The top of the world

One of the areas that Bill leases for farming is known locally as the top of the world. Last week the evening sky was considered just right for a visit to this landmark, so we took a trip.

 

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Ask for rain, prepare for a flood

At the beginning of July it seemed as if Reeger’s farm were about to entirely dry up. The pond we were using for irrigation was severely low and the field corn was beginning to turn for the worse. We needed rain. A few weeks ago we had a couple nights of good soaking rain that began to bring us up to speed and in the days since then there has been more than enough rain to keep the crops happy. In fact, at times it seems like we nearly had more than we can handle! The weather plays funny like that. I could insert any number of old farming saying about the fickle nature of rainfall, but instead let us continue.

Last Wednesday we had a huge storm roll through that made quite a scene.

This road goes up the hill beside our fields. We call it the gasline road because it provides access to natural gas wells on the hill. Of course, in this picture it is a rushing river.

This is the drainage ditch downhill from the fields behind our house. Had it not been for this ditch, there would have been loads more water in the yard, where there was already standing puddles.

This is our gravel driveway. As you can see, the creek that usually runs trickling through a pipe laid underneath the road is now roaring two feet high!

This wide stream made from the pond, across the yard, and down into the creek.

The pond we were worried about at the beginning of the month.

Most of our gravel roads are washed out to some degree, but there wasn’t any damage requiring urgent repair. The waters subsided soon after the rains ended. While this may seem obvious it is due largely to our location at the top of our watershed. In fact, considering that the highest hills were are perhaps only a few hundred feet above the farm, it is amazing that so much flooding occurred.

Jamison Farm: Visiting the Sheep

Over the weekend a few of us drove out to Latrobe, PA to visit our friends at Jamison Farm. I have mentioned Jamison previously in reference to their delicious lamb. John and Sukey Jamison are our “next tent neighbors” at the Ligonier Farmer’s Market. They raise a flock of sheep and lambs on about 200 acres of rolling hills less than an hour away from us.   Here is what we saw!

Turning off the main road down a long gravel driveway, the hills of Latrobe have noticeably longer arcs than those in Indiana county. They are not as steep and seem to stretch out further than the hills at Reeger’s farm.

Sukey explained to us that there was a hole in the fence somewhere along the way. This sheep seems to have made use of this exit. Doesn’t he look guilty? Maybe that is why we say people are looking “sheepish”. I don’t mean to make a pun, but seriously, some of these guys acted pretty guilty.

Walking up from the house we found a number of sheep and lambs grazing at the top of the hill. Most were taking a break from the sun under the trees. Sukey explained that their coats are getting pretty thick and they are due for a shearing pretty soon!

For 9 months out of the year the sheep are grazing freely on the hills of Jamison Farm, and in the winter they are brought indoors. While sheep generally breed in autumn, this can lead to difficulties for a shepherd who must manage lambing along with the wintering of the flock. The cold winter months can be and extra stress upon ewes that are lambing. So John and Sukey generally delay the breeding time until the Spring is bringing warmer weather.

Jamison Farm ships world-class quality lamb to customers all around the country including a number of fine restaurants. Above is the packing and shipping barn that finishes off Jamison Farm’s fine operation. You may be wondering what happens in the steps between the pasture and the packing barn. John and Sukey process all of their own lambs in a building nearby, but not directly located on the farm. On the day we visited John was managing the processing, so Sukey (above, talking with Mary) gave us the tour!

At the end of our tour Sukey showed us their remarkable farm house. I believe it was built near the end of the 19th century. From my understanding the floor plan was common among farm houses at the time. The old farm house at Reeger’s Farm that grandmother lives in is striking similar to John and Sukey’s. The two are a mirror image of one another.

Along with selling at Ligonier Farmer’s Market and shipping, Jamison Farm also hosts a number of small events in their own home serving a delicious dinner made with, you guessed it, their very own lamb! And even for us, visitors stopping by for a short visit, Sukey made some oatmeal cookies that were great! Thanks John and Sukey!

Interested in more information? Check out http://www.jamisonfarm.com/

Book Review: The Ball Blue Book

I am breaking tradition set in place by my previous book reviews today. I have not read the entirety of the Ball Blue Book. However, this is not out of the ordinary for owners of the Ball Blue Book because it is a cookbook of sorts. The Blue Book is put together by Ball, one of the largest producers of canning and preserving products for years running. Even if you know nothing about canning and preserving you have encountered Ball products.

 

This logo for the renowned folk band Huckleberry Caulfield and the Mason Jars is based upon the Ball mason jar. While I drank out of a Ball mason jar at many meals in my parent’s home, I have only recently come to use one for its initial practical purpose, canning!

