Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Processing Good Change At The Beginning

I've been thinking about how I was unable to properly express myself in my earlier post. I thought that maybe it would help to go back to my initial farm questionnaire, which I filled out before speaking to L. or getting the gig.  I'm actually surprised at how much I already knew myself and what I wanted. Some of my responses would be slightly changed now, but on the whole I wrote truthfully at the time and most of those truths still hold up. Below are the questions and my responses.

1.     Why do you want to farm?
I want to be part of a farm or creamery because I would like to create a tangible product that can bring joy or pleasure to others. I also prefer living in a rural to semi-rural environment and would like to find a way to do so while also supporting myself. Finally, I definitely believe that sustainable non-factory farms are incredibly important to our country and food culture, and would like to be a part of such a movement/community.

2.     What type of farm would you ultimately like to own/run?
Ultimately I would either like to become a cheesemaker at an existing sheep or goat farm, or to translate the skills I learn to a larger cheesemaking operation like Rogue Creamery or Jasper Hill.  I would love to have a small farm of my own, which would probably focus on sheep, as I have the most experience with them…and they seem slightly easier to manage than dairy cows. I also dream of having my own flock of chickens.

3.     What do you most need to learn?
Everything. While I have had firsthand experience with livestock, I have no firsthand experience with a creamery or dairy operation. To either eventually have my own farm or to work at an existing one in a creative role (ie: coming up with new cheeses etc.) would mean that I would need to learn a lot more about the actual steps that go into the whole life cycle of a farm, and specifically of making a cheese. From separating the whey and the chemistry of rennet to affinage and determining what kinds of milk lend themselves to create the best feta, cheddar or brie…the depth of knowledge I lack is great...but I really want to change that.  

4.     What do you feel you have to offer Glendale Shepherd Dairy and Creamery?
I can offer Glendale Shepherd Dairy and Creamery my true enthusiasm for sustainable agriculture and food products, cheese, sheep, land preservation and ‘the farm life.’ I can also contribute my will-do attitude, true passion for shifting my career in a new direction, and commitment to adding value to your farm while adding value to my own life. I also believe I could support any social media initiatives you may embark upon as well as contribute to the blog and being a happy representative for the farm at farmer’s markets  etc.  

5.     You know farming is not a 9 – 5 job. Are you prepared to pitch in and be extremely flexible?
I am well aware of the unpredictability of farming and am more than willing to roll with the punches and do what needs to be done.

6.     Tell us about your marketing skills – whether it’s people skills or more extensive?
I have created a number of press releases and articles for my current employer in order to gain more clients and blog readers. I am also quite comfortable speaking to anyone who crosses my path (I have, from time to time, been described as charming). At work we sometimes receive calls where people have numerous complex questions or a complaint; I am usually the person to whom my colleagues transfer the call due to my ability to deftly and diplomatically handle even the most difficult of inquiries.

7.     Have you done any retail?
As a teenager I worked at a children’s clothing consignment store, which would certainly be considered retail. I have also worked in the restaurant and catering industry, which is not quite the same, but does require many of the same basic abilities in relation to interacting with others.  I know my way around a cash register.

8.     Is the customer always right?[1] 
If the customer asked me this question I would say absolutely yes.

But the reality is that sometimes the customer isn’t right…but that doesn’t change the fact that as a person in a service role, it’s important that you remain respectful and that you address their concerns – warranted or not. This reminds me of a dinner I had a few months ago…a few tables away a woman began loudly complaining to her server that her food was too hot. The server apologized and offered to take the dish away to try to cool it down, or to get her an entirely different dish…but the woman continued to berate the server and complain about the fact that the food was too hot (which, honestly, seems like a pretty weird complaint). The server remained polite and again asked the woman what she, the server, could do to make her happy. The woman never answered the question, but continued to complain loudly disrupting the dining experience of the rest of us. It was as if she didn’t actually want the issue resolved, but just the opportunity to complain to someone who was trying their best to help her.

My point here is that the woman had the right to be annoyed that her food was not exactly to her liking, but she was not right in continuing to complain to the server when the server was trying to fix the situation. So honestly, I don’t think the customer is always right, but I do think that it’s important to always allow them to think they are/to try to find a way to diplomatically address any concern or wacky request that might come my way.

