The summer of 2015 was long & hot & dry. It was a demanding season to be a farmer in the Pacific Northwest. We were challenged at every turn by the relentless weather and the cavalcade of effects it had on the farm and it’s farmers. We also welcomed a major change into our lives in the form of my husbands retirement from a lifelong career. But in the end we simply rejoiced everyday in the beauty of this place.
Life at its finest- Change… Adapt… Rejoice
On this day in 1981 Bob & I were married. 34 years. The beginning of dreams becoming reality. It continues today. 34 years of dreaming & doing. Best Friends. Sharing. Love & laughter, tears & heartache. Working side by side, blisters & backaches. Slowly growing a home, a family, a farm.
Now the kids are grown & gone, pursuing their own lives & dreams. Bob has recently retired from a long career as a firefighter/paramedic and now is a full timer on the farm. Our lives continue to change & evolve. The dreams are the reality. The constant is us.
Here is a snapshot of the last days of Spring 2015 here at FullCircle Farm.
It has been a very mild winter in our corner of the Pacific Northwest this year. No snow. Rain & wind events, fog that sometimes lingered for the entire day, and glorious revitalizing sun. Always enough variation to keep it interesting. Even in the starkness of a winter landscape there is beauty to be found. This is where we live and what we have been up to this winter of 2015. Enjoy the meanderings…
Autumn/November is a point of transition. A bridge between summer and winter, an occasion of stark contrasts. A time of rest and busyness, low sun and long shadow, harsh rains and soft mists, grayness and brilliant color. The farm and its inhabitants active with both summer cleanup and winter preparation. The first frost is near and winter is not far behind.
Enjoy this photo tour of late November at FullCircle Farm.
This is FullCircle Norman. Norman is a 5 month old Dexter bull calf on his way to becoming a steer. He is Dun in color and at 5 months stands 34” tall at the shoulder and tapes @ 300#’s. Norman has been a joy to raise. He is very handsome, smart, friendly, calm and gentle mixed up with a bit of the clown. The other day my husband Bob went out to their turnout at noon to feed the cattle family their hay lunch. Norman was lying down under the hay feeder chewing his cud. The hay was put into the hay rack above him and the other cattle began eating. Norman figured this was a really good gig he had going. He could lay down and the other cows would knock down the best hay for him to eat. Lunch was on the lounge that day! Since Norman is such a fan of National Public Radio, he listens every morning in the barn during morning chores, he has heard numerous stories about the importance of energy conservation. Norman is ALL about energy conservation and helps out whenever he can!
We raise Registered Dexter Cattle on our 18 acre farmstead in NW Oregon, USA. Our small family herd of Dexters spend their days outside on either pasture or in a large turnout area. They are brought into the barn each evening. Every morning begins with the cows. While I am doing barn chores and they begin breakfast, we all listen to NPR together. I have very educated cows that are up to date on the pressing issues of the day! Our farm routine also ends each day with the cows. Us humans always end up sitting on the edge of the cow mangers visiting and catching up on each others day. The cows contentedly munch on their dinner and are happy being the recipients of an ear rub here, a chin scratch there. It is a lovely way to slow down and end the day. The Dexters have been a wonderful addition to our farm. They give us Beef, Dairy products, beautiful Calves, mowing and weed removal services and fertilization, but also hours of fun and a daily laugh at some antic or another!
To enjoy other blog posts about our Dexters follow these links.
July is a voraciously busy month on the farm. It is a month where you are straddling multiple seasons- in the throes of Summer, prepping for Fall and planning for Winter. The days are getting shorter, the angle of the sun is changing, the harvest is reaching its peak and the farmer always seems to be in perpetual motion. One foot in front of the other, one chore after another, moving forward, feeling behind.
Our July has been exceptionally busy here at FullCircle Farm- gardening, weeding, watering, harvesting, cultivating, seeding, transplanting, thinning, trellising, mowing, composting, feeding, haying, watering, rotating, hoop coop moving, slaughtering, processing, breeding, brooding, hive inspecting, supering, canning, freezing, drying, pickling, jam making, equipment repairing, equipment building, tree cutting, limb chipping, wood stacking, sales & marketing, helping, laughing, loving, eating and sleeping well.
Even as overflowing as this July has been it has purpose and reason. It feels right, It feels good. It is where I belong.
Recently, following a blog posting about our Dexter cattle, I received this question-
“Will you retire your old cows and let them live out their days when they no longer produce or will they be sent off?” In response I posted “ This deserves its own blog post as there is no simple or short answer.” Here is that blog post-
This is a great forum to open a dialog. There are many people, many thoughts and beliefs, many ways of doing things. If you you wish to join in on the discussion I ask that you please be respectful of others differing opinions. This is a discussion, not an argument.
