The art of contentment

This blog post was a response to an essay question, which I thought worth sharing with you all. I’ve included the question below:

In the documentary Look and See, Wendell says “You can see all the way to the stars almost any place you are. To live in a place and have your vision confined by it would be a mistake. But to live in a place and try to understand it as a standpoint from which to see, and to see it from there as far as you can, is a proper challenge, I think.” How can being rooted in a place, particularly an agricultural community, be a source of contentment and continuous interest? How is it a “proper” challenge?


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My sister is a wanderer. Every week she has a new dream and a new place she’s going. I have never been that way. Heck, I’ve never even moved out of my parent’s house – so far. Farming is referred to as husbandry for a good reason. I am a married woman, and in a sense, have “confined myself” to my spouse. But how much better do I know that man because of it? We share secrets and moments that no one else will ever know or understand. Land, like people, changes over time and although the place may look the same, a loving eye will notice a few more grey hairs, or a new scrape on his hand. I have lived on this farm my whole life and it changes every year. There will always be something new, no matter how much it may appear to stay the same. A year ago my husband and I were thinking about finding a neighboring farm to purchase. I remember so clearly sitting in our old tobacco barn as the rays from a setting sun filtered in between cracked boards and I could see the dust swimming in the light and I knew that I had to stay. It is those moments of peace and near perfection that make farming more than a job. It is a sigh of content at the head of the trail or a few quiet moments watching a cardinal in the snow. That’s what makes this place home and what makes the hard days worthwhile. It is this collection of moments and peace that never grow old. I could live in them forever.

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Even the neighboring farms have a history that is entwined with ours. When my family first moved here from Detroit we were slow to be accepted into the community. But one neighbor, Jake Noel, answered our questions, taught us how to call the cattle, and he even sold us our first three cows. His grandson bought the farm last year and we still work closely together putting each other’s cattle back in the right field, or fixing the dividing fence lines. Most folks have forgotten the worth of a good neighbor. The history of a place is more than just where your feet stand, it’s not only your history but the land next to yours. No farm would survive on its own. Your neighbor’s struggles and victories are in part your own. I think I would feel like an emigrant anywhere else, and often do feel quite out of place when I’ve worked or gone to school further north. In Glencoe no one chuckles when you say “going to town”, because they were probably “in town” for something the week before, and Grant County, though a fair distance, isn’t as far from Northern Kentucky University as everyone seems to think. Sometimes I think about the fact that I could travel the rest of my life and never see all of the amazing places there are. I could go to different countries and the rain-forest, or the desert but would I know any of them? And even after a life of travel there would still be places I hadn’t been. I wonder, would it bother me? Every place has a story, and they all deserve to be learned and loved. Those peaceful moments can be found other places, I’m sure, but I have shared a life with this one and I’ll never be able to divorce or replace her, grey hairs and all. Each place, or tree and field have a past and some of it is known to me.  The thought that I might get to tell these stories, or explore this place with children of my own, gives me great hope for the world to come. If they can learn to love them and cherish them as I have we might just turn out alright.

Feed What Matters (Breaking down the slogan)

When I say “Feed What Matters” it isn’t a fancy way of saying buy my food.

In college I had a microeconomics teacher and on the first day of class he said something I’ll never forget. He said, “I don’t care if you skip class because everyone has different values and priorities and we weigh and measure and make decisions based on our priorities. If you skip my class to go to Starbucks or to go take a nap obviously that was more important to you than learning about supply and demand on that particular day.” When I’m tempted to become cynical about the choices people make I have to remind myself that they value things differently than me. It might drive me crazy, I might disagree, but I’ll be hard pressed to convince them that their priorities are wrong. That takes a major paradigm shift, and typically some large, life altering experience or revelation.

