There are many that have questioned my choice to change my life so drastically by choosing to live and work on a farm. To our modern lifestyle and sensibilities, the long hours and low pay seem like a return to the draconian Industrial Revolution labor conditions. During the hard times, such as now, I find myself questioning my choice to be here at Larga Vista Ranch. “Why am I doing this?” I ask myself, longing for elements of my pre-farm life: a set work week, vacation time, direct deposit into a tidy checking account twice a month, and free time that I had to figure out how to fill up with something meaningful, or at least fun.
After I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, I found myself unable to fathom a job in GIS as I had planned. Instead, I longed for something I felt to be more profound that would make a big impact. Maybe I could help change the world, or at least my small corner of it. In the last semesters of my schooling, I became increasingly aware of food and sustainability issues and considered work in agriculture. Shortly thereafter, I met Doug through my job at the Catamount Institute and began volunteering my time to help him at the market. Our relationship began, and later we married. Then life took a 180; everything was different and hard. Gone was my easy city life. I was fully immersed in a life I was unaccustomed to, but I felt passionate about the work and what we were (and are) trying to achieve.
So what is it exactly that we are trying to achieve? We are participating in the re-establishment of an “integrity food system”, to borrow a phrase from Joel Salatin, that honors, respects, and supports the environment, animals, and people. And in this day and age of Monsanto, excessive food regulations, and big corporations, it feels not much unlike passive resistance. Ghandi, one of the great fathers of passive resistance, spoke of himself as a “soldier of peace”. I like to think we are right there, fighting for peace through food freedom, quietly resisting and slowly building solidarity that will hopefully one day bring the neo-imperialism of the corporate food giants to its knees, much like how Gandhi helped oust the British Empire from India. It is this sense of activism in our daily work that feels so powerful that it motivates and sustains me during the hard times, the idea of doing anything we can to reduce the power of the neo-imperialists increases food freedom for us all...freedom to farm organically with animals on the land and to choose raw milk, organic, and non-GMO food.
Farming is still farming, activism or not, and we still deal with challenges of running a farm. I am hoping by the time I reach my 10 years here (2015) that we will have a few things established: a stronger business plan (decreasing our debt), sound operating systems, and a strong volunteer crew. Along with these farm improvements, I hope to see community integrity food solidarity continue to grow so that life might get a smidge easier for us at Larga Vista Ranch and for all that are growing the integrity food system. Every day, each one of us can move our community closer, in a delicious and satisfying way, to a food system that nourishes and heals.
It is that wonderful time of year again when Colorado produce is bountiful! Many of us wait for this time all year knowing there is nothing like an organic vine-ripened tomato, cucumber, or Doug-picked watermelon. I know I look in my refrigerator at this time of year and feel overwhelmed...so much produce! What you can’t eat right now can be preserved in small or large batches for the winter when tomatoes are tasteless and greens and other vegetables can be really expensive. I started preserving in small batches so that I don’t feel so pressured to process a lot of produce when I am so exhausted after the week of markets and farming. Often, I get together with my Mom, and we will spend 2 hours or so blanching and freezing corn and green beans or canning pickles. If you don’t have any canning gear, however, do not fret. There are a few methods of preserving that fall outside of the pressure cooker or stove-top canner methods and are conducive to smaller-batch preserving.
One of the greatest ways to preserve is by lacto-fermenting. You can either use whey and salt, or extra salt. There are many great lacto-fermented vegetable recipes in my favorite cookbook, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Many people feel that lacto-fermenting is superior because cooking isn’t involved, just nutrition-enhancing fermentation of raw vegetables. Lacto-fermented vegetables are a great digestive aid also!
Another great resource for food preservation techniques is the Nourished Kitchen website. There are wonderful pickle recipes and food-drying techniques on this site. One of the greatest recipes I found was for “super green veggie powder”, which is how Jenny (the site’s creator) and her family get through mountains of produce in their CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) share. She also mentions root cellaring, drying, preserving in fat, preserving in alcohol, and fermentation. You can learn more about these methods by visiting the Nourished Kitchen website or by purchasing Preserving Food without Canning or Freezing by The Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante.
4-5 pickling cucumbers
1 tbsp. mustard seeds
2 tbsp. fresh dill, snipped
1 tbsp. sea salt (not iodized)
4 tbsp. whey (if not available, use additional 1 tbsp. salt)
1 cup filtered water
Wash cucumbers well and place in a quart-sized jar wide-mouth mason jar. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover the cucumbers. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. Makes one quart.
Drought...a simple one-syllable word that cuts to the heart of every farmer and rancher. In this country, drought is normal. Nine out of ten years we are either going into, coming out of, or in the depths of a drought! I grew up with stories of the 30’s and the 50’s, the two worst droughts of the last century. Many farmers went under, and Larga Vista Ranch struggled to survive! I cut my teeth, as a teenager, irrigating during the drought of the 70’s. I had only 12 rows of water to irrigate 250 acres, one acre a day. Those were all hard times, but the margins are even tighter now!
Drought is a slow demise, the pastures first going dormant and then plant by plant dying out, and the animals first losing condition and then needing to be sold or harvested early. At least with a hail storm you know your fate in 15 or 20 minutes. With drought, you try to hold on, praying for rain, watching for any sign or forecast that it might break. Each day that passes with the unrelenting heat and lack of rain brings you closer to the day you must “pull the trigger” on your drought plan!
Our plan so far is this: First, cut back on hog numbers since we have had no water for their pasture; we have to grow hay for the milk cows! Next, begin butchering or selling the young steers since we are running out of weeds for them to eat. There is no water to grow their winter pasture; we have to grow hay for the milk cows! If the winter brings little snow, we might have to just maintain the milking herd and replacement heifers and not much else! Pray for snow!
A few weeks back, after picking poorly pollinated sweet corn and watching the crops wither in the heat, the gravity of the situation weighed on me. Can we survive this one? Then the next week we got the news: $6000 to fix the irrigation well at Aunt La Verne’s farm, oh, and the $3000 sprinkler pump just burned up! We finally got a spare pump working to irrigate the dairy pasture but lost two weeks of growth and the grass is set back. If only it had rained!
But things can’t be all bad! A good drought makes for few mosquitos (so we sat on the porch on occasion), really sweet melons, and hot chiles, which we are picking those right now. Come and get some! It will rain again—it always does—and then we can complain about muddy pastures. As my Father always taught me, we will just persevere!
Thank you for your continued support of Larga Vista Ranch!
—Kim and Doug Wiley and sons