We are a farm, a very small farm, a diversified farm raising many different crops and animals. The farm is a system, each part playing a role in the whole. We raise livestock animals as part of that system. The livestock supply food but also fertilizer, mowing, soil improvement and a whole lot of pleasure along with the work. We take good care of them, love and respect them for what they bring to us. But the bottom line, the harsh reality, is that we are a farm and at some point in the lives of livestock sentimentality must be set aside and the animal is harvested for food. We have taken responsibility for the lives of these animals, as well as their deaths. We are there for them thru health and sickness, thru all the seasons and all of the weather those seasons bring. We provide clean, safe, comfortable housing, good feed, pasture, minerals, clean water, shade and shelter. We are there for their births and their deaths. We enjoy the daily interactions with them, laugh at their antics, and honor the lessons they bring to our lives. We are invested in their lives and they in turn provide us, and our customers, with healthy, high quality food.
Birth, Life, Death… it is the road we each will travel. Lets make sure the Life between the Birth & the Death is valued. That care is taken. Not just the basics of food, shelter & health care but also love and affection, respect and humanity.
When raising livestock, the fate of most individuals is known from the beginning, except for the occasional outstanding individual that becomes breeding stock, most are being raised for food. A grayer area, in our minds, is the laying hen, the milk cow, and the breeding stock. Animals who have given a life of service, animals who are with us much longer, animals who we have developed even more of a connection with, an affection for, a bond with. The eventual fate is the same, unless ill, they also become food. A bull calf becomes beef. Fryer chicks become fryers. And so it is for pigs and lambs and goats and multiple other species, they sooner or later become food. They are farm animals. Farms raise food. Whether it is apples, tomatoes, walnuts or beef, it all becomes food.
I was raised on a small farm so I always understood this fact. To those looking in from the outside this may seem cruel. What is actually cruel is the life lived for so many livestock animals raised in the industrial agriculture system. The stark reality is that the lives of many of these animals is deplorable from beginning to end, and we should all be upset with their plight. This is the price paid when the desire for quantity and cheap prices overrides the quality of the animal’s life and the quality of the resulting food product.
On our farm, and many other small farms everywhere, ensuring our animals have a good quality life is paramount. A good farmer concerns themselves with the many details of good livestock husbandry. They provide good quality nutrition, cleanliness, preventative health care (not prophylactic antibiotics), they enhance the environment with their actions not degrade it, treat the animals humanely and with kindness and are very concerned with food safety. There are large numbers of small producers that care deeply about the animals they raise. Support them. It is the purchasing habits of the consumers that determine the lives of the animals they consume. The choices made by the consumer dictate what the market delivers. Abundant and cheap meat often equates with horrific conditions. To take the time and care in the raising of food, whether crops or livestock, is more time consuming, more costly and therefore the end product is more expensive. We vote with our wallet. We pay more for what we value. The consumer ultimately decides-
Know your Farmer…Know your Food.
Feel free to comment on this posting. Express your opinion but Remember- Please be respectful.
I am a soil farmer, a student of soil. My job, my mission, is to build soil health and fertility. If I am able to accomplish this task all else will fall into place. The goal is to grow beautiful, healthy, nutritionally dense, wonderful tasting products, both plant and animal. To do this I need to focus on the soil under my feet. There is a whole other, mostly invisible, world below us. One teeming with life; so much life that there is estimated to be more living organisms in a mere handful of soil than there are people on the planet Earth.
Soil is Life; it is that simple. You are what you eat and it is what it eats. Therefore the food you eat, whether plant or animal is only as healthy as the soil it, or its food, is grown in. The end goal should be more than yield per acre it should be quality of product balanced with soil health. Soil health is much more complicated than the NPK that is posted on bags of chemical fertilizers. It is pretty short sighted to think that there are only 3 elements important to plant growth. Unfortunately that attitude tends to be common. Yes, you may get impressive yields but at what price. Soil life degrades along with soil quality. Nutrition in crops decrease as less and less nutrients are available to the plant. Insect & disease pressure increases as the plants health is compromised and they become more vulnerable to attack. With this cascade of declining health the usage of an arsenal of chemical “fixes” increases. This is not a sustainable model, especially in a time of climate change, peak oil & the incidence of chronic human health problems on the increase. Don’t misunderstand me. I do admire all farmers. Theirs is a very tough job. But I do believe that there is a much better way and it is right under our feet.
We must build soil fertility. Increase soil tilth. Return mineralization to the soil. Find a balance. A way to provide food that is healthy for humans, the plants and animals we consume for food and that does not degrade the planet. I believe it is possible and the movement is gaining momentum. There are many small farms that are working very hard to do just that. Consumers play a huge part in the success of a return to food sanity. Support the efforts of small local farms. Get to know the farms and the farmers and the practices they use, ask questions and respect the job that they do. Be willing to pay them the extra cost it takes to operate a farm in the manner it takes to produce really good quality nutritious food. Show them you believe in what they are doing and to allow those farmers to make a decent living.
