Monthly Archives: December 2008

Conferences and Seminars

We have a busy month planned so I thought I would share the long list of conferences going on this winter in my area. I’m not sure how many Michigan readers I have but in any case maybe this will motivate others to look for educational opportunities in their area. I’ve included links when I have them and a little more about why each applies to our operation for those interested.

Jan. 3,4: MSBA (MI Sheep Breeders Asso.) Michigan Shepherd’s Weekend
Where: Sheraton Lansing Hotel; Lansing, MI
Cost: $30/person or $40/family + $20 to join if you’re not a member, assuming you didn’t register before Dec. 26th.
Highlights: What is the optimum size for YOUR flock?, Recycling nutrients from manure (hoping we can apply what we learn to all our animals), Getting Lambs to Market on Grass.
Why it applies: We have 4 Suffolk ewes and expect our very first lambs in late winter/early spring. We’d like to learn a much as possible to help us produce high quality lambs whether they go to 4H kids for show or directly to buyers as meat.
More Info:

Jan. 17th: Michigan Family Farms Conference
Where: Lakeview High School; Battle Creek, MI
Cost: $35/adult $25/children $30/MIFFS member
Highlights: How to Sell at a Farmers Market, Selling to a Grocery Store, Farm to School, Preparing to Sell: Business Aspects & Legal Requirements
Why it applies: The lines seem a little blurry when I try to research these topics on my own so I’m excited to hear a presentation that applies to Michigan specifically. My uncle owns a grocery store and he is unsure of the requirements for farmers like us to sell him our goods but there is potential for a future marketing opportunity. Legal issues are my biggest concern as we begin direct marketing so any knowledge gained on the topic will be piece of mind to me. I am also very excited to hear more about the new Farm to School program which may provide an outlet for farmers to sell products directly to loca l schools!
More Info:

Jan. 23,24,25: Michigan Veterinary Conference
This is something I’ll be going to for work. I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT) working in a small animal practice. If you’d like more info on the conference comment on it and I’ll get you the link.

Jan. 28th: ACE – Agriculture’s Conference on the Environment
Where: Lansing Center; Lansing, MI
Cost: $50/before Jan. 19th $20/students $75/at the door
Highlights: Marketing Your Farm in Your Neighborhood, Wind Energy in Michigan, The Role of Agriculture in Climate Change, Food Safety Related to Manure & Bio-Solids, Water Use in the Great Lakes Basin
Why it applies: It is a combination of my two favorite things: agriculture and the environment!! Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be attending this one. It is one of the most expensive seminars and would require me to take a day off of work. Plus it is sponsored in part by Farm Bureau and I do not agree with their stance on a lot of issues so I question the integrity of the presentations.
More Info:

Jan. 31: Northern MI Small Farm Conference
Where: Grayling High School; Grayling, MI
Cost: $45/1st person $30/additional $15/youth 8-18
Highlights: Daniel Salatin as Youth Keynote Speaker!!, Growing Pasture Poultry on a Small Scale and Now Taking the Next Step
Why it applies: I have a lot of respect for the Salatins (although noone is perfect) and plan to sit in on some of the youth sessions. I am very excited about the pastured poultry presentation as well because this is something I hope to integrate in to our operation on a small scale this summer. There are a lot of great books on the topics but I find myself asking, “What about Michigan blizzards? Are the laws the same here? Etc.” so this should be well worth it.
More info: here

Feb. 4,5: Midwest Women in Agriculture
Where: Swan Lake Resort; Plymouth, IN
Cost: $75 by Jan. 16th
Highlights: New Generation Agriculture (multiple topics), Connecting Kids With Cows (agritourism for kids), Telling YOUR Story – Public Relations Training for Your Operation, Farm Safety, Wind Energy
Why it applies: There are several presentations where young farmers will give examples of how they made their family’s operations work for them which is exactly what we are trying to do. I’m not sure if I’ll be going to this one yet since I would like to find someone to go with me. Although a lot of our friends farm very few of the wives are directly involved with the business. I think a lot of the husbands like it that way too. 😉
More info:

I’ll keep you posted on future events and would love to hear of any other bloggers heading out to these conferences. Also, anyone wanting to meet up at the Women’s Conference just let me know! Happy learning!


