Friday, January 27, 2012

Polyface -- Day 2

I woke up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday.

 Woke up thinking that Grandma Salatin's home was about to blow away, like in Wizard of Oz. The storm from Tennessee, Missouri, and Georgia was blowing its way north, and Swoope Virginia was getting some seriously high winds from it. I sat up in bed and peered out my windows, hoping to see something of the farmyard. Alas, my night vision is pretty poor, and all I could make out were shadowy figures. I laid back down, thinking that this would be the longest three hours until 7 o clock....

Turns out it wasn't. 

I was dressed and ready to go at exactly 7 a.m. and with my new friend Lydia, who was also there for the 2-day checkout, I braved the still-dark morning, and the chilly temperature of 10 degrees. Brrr! It seems I'm not used to the cold weather all you east coasters get!! We were told to be at the hoop houses for morning chores, so we wisely followed our ears to the sound of clucking hens. The hoop houses are exactly what they sound like: Five big, greenhouse style buildings that had the typical greenhouse plastic over them. But instead of being home to exotic plants that needed warmth during the winter, these buildings housed laying hens, meat rabbits, and some hogs. I very quickly grew to love working in the hoop houses during my stay; they were comfortably warm, first and foremost. Second, they were bright and airy, and it was just plain fun being surrounded by all of those animals! LOL. Chores begin with scattering whole oats on the hoop house floor. The hens all have feeders that stay full of grain for most of the day, but the oats were to encourage the hens to scratch around in the bedding, and keep it fluffy and clean. It was interesting to see the difference in temperament among the hens. The Salatin's have mostly Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. When you tossed a handful of oats in a hoop house that had the Rhodies, they would all panic and fly at the plastic walls. The panic would of course, cause dust to be stirred up, and the noise from so many birds was almost deafening. Not fun. With the Barred Rocks though, you could throw handful after handful while they calmly stared at you. You pretty much had to wade through the Barred Rocks, since they were too calm to run. :)

Hoop houses.

After scattering oats, all feed hoppers had to be filled, next boxes opened up, waterers checked, grit and oyster shell bins had to be filled, and we would usually re-fill the nest boxes with new hay. On the left side of the hoop houses were Daniel's rabbits. All sitting quietly in cages above the ground. Now, I've been raising rabbits for about eight years, but I can honestly say I have never seen such good looking rabbits as what Daniel had. Wow. Absolutely beautiful stock. Some of the hoop houses were split into thirds. Two-thirds of the structure would house the chickens, and the last 1/3 would have hogs. I must admit that out of everything I did at Polyface, I loved working around the hogs the most. I liked listening to them, and watching their goofy personalities as they went about their day. This country girl wants her own hogs someday...

 While some of us worked in the hoop houses, others went to throw hay to the cattle, and take care of the rest of the hogs that were in various places. Morning chores took about an hour to an hour and a half; depending on how many people were there that morning. After morning tasks were accomplished we all eagerly went to have breakfast. We switched out so that one day the guys would eat with Joel and Theresa, and the next day they would eat with Daniel and Sheri, and then we girls would eat with Joel and Theresa. Wednesday morning happened to be when the girls got to eat at "the big house", and I was excited. I had read all of Joel's books, watched all the footage about him, listened to audio books by him, but I had never yet met him in person. And now I was about to go eat breakfast with him! 

The inside of Joel's house (er, Theresa's I suppose I should say?) was delightfully old fashioned and homey. It's just one of those places that you immediately feel at home in. Lydia and I took off our coats and boots and were greeted warmly by Theresa (who actually prefers to be called "Missy"). I could smell sausage frying, and already the table was set with warm breakfast breads, raw milk, and scrambled eggs. They feed ya' good at Polyface, let me tell ya'. Five cats lounged around in the kitchen/dining room. These weren't just any cats either: these were Theresa's cats. It brought a smile to my face seeing how she doted on those fluffy felines. A few minutes later, Joel himself came cheerily downstairs. Clad in a faded shirt from a thrift store that had the name tag, "Sam" appliqued onto it, he didn't much look like someone who just pulled in a million dollars from his farm that year. And for that I smiled. As luck would have it, I got to sit right next to Joel for breakfast. Yeah, I'm a tad pathetic; being excited to get to sit next to Joel Salatin. But hey, it's not every day you get to sit next to your hero in life, right? ;) Joel is a very friendly, very down-to-earth person who is extremely easy to talk and laugh with.; and laugh and talk with him, we did. Good times....