9.     What is the best thing former employers/teachers say about you?
One of my bosses often refers to me as ‘a hoot.’ I think most would comment that I’m honest, a good communicator and reliable when it comes to our deadline-oriented work. If I say I’m going to get something done, it will be done … and if something clearly will prevent me from getting something done, I’m diligent in finding a workable solution or compromise.

10.  What would your former employers/teachers say is your weakness?
I’m pretty terrible at certain areas of IT/computer fixes and am not overly familiar/comfortable with Microsoft Excel or how to troubleshoot wireless network problems. So perhaps they would say that certain kinds of technological skills are weak for me.

11.  Do you have any building or art skills?
I have a degree in photography and writing, so I can generally take decent photos and write compelling and clear copy. I can also knit (biggest project was an afghan). I have no building skills to speak of, but I do know how to relight a hot water heater’s pilot light without blowing myself up.

12.  What do you like to do in the off hours?
When I’m not working I’m often reading, writing or watching television. In warm months I’m a big fan of swimming in lakes or oceans…or simply sitting on their shores with a book in hand. I am a great lover of games – Rummy, Catan, Cards Against Humanity are some favorites. I also enjoy playing darts (I currently captain my own team). This summer I gardened a bit on my deck, which included an heirloom tomato plant, dahlias, marigolds, geraniums and other harder-to-kill plants.

13.  How do you see interacting with the family?
I know how to fit in with a group, but I also know how to entertain myself. I value engaging with others, but I also value my own quiet time. I see myself interacting with the family in a respectful way. I imagine we would be working together at one point or another on almost all days, and would hope to create a solid working relationship built on mutual trust and honesty. When not officially ‘on the clock’ I would hope to have the occasional meal or conversation, but would also understand when the family would want their own space and time.

14.  If you were cooking a meal for us, what would it be[2] ?
I make a pretty mean slow cooked pork shoulder, the leftovers of which I make into my own version of pulled pork. I also enjoy brining and roasting chickens and turning whatever is left into a curry or lemon chicken soup. My macaroni and cheese is no joke. I also recently started getting pretty decent at making soon dubu jigae, which is a spicy Korean tofu soup. My lamb tacos have also generally been considered a hit by those who have tried them.

15.  Describe your sense of humor?
I do believe that everything is easier if you can find the humor in the situation, no matter how dire. That is not to say that I make jokes out of serious issues, just that I am more often than not trying to lighten the mood or find the joy in what might be a challenge. There’s a little sarcasm thrown in there as well. Bowfinger is a movie I consider quite funny.  Here is a terrible joke I made up:

Q:What did the bus driver say to the hobbit?
A: Do you have any tol-kiens?

16.  Do you like to teach kids?
I do. I recently spent a long weekend with family due to a wedding, which included six young cousins ranging in age from 12 months to 9 years. I loved showing them new dance moves, reading them stories and generally engaging in any conversation they wanted to have.

17.  Create a question for us.
I couldn’t just create one…
What have previous interns at your farm gone on to do?
What do you consider the most important quality that you’d like an intern to possess?
In what ways are you thinking about expanding your farm’s business?

 [1]I know this is more than three sentences and apologize!
 [2]Also more than three sentences…but there are so many things I like to make!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

