Category Archives: Farm

Visiting East Mountain Farm

When I’m not working at Cricket Creek, one of the things I like to do best is visit other farms.  I believe it is important to be constantly exposing myself to other systems, infrastructure, equipment, marketing strategies, etc.  Not only is it important, but it is fun and incredibly interesting.  Last week I went for the first time to East Mountain Farm, owned and operated by Kim Wells.  Thinking back, I can’t quite believe that it took me this long to visit one of the very few other small farms right here in Williamstown, but I am glad I finally made it over there.  I have had Kim’s pork and beef many times at Mezze Restaurant, and have always enjoyed it.  

 

I should mention that what REALLY brought me to visit East Mountain, in addition to seeing all the great things that Kim does, was my hunt for bacon.  At Cricket Creek our pork supply is quite limited, and we won’t have bacon again until next summer.  East Mountain Farm (map here) is a great place to buy bacon from animals that you know were raised with care.  Stop by his farm stand to check it out!  

After I bought the bacon we went for a walk in the woods behind his barn.  Kim keeps his pigs living in the woods year-round.  We walked up a path into the woods until it opened to a big clearing.  Then we started to hear the grunts and snorts of swine.  To the left of the clearing was a large fenced in area scattered with hut shelters and roaming with pigs.  They looked beautiful amongst the trees and wintery shrubs and brush.

I have personally never kept pigs in a wooded area, but I know that it is a common practice, and it was great to see it in a very organized, clean, and efficient set up.  I can imagine it is so nice for the pigs to have the shade of the trees in the summer time.  As Matthew pointed out, maintaining the electric fence lines in the woods seems easier than maintaining them on pasture in the summer time when the grass is quickly growing.  The two pigs pictured here are Herefords, a rare breed that was developed in the 1920s to resemble Hereford cattle.  We watched while they rooted around in the snow and sniffed each other’s butts.  Theses two will probably be processed soon since they were in a separate fenced area with the livestock hauling trailer parked in it.  It seems they are getting quite comfortable with the trailer since they had been walking up into it.  This will make it easier to load them when they have to go to slaughter.

Thanks to Kim for raising some great meat.  I am excited for all my future bacon consumption!

 

A farm in winter.

A blanket of deep white snow makes winter emotionally official.  It is lovely and it is harsh.  When the night temperatures dip down into the single digits and everything is covered in thick snow, some things change on the farm.

Our cows are eating stored forage that we put up for them over the summer.  In order to assess the quality of the feed we work closely with a local feed company.  They take samples of each different cut of hay off each different field and analyze its composition.  They give us reports back with the protein, sugars, starches, minerals, various acids, etc.  This helps us decide which hay to feed to which group of cows, and what the supplementation needs to be.  Well-fed cows make the best milk, and good milk makes the best cheese!  For the most part, the cows don’t mind the cold too much.  The extreme heat of the summer, on the other hand, tends to take a big toll on them physically.  We are keeping a careful eye this weekend on one cow in particular – she is a small Jersey about to have her first calf.  We want to be sure that she and her calf do well in the cold weather.  Two winters ago we had a tiny Jersey calf born to a heifer   cow and we decided to keep the little guy in the milking parlor so he would stay warm.   Here he is on the left resting on my lap immediately after he was born. On the right he is in the little pen we made for him on a bed of straw.  He stayed in there for several days, until he was strong enough to go outside in the bitter cold.  Normally calves live with the other calves in a 3 sided shed from day one.

Anyone who is familiar with pigs knows that they like to huddle.  Sometimes the huddle is a pig pile, especially when they are keeping warm.  Right now we have two sows (Ophelia and Beatrice) and the growing piglets from Ophelia’s last litter.  They are all living together in the tin barn.  If you come by the farm, you may see them outside roaming around the chicken coop, or laying together in the barn for warmth.  In this photo Ophelia is laying on the right and the very large Beatrice is on the left.  The piglets are happily nestled between them.  Even though Ophelia is their birth mother, Beatrice is lactating as well so the piglets nurse from both moms – creating a unique little pig family.  They are all quite happy together – I highly recommend paying them a visit the next time you stop by the farm.

