Farm Journal: a whiff of fall and wisdom from a Hungarian knife maker

Garlic drying at Mace Chasm Farms makes you think about fall. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton

Garlic drying at Mace Chasm Farms makes you think about fall. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton

This is part of a series of farmers writing about life on the farm , week to week, through the season. Courtney Grimes-Sutton is co-owner of Mace Chasm Farm in Keeseville. Read all of Courtney’s journal entries here.

August 5th

The new chill in the morning air is making me excited, as it does every year, for change. There’s plenty of growing season left ahead, and hay to make yet, but the chilly air has started some autumnal gears turning, giving me that much more energy. I’m excited for some late-season fence building, and to sow the tilled acreage back to pasture, or to grain crops – that’s a decision we have to make.

I’m looking forward to the wintertime reflection on our first season, and to forming goals for next year, and to reading by the wood stove.  I’m excited to wash the farm slate of the crop damage from all the rain this year. I’m even excited to do some totally different winter work – to get a job – in addition to continuing with the farm store and our butchery.  It’s good that those gears are turning, because I have to order some seed and all that, but the air warms up quickly in the day, and it’s back to now, to what to do today, this week, and my thoughts of how we’ll plow snow this year melt away.

The Farm Store at Clover Mead Farm is blowin’ up! Not literally, thank goodness, but in growing support for its existence as a small farmer-to-consumer grocery store here on the Mace Chasm Rd. Jesse built some display shelves in there this week, giving home to the honey, syrup, pickles, and candles and making space for bread and beans and flour, etc. to join the ranks. Dairy, meat products & cuts, eggs, berries, and veggies stock the colder shelves in the place.  Little by little we make improvements. Store hours are Thursdays 3-6 and Saturdays 2-6.  Hours will expand as customer support grows.

See, we don’t want to leave our farms with our goods too many times a week. We want to stay here, on the farm, and encourage consumers to stop through for the fruits of our labor & of the fine soils of Mace Chasm Rd.  Come baby talk at the dairy calves & wave at the beef herd, ogle the veggie crops 3 miles away, and (next year) stop in at the brew pub across the street from our place, at AuSable Brewing Co. for a pint. What a neighborhood.

We’re all busy as bees getting our little businesses off the ground, and though we don’t see one another (in a relaxed state) as much as I’d like, I’m aware of what fantastic fabric we’re weaving together out here, and it will be awesome to watch it come together through years to come.

Asa is cultivating bean crops today. Jesse & Asa will mix grain for chickens & pigs & unload hay wagons in the barn.  Among other things, I’m going to pick up a grill for my new ‘grilled sausage sandwich’ enterprise at the farmer’s markets – an idea born out of our weekly experience of feeling ‘hangry’ as we pack up and head home from market.

Admittedly, it’s taking me an extra day to get my head back in the game this week, as Asa and I hosted a humongo family reunion here at the farm this past weekend. We didn’t farm for three whole days!! The anxiety of not working didn’t settle out quickly, but there was a distinct ease after the relaxing weekend that was good to recollect. We made it to the demo derby at the county fair, and to the warm rocks near our favorite swimming hole, and we just hung out with the fam.  There is still a kegerator out on the lawn near the chickens.

A dress and a bloody hand. Ouch. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton

A dress and a bloody hand. Ouch. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton

The high point of our weekend was probably the excellent parody of Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’, called ‘Mace Chasm State of Mind’ written by my cousin & uncle. The low point was an ax-wound I suffered late Saturday night as I packed away the awesomely sharp USA-forged gift from my cousins. Bloody bandages are always an interesting detail in photos, and a great accessory when dressing up.

Our pigs are growing startlingly quickly now, on their barley, soy meal, whey, and forage diets. We didn’t give them free-choice feed during their first 16 weeks, as is typically recommended for speediest growth, because we didn’t have the cash flow for that quantity of grain. It is said that they never reach their full growth potential if their ability to convert grain to meat at a young age (‘weaner’ stage) is not taken advantage of.  That young age is when their feed conversion efficiency is the strongest – so really puttin’ the high protein grain to ‘em during that window will fatten your pig quickly.

So, we essentially took out a loan in our feeding rations with the spring farrowed crop of pigs out there – we didn’t feed them a fattening diet at that early spring age, which helped us through ‘til cash flow time – and the interest on our loan was some reduction in their feed conversion efficiency and the increase in our labor, since we have to do chores through their longer life span.

But was there any benefit? They’re five months old now. It’s looking like they’ll be ready to slaughter at seven or eight months of age, rather than a heavily grained six months, which may be the least expensive with conventional grain bills, but may not be when you’re looking at organic grain bills. It’s also commonly accepted that an animal grown more slowly has better flavor, since it used its leaner muscles for longer. We also gain the benefit of their tillage work for a longer while, which has been great for us, since there is plenty of land to clear and fertilize here.  Hard sayin’ – but I will report back as we near our target harvest window. In the meantime, they look like they’re having a pretty nice time, wallowing in the stream, deciding between shade or sun, and piggin’ around.

It crosses my mind often that it is expensive to be cash poor. This seems true across the board, beyond my farmerly observations of how that plays out for us on the farm. For us, it can be about being unable to utilize the good deals on bulk purchasing, or missing a great deal on a tool that would really help us increase efficiency. I remember a lesson told to me by an old Hungarian knife maker I learned a few things from – “Poor people can not afford cheap tools,” he said. So true! How easy it is to lose time & money in repairs to an old or poorly made piece of equipment, or lose the benefit of having the thing while it’s out of commission. This law applies across the board – poor folks can’t afford crappy food, when you look at our diet from a nutritional standpoint. Conventionally processed food is pricey for the void of nutrition that it usually is. There’s volume there, and that’s deceiving. False economy. Makes us fat. (This pulls my mind back to that last paragraph about feeding our pigs!)

It’s all about access – to loans, or to higher quality options, etc. A person will pay more in rent throughout the years than one would to buy a home. Cheap repairs may add up to greater cost than that of the best solution. So it goes. There are band-aids everywhere- short term fixes – from the little ones here on the farm, to greater ones within social programs, or cheaply produced, disposable goods on the shelves. Therein lies so much human error – our shortsightedness combined with our massive scale. At massive scale, the best solutions require more than we seem to be capable of pulling together, with all the great ideological divides and geographically differing needs (…and corporate interest).

At farm scale, well – desired improvements are a touch more approachable. At the smallest end of that spectrum – I’m returning two cheap solar chargers today, and going for the higher quality one, and at the greater end of the spectrum – well, we’re still gathering our senses of what is possible through design and accessible technology, and what is a good fit for this place and these people. Again, for me, it keeps on coming back to more small hubs creating better progress than fewer bigger hubs. Don’t have to dig far to find big ol’ cans of worms!!

Cheers to chilly morning air, and the 70 degree afternoon!

Over & out.


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One Comment

  1. Great story Courtney. There is an old saying that quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.
    Sorry about the hand.