How Do You Start Your Seedlings?

I am happy to be back to blogging after the holiday. I meant to leave a more upbeat post up over Christmas but have been having a lot of trouble with my internet connection and therefore gave up. I have some nice Christmas pics to post and I’d like to share what gifts we gave this year, as well as some nice things we received.

Today, though, I would like to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot, and apparently on others too. Let’s talk about garden plans! The latest edition of Hobby Farms is full of tips and tricks for garden planning. Sharon Astyk posted awhile back about signs of a possible seed shortage so I sorted through what was left of last year’s seeds and made my list for this year.

I order my seeds almost exclusively through Baker Creek Seed Co. at They are a great company to deal with and produce a wonderful catalog chuck full of good information. The real reason I prefer them is because they care so much about seed integrity and I trust them. Frankly, I don’t have to time or the knowledge to sort through other catalogs and pick out the seeds that are non-GMO, “safe”, etc. I have some basic knowledge of those concepts but feel good ordering there until I take time to expand my knowledge.

I did have a lot of seeds left from last year. Not because I wanted to but because the first batch of seedlings I started didn’t do very well so I gave up on a lot of the plants that require early starting. Last year I used black plastic trays and a mix of peat, vermiculite, and perlite. I planted the seeds as directed and kept the soil moist. The trays sat on a big table near our cornstove so they were very warm. Then when the plants emerged I moved them upstairs to our bay window. The temperature was quite a bit cooler but they needed the light. I tried to rotate the trays regularly to prevent the seedlings from growing crooked but they got very spindly and almost none lived once I moved them outside.

I checked with the hometown greenhouse but the owner doesn’t have any room to start veggies for me, she uses all her space for flowers. Last year I bought a flat of tomato seedlings and they produced well but they were definitely no heirloom variety. This makes me think there may be a market for any extra seedlings I produced.

I’ve looked at growing setups in catalogs and they all seem to be quite expensive. I’ve heard of people using those long tube lights (forgive me I forget the correct name for them!). Should I invest in some of those or look into a small greenhouse? I would love to hear what works for you! I’m not necessarily opposed to buy seedlings I just haven’t found a local source of the types I want.

Keep in mind I’m in Michigan so I don’t plant much outside until May or June. Tomatoes are my main concern, and last year I remember trying some broccoli and onions so we could have an early supply of them.

Respect on the Road

It sure is time to cuddle up and settle in around here. We’ve had one blizzard after another and it is still snowing. Friday was so bad that a lot of businesses in town closed. The other girls at work left early and so did I.

Blizzards like this affect our household a lot because Brian works for the road commission. That means that he came home at 10 PM on Friday, worked 7 AM – 3 PM on Saturday, and then 14 hours yesterday. Since he gets a lot of crap from people who think his job is so great, we’re quick to point out the downsides! When the phone rings he has to go, regardless of what he’s doing. He is allowed to decline, especially if he’s had a beer or is out of town, but he rarely ever does. I am hoping now that he worked all weekend that maybe he won’t get called on Christmas Eve. That is when my family’s big Christmas is and it would be a real bummer if he couldn’t go.

The picture up above is Brian’s road grader. That is what he drives most of the time, pushing back snow from the sides of the road or scraping the berms in warmer weather. In the interest of safety for everyone, I have a few suggestions for dealing with equipment on the road:

-Don’t pass unless you have LOTS of room. Road commission workers (at least around here) are not allowed to pull you out if you go in the ditch, and most will just laugh at you if you ditch it trying to pass them. Of course if you get hurt they will help, but if you’re stuck plan to sit there awhile. Don’t you think you deserve it!? If you have plenty of room go ahead and pass but do so slowly and cautiously.

-Stay a safe distance back. This means stay back far enough that they can see you in their mirrors (like a semi) and far enough away that flying snow, etc. is not going to hit you or impair your vision.

-Slow down when you see flashing lights. You never know when a guy is out of his truck fixing or adjusting something, and I’m sure you don’t want it on your conscious if you hit him.