July on the Farm

On July 1st my father flew to Seattle from Tennessee. On July 2nd we went to Seattle and did a few things. They included going to the Experience Music Project, Elliot's Oyster House and having dinner with M&A at Cafe Juanita. The EMP was interesting, with a thorough exhibition focused on the history of Nirvana as well as other exhibitions on Jimi Hendrix, horror movies, science fiction genres and fantasy. We wandered around the Seattle Center complex, choosing not to go up the Space Needle or really pay money for any other of the tourist attractions. Then it was off to Elliot's. They have, by far, the most expansive number of oysters I've ever seen. Most varieties were local to Washington, and all included information about the method that the oyster farmers used with their colonies (colonies?). Service was a little weird, and the other food items we ordered off the menu didn't knock our socks off, but the oysters? Yes. Yes to the oysters.
Dungeness crab is very good, but we both felt that it was a mistake to order it with its sweet Asian marinade. Very sticky. Very sweet.
Our meal at Cafe Juanita was magic. I had a lot of worry that it wouldn't live up to my expectations or its price tag, but M&A agreed that it was just lovely. This was the foie gras Dad and I shared. Also eaten: lamb skirt soup, fried squash blossoms, rack of lamb, squid ink risotto, beet salad. Great stuff. And most excitingly, just last week the chef got into contact with the farm and we'll be supplying them with one of our products soon. Neat-o.
S. was so tickled by my painting series that he offered to make one for likes were floating on calm water and peonies. My dislike was caterpillars. Et voila:) He even got my fave red boots into it.
Dad rented a house about 15 minutes away from the farm, which had a westward view that made for quite lovely sunsets. The farm is a beautiful place, but there's no real good place to see the sunset, as the land generally faces east-ish. I enjoyed a number of sunsets from Dad's perch.
The lambs are getting bigger and bigger. We take turns feeding them twice a day. It's a nice way to start and/or end your work day. It's bedlam. I think we have about 60 in a large pasture and they are not shy about letting you know they're ready to eat. We give them cans of grain, spread amongst their many feeders, and plenty of hay. When you're first dispersing the grain they simply track you, nudging, butting, jumping and otherwise wrangling for the best spot. And boy howdy do they make noise. There is no end to the humor of their different tones and bleats, some sounding like a 300 pound man's burp while others have a slightly higher pitched and gentile voice. Soon enough the majority of them will be shipped off to be "processed." A dude at the market the other day kept asking me if there was a way where we wouldn't have to kill the lambs. It was a strange line of a)selling lamb is a generally good money maker and b)this farm could not possibly sustain a flock that doubled or tripled in size each year. Couldn't sustain in the sense that there isn't enough grazing land for that many sheep, and in the sense that it costs a shit ton of money to feed these suckers for six months. I kept trying to explain the land aspect to this guy, and he kept looking more and more perplexed. I was polite and he wasn't a total animal rights nutso, but I felt like we both were unsatisfied with the conversation.
My painting series continued in July. Of course I can't seem to rotate this photo, but it is for E. His likes were Rodo his dog, Fluffy the sheep and his dislike was George Bush. I decided to make up a farm flag as the back drop, with pine trees instead of stars and, well, hues of green for the stripes. Turned out okay...though Fluffy could look a little more like herself. Still struggling with making things look like what they actually are.
And then there was July 4th. Only a few days prior, it was decided that the farm would walk in the parade. It was initially discussed that we'd all wear our cheesemaking gear - scrubs and hair nets - but that was ultimately nixed. In the end H. donned the pioneer/Bo Peep outfit, W. dressed up as a magical unicorn (ewe-nicorn?) and E. and I just wore blue and red and red lipstick. S. and his buddy B. worked on a hybrid bike/wagon to which was strapped their farmer sheep, which you can kind of see in the background. My dad took this photograph, which was actually upside down...ha Dad and phones still are figuring each other out.
On another day I got to do a fair amount of heavy lifting. Every once and a while you gotta muck out the whole of a barn in order to keep things sane. By that I mean that the reality of livestock is that they poop a lot, and if you never clear out that poop, it'll just keep rising up to the rafters. We were nowhere near the rafters, but it was time. The first step of that process was removing all the feeders from the barn so that S. could better access the whole building with the tractor. So one afternoon W., D., S. and I worked together to move the ~10-12 feeders out to the field. These are relatively heavy things...I certainly couldn't move one by myself, but it wasn't so bad as long as there were two to a feeder. We'd load them onto the tractor's fork and S. would drive em out and then we'd unload them. God I love lifting heavy things. It was a pretty hot day though, and none of us were all that interested in walking back up the hill to homebase, so everyone jumped on the tractor.
W. does the lion's share of the gardening on the farm, and on one day in July she harvested all the garlic and hung the bulbs and stalks along our apartments' railing. Festooned might be an even better word for it. I, at least, loved seeing the still-verdant stalks and breathing in the pungent garlic on my way to bed many a night.