For us humans – we get to frolic in the snow, plow the driveway and parking lot, pray that the roads are clear enough for customers, and watch the cows roam beautifully through the snowy pastures.

GammelGarden visit – by Paul Lawler

This week I paid a visit to GammelGarden, a microcreamery in the truest sense. Stina Kutzer, with help from her sister Marta Willett, work dairy magic with a herd of 6 Jerseys and 1 Guernsey girl.    They churn out delicious cultured butter, with enough quality flavor that at room temp it could be mistaken for a cheese. Stina churns her cream, straw-gold in the good weather, and according to Stina an “other-worldly yellow” when the Guernsey is milked, in a 7 gallon separator pictured on the right.

It all started two years ago when her family cow, Babette, had twin heifers. Stina had already dreamed of being the local go-to milk maven, and the birth of twin heifers coincided with her reading an article, “How to Make it on Five Cows”.

A facility, the size of a little prairie-esque schoolhouse, was built and Stina tapped her Swedish heritage to make the extraordinary yogurt of her homeland, Skyr. After much experimenting and dutiful taste-testing a luscious, way beyond any commodity Skyr was arrived at.

After much experimenting and dutiful taste-testing a luscious, way beyond any commodity Skyr was arrived at.

“The problem with the big ones is that if I buy one I’ll just eat the whole thing in one setting.” Topher, our Farm Manager, compromised on a smaller skyr with Raspberry preserves.Yum

Skyr is indeed addictive, one of the most tempting products in our store that calls out to me after a morning cheesemaking or lit alone whilst sweeping the store at night, it’s maple uber-creamy goodness an experience somewhere between a pudding and yogurt.

It leaves me almost wishing this is what our creamery made (so I could eat all the more of it) now and then. I am glad enough we have Stina as our neighbor, just north by 20 minutes in Vermont.

Her gals and a gang of rambunctiously playful yellow labs have their way some of the prettiest pastures I’d seen in awhile. It didn’t hurt that my visit was on the 4th day of fall, with Autumnal  vermillion and blushes coming into view. 

 

 

 

 

Her butter (cultured and not), tart plain and Maple Skyr are available in our farm store most every day of the week. We also carry little lunch size snack versions with varied thick fruit jams like strawberry, Maine blueberry and raspberry at the bottom.

The end is nigh, and then it starts again….

A wonderful part of farming in New England is the changing of the seasons. There are four distinct periods of time and with the official end of summer, another transition is upon us.

In fitting fashion we baled our final cut of hay on the last day of summer and the weather has been quite autumnal since – beautiful sunny days and rapidly cooling nights.

It isn’t just the temperatures that change here on the farm however. The end of summer signals the shift to what we consider winter housing.. The grass is barely growing at this point despite the sunny skies so a shift to stored feed is imminent.

After spending the summer making hay, it is now time to use it. The cows will shift from grazing all day and all night to eating dry hay and baleage in the barn. They will still have access to the outdoors, getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine, but meals are served indoors.

The other groups – heifers, dry cows, beef cows, and calves – will also come off pasture, though the grazing season can be extended somewhat.  We did not take a third cut of hay off several fields and plan to graze it with the beef and heifer group as the fall progresses, hopefully adding a month of grass time. These guys will remain outside, with access to a spring and plenty of cover in a copse of trees.

The dry cows will join the dairy in the main barn, also with outdoor access, and the heifers will be split up by age, with some hanging with the beef and others closer to the barns.

The end of grazing season is always a bit sad, especially with the beautiful weather. When cows are outside eating grass all seems right with the world (or at least this world of Cricket Creek Farm).

We also shift from managing grazing, making hay, and generally being out and about on the farm to barn cleaning and feed mixing.

But the cows adapt well and as long as they have plenty of good food and a dry place to sleep, they are content. If we wanted to graze all year a move to Texas would be necessary.