“Feed What Matters” is a statement of understanding. That people put their time, energy, and money toward their priorities. When I look back at my bank account or my calendar I don’t always like what I see. I may think that entertainment isn’t that important to me, but maybe I’m forking over $20 a month to watch Netflix with every moment of my free time. I recall a farmer I admire, Joel Salatin, telling a story about his dad. For a week he tracked what he did every day in 5 minute increments and at the end added it all up. He realized he spent nearly eight hours a week just reading the newspaper. Now, I’ve never been brave enough to track my week and see what’s sucking my time, but I think we can all admit that we spend plenty of time on things we don’t actually want to have priority over our family, work, or hobbies.

I’ve heard my mother often quote “The grass isn’t greener on the other side, its greener where you water it.” That’s what “Feed What Matters” means. Invest in what’s important to you. Do you want to have a stronger marriage? Great! Put more energy into talking to your spouse and building them up. Want to make more friends? Instead of saying “We should get together” get out your calendar on your phone and say “We should get together next Tuesday at noon” and if something comes up set another date. Want to invest in the health of your family? Start cooking at home, join a CSA, or visit the farmers market.

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What I’m trying to say is evaluate your priorities. You might not like what you find BUT decide what you want to invest in. Take control of your influence. Don’t let the weeds that crop up distract you from planting trees. It is so easy to go through life dazed, distracted, and feeling out of control. I’m definitely not thumping this bible because I’m perfect. The good news is YOU get to decide where to invest. YOU get to decide what’s important to you. You may not be able to do everything perfect. (Drink all the water! Do all the exercise! Plant trees every weekend and donate to every amazing organization…) But if we all chose just a couple things to feed what amazing, wonderful world could we create?

In the end it’s people that matter. It’s people that make the difference, and tip the scale. No matter what your hot button issue is right now it is people that will change it. It is easy to invest in activities and faceless companies creating products for the greater good. It can be hard and painful to invest in people. We don’t always get it right. We all mess up, we take advantage of people, say hurtful things, or are ungrateful to the folks that pour into us. But I promise THEY are the most worthwhile investment. Band together, and through tears of pain and joy teach each other how to live. I pray that we fall in love again. That we lift the earthworms from pavement into the grass, that we take pause to watch a honeybee on the clover, that we all remember to look up, to clouds or stars, and remember what a wide, wonderful world we’ve been placed in. And, most of all, that we remember to look into the eyes of another human being and to remind them that they matter.

Eat Well & Be Inspired,

-Rachel

Resolutions

New Year Resolutions get a bad rep. Changing habits is hard whether it’s January 1st or any other day of the year. So for all of our friends considering better eating habits this year here are a few things to keep in mind.

-ANY positive action counts, even if it only happens once. I did pushups one week. Even though I haven’t done a single one since that choice still matters. It’s easy to make resolutions or changes so daunting, and the need to get them perfect and do them for the rest of our lives that we never even start because we’ve made so many rules before we’ve even begun. Don’t do that. Just start somewhere and every positive choice does impact your life. You don’t need to make it too complicated.

-Break down large resolutions into small goals. Don’t go from 0-100. Instead of exercising everyday start with 2x a week in Jan, 3x in Feb etc. Again, change is hard and don’t fool yourself into thinking today you’re some magical person that will indeed eat salad everyday in 2019 or jog every single morning if that hasn’t been a part of your 2018 life. Ease your way into big changes and enjoy the journey.

-Don’t give up! Relapse is an inevitable part of change. Even if you’ve had a rough week, month or quarter keep trying! Just because you fell off the wagon doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Don’t let the weight of a failure discourage your comeback.

Top 10 Clean Eating recommendations:

  1. Buy ground beef from a farm. After multiple recalls last year more than ever I recommend buying ground beef from a farm if nothing else. Even if it isn’t grass-fed or organic. Ground beef from small processors and farms is from a single source, one animal. Where as in the grocery, even organic is a conglomerate of possibly hundreds of animals. It’s easy to see how quickly even one contaminated animal can cause a massive recall. Local beef is from a single animal so any issues are quickly and easily traced, and simply less likely.