-If you don’t have 4×4 and/or aren’t completely confident you can stay on the roads – just STAY HOME!! Even if you stay on the road, constant traffic really slows down the process of getting the roads cleared. The county does have to plow a path for you if you are stuck ON the road, and that is just a big waste of time when most people who get stuck like that could have taken a much better route. Which leads to…

-Stick to the main roads whenever possible. Even if it is a few miles out of your way, the state highways will be cleared first, then primary roads, then secondary roads.

I hope this helps a little with your winter driving woes. I know it can be very frustrating when you get stuck behind a slow moving plow. Just please remember that those guys usually don’t want to be out there any more than you do, and you won’t get there any quicker if you’re stuck in the ditch waiting for a wrecker.

Be Safe! 🙂

If The Economy Is So Bad….?

If the economy is so bad, why is it so incredibly hard to find good service? My husband and I continue to be amazed at the crappy service we receive from businesses. I guess since things are “so bad” I would expect businesses to step it up a notch and do everything they can to keep their customers. Here are three examples of disappointing experiences we’ve had lately. The first one is rather long but the other two are quick:

-We received some cash towards new appliances for a wedding gift. After watching sales for awhile I called the Lowe’s about a half hour from here. I asked if they had any black or stainless steel gas stoves in stock with a storage drawer at the bottom. The woman assured me they had two in stock. After driving all the way there we were pointed to only one stove that fit our description and told that the floor model was the only one they had left and we could have it at 10% off if we liked. Of course it was dented and scratched!! When I mentioned my phone call ahead I was told that the girl who answered my call was from a different department and didn’t really know what she was talking about. Anyway, after leaving to look at other stores we came back and said we’d take the dented one. The same woman rudely informed us that we’d have to take it the way it was because they crush all their boxes and their wasn’t one piece of cardboard in the whole store that they could cover it with (and of course it is raining outside!). We told her that if she wanted to sell the stove she would find us something to package it in. After suggesting we go buy a tarp and us glaring at her she finally found some cardboard and saran wrap and wrapped it up quite nicely. Needless to say, we didn’t buy any other appliances their and will never go back.

-We need two estimates on rebuilding our shed for the insurance company. The first company that came out was very professional and looks to be great to deal with. Another guy never called us back. A third contractor assured me he could come out and give us an estimate, then set up a time with my husband. So Brian came straight home from work to meet him instead of running some other errands that needed to be done. At the time he was supposed to arrive the man called and said that he had come out earlier in the day and looked at the building and it wasn’t something he was interested in working on!!! We weren’t so mad that he didn’t want the job as much as that he didn’t call earlier to let us know.

-Now we need an electrical bid. We called the company our neighbor works for. His boss was supposed the call us and come out this past Monday or Tuesday. No word from him yet.

I don’t mean for this post to be all negative. You don’t even need to read my examples above. The point is that I feel very frustrated when the country is constantly talking about the “economic downturn” and yet we can’t get good service! On the other hand, yesterday I received a Christmas card from our wedding photographer saying “Thanks for your support”. The small stores’ shopkeepers that I patronize show genuine appreciation when I check out. The people at our bank are very helpful and called this week just to double check that we got the right cash back. The vet clinic that I work at has several appreciative clients that bring us cookies, breads, and chocolates this time of year. The local pharmacy even sent over a gift to say thanks for sending our prescriptions their way.

Those things are what I try to remember when crappy service starts to seem the norm. It really makes me think that there is still a lot of room for new businesses if they treat people right. I’d really like to hear about your experiences, good or bad, and please tell me if I’m crazy or does this stuff leave you scratching your head too. After all, doesn’t anyone want our money?

Note: after re-reading this I feel the need to point out that I think we approach people in a friendly way and are generally well liked in our neighborhood. Lol. I didn’t need anyone thinking we’re crazy people who chase everyone away! 🙂

Oh Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree…

Not much time this morning but I thought I’d post a few pics of our visit to the local Christmas tree farm on Sunday. We had fun posing and got some cute pics of our friend’s mules. This will probably be our last Blue Spruce. At half the price, the Scotch Pine is sounding better and better all the time. We paid $41 for our tree this year, partially because they only allow you to cut trees that are 6′ tall and we only wanted a little one. I would be interested to hear what the rest of you are paying in other parts of the country. Maybe I’m crazy but I think the price is getting a little high. Oh well, we had fun anyway! Here you go:

A Twinge of Self-Sufficiency

I like to play this game where I try to stock up enough food and staples that I don’t have to go grocery shopping for a long time. After a lot of practice I finally got to where the only things on the list were dairy products such as milk, cheese slices, cheese sticks, and butter. Apple juice also had a permanent spot on the list. After a few good sales we now have lots of cheese and butter in the freezer and many, many gallons of juice in the pantry. We’re down to picking up a gallon of milk here and there when we stop at the local meat market for lunch meat.