“There is no alternative to fertile soil to sustain life on Earth.”
We have been asked numerous times over the years many variations on this question, “How did you do all of this? How did you build this place by yourselves?” Here is that story- in part.
My hope is that you can find inspiration here to start your own journey.
Bob & I met at the age of 21, married at 23, purchased this property as bare land at 25, began building our log home at 27, started our family of three kids at 29. A lot of time has passed since then. We have traveled many roads, worn many hats and learned many skills. Experiences from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows have been a part of those years. Slowly but steadily over 30 years we have built this family and this farm to what you see today. When we stop and look about us the imprint of our work is everywhere. Thru it all, study and thought, labor and sweat, tears of joy and of despair, the constant has been us, as partners, best friends and soul mates.
I knew from the beginning we were meant to spend a lifetime together. We were like the other ½ of each others whole. Plans were made early on to build our own home. For me a farmhouse, for Bob a log house. We settled on a log farmhouse. After a year of living in a small old mill house, dabbling in a multitude of country pursuits, scrimping and saving every dime we could we began looking for country property. For nearly a year we looked, traveling over 3 counties, until one day we found an old realtors sign buried in a sea of scotch broom just 2 miles from where we were living. Though not ideal acreage, on a west-facing slope with large fir trees to the south, it did have trees suitable to build a log house, a clean slate of possibilities and we could afford it!
In 1983 land prices were lower than now but mortgage interest rates were much higher, averaging 12%. In June of 1983 we became proud and excited property owners. We were able to negotiate an owner contract for 15 years @ 9% interest, putting down 30% of the price with our hard saved money to cover the value of the trees we would be logging to build the house and bravely dove into this wonderful adventure. Starting with the infrastructure we cleared a forest of scotch broom trees by hand, graded a gravel driveway, dug and installed a septic system, brought in underground power and had a well dug.
We purchased a vintage Kenskill 8’ X 35’ travel trailer to set-up as a temporary home and built an 8’ X 12’ storage shed for tools. Today that same shed is our chicken house.
During this time I read every book and article available at the library, no Google or Internet in 1983! I eagerly absorbed information on any subject related to country living; small farms, home construction and building log homes. We then took a hands-on log building class at Magness Tree Farm in Sherwood, Oregon. The cabin we built for the class is still there today. That class gave us the last bit of confidence we needed to proceed with a many years long journey.
During the winter of 1983 we spent 3 months building a practice log building, our log pumphouse. It was cold, muddy and challenging work but with that project we learned many skills, gathered necessary tools and learned how to use them efficiently.
With a practice project under our belts we moved on to designing and drawing house plans. That winter into spring of 1984 we spent logging trees from the property and dragging them to our log decking area where they were cataloged for their intended use. Blueprint plans were drawn and redrawn. I spent many hours in that small trailer w/ pencil, ruler and paper honing a useable plan. In the spring of 1984 my hand-drawn (on butcher paper) blueprints along with supporting documents were submitted to the county for approval. Within 1 week we had approval and a building permit in hand! Our 2500 sq ft, 1 ½ story log home was going to be reality!
One year after purchasing the land we broke ground on the house. While hiring an excavator to dig the basement we ourselves began building the foundation forms. To save on material, costs, and to keep the concrete pours manageable we opted to do 3 pours, each one heavily reinforced with rebar. The first pour was the footings, once set these forms were removed and materials reused to build the 4’ wall forms of the crawlspace area. Once set those forms were stripped and rebuilt to build the 8’ walls of the basement. The foundation was complete in 6 weeks with the help of my Dad, some family members & neighbors as well as several very helpful concrete truck drivers. That summer was very busy as Bob was working full time as a Paramedic & I part time as an X-ray tech in addition to working on the place every chance we had. With the two of us doing the vast majority of the work ourselves the project progressed with installing foundation drains, backfilling the foundation, placing sill boards, 1st floor girders and joists and finally the subfloor. We also designed, built and installed a mechanical system to raise and maneuver the logs into place on the walls. It consisted of a borrowed, very heavy-duty, hand cranked winch mounted on a homemade rotating gin pole system that was guy wired to the surrounding trees for stability. It worked beautifully; never failing us once during the entire project. The gin pole that had worked so hard for us lifting logs into place was later re-purposed as a prominent part of the stairway leading up to the 2nd floor.
Finally on Dec. 4th 1984 the two of us together set our first log on the house! By first peeling the Douglas fir log, then scribing, notching and setting it into place we had begun an adventure of a lifetime.
By Jan. of 1985 we had finished the first course of logs. We were on our way, one log at a time!
This story, at this time, covers 30+ years so I will be posting it in installments. A journey of 30+ years made one step at a time.