  2. Switch to farm fresh eggs. Surprisingly, switching eggs gives you the most bang for your buck. And not only where flavor is concerned. Pastured eggs have more nutrients, vitamins and healthy fats in addition to a robust flavor.

  3. Switch to butter. If you’re still using margerine this is the year to make the switch! Even if you can’t find grass fed butter, any real butter is better than margerine and the flavor can’t be beat!

  4. Switch one item a month to local. Like I said earlier, don’t find this list daunting, but inspiring. Pick one item a month to slowly switch over to buying from a local farm.

  5. Visit a farm this year! No matter how many labels or fuzzy animals are on the packaging nothing beats seeing the farm that grows a portion of your food. There is no certification from a third party that beats a handshake and witnessing with your own eyes the way the farm is managed. We have Farm Day twice a year, watch our Events page for the next date!

  6. Eat less. I know, you can start throwing things at me now. Unfortunately part of sustainability in the end has to come down to literally consuming less. Producing and preparing food takes a lot of time, energy, money. Even if you’re composting scraps that is still a lot of inputs going into the compost pile. I don’t know when we as a culture decided that it wasn’t okay to be hungry. That at the first twinge we have to stop whatever we’re doing to feed ourselves. It’s a hard switch to be okay with waiting to have a lunch for an hour or two until I get home. Obviously, in America this is a hard thing to talk about especially considering we now have instant gratification constantly with the wonder of technology. It’s an important point that we can’t overlook as responsible consumers, no matter how hard it is to talk about.

  7. Can, cure or grow something! Take food into your own hands. It’s an amazing experience on any level and will give you a new perspective on food across the board.

  8. Cook more at home. As most of you know I love to bake. When we wanted burgers last fall and didn’t have buns I grabbed a cookbook and made some. They were the best buns ever, by far! You don’t have to be a pro or do anything fancy to cook at home. Invest in some good cookbooks and just start “winging it”. Most things, even from scratch, aren’t as hard as I imagine once I’ve worked my way through it once or twice. Soon you’ll be confident in the kitchen and have a better idea of the flavors and the little quirks you and your family like.

  9. Pack your lunch and snacks! This is really important if you’ve got a resolution to shed a few holiday pounds this year. It will also save you money and keep you eating some good food! Packing snacks is crucial so that you don’t cave when you’re busy and might not have time to cook at home.

  10. Take meal time seriously. Sit down, breath, talk. Commune. This is the big one. Food is supposed to be this amazing experience that brings people together. Let it do that for you this year. Celebrate, talk and contemplate over some wonderful dishes and, with a little luck, across from some wonderful people this year.

A Brilliant Death

I was driving home yesterday looking out from the bridge on our road, gazing toward the next ridge over, realizing just how quickly the leaves have lost their brilliance and plummeted to their death before turning into soil. The image struck me. Autumn, as an old man, leaning creaky bones back in his rocker, slumping quietly into Winter. That is precisely, the end of the season, and nothing has been more perfectly put in my mind. Fall is brilliant in the beginning, but within a few (very short) weeks you pick up your head in a panic surrounded by decay and eerie silence.

Life, and so death, are ever present on any farm, constantly dancing, and it’s hard to tell day to day which one will take the lead. Every time a life is lost, whether it be disease, or predation, they all come flooding back to me. I look down at my hands, knowingly, wondering if anyone else can see the blood that seems to cover them, lapping up my arms. A calf we had owned for just three days sick with pneumonia in 2014, two litters of piglets aborted the following summer, chickens nabbed by our woodland neighbors, along with many others over the years. Some are harder than others, with some we carry more blame. Of course, not everyday is so bad, or even bad at all. There are lots of days we get it right. But it is always shocking when we don’t. 