And the winter brings many other wonderful things. There is time to focus on other projects, the snow (if and when it comes) is both fun and beautiful, and the time of relative dormancy is important to flora, fauna, and people alike.

And in what will feel like no time, we will be preparing fences and pastures as spring breaks and the cycle starts again.

Market Thoughts – by Jenni Logan

I’ve always enjoyed visiting farmer’s markets in whatever cities I have lived in… I’ve visited some wonderful markets in Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston and most recently Cambridge and Somerville, MA. I would wander through these markets, and see if anything exciting would jump out at me. Every time it was a different experience. Sometimes I would get excited about some leafy greens, or a delicious cheese or bread I tried, or some fresh stuffed grape leaves. I have some memories from various markets that will stay with me forever… for instance, the first time I was introduced to Kohlrabi at the Winter market at the Armory in Somerville, or the incredible array of tomatoes that I soon learned all of the names of (yellow pear, brandywine, green zebra) at the end of the summer at the Friday afternoon market next to the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

As part of the apprentice program at Cricket Creek, we are assigned to work different farmer’s markets throughout the summer and fall. I am responsible for selling cheese and other items at the Lenox Market on Friday afternoons at Shakespeare and Company and at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough on Saturday mornings.  I had never worked at a farmer’s market until this summer when I came to Cricket Creek. Sometimes markets are really busy and one barely has time to catch their breath between cutting samples, explaining our various types of cheese and helping people with their purchases (adding the total, taking cash and making change).  Sometimes though, markets are really slow and one has time to take in the scenery and reflect on things.

Today there was a rainstorm in Lanesborough and as soon as the first drop hit, all of the customers scattered to their cars and left to go on with their days. This left me some time to reflect on the changing seasons. Everyone knows that farmer’s markets sell the most seasonal products, but I had never really thought about how incredibly apparent it is when you are working at a market and witnessing firsthand the seasonal changes solely through fruits and vegetables. In the beginning of the season, everyone is selling leafy salad greens.  Then all of the sudden everyone has summer squash and zucchini. One week there is no corn and then the next week, there are four vendors selling many different types. The fruit is the same… for a few weeks there are strawberries everywhere and then all of the sudden there are none. Raspberries came and before I knew it, they were gone. Watermelons and Cantaloupe were being sampled and tasted so sweet two weeks ago and now there are only a few left.

The change of the season really hit me yesterday though when I was looking at all of the goodies I had purchased at the Lenox market and I realized that I had collected a bounty of apple goodness including 3 different types of apples from Samascott Orchard, a fresh baked apple pie from Klara’s Gourmet Cookies and a bottle of semi-dry hard apple cider from Carr’s Ciderhouse.  Fall is my favorite season, so this all made me really happy and excited. I am looking forward to the changing flavors and landscapes of my markets as items start appearing such as fall squashes, pumpkins and gourds and while I will miss the bright yellows, reds and greens of summer, I’m ready for the deep and beautiful golds, oranges and burgundy of fall.

 

what I wish for you, dear farm

I wish for your days to be rhythmic.
to have a tempo, a cadence that moves along swiftly, logically.

I wish for your purpose, opportunity, and offerings to be vivid to all.

I wish for your mission to penetrate deeply, through every thick layer.

I wish for you to let people in, but also have realistic boundaries.

I wish for you to be both elegant, and honestly gritty.

I wish for your beauty to constantly, constantly ripple outward.

I wish for you to steadily grow and grow, but no, not too fast.

I wish for your growth to be healthy, crude, holistic, wild.

I wish for you to shed light on complex subjects, bringing clarity.

I wish for every one of your inhabitants to openly rely on one another,
in an intricate web encompassing the earthworm, the clover, the blue heron, and all.