After breakfast, we went straight back to work! Here's a tip though: if you ever go to Polyface to work for a few days, brush your teeth before breakfast, and before morning chores! You won't get a chance after breakfast. Ask me how I know.

 Winter is when the Salatins focus on doing wood work. Trees are felled, chopped, split, stacked, made into boards, and/or used for building projects. So our Wednesday project was to finish clearing and stacking some wood that had been chopped earlier in the week; as well as running branches through the chipper. As Lydia and I climbed into the tractor trailer, we were able to get acquainted with the rest of the group that was there. There was Eric of course, who is the Polyface Apprentice Manager (think right hand man). Noah, who was an apprentice, and used to live in Antarctica! Leanna, who is a Polyface employee, and I probably shouldn't forget Daniel.... LOL. There were only 5 people there that morning for the 2-day checkout: Me (duh), Lydia from Virginia, Liz from New Jersey, Jeremy from Texas, and Ben who was also from Oregon! I must admit, that it did me good to have another Oregonian around. I don't know why, but it just did. ;) We bumped and jolted our way up an old road that even the tractor had a hard time maneuvering through, and then finally made it up to the field where our work awaited us.

 The work was easy, thankfully, and it didn't take long before our trailer was heaped with the first load of chopped logs. However, I was sorely regretting my choice of clothing for the day!! I usually wear skirts, and am used to working hard in them; but every time I picked up a log, I mentally berated myself for not wearing my jeans. Work would have been tons easier had I worn my jeans instead of the skirt! Ah well, live and learn I suppose... Riding back to the farmyard was FUN! We had literally piled the trailer as high as we could, and our ride back down to the farmyard was on top of all that wood. YEEHAW!!

The woodpile we built!
 Four hours and many more trailer loads later, we finished clearing that particular field. Lydia and I were feeling pretty good about the accomplishment, until Daniel mentioned that this was nothing compared to Joel's latest tree felling. All the Polyface folks exchanged knowing glances and rolled eyes when someone mentioned the area that Joel had just cleared. Puzzled, Lydia and I asked what was up with Joel's latest bit of work. Daniel simply smiled and said that Leanna would show us the spot later in the day....

After lunch break, the guys went to spread some of the fresh wood chips in the cow barn, and we girls got to help Joel run the saw mill! FUN! ;) Truth be told, I don't know how to work a chainsaw. Or an ax for that matter... But I DO know how to use a saw mill now! I'm not sure who had the most fun that afternoon: We girls, watching Joel play with his "boy toy"; or Joel, who was having obvious enjoyment using his beloved piece of machinery. It was like watching a kid with a new toy, as Joel expertly turned rough pine logs into 8"x8"'s for raised garden beds. We finished our work just in time to meet the newest guy who had come to the 2-day checkout, Ches from Ohio, and say goodbye to Liz, who had finished her time at the farm. Daniel mentioned making some pig gates now that everyone was finished with their afternoon tasks, and I felt momentary panic well up inside me. I did not want to do anything that involved a hammer and nails! Making pig gates was the last thing I wanted to do; for I knew I would be sure to bend my nails and embarrass myself. I had been feeling pretty good about my work all day; I didn't want to blow things now by letting Daniel see just how lousy I was at building!

