hands off her drawing as she sets to work. I stare down at the picture. She has captured the snipe on her paper with startling accuracy. And not only that, she has managed to observe and re-recreate the stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and sky in the water. But there is one other interesting facet to this drawing.

She has sketched me, sitting beside her, watching the bird.

shannon hayes child science

Sometimes it frightens me to consider how much my children learn by my example. But on this day, I feel so grateful that she has captured me doing something right. And I realize, as I gaze at this child’s drawing of us watching a bird, how I have lived for forty years, gathered 10 years of higher education under my belt, and never, before this moment, understood the foundation of science.

The foundation of science is a sense of wonder. It isn’t about pulling apart dead grasshoppers and filling in worksheets. It isn’t about accurately reciting the path of electrical currents, or standing over a lab desk scrutinizing flat photographs. It is first and foremost about stepping outside the busy clutter of our minds, and marveling at the world around us: the way that light hits water and causes reflection, the behavior of a shy bird, the way the same trees each year are the first to surrender their chlorophyl and allow their autumn beauty to emerge.

The girls and I gather our things together. Saoirse is proudly showing me her collection of photographs and notes. Ula watches over me to be certain I don’t wrinkle her drawing as I stow it away. We pick our way through the brush, back up to the trail, then turn to face the pond one last time before leaving. “Thank you!” The girls call out to the scene behind them as we make our trek back.

This is the first day I think I may have managed to successfully satisfy Ula’s pursuit for scientific discovery. As we leave, she turns to face me. “Can we do this again?” she asks.

Finally. One experiment that I didn’t fail.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes

 

Shannon Hayes  oven crispy lard potatoes

Oven Crispy Lard Potatoes

Huzzah! Fall is in the air, and the pigs are starting to come in for harvest. With all those new potatoes coming out of the ground, and all that pork fat in the rendering pot, a great combination was bound to result. For the past two weeks, our family hasn’t been able to get enough of these delicious potatoes. And as the cook, because they are so darn easy, I am always happy to make them. Whenever I craved potatoes before, I always took the labor-intensive route and fried them in lard and butter in a cast iron skillet on the cook top. I’ve since discovered that using the convection setting on my oven guarantees much more consistent results. The potatoes are crispy and delightfully greasy on the outside, and fluffy and full of flavor on the inside. That’s because the circulating air from the convection setting will dry out the surface of the potatoes. …And leave the cook with a lot less time standing in the kitchen. As daylight wanes and vitamin D deficiency once more becomes a concern here in the Northeast east, I would like to propose a toast to the featured ingredient of this recipes: creamy white pastured pork lard, rich in fat soluble vitamins, especially vitamin D.

lard on a spoonServes 4-6

3 pounds boiling (thin skinned) potatoes, chopped into one inch chunks
2 ounces lard
2 ounces butter
Salt, to taste

Preheat oven on the convection setting to 400 degrees. Toss the potatoes in a 9X12 baking pan. Set the chunk of lard and the chunk of butter on top of the potatoes. Put the pan in the oven and leave it for about 10 minutes, until the fats have completely melted. Remove. Using a wooden spoon, stir the potatoes until they are thoroughly coated in the fat. Salt to taste, then return them to the oven for one hour. Serve hot. Leftovers re-warm beautifully if put in a 350 degree oven (not on the convection setting) for 20-30 minutes.

This was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes

 

shannon hayes buttercream

Our Buttercream Friend

I was working in my office last week when I heard the crash.  I lowered my head and waited for the report as I heard footsteps dash across the floor.   “Mom!”  Saoirse burst into the room.  “The electricians dropped something big, and….I’m so sorry, Mom!”  She paused, a few tears of sympathy in the corners of her eyes, “They broke your Bill Knoble pitcher.”

 

I stood up and went in to assess the damage.  One electrician managed to have an unexpected errand to his truck, conveniently avoiding me.  The other stood there in the kitchen, watching me, waiting for my reaction.

 

I looked at the shattered mess on my kitchen counter.  Damn.  That was a four-chicken pitcher.  

