Wrong Direction Farm

Optimally Dilapidated

Our old milkhouse stands close to the road in a state of decay. Of course current zoning rules make it impossible for anyone to build a structure a mere six feet from the edge of our road like this shed. But this was erected a long, long time ago. Back when it was built farmers would carry their milk cans from the barn up to a milkhouse, usually built with a well or spring-fed water circulation to keep the milk cool. The farmer or a neighborhood delivery wagon driver would collect the cans and bring them to the local creamery. The road was a dirt road (actually, our road remained a dirt road long after the era of milk cans and wagons had past), so things like maintaining clear highway shoulders didn’t matter much.

The shed is decaying back into the ground, the roof rotting and the sills decomposing. In one way of looking at it, the shed is just an obsolete, zoning non-compliant eyesore. From another vantage, it’s a gracefully decaying antique, all the more precious because we know it has degraded to the point where it can’t remain standing much longer, so we appreciate it for its ephemerality.

Cheeky Plowman

The “Cheeky Plowman” sounds like a character from Chaucer, maybe the ribald opposite number of Canterbury’s pious plowman. Here’s how I became the cheeky plowman.

This fall I spent some time under the welding helmet improvising improvements for the snow plow. I bought our farm truck from a school district auction and one of the perks is that it came with a snow plow. I’m glad to have it, but straight plows aren’t nearly as efficient as newer designs due to all the spillover wingdrowing.

I originally was going to build containment wings similar to the factory models, but after starting down that path I realized that the plow, which is already nine feet wide, would become obnoxiously stretched with wings. They would push the tips out all the way to about 10′-4″. Even with detachable wings, I know that in a snowstorm I’m not going to spend time messing with iced over hitch pins and frozen attachments, so I had to plan for something else.

Almost a perfect starting point.

Looking around for inspiration in my scrap pile, I happened upon a 24″ circular 1/4″ steel plate that was buried under angle iron cutoffs. It didn’t quite match the radius of the back of the plow, but it came close. I saw that I had the solution for a set of plow cheeks to contain the snow.

Front view

I built the cheeks with about 6″ extension from the front of the plow. I wasn’t sure how aggressive I should be. After using them all season, I think I could add another few inches. I might weld a 3/8″ extension to the leading edge to give it another 4″ or so. The wear edge is made from scraps of an old quarry loader tire from another project. There are other rubber blends that are more durable than tire scraps, but these were free.

Three pin attachment points

Each cheek is fastened in place with two pins in the outside rib and one pin through the moldboard. I used a stack of washers on each attachment to take up the slack. This seems to work well, since I can’t hear any rattling from the plow with these installed.

I’ve been pleased with the ability to contain snow in front of the truck. In early December we had a two foot snowfall and I needed to remove the cheeks for that one. The loads were just too great and I needed to be able to dump the excess snow off the edges. But other than that one big snow we’ve been dealing with light snows all less than six inches, and the plow cheeks are working well to reduce the number of cleanup passes I make.

Strapping on the gravel guard

I also fabricated a guard to use when the ground is soft while plowing gravel driveways. This was made from a 2″ schedule 40 pipe slotted out and strapped onto the bottom of the blade. It prevents the plow from being able to scrape off as much gravel and grass as it otherwise would. This comes at the cost of leaving a compacted skim across the surface. The factory solution is to use plow shoes but I’ve found that shoes tend to break or to create their own gouges when they aren’t perfectly aligned.

Using the guard on a warm snow day.

I’m not thoroughly pleased with the gravel guard. It is a hassle to attach and it needs to come off when transitioning to paved surfaces. The pipe is already showing wear. I might be able to fix the wear issues by having a welder hardface the bottom of the pipe. I’ve noticed that while the guard achieves it purpose in preventing the plow from knifing into gravel and peeling it up, it doesn’t prevent the plow from shearing off high spots (probably no plow design can avoid this, but it would be nice). So for this attachment I’m not as thoroughly pleased as I am with the cheeks. It has its place. Ideally that place would be on someone else’s truck…

Adapting Buffalo Wing Sauce

Since the kids are learning to appreciate spicier food, I’ve been working on a recipe for a Buffalo wing sauce that that avoids dairy for the two people in our family who can’t eat it.

I’d never claim that a recipe is complete or balanced or ideal, but I’ve found something interesting. Butter blends better with Buffalo wing sauces, but since we can’t use it, I’ve found that bacon grease makes a good sauce even if the results take the meal in a slightly different direction compared for “normal” buffalo wing sauce. But recipe orthodoxy is not for me. I prefer the simplicity of a meal that makes good use of the sorts of ingredients we already have on hand.