In 2018 most mistakes don’t cost us much. Perhaps time, which can be made up by skipping a TV show, or speeding in your car, usually money, which there will be more of come next Friday. Aside from doctors and soldiers most mistakes in the 21st century don’t cost a life. But mine do. And not just any life either, one that has been entrusted to me, without the will to choose. If I don’t feed them, they’ll die. If they get sick and I don’t see to it, they will dwindle into a slow painful demise. So once again this week, I’ve set my shoulders square and decided to do the best I can. To tend to my creatures, my co-workers, as well as I know how. There will be more loses, I know, but there will also be more life when Spring quietly slips in through the crack of the door.

Discovering the joy of "odd" food..

When I say "picky eater", what comes to mind? A three-year-old with peas on their plate? Or that one friend in your group who STILL orders chicken strips and fries every time you go out? I'm sure the majority of us wouldn't describe ourselves as picky eaters. But you're probably more choosy than you think.

Lard is a delightful place to start your Odd Food journey!

Lard is a delightful place to start your Odd Food journey!

Your farmers are acutely aware of this. How much bacon do you eat? But have you ever made bone broth? We all buy chicken breasts but have you ever rendered lard or tallow? Now there is nothing wrong with loving good bacon (actually you may be ill if you don't enjoy it..) but have you considered the cost? Without fail I have wonderful, well-meaning folks who will buy ten packages of steaks, fifteen pounds of bacon or a dozen chicken breasts and trot merrily home. Now I am stuck with the other eighty pounds of "lesser" cuts to sell. Folks, one hog produces around a hundred and twenty pounds of meat but only ten percent of that is bacon. So we have taken the life of an entire animal so that you can have bacon... I know that I may be belaboring this point but to customers it's meat, to farmers it's a life. There is a real respect and a conviction that comes with that. Unless you've lived as a producer it's hard to grasp the deep need to honor this animal. So how do we become more responsible consumers? It's really quite tasty...

Be bold! Experiment! Buy a nose-to-tail cookbook and use it! Render lard, make bone broth, eat chicken legs and picnic roasts. When you've run out of bacon don't go to the grocery, fry up ham steaks or breakfast sausage instead. When there are no more loin roasts buy shoulder roasts. There is really no end to the process. Once you're eating all kinds of cuts of meat try liver or make beef heart pastrami or head cheese. Get funky with it y'all, because that is how you celebrate this creature's life and really do it justice.

I actually get emotional when I think about all of the amazing food that millions of people will never try or even hear of. Just think about all of the different tomatoes that exist! Truly, it's our own fault when we get bored of food or can't find anything to cook. The world is literally brimming with wonderful treats. Now be empowered! Go find a farmers market, buy something you've never heard of and make something truly beautiful! 

Tag us in your #oddfood photos (success story or failed BOLD attmept!) @hamptonridgefarm!