Joel's saw mill. AKA, his "boy toy"

I breathed a sigh of relief when Leanna mentioned taking us up to see the woodlot that Joel had cleared, and the cottage where the girl interns stay. Agreeing with the suggestion, Daniel and Joel told us to clean up for supper after the walk up to our destination. Turns out that the cottage is 4/10's of a mile from the farmyard, and while that's a pretty small distance, it sure seems a lot longer when your legs are complaining, and it's all uphill! But the view up at the girl's cottage was lovely, so I think the walk is worth it. ;) Directly behind the cottage was the clearing.... Lydia and I stared at Joel's handiwork, and could each only muster one word as we stared at the scene before us: "Wow."

 Roughly 2 acres of land lay in front of us. What was once forested terrain now looked like no-man's land from a WWII movie, or an aftermath scene from Chernobyl. You looked at the staggering amount of downed trees and brush and wondered how on earth one single person could do all of this in only a few short mornings. I had heard what I thought were jokes about how Joel loved his chainsaw, and I realized that they weren't jokes at all. Joel loves his farm, cows, pigs, and chickens, but above all he loves his chainsaw, and his saw mill. As we surveyed the impressive panorama, Leanna told us that this would be the next day's work. All of the trees and brush, every single bit of it, had to be cleared. By hand. Frankly, the job looked impossible.

 But there was little time to dwell on the next day's agenda. It was supper time! Wednesday night is when everybody on the farm has dinner together at Joel and Theresa's, and I was looking forward to resting, good food, and getting to know everyone who was there. Upon entering the farmhouse, I found that another new person had arrived for her 2-day checkout. This time it was a gal from Ohio, named Savannah. I was delighted to learn that Savannah was a children's librarian (come on, how often do you meet a librarian at a farm??), and I quickly found a "kindred spirit" in her. ;) She and I became close chums in a very short time. And that, dear readers, was the start of what became one of the most memorable nights of my life... Stories were in abundance as each person shared his or her tales; the food was hot and plentiful; the laughter was contagious... I didn't want the night to ever end. After the meal was cleared from the table, Noah broke out the puzzle toys, magnetic balls and other such amusing doohickies. We all watched with mirth as poor Ben tried to figure the brain teaser out. After a few minutes of watching, Joel walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out a very old looking children's story titled, "Kermit the Hermit". He had been talking with Savannah about children's books, and was shocked that she had never yet heard of Bill Peet, or any of his books. He looked at the rest of us around the table and asked how many of us knew who Bill Peet was; no one raised their hand. I think Joel's expression at that moment is best described as "mortified". No one knew who Bill Peet was?!?!?! So he took it upon himself to educate us poor heathens, and that is how we found ourselves being read a children's story, by the world-famous Joel Salatin. The following fifteen minutes were priceless as we all howled with laughter over the silly rhyming story that sounded similar to Dr. Seuss. Joel would change voices for each character, which only added to the hilarity of the moment. Ben was still trying to figure the brain teaser out, and Theresa's cats had found laps to sit on. We were all warm, and feeling good from a hard day's work. That night, I felt like I was in a great big family. We may have not been blood kin, but we were bound together by the mutual love of farming and growing/raising food. Our common interest was enough to bring us all together from the far parts of the country, and as I sat there fellowshipping with Joel, Theresa, Noah, Rachel, Lydia, Leanna, Savannah, Jeremy, Ben, and Ches, I felt so blessed. It was such a simple evening really, but the people who were there made it a wonderful memory. If this sounds sappy, I apologize. This is a memory that I have a hard time putting into words. Some things just can't be explained, and that evening may very well be something that I will have to just treasure in my heart, and know that no one else can completely understand, except those who were also around that table...

 We all parted for the night at 9 p.m. The guys went upstairs to the attic, and we girls headed back to Grandma's house.

Two acres of land to clear the next day? Bring it on. We could do it.


Christi said...

That sounds like an amazing day!

Anonymous said...

I totally know what you mean about your dinner with Joel and everyone else being so memorable. That’s how my family’s trip to Tennessee was. I think it’s the people that make it so great. :D