This is not a recipe blog, so no drawn out chatter and no endless scrolling through pictures of each grain of salt photographed as it falls… Here’s how I’ve been preparing it:

  1. Bake chicken wings on a rack above a catch pan after rubbing with olive oil, salt, and pepper. 400 degrees for 40 minutes or so. A little longer may not hurt, just as long as you aren’t burning the skin. Some meats are best rare, but chicken wings and drumsticks are ideal if the internal temperatures get up into the 180’s or 190’s.
  2. While wings are baking, fry up 3 minced garlic cloves in 2 heaping tablespoons of bacon grease. About 3 minutes is enough; stop when the garlic bits are getting darker, but don’t let them blacken. I prefer not to chop the garlic too small since I enjoy munching into garlic bits in the sauce.
  3. After the garlic is finished frying, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of dry sage, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup of hot sauce (I’m using the original Frank’s Red Hot sauce, but there are many different option here). Keep the mixture warm until ready to serve.
  4. Before serving, pour the sauce over the chicken wings in a bowl and toss. Because we’re using bacon grease instead of butter, it congeals more noticeably than a butter-based sauce, so it helps to keep the sauce warm while during the meal. I place extra wings and sauce in the still-warm oven while we’re eating our first serving, so when we go back for seconds (and thirds) everything remains hot.

Giving Up On Moral High-Groundsmanship

[I wrote this post about four months ago, but I had a hard time pushing the “Publish” button so I wanted to give myself some time for reflection. On re-reading it, I still agree with what I wrote then, even though writing about my rejection of sanctimony hints at its own underlying form of sanctimony.]

On Friday I was doing one of my market deliveries and had the surreal experience of arriving at my afternoon stop to find the parking lot bustling with employees of the world’s most famous (or infamous) purveyor of herbicides and genetically modified crops, all busily working to beautify and renovate a community garden. An organic garden at that! Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by a corporate logo that stands for a set of agricultural ideas I reject as irresponsible and immoral.

I’ll credit Nathan Hill for a quote that took all the steam out of my impulse for outrage. I re-listened to his book The Nix this summer while working on the corral project. Hill has a gift for unsettlingly memorable lines, but this one’s a gem:

“Everyone gets to be offended in their own special way . . . It’s no secret that the great American pastime is no longer baseball. Now it’s sanctimony.”

Nathan Hill, The Nix

I wanted to be indignant and offended and righteous. But I am glad to have had this line rattling around in my head, to realize that people are complex and that each person’s reasons for being in that situation at that moment were beyond my comprehension and well beyond my criticism.

So we talked. And it went well. We had a chance to discuss food, and what we do on our farm, and how we do it. The discussions were good and cordial and just what I’d want them to be.

I’d like to be a person who doesn’t prejudge others by the corporate logos on their T-shirts in the first place. I doubt that I’ll ever be that mature. The impulse to judge is too deep, too instinctive for me to overcome. But I hope I can train myself to quickly substitute kindness in place of sanctimony.

I realize that this multinational company is an enormous organization and that in all probability none of these folks were the ones working in the lab to design the next big agrichemical to destroy plants and soil biology. At the same time I believe the company they work for is guilty of criminal behavior and has participated in and profited from social, political, and environmental corruption. But which of us are guiltless in all our associations, in all the byproducts and consequences and externalities of our lives? And more importantly, why should I be the one keeping score?

Herb bed weeded by the employees

Pig Partners

This is something that has been in the works for years, so we’re glad to have finally put the pieces together to announce it.

Two winters ago we realized that we were at the point where we needed to increase the size of our beef herd, our pig herd, and our chicken flock. And we wanted to add turkeys. But we didn’t have the capital to spend in so many areas, nor were we seeing enough profits to be able to hire helpers to assist with the inevitable increase in workload. We have friends at Cairncrest Farm in West Winfield who were also facing the same decision point.

We decided, based on our land resources, our interests, and our family situations to work cooperatively. We each still have our own cattle herds, but we have been providing Cairncrest with poultry for them to sell, and Cairncrest has been providing us with lamb. As of this month, we are beginning to transition our pork to Cairncrest pasture raised pork.

This arrangement has been helpful to both farms as it has allowed us to pursue our goals while finding a way to focus on fewer things. Diversified farming is great, until it isn’t. In the new arrangement we each have several enterprises, but we’ve been able to back away from the stress of trying to maintain too many different enterprises. It has been apparent on both ends that we’ve been able to make improvements in the care and attention we can give to our farms because of this increased focus.

Loading the last group of pigs off the farm

We miss having the pigs around, and who knows, maybe we’ll have some back here eventually. As you look at our store listing for pork, you’ll see that a few items are marked as coming from Cairncrest Farm. During this winter and spring we’ll exhaust most of our Wrong Direction Farm items and as we do, we’ll transition to Cairncrest Farm.

On the production side, we are very much of a kindred spirit with Cairncrest. If you liked our pork for how it tasted and for how it was produced, we’re confident you’ll be pleased with Cairncrest pork. The pigs are truly pasture raised, getting a significant portion of their nutrition from foraged feed. More info on Cairncrest’s pigs is available here.

We appreciate all of our customers who’ve come along with us over the past nine years as we’ve worked our way through various manifestations of Wrong Direction Farm. We love to farm, but finding the business model that works is difficult. We’re grateful for all our supporters who keep ordering month after month.