Bee Adventures

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One thing we don't discuss much from the farm  whether that's on social media or on a tour is the beehives. Although they may appear to be an afterthought they are pertinent to every part of what we do. From wild blackberries, and garden veggies to clover in the pastures. There isn't a whole lot we do with the bees through the winter months but on a "warm" day I try to peek in and give them another winter patty if they don't have enough honey stored to make it through the winter. (I typically offer them regardless because if they don't need them they won't eat them.) I had done a routine "peek" in  mid-December and was anxious to check on them after these cold temperatures to make sure they still had food and were faring alright. So on Tuesday the forecast was in the 40's and I took what appeared to be my best chance. Now typically, in summer months I'll wear my full suit but in weeks prior there had been very little activity and so I had opted for warmth and went with my regular winter chore clothes (flannel lined work pants and a hoodie) along with my gloves and veil for extra protection. It had worked splendid keeping me warmer than the suit would have and still offering plenty of protection. One thing I forgot was it was only in the 30's during my previous check-in. And so this afternoon I slogged out rather chipper and strode boldly up to my first hive. I lifted the lid off to see lots of bees peering through the hole in the inner cover. I slid my hive tool under the inner cover and pryed it up. With a loud crack and jolt it was freed from the outside of the deep box and I lifted it off and wet it aside. There were a lot more bees in the top of the box than last month. A great sign, but simultaneously as I was lifting off the cover at least 5 darted toward me extremely unhappy about my little visit I had planned. And so as usual I backed off and began walking through the yard to let them calm down a little bit and hopefully they would fly back to the hive and settle down. So after a few moments with only about 3 still buzzing around my veil my impatience got the best of me and I walked a little less bravely back up to the hive. I set the fresh patty in as bees were angrily buzzing all around my head. Then it hit me. On the right side of my neck the smallest prick which then begins to burn. I took off across the yard wondering how many assassins these ungrateful bees had now recruited. Almost back to the garage I felt it. A tiny little insect walking up my back between my shoulders. Beginning to sweat, begging the bee not to sting me and praying more fervently than ever before I called out to me friend who was helping me that she had to help me get my sweatshirt off as there was at least one bee in there. We were eventually able to fin-angle her out without crushing her. But another had gotten stuck and in the process of trying to peel my sweatshirt off she stung me right in the armpit of all places. Now both stings are burning like crazy and I'm unsure how many other bees could still be on the attack. Throwing my hoodie across the drive way I bolted inside for cover. After examining my injuries and removing the stingers as carefully as possible I was not looking forward to my last two hives. I decided to forgo the warmth for the much wiser option of protection and suited up. The next two hives were much friendlier, but for three days I considered my unruly bees as the sting areas became red and swelled, the next afternoon they began itching like crazy before finally subsiding. 

"One Bad Day"

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This week we sent off nine of our pigs to be processed. In farming it's referred to as the "one bad day" which everyone works hard to make as good as possible. It's typically a reflective time for me even though it has gotten a lot easier to handle. One reason is that there are still pigs on the farm, there isn't an empty pen where they used to be. I have nearly a dozen piglets that were farrowed in the Fall that really need to move into that space. Also, we work with a really great abattoir who makes unloading and working with the animals as easy and stress free as possible. Compare this to my first time dropping off pigs where a total stranger didn't say anything to me, jumped in my trailer and started using an electric prod on some very scared pigs...needless to say I left in tears. I've never gone back and have done a lot more research before choosing processing facilities. In preparation for the big day we back the trailer into their pen and feed them inside of it for three days or more. This takes away a lot of stress for the pigs as this "weird cave" is apparently just the new food joint, and we farmers aren't spending time worrying whether or not we'll be able to get them into the trailer in time to make our appointment. (Some places are booked months in advance so missing this means a lot more resources along with delayed sales.) Another really helpful tip is remembering all of the people we're feeding. These amazing pigs will be Birthday celebrations, Holiday hams, or family dinners and those are some really amazing moments that we get to be a part of in a small way. Aside from this one, every other day our pigs are some of luckiest in the country. There are around 71 millions pigs in the United States and the vast majority of those are raised in confinement. Only 4% of pigs in this country actually get to act like a pig and root in the dirt, wallow in the mud, munch on grass or nuts and tear into a round bale with their siblings. Our pigs have one bad day, but the rest I've got to admit, are pretty darn great. 

Winter Chores

A lot of people ask me what we do all winter. In the fall we cut back some of our stock for harvesting and simplicity through the lean season. But we still have plenty of critters to tend to and it can be a bigger challenge in the freezing temperatures. Even though we aren't rotating livestock and the poultry shelters have been parked for the season everyone gets hay continuously and water troughs have to have heaters or for most of our stock we manage them manually by breaking ice or carrying buckets of fresh water twice a day when it gets really cold. In addition to tending to animals we try to find time to do some tree trimming thinning the woods and taking out the dead limbs and trees. Winter is a great season for fencing projects as well. But for the most part I spend winter looking back on the year and planning for the one ahead. That means going through all of our financial records, setting up planning meetings for production, introducing new species, designing the garden layout, estimating expenses and all kinds of other things. But the best part is we have time for all of the things we've been putting off. Quilting, baking, even simple stuff like cleaning or sleeping in! So friends enjoy the season of relaxation.