 

I’d first come across Bill Knoble’s pottery as a teenager, during a camping trip to the Adirondack Mountains.  Something about his work spoke directly to my heart, and I’d bought myself a simple small blue bowl.  I didn’t drink hot beverages from mugs after that.  I sipped them from my bowl.  I loved to immerse my face in the steam, to feel my spirit surrounded by the rich cobalt color, to allow my mind to drift away to those mountains that I loved so well.  That little bowl traveled through four college transfers with me, and never broke until I’d made it back home to Sap Bush Hollow.  But on the day it broke, it felt as though my heart shattered along with the pottery.

 

The internet wasn’t as prevalent back then, but Bob worked diligently over the phone to track down this mysterious potter from the mountains, whose simple and elegant work brought me so much pleasure.  He called the chamber of commerce from the town where I’d visited, and kept talking to people until he found Bill’s studio in Chestertown.  For my 24th birthday, he drove me up to see him.  We both fell in love with Bill.  He made us laugh with his dry humor, he attentively asked us about ourselves, as though our paths were as interesting as his own.  We bought two blue mugs.  It was all we could afford.  But the next year, we drove back and bought ourselves two blue plates.

 

It became an annual trek, where Bob and I would slowly purchase just a few pieces at a time to furnish our home.  Bill deserved every bit of money he asked for his work.  We never quibbled.  But he knew his pieces were a stretch for us.  That was when he suggested the barter.  From that arrangement, our house was suddenly full of beautiful pottery: lamb chops and sausages exchanged for plates and mugs; chickens exchanged for mixing bowls and the (now broken) water pitcher.  We developed a lasting friendship.  Sometimes we would drive up to bring him food and pick up pieces; sometimes he would drive down to deliver his wares, just as I was coming out of the cutting room with fresh packs of sausage.

 

We were happy for Bill when, at the age of about 60, he met the love of his life and moved to her farm, where he began raising his own meat.  But we were sad that it took him even farther north, a good three and a half hours from our home.  The annual treks stopped.

 

But Bill didn’t forget us.  Once a year he would call, just to hear our news, or to tell me that he’d read something I’d written, and always, always, to urge us to come for a visit.  But it seemed we were never be able to work it into our schedules.

 

I pushed the broken pitcher to the side and smiled as I went back to my office, and sat down at the computer to look up the location of his new farm and studio.  There was no sense getting upset about broken pottery.  It was just finally time to make that visit we’d been promising.

 

I entered the name of his studio into a search engine.  And that’s when I found his obituary.  He passed away suddenly, at the age of 67, after spending a day out working on his tractor. He has been dead for nearly a year now.

 

But the loss was fresh to me.  My mouth gaped open and closed, like a fish out of water.  And then the tears began to run down my face.  I stood up and returned to the kitchen to retrieve the broken pitcher.  The electrician still stood there, still awaiting my reaction.

 

“I’m sorry about your pitcher,” he began.

 

I nodded, trying to keep my tears concealed as I gathered together the pieces that could no longer be replaced.  I could sense the electrician holding his breath.  He’d have preferred that I screamed at him, I think.  But here before him stood a strange woman, saying nothing, only crying.

 

“It’s not the pitcher,” I finally broke my silence.  “It’s just that, well, it was made by a friend, and….and….” I drew in my breath, sniffed, then wiped my eyes, “…and we hadn’t spoken in a while, so I went to call him just now and….well,” I shrugged my shoulders in despondent surrender.  “He died.”  With that, the tears flowed freely.  I ran out to the porch, curled up on the couch, and had a good cry, suddenly mourning a man who has now been gone for quite some time.