I wish for all those who interact with you, including myself, to be non-possessive.
I wish for all of us to laugh both with you and at you, to work for you and with you.
for all of us to give you reassurance, and for you to give it back to us.
us to give you hope, and you to return it.

how to promote a small farm?

part of my job here is marketing and I am pretty much constantly thinking about advertising priorities.  what makes sense to invest in?  should we print more materials?  build more signs?  take out more ads?  pay for brochure distribution?  it is hard to make these decisions, and moreover it is hard to evaluate the efficacy of one route versus another.  since our small farm store is not staffed with a cashier, we can’t ask every customer where they heard about us.  this summer I posted a sign in the farm store asking customers to check off how they heard of Cricket Creek.  I included 8 boxes, “Word of Mouth”, “Vacation Village”, “The Advocate”, “Berkshire Visitors Bureau”, “Local Restaurant”, “Farmers Market”, “Sign on Rt 43”.  The other options listed on the graph below were written in by customers in the “other” section.

so – it looks like Word of Mouth is the best draw for customers to the store.  good thing that’s free!  Vacation Village is a resort in Hancock, MA that sends many guests our way.  we are very grateful to them!  the other most popular draws were the local farmers markets, our sign on Rt. 4 and two local publications – The Advocate, and Edible Berkshires.

this fall I will do a repeat and see how the results compare.  only 135 people commented on it this time around, so hopefully we will see more customers respond next time.  thanks for the info everyone and stay tuned for more data…

“the floc just felt right”

Last week, Jenni was describing to me the cheese she had just made.  She was pleased with how the production went, and said to me, “the floc just felt right”.   I don’t think she said this to necessarily make my day, she was just sharing her experience.  Needless to say, it made my day.

Flocculation is chemistry jargon for the beginning stages of curd formation in cheese making.  The flocculation time is used to determine how long the curds will set before cutting them.  Our cheeses will flocculate (or “floc”) in 10-20 minutes.  Each cheese has a different floc multiplier – the number we multiply the flocculation time that will give the total set time.  A small floc multiplier will yield a harder cheese since the curd has less time to form and more whey will be expelled during cutting and pressing.  A larger floc multipler will give a softer cheese – we use a multiplier of 6 for the Berkshire Bloom, 3 for the Maggies Round, and 2.5 for the Gouda.

The moment of flocculation is subtle.  It takes practice and a keen eye to catch that first moment that flocculation occurs.  For a long time I was unsure about it, and knew that only with experience would I come to have confidence in knowing when it was just right.

Jenni, like all the interns working with us this year, is a careful observer and incredibly in tune with the subtleties of the cheese.  She is meticulous and thorough, and aware of any abnormalities in the cheese (it takes a real cheese lover for this – luckily, we are all supreme cheese lovers here).  Jenni often comments on how the cheese is doing that day – what the moisture, temperature, smells, etc. are telling her.  When she said that the “floc just felt right”, it meant that she was beyond the stage of needing to think about it too much, because she could feel it.  She could just sense it.  She had an intuition about it, and she was confident about that.  I feel funny saying this – but it made me feel like a proud teacher.  It made me feel that even though the days can be long and progress can be slow (especially with cheese), that she had learned something incredibly valuable here.  She had learned to know the cheese – this is what being a cheese maker is.

Anyone can read a recipe.  Most people can read instructions and make something great.  It takes a true cheese maker – someone with experience and passion – to be able to say the floc just felt right.  

 

rendering night parts un & deux

Last Wednesday night Matthew led a fat rendering party to clear out some freezer space.  Rendering the fat makes it shelf stable at room temperature (such as ghee and other natural fats), so we can fill the freezer with more pork and beef.  Since these animal fats are saturated, the oils are stable and MUCH less likely to go rancid or form trans fats.  You can tell how saturated an oil is by looking at what temperature it melts.  The slower it is to melt (more solid at room temperature), the more saturated and stable it is.

