Farmer Jake's Take: April
April was my birthday month! I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 26th with two homemade meals- one with some college friends, and another with my immediate family. It really meant a lot to me to be able to bring some of my hardwork and values to the table and nourish some of the people that I care about with some of my grass-fed beef!
Grilling out some steaks for my family was a welcome delicacy!
If you know me well, you probably know that I'm a bit laissez faire and impulsive. I ride the waves of how it's going. You might also know that I'm high energy and motivated, but not the most disciplined. This typically fits me well as a farmer focused on perennials and livestock rather than veggies. Animals can take care of themselves, and thrive if put in the right conditions (as natural and close to their ancestral instincts as possible) which is my main job.
At best, I'm a brainstormer and trailblazer. At worst, I'm hap hazardous and unfocused. I'm also a procrastinator by heart, just ask my dad... I don't mind scrambling last minute, and actually embrace the pandemonium (especially if I see others squirm a bit). Having said all of this, as I'm getting older I'm still trying to become more disciplined, and I've been enjoying this small but consistent task of doing a monthly update. It's useful for me to reflect and analyze the past month, but I also appreciate the chance to share a story with you.
The stressful winter has dragged into April, quite literally. As I write this, I look out my window onto a snow-covered pasture in mid-April. In the past three seasons, we have been outside working in the sunshine, and even seeding our new pastures at this exact time. Luckily, we only have a few acres to seed down this year, but it's a cautionary reminder for my inexperienced ego that as a farmer (and eater), I'm at the mercy of the weather. It also makes me anxious about the upcoming calving season and having enough grass this coming season for all our animals. I hope that warmth and energy returns as soon as possible. (Update: it looks like spring has sprung! No more snow in the forecast, and we have warm, sunny days ahead to try to help the grass catch up. We also are on calf number 4 for the year!)
Other than that, there's a lot to be excited about on the farm! The last month has been chock full of dogs! Last year, we let Henry off the hook when he wandered from the poultry and he became more of a general farm dog, but we decided he needed a more specific task, so over the past month, I've been spending a lot of time trying to get him transitioned to living with and protecting the sheep full-time. This required him being tied up near them to initiate the bonding experience, in addition to regular walks through the silvopasture (where his summer guarding grounds would be).
I spent a lot of time with Henry bringing him into the sheep pen and rewarding him for good, gentle and loving behavior, and reprimanding playful and aggressive behavior. After a few weeks, I left Henry in with the sheep full-time with a dangle (a bundle of hanging chains) that discourages energetic and playful behavior. After a week, Henry was proving himself to be calm and comfortable around the sheep, and vice versa, so we took the dangle off and let him prove his stuff. I have to say, he's really thrived in his new "work environment" and he has a lot of "work" to do now. I'm extremely proud of him!!
You've also probably seen our new puppy! Freyja has been a ton of fun too over the past few weeks, and I learned a lot from training Henry over the past year so Freyja is fitting in very well at Green Fire Farm. She's gonna have a very important job- protecting the laying hens from aerial and ground predators. I knew a couple of years ago that dogs were gonna be a big part of the farm, and now having a couple of them around really brings it home that the farm is starting to mature and fall into place!
Outside of dogs and the weather, the big thing this past month was trying to figure out our summer farmers market situation. Last year we did the Monroe Farmers Market on the Square and were a part-time vendor at Oak Park Farmers Market. Coming into this year, I was hoping to do Monroe, Oak Park and one other market full-time. Unfortunately, there isn't always a lot of room for new and beginning farmers in many markets, so we knew we had to apply to a handful of markets that would be a good fit for Green Fire Farm in hopes of getting accepted. We weren't able to get into Oak Park full-time, but we were lucky enough to be recommended to two other markets that we'll be at this season- Evanston and Andersonville! I'm really pleased with how everything worked out, and though I'll be going in different directions every Saturday, I'm looking forward to being able to meet and become part of multiple communities now. We'll be at Andersonville every Wednesday, Monroe every Saturday (Anastasia), and I'll be at Evanston (every other week), Kenosha or Oak Park on Saturdays. Click the links to see the schedule!
Getting into these markets is just one more thing that makes me feel like the farm is heading in the right direction and really making strides to becoming a true leader in agriculture and conservation!
Ultimately, I'm feeling very excited and energetic heading into this season!
Like usual, I'm getting long-winded so I'll leave you with one last highlight from a week ago. Green Fire Farm was visited by a French farmer named "Flo". I showed Flo around our operation and then went out to dinner at Cow and Quince. Flo works as a farmer full-time with three other family members. They don't have a super big farm, but they are all supported full-time due to diversifying their products (dairy, hogs, eggs, grains) and value-adding (breads and dairy products). I learned a lot and was very impressed! You can check out a documentary about his farm on Vimeo (password: sesame).
Interesting Links and Articles that I've found the past month that you might be interested in:
Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame names 2018 class (my friend, George Meyer was inducted!)