 

I felt foolish and guilty.  Here was a friendship that I had let slip.  Bill had repeatedly asked us to come see him, and we never did.  We never found the time.  We had let it slip so much, it took a full year before I even learned of his death.  What right did I have to cry over the loss of a friend that, for all intents and purposes, I’d seemingly surrendered?  I tried to brush it aside, to return to the girl’s lessons, to go about the rest of the day.  But the sadness kept pouring out.  Tears fell as I corrected Saoirse’s math homework, as I put lunch on the table, as I cleared the dishes, each one made by Bill’s hands.  We went swimming up at the farm pond that afternoon, and while sitting on the water’s edge, dipping my toes in the water  and watching the reflections of the clouds float past, I remembered his funny stories. I remembered how he was forever taking delight and fascination in something new  — He had become a connoisseur of all the different varieties of wild apples; he had taken to experimenting with indigenous clay from the Adirondack mountains, to make truly local pottery.  He had transitioned to farming with passionate joy, learning everything he could about animal husbandry and pasture management.  He had climbed every peak of his home mountain range.  And as I thought of each of these things, I wept more and more.  …And I felt more and more foolish.

 

I tried to replay the past years.  Was there anything we could have done differently, so that we could have had more time?

 

But the more I thought, the more I realized that the answer was no.  Why weren’t we taking trips north?  Because we were here on the farm; because we were busy with our own family.  Why did Bill stop coming down to see us?  Because he was with the love of his life.  Because he was now on his own farm, his own joy.  So what right did I have to be so sad?  I couldn’t answer that question.  I could only keep crying.

 

***

Late summer weekends at our farmers’ market can get very busy.  Customers are hungry for the harvest bounty, and lapses in activity at our stall can be rare.  But at one point, there’s a break between customers. Bob looks at me, his eyes bright.  “You know,” he says, “all summer long, we’ve been talking about trying Melanie’s chocolate bombs.  There are only a few market weeks left.”

 

I smile at his hint. I don’t like to serve a lot of dessert in our house, but that doesn’t mean Bob and I don’t love it.  And one of the bakers, Melanie, has been bringing this mysterious confection, the chocolate bomb, every week: chocolate cake layered with merengue buttercream, then coated in dark chocolate ganache.  We’ve been deeply curious.  When Bob begins helping another customer, I slip away without his noticing, and go down to see Melanie.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe, after this week of sadness,  it’s time for the bomb.  I buy one, then tuck it away.

 

On Sunday night, after the kids have gone up to bed, I slip it out of it’s hiding place in the fridge.  His eyes light up when he sees it.  Quietly, we tiptoe across the brick floor to the corner of the kitchen where the kids won’t be able to see us if they come down the stairs.  I hop up on the counter, and pull down the dessert plates.  We cut two slices from the bomb, then wrap the rest up and stow it in the freezer.  And quietly, we take our first bite.  My teeth sink into the merengue buttercream.  It is cool, and firm, and sweet, and …. BILL!!

 

That’s it!  I think.  That’s the sadness!  Bill was our buttercream!  

 

What is buttercream?  It is a treat….a piece of delight that we stumble upon — sometimes in a celebration, sometimes when we sneak away from life for just a few moments to savor a quiet pleasure.  Maybe it is on a pastry in a little cafe that is off our normal beaten path.  Maybe it is the glorious topper to a dessert following a special meal.  Sure, life goes on, even if it is devoid of buttercream.  But when it is there, life just seems so…perfect…even if you only get to eat buttercream once or twice in a year.  But when the dessert is finished, when every last smear of buttercream has been licked from a plate, there is always sadness.  No matter how much you get, you want more.  But when you walk away from it, you are left with a very sweet memory.

 

I love the family, friends and neighbors who fill my ordinary days, keeping them meaningful and worthwhile.  But a good life should be rich in buttercream friends, too.  They are the ones who you can’t be with every day, who you can’t make as much time for as you’d like…but who, just by walking this earth and touching our lives with memorable moments, bits of laughter and the fullness of their spirit, give us the gift of their presence, for whatever amount of time they may be here.  And when they’ve gone, even though we are left wanting more, our souls are richer for their having been around.

 

Thank you, Bill, for being our buttercream friend.  We will miss you.  Love, Shannon and Bob

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

New from Shannon Hayes

 

shannonhayescookingbeef

Forthcoming from Shannon Hayes

 

homespunmomjpeg

Also by Shannon Hayes

  

 

shannon hayes canning

Cave Men, Tomatoes, Ground Beef and…Love

It’s three in the morning. I’m standing in my kitchen, staring down 70 pounds of tomatoes and 35 pounds of onions, all awaiting their destiny in a year’s supply of tomato sauce. Lined up next to the basement stairs are 40 pounds of green beans, already chopped and neatly canned in quart jars.