For the first half of rendering night, we all sat outside and ate, while the fat was heating up inside.  Well Matthew did us all the pleasure of deep-frying Cricket Creek hot dogs in some boiling Cricket Creek Farm tallow (beef fat).   We called this beef on beef.  They were quite tasty.  Paul (the Tobasi man), did us the pleasure of bringing a blender into the creamery and concocting  fabulous spreadable tobasi from some weak rinded cheeses.  So, tobasi-mash on hot dogs and vegetables ensued…

(Nicole also brought some perfectly ripe cantaloupe!)

part deux… after much consumption, we followed our noses to the fat being rendered.  Our goal in the rendering process is to separate the fat from any tissue, muscle, or anything else that we don’t want to save.  This is what the process looks like – notice the different colors in the jars , a reflection of the different fats and cooking temperatures.  Cooking them for so long at high heat is FINE, since unlike soybean oil, canola, corn, or other unstable oils (which would form free radicals), these natural fats are stable even at high temperatures.

What will we do with all this fat?  Much of the tallow will likely be used for making soap, and perhaps also candles.  The rest of the tallow and lard will be used for sauteing vegetables, making the perfect pie-crust, frying a morning egg,  and other feats of delicious cooking.  We try to consume as much as we can from the food we produce here on the farm.  The natural fats from grass-fed animals keep us full, energized, and positive all day long.  These are the fats that humans evolved on.  We try to stay away from processed vegetable fats (often full of free radicals and rancid, almost always bleached and perfumed, and dangerously low in omega-6s) that are associated with modern degenerative diseases.

We often have tallow, leaf lard, and back fat for sale in the Cricket Creek Farm store.  With winter all these summer vegetables to saute and winter soups on the way, contact us if you would like to purchase some.

not your normal mud bath

Last Wednesday, something rare and unusual happened – something that shook me.  It was mid-afternoon and I was sitting alone in the office putting stickers on CSA brochures when I saw Matthew running up the driveway yelling “Suzy, I need your help!“.  This startled me because: 1. Matthew rarely yells.  2. Matthew rarely asks for help 3.  he just kept running past, without any further instruction or elaboration.  So, I ran after him.  He was starting up the tractor and collecting ropes and chains when he said to me, “Fiona is drowning in mud, go sit with her, she is in the corner of the field.

Without stopping to wonder, I ran down the driveway to the corner field where the beef and heifers are grazing.  Matthew and Nicole had moved them to that piece earlier in the day, and Matthew had just been setting up their water.  When I got down there, I couldn’t see Fiona anywhere, so I started walking through the tall grass and mud calling her name.  The front of that field is quite wet and muddy, and my feet were sinking in.

Finally I saw her, the 20-month-old heifer sinking into the mud.  All that was visible was her head and her rear-end.  It looked as if she was laying down in it, her heavy bloated middle sinking.  Most of her neck was under the mud, and it seemed to be a struggle for her to hold her head up.  I sat down next to her, talked to her, and pet her head.

Matthew soon arrived with the tractor.   He explained that when he first saw her there he had tried to pull her out, tried to help her  use her massive cow strength, to no avail.  Every time he began to walk away, Fiona would start to struggle and cry out for him to come back and help.  He was absolutely covered in mud from diving in there.  We spent some time figuring how the best way to tie her to the tractor.  Her legs were so far down in the mud, Matthew had to reach his whole arm in to find one of them.  It was difficult to secure the ropes so they wouldn’t fall off.  All the while she was sinking further.  We had to re-manuvure the tractor a couple times, but then we got it.  With the rope knotted around her rear right leg, the tractor lifted her large cow self into the air and then back out of the mud.  She sat there stunned for a minute.  She was on hard land again.  She hadn’t drowned completely.  We pushed her onto all fours, and she nodded at us before running (almost flying) out to meet the other cows across the field.

Cows are so powerful, yet terribly awkward.  Sometimes, they just don’t know how to use their own strength.  In this horrific situation, the mud puddle was like quicksand, and every time she fought, she sank deeper in.  Then, Matthew moved the fence, so the pasture would exclude the horrible mud, and we watched as Fiona happily reunited with the others.  We looked at each other – completely covered in stinking mud, but giddy with relief.  And thankful that we had been there.