Today when I came home from work I walked in to the kitchen and sat my tin I Love Lucy lunch box on the counter as usual. From there I looked over towards the fridge and could see that two lines at the top of the grocery list had writing on them. Darn! I thought, what could we possibly be out of!?!

cream cheese

Bagels – hmmph! The last package almost got moldy before I pointed that out and my hubby quickly scarfed them down as a week’s worth of breakfasts. I knew that I could make them from scratch because I did it before after reading Heather’s post about it that linked to a good bagel recipe. So instead of curling up on the couch like I had been hoping to do (I’ve been sick since Sunday night) I busted out the bread flour and made 4 fresh, homemade bagels. It was a lot easier this time since I have the bread maker now and can use that for the kneading and rising. I only made 4 because last time some got hard before they were eaten. A full recipe makes 8 so it was easy to halve it. I might try making a full batch next time and freezing them but I’m worried that they might not freeze well.

On to the cream cheese. Of course we have cream cheese. There are a dozen packages in the fridge drawer, all purchased for $1 each on sale and dated as far out as March. I’ve been making a dessert a week and cheesecake has become a real favorite. What the hubby wanted was the cute little butter dish type of spreadable cream cheese just like the almost empty one on the top shelf of the fridge. The one growing more mold than a petri dish.

Last weekend I had spotted a little recipe for flavored cream cheese in the Miserly Meals cookbook. It just called for mixing 3 oz. of cream cheese with 2 tbsp. of strawberry jam. Brian nixed the idea of flavoring it but I whipped 1/2 package in the mixer and put it in the (freshly washed) dish.

2 PM: 2 things on the grocery list
7 PM: Empty again. Score! 20 points for the baker in the family.

Self-sufficiency feels good! 🙂 I’d love to hear your story on how you’ve come to take less trips to the store, or come to rely on yourself more than you did.

Pumpkin Pie Squares

Abbie over at Farmer’s Daughter is hosting a Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap! I’m excited to check out everyone recipes. Here’s my first contribution.

Pumpkin Pie Squares
Recipe taken from Farm Journal’s Best-Ever Cookies by Patricia A. Ward.

1 c. sifted flour
1/2 c. quick-cooking oats
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. butter
1 (16-oz.) can mashed pumpkin (2 c.) <—-2 c. was most of a bigger can for me, not sure about that
1 (13.5-oz.) can evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 Tbs. butter

Combine flour, oats, 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/2 c. butter in bowl. Mix until crumbly, using electric mixer at low speed. Press dough into bottom and 1/2″ up sides of ungreased 13x9x2″ baking pan. Bake in 350 degree (F) over 16 minutes.
Combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and cloves in bowl. Beat well, using rotary beater. Pour into baked crust.
Bake in 350 degree (F) oven 20 minutes.
Combine pecans, 1/2 c. brown sugar and 2 Tbs. butter; sprinkle over pumpkin filling. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool in pan on rack. Cut into 2 1/4″ squares. Makes 24.

My comments: I liked this one because it allows you to work very efficiently. While the crust is baking you mix the filling, while the filling is baking you mix the topping. I whipped these together the night before my hubby headed up north for Thanksgiving. This is a great thing to make if you don’t know what others are bringing, there were other regular pumpkin pies at his family’s but these squares were a little bit different and still festive.
Sorry I don’t have a pic, I’ll add one next time I make them. Basically they look a lot like pumpkin pie but you could add them to a tray of other goodies. As mentioned above, the 16 oz. can and the 2 c. didn’t add up for me so I may have used too much filling. The bars may be a little firmer and not require a fork if you stuck to the 16 oz. can. Enjoy!

Oh and of course you don’t have to use pecans, I used walnuts and no one complained.