April in January

I slipped out the door yesterday with only a light wool jacket over my work clothes. Even then, I wondered if I had over dressed; with temperatures kissing 60, it felt like a late April morning: saturated ground, swollen streams, thawed earth smells, and gamboling cattle.

By the time I had opened the next row of hay bales, rain had begun to fall and a vivid  rainbow had developed.  By the time I made it back to the house through the shower, I was thankful to have the protection of my wool jacket.


What You Wish For, And Being Careful Thereof

A few days ago I was feeling that restless itch to start working on a new project. I get that way when things are quiet for a few consecutive days. Then within quick succession, fourteen new cattle arrived from the neighbor’s farm, the farm truck lost all its lights due to wiring problems, the tractor’s loader control valve had to be replaced, the family car needed the engine pulled, the oven stopped working, I had to go out plowing snow, the big Christmas rush of orders came in, the aforementioned new cattle broke down their fences, et cetera.

I’m wondering why I ever dared to think I needed to go looking for more things to do. It reminds me of asking Rachel’s grandfather why he started his farm. His deadpan reply, “Well, running my store only kept me busy twelve hours a day, so I needed something else to occupy the rest of my time.”

Engine out. The little Subaru engine was actually pretty easy. It’s the first time for me working on this new-to-us car. I was able to improvise a hoist with a come-along chained to the garage roof trusses. Head gaskets are leaking one one side, valve covers are leaking into the spark plug tubes on the other. I’ll replace all the seals, timing belts, water pump, and the clutch while I’ve got it apart.
Appliance repair is probably easier than car repair, but it is always more disappointing. It seems that cars break because they are used, but appliances seem to break only because they are built as poorly as possible. Can you spot the bad solder connection? After resoldering, the oven’s bake and broil functions work again.
Orders packed and stacked at the FedEx shipping center.

Thanksgiving Deliveries

Note that with Thanksgiving coming up next week, we’ve added an extra Saturday delivery to our schedule. Orders for home delivery this Saturday need to be placed by tomorrow (Thursday the 21st).

We also have a delivery next Tuesday. If you want your turkey delivered on Tuesday, you might be pushing the limits for thawing to be ready for Thanksgiving, especially if you are planning on brining the turkey. Get in touch with me this weekend and we can discuss your options. For customers who want a turkey delivered on Tuesday, we can begin to thaw it in our walk-in cooler and ship it with less ice so it arrives at your house on Tuesday cold but partially defrosted. Give me a call at 518-588-2633 to discuss this option because it requires some pre-planning on our end. Smaller items, like whole turkey breasts can be shipped fully frozen since they don’t require as much time to thaw. All orders for Tuesday delivery must be in to us by Sunday night.

Please note that we won’t have our usual Friday delivery next week because the shipping networks are closed for the Thanksgiving holidays.

Best wishes to all of our customers for an enjoyable Thanksgiving with the people you love. If you take any pictures of your Wrong Direction Farm turkey, please send them our way. We always enjoy seeing what everyone creates with the food we raise.

From My Photo Folder

Just a few pictures from around the farm this October.

Pasture raised chickens
Chickens stutting in the sun on pasture earlier this week.
I’ve been working on replacing the horribly warped exhaust manifold in the truck. The engine needed to be lifted because the passenger side lower exhaust studs were inaccessible. After having done it, next time (if ever there is a next time) I’ll start by raising the engine since that simplified everything else. I didn’t want to jack up the engine mainly because I’ve never done that before. Lesson learned.
This young cat found us way out in the back fields. She followed us home and she obviously is not a feral cat. I guess she must have either become lost or she was dumped somewhere near our farm. She has earned the name “The Annoying Cat” because of how obsessively she seeks our attention.
Grassfed herd of cattle on pasture
Cattle grazing on a misty morning. You can tell by the leaves on the trees that this photo was from two weeks ago. Tree canopies are getting pretty bare now. We have just a few days of stockpiled forage left in the fields. By next week Tuesday or Wednesday the cattle will get into the hay bales.

Foraging Baby Steps

I’m not a wilderness food forager by any measure, but I’m making baby steps in that direction. This weekend I found a new-to-me mushroom, the shaggy mane, growing in a patch of well-rotted wood chips. There was also a small, dense puffball (growing rather later than most) nearby.

Puffball on the left, Shaggy Manes on the right

A few of the shaggy manes were overripe, so I had to trim off dark frills, but I didn’t pick any that had gone fully blackened. Rachel and I both preferred them over puffballs, but I’m not sure that they’d truly rate as any kind of culinary delicacy. So for now, my three edible mushrooms on the farm are: chanterelles in summer, puffballs in September, and Shaggy Manes in October.

The mushroom at the left edge of the frame is overripe, showing ink on the lower frills. Two days later it had ink all the way up to the top.

Philistine though the admission reveals me to be, none of these mushrooms do much for me. I don’t think anyone actually enjoys puffballs, but I know that some people gush over chanterelles. Perhaps the problem is in my palate; more likely the problem is in my cooking skill. I’ll still keep trying to enjoy them. I like the idea of liking these mushroom varieties.