I've been trying to go swimming a fair amount this summer, and I alternate between the farm's beach on the sound and Goss Lake. Goss Lake has the advantage of being far warmer, though you're more likely to run into strangers there. Dad and I spent one afternoon going from one body of water to another, starting with Double Bluff beach and then Goss. I asked him to take a photo of my tattoo with the lake in the background, which came out okay on the whole though the shadows were working against us a bit. My tattoo is not even one year old, but I'm still pleased as punch with it, and love the fact that this summer weather allows me to bare my shoulders more often.
Dad and I also had a dinner or two at Prima. After that first dinner we walked down the stairs in Langley and I took this photo. Lookin' good in his new hat.
Another photo I wish I could rotate or better photograph. This was L.'s. Her likes were "everyone getting along" and a sparkling/clean kitchen. Her dislike was being surprised by snakes. She wanted to stress that she wasn't afraid of snakes if she knew they were there, but being caught off guard was very much not to her liking. The house's actual kitchen doesn't have this exact layout, but I tried my best.
Another day, another nice session on the porch with a mason jar full of ice water with just a splash of cranberry concentrate from the farmers market. I tried to water color paint this at L.'s (of she and Fat Tony) request but became quite frustrated. I hope to get back to it. Maybe.
And another one. This one for M. Her likes were "nice light" and foxes. Her dislike was ketchup.
So many ittle bittle baby wabbits these days. Cutie patooties. They look strangely like baby hippos when they're first born and during their first weeks.
One early evening I looked out my window and saw that the whole farm was bathed in the most incredible light. Unnatural (except actually natural) orange glowing. Magic light. Just sensational. It felt like time might stop and we'd just have this glow forever.
Dad and I had a second dinner at Prima. This time we tried their charcuterie, which included very tasty pickles. Their corn meal dusted fried oysters were also spot-on delicious.
I had their shrimp/tomato/basil pasta, which wasn't quite as wonderful.
On Dad's last night on the west coast we met up in Seattle at Nishino, where we had a meal that was just all that is right in the world of sushi. The salmon tartar, my god. If you live in Seattle and you haven't been to Nishino, you're doing it wrong.
I ordered us a fair amount of sashimi and the word buttery would adequately describe much of it.
Somehow we only managed to get one photograph of ourselves together for his trip.
H. turned 21 a few weeks back. I made a taco dinner and then a funny ice cream sundae type creation. Then we all played ping pong for hours, as the farm often does on Friday nights.
I wish the resolution was better for this photo...this is what my apartment/porch looks like when lit up at night. Magic.
I continue to buy myself flowers at every other market. It is now the time for dahlias.
Crabbing is also a thing that we've been doing with the help of S.'s friend B.'s boat and our collective fishing/crabbing licenses. Some days have been more successful that others, but it's always a good time.
After the latest crab round, I went directly to milking...not changing into my typical milking attire. I had done this once before (wearing a dress to milking) and W. had told me I should have let her know. So this time I did, so we both milked in dresses.
W. probably wins in the cute category, as I was rocking a sports bra along with my strapless dress.
I was working on cleaning the coop out at some point and one adventurous chicken escaped. I was crestfallen and very sad, as it seemed likely that we would never see it again/that it would get eaten by a bird of prey. Despondently I walked away for an hour or two, but did go back to see if perhaps it would return (as L. suggested it might). Happily it had. Unhappily, I still had to catch it. All the work W. and I have done to get the birds accustomed to us - picking them up multiple times a day when they were little, sometimes just sitting and hanging out with them - paid off in this circumstance. The chicken wasn't terribly worried about me, so I just kept inching closer to it and showing it treats of carrots and cheese...until I was able to be about a foot away and just lunge for it.
I was pretty pleased with myself. The chicken was pretty glad to be back with its friends, I think.
Donna before milking one evening. And that's the wrap for now. I keep meaning to write more in depth about how this farm living life has shaped me and my goals for the future. Or what it's done for my mental health. Or the overall thoughts I have about farming/one's ideal relationship with food and commerce, but whenever I finally sit down to caption and deal with all these photographs, I haven't really gathered my thoughts enough to do my own brain justice. I've lost weight and two pant sizes, and gained muscle and confidence, not to mention clarity and a much better outlook on life. I've determined what I don't want to do with my life, and identified a few things that might work better for me. I signed on for a seven month stint, but have discussed my desire to stay on for a second cycle with L. S. and E., with the end result that yes, I will be staying. I'm reading more, watching television less. I've learned how to drive a tractor without feeling like I'm going to fuck up. I can lift bales of hay far more easily than I could when I first arrived. Shrug. I'm plain happier. There are things I still need to learn and things I still need to do to have a better social life, but I'm spending much of my time in ways that please me. And that is not too shabby.