August doesn’t overwhelm me like it used to. I’ve run the calculations numerous times, and the savings, year-round convenience and flavor garnered from the extra labors invested this month far outweigh the drawbacks of a few sleep-deprived nights. I’ve been up for a half hour already, and I am confident that I will have the sauce settled into a comfortable simmer by the time I start homeschool with the girls in a few hours.

My body is well acquainted with the necessary motions. Little thought is required as I fill the sink with tomatoes and line up my production course. My hands slip into the cool water and remove the wet fruit, my pairing knife glides in and around the tops, removing the stems, and my mind is free to travel.

This morning it settles on an incident from the night before. I had sat down at my computer in an attempt to answer an email from a reader asking two simple questions: “How did you take that step? How did you make a farm your life?” Before I could respond, the phone rang. Mom was paying bills, and she wasn’t happy. We’d just sent a Jersey out for processing, and she now discovered that the fee for ground beef had gone up 25 cents per pound. At the same time, she was confronted with a bill for purchasing new livestock. Presently, the price of stocker cattle is at record levels. The farm is getting pinched, and she feels we need to adjust the prices.

But a cost adjustment on ground beef isn’t easy. Unlike commodity farmers who must accept prices determined by the market, as direct marketers, we are privileged with the ability to set the fee for our product based on our expenses. That said, we have to look our customers in the eye. Changing the price of ground beef is a big deal. It doesn’t dramatically impact the small handful of our customers who have good jobs and high incomes. It impacts the vast majority of them — the ones who are either eking out an existence on the economic fringe, or the ones perceived as slightly more affluent, but who are crushed between mortgages, school debts, middle class salaries and a desire for wholesome food. Those folks can easily bypass the high end cuts it they are out of their price range. But ground beef is what folks buy when they can’t afford anything else.

Mom puts Dad on the phone with me. He and I run the numbers on the animal. We look at the live weight, the hanging weight, the yield percentages. We put that up against the price of the stockers and the cost of processing. We nudge the price up until the farm is able to net 60 cents per pound on ground beef. Averaged out with the other higher-value cuts, Sap Bush Hollow should net about $500 on this Jersey. He seems satisfied.

I am not. Each day, our farm is inching closer to a full transition, where Bob and I will completely take over the family business. As the next tomato glides through my fingers, I am tallying the un-mentioned costs that were not figured into the price of that meat: taxes, insurance, transportation, electricity, repairs and upkeep, market fees, and the biggest one of all: labor.

shannon hayes tomatoes 1

I drop one tomato into the bowl, then pick up a second, smiling ruefully as I consider that reader’s question. She wants to know how I took that first step. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how we will keep this place running. I pause in my work with the tomatoes and shift to the stove. Bob has thoughtfully sliced the onions for me the night before, and I put them on to cook, then begin to peel the garlic Mom pulled from the garden for me. Soon, the kitchen is awake with the sizzle of onions and garlic in four enormous stock pots spread across the cooktops. Under-utilized resources, I tell myself. The trick to keeping a family farm running is capitalizing on the under-utilized resources. We’ve figured out how to capitalize on the lard, the tallow, the chicken livers, the bone broth. Is there anything else? The writing. I could step up production and marketing of the books. That could help pay the labor bill. I push that thought from my mind. Writing, after all, is not a farm product. It is something I do to honor the calling in my soul. But it is not farming.

I add the first batch of tomatoes to the pots, and I am transported back into Ruth’s kitchen, my surrogate grandmother who used to live on the farm up the road. We had a tight working space in her house. She didn’t have the luxury of counters. Food preparation was done at the kitchen table, which had to be cleared first of her crochet projects. Over the course of a day, that table was a workshop while she crocheted baby blankets and booties to sell to neighbors; it was the work station for her summer canning; the pastry board where she rolled out crusts for the pies she would make to order. Technically, like my writing, none of those things were farm products, either. But it was the canning that kept the grocery bill down, and the money from pies and baby booties that kept the siding on the barn.