In days not so long ago, folks who maintained some kind of garden would use canning and preserving techniques to help their harvest last all year long. Today when I want a can of corn, I can go to Kroger and buy one for 99 cents. But for those looking for a more local process or for those with some leftover produce from their garden canning is a great option! And if you are looking to can, you are gonna want a copy of the Ball Blue Book! It is full of recipes for preserving all kinds of vegetables as well as fruits, jams, jellies, soups, sauces, and almost anything you can imagine! If you are interested in looking through one, call up your grandmother. Chances are she owns a copy. I’ll be blogging some of my own adventures in canning over the summer!

 

Book Review: Hannah Coulter

Hannah Coulter is a book about a person, but moreover it must be considered as a book about a place. All of Berry’s fiction focuses on a fictional town in western Kentucky called Port William. The town is a mirror image of Port Royal, Kentucky, the riverside town that Berry grew up in and returned to. Through Port William, Berry presents a vision of community that seems entirely distant from the solitude of our current American society, highly individualized, even within families. He presents a community not only tied by blood, but tied by what may come to be a more lasting bond: a place. So though this book is told from Hannah’s perspective, it is the story of Port William as much as it is Hannah’s story. Indeed the very vision of life that Hannah speaks through is refreshing. For she sees the people around her as a part of something much larger than individual lives, each darting in their own directions, momentarily intersecting. There is woven in her words a stronger web. It is unlike the vision of our culture today, and to that end it is inspiring.

Reading a novel by Wendell Berry is different from reading one of his essays, but in a way it is also very similar. His thoughts on agriculture, community, and nature that he presents so refreshingly in his essays are present also in his fiction and his poetry. But they develop with a different tone. While many of Berry’s essays read with a tone of urgency and caution, his poetry has a meditative rhythm and his fiction reflects on similar themes from a position of peace. I imagine that if Berry’s essays represent his concerns and convictions about the use of land and the purposes of people, his fiction represents his love and gratitude for these things.

I feel a little scattered in my thoughts here because I have not been sure why this book felt so different from others. But nevertheless I would recommend it through and through both as pleasant and through provoking!

Jalapeño Watermelon Popsicles!

There isn’t really any way to explain this. We have this popsicle freezing box and Maggie has been trying out some wicked recipes this summer. Most recently Jalapeño Watermelon. We were hoping to use on of our watermelons, but they are not quite ready, but we did get the jalapeños from our pepper fields! I guess the best way to illustrate this treat is to show you the community taste test!

Chris enjoys a popsicle

Chelsea enjoys a popsicle. Sawyer does his baby impersonation.

Paul enjoys a popsicle

Maggie enjoys a popsicle. Way to go, Maggie!

I enjoy a popsicle. Can you see the green?

Elliot enjoys vanilla custard with Hershey’s syrup.

Carter inadvertently discovers planking.

Blackberry Jam

About three times a week, we wander through our wild blackberry patch behind the greenhouse searching for a very elusive treat. I believe there is an element of treasure hunting in such a place that is not found in more carefully maintained farming operations.

To compare, the blueberry patch is well groomed, organized in rows containing consistent varieties so that the row gets ripe all at once. When we pick blueberries it is easy to discern whether a bush is worth picking, or if we should move on to a more heavily producing row. In the blackberry patch there is no such neat order. The branches and brambles shoot out wildly in all directions. Some parts of the patch have thick, mature branches, and other parts have smaller limbs. Yet this thickly grown patch would not be so treacherous were it not for one more element:

Look beyond the inviting fruits and threatening jaggers are looming!

They go by many names. Carter calls them jaggers. Thorns. Stickers. Needles. or my personal favorite: “OUCH!!” If it were not for these, we would simply tromp through, grab the berries, and get out. But the reality is a much more ginger operation. We twist and wince and reach and duck all in a quest for the plump, sweet blackberry! There is much agony. From across the patch you hear, “Aaughgh!” Carter, when he comes to work with us, will always ask, “what?” “What do you think, Carter!?” is the common response these days. “got jagged?,” he offers.

For all of the toil and pain, I consider blackberries one of my favorite foods to harvest. They are also one of my favorite to eat! Below is a look into the canning process of some jam that Mary, Maggie, and Brittany (Maggie’s friend) made. I will admit here for everyone that I helped none at all. Yet here are the pictures.

They heated up these lids. I am not exactly sure what that means.

This is kind of a funny sight. I imagine these jams are just hanging out in a hot tub, talking about the weather.