I find a long wooden spoon to stir the first round of crushed tomatoes into the onions. I leave behind thoughts of Ruth’s crocheted booties and blackberry pies. My mind drifts back to that reader’s question: How did you take that first step?

I consider answering her with a historical perspective. Right now for homeschool, Saoirse is studying ancient civilizations. The agricultural revolution is glossed over in her text book with a simple paragraph that begins with “After thousands of years, Stone Age people did learn to grow their own food.” As a happy result, the book explains, early people no longer had to keep moving from one cave to the next. Feeling the topic might warrant a little more investigation, I looked up the history of agriculture on the internet. Data was pretty firm about the earliest planned sowing and harvesting, the first irrigation systems, the first use of fertilizers. But scholars cannot seem to agree on why this happened. Some have hypothesized that humans were becoming increasingly sedentary. Ha. Apparently those scholars haven’t spent much time on a working farm. Others attributed it to localized climate change; someone else suggests that it was the result of tribes exerting dominance by hosting big parties. I scroll through the list on Wikipedia until I come to a tiny mention at the bottom of the page: The Domestication Hypothesis — First, humans stayed in particular areas, then, agriculture developed.

That, in my mind, almost gets at the crux of why. Here’s what I think happened:

There was a woman. She loved her husband. But she loved her mom and dad, too, and she didn’t want to leave them behind just because she got hitched. And then there was her mother, who suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of splitting away from her daughter, of not being able to nuzzle, coo and grunt over her grand babies. And then there was the grandfather, who had killed enough wild game and found he preferred to play with younger members of his tribe. Or maybe it was a hunter who started it. Maybe he and his fellow tribesmen killed some wild sheep, then found a few baby lambs. He couldn’t bear to leave them defenseless. Or maybe it was a man, or a woman, who looked out from the cave one day and realized that the piece of ground they were standing on had such a deep hold on them, they couldn’t move.

Here’s the bottom line: I believe the answer to the question of why the agricultural revolution happened is the same answer as to how a person takes their first step in farming. It is the same answer as to why a farmer keeps raising cattle when they net only 60 cents a pound on ground beef. And it is the same answer as to why one woman would crochet baby booties and bake pies to keep the siding on the barn, or why another would dip candles, make soap, write books, or stand in her kitchen at three in the morning chopping tomatoes. The answer is….

…Love.

When you are in love, you do whatever it takes. You limit your profit to 60 cents per pound because you love your customers. You crochet booties and bake pies so you don’t have to leave the land that holds your soul. You write your books, turn sausages or dip candles so that you can keep your family together. And when August rolls around, and you have to pull yourself from your bed while it is still dark so that you can process 70 pounds of tomato sauce before your children wake up, love is the only alarm clock. And getting up is easy.

I have just finished washing and grinding the first sinkful of tomatoes. I am dumping in the second load, when I hear a creak on the stairs. Ula’s head pops around the corner. Her eyes are still sleepy, her hair is a nest of tangles. “Mommy? Why are you doing this alone? You know we can help you.” She’s right.

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Seeing my smile, she scuttles down the stairs in her underpants and t-shirt, then scrambles up on a kitchen stool. Without another word she washes her hands in the sink, then goes to find a knife. At last, I am ready to answer my reader’s question. How do you take the first step to become a farmer? First, you act out of love. Then, you do whatever it takes.

This essay was written by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm — farmer, homeschooler and author —  whose weekly Tuesday Posts are supported solely by the sale of her books and family farm products.  To receive a link to each Tuesday Post in your email, enter your information in the space at the right of this page (scroll up).  To support Sap Bush Hollow Farm and these writings, please check out the hand crafts and farm products in our online store, or come see us at the farm, or at The Round Barn Farmers’ Market in Holcottsville, NY (the Catskill Mountains).  To buy books, check the titles in our online bookstore, or check out the ebook titles available directly from the author here.  All Shannon’s titles are also available through the major online booksellers, as well as through your local independent bookstore.

 

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