The Simple Life


Have you ever stepped outside, especially if you live near woodlands, and considered the variety of edible foods that may exist there?  This is something we have tried to become more in-tune to since moving to Red Gate Farm.  This year, we really became curious about the bounty of mushrooms we found everywhere we looked, it seemed.  S is always fair game to experiment and sample things.  Mushrooms, of course, can be dangerous if you go about it wrong, so we knew we had to be careful.

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Did you know most edible mushrooms were determined to be so over the years by men brave enough to sample, wait a few days, and see how their bodies reacted?  Now, of course, we have more elaborate tests available to determine toxins and such, but there is still a great deal of information that has just been taught to the next generation for many years.  As it turns out, there really isn’t even one “best” reference book you can purchase to help you, as there are just too many mushrooms, and more importantly, too many “look-alike” mushrooms.  The more experienced mushroom hunters will tell you to get several books so you can cross-reference and compare.  So, that’s what we did.  S, being the adventurous sort, was willing to taste the possible good ones, to help us learn, since many of the toxic ones have a spicy or bitter flavor (though certainly not all!)

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Some mushrooms are widespread, while others are very regional.  And they can grow almost anywhere!  Lawns, forest floors, dead tree stumps, live trees, mud bogs, leaf litter, animal manure, you name it.  Thankfully, those who have gone before us have taken many excellent notes and recorded their findings in the many books and resource science available.

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Giant Morels! An expensive delicacy in most of the U.S., and valued at roughly $40/lb, yet they grow right in our backyard!

We have had a great time this year learning about our mushrooms.  We have oysters, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, pheasant backs (which taste like watermelon!), truffles, and the much-sought-after and valuable morel mushroom, among others.

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Pheasant Backs….although edible, these were a bit old and tough. We will try to find them younger next year.  These are easily identified by, interestingly, their watermelon flavor!

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Hen of the Woods Mushroom. We found this one a bit late, so it was tough, but we did enjoy a few meals from it!

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A large winter oyster mushroom. This one is now cleaned, dehydrated, and waiting for the next stew I cook up!

We are still in the early phase of learning about our mushrooms, but it is eye-opening, indeed, just how much food is available in nature.  Mushrooms are barely the tip of the iceberg of the bounty we can find if we but look around.

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Once again, I’ve broken my own record for time away.  Once again, I miss it, and figured I should check in.  So much has been happening around the farm, I don’t even know where to begin.  It seems to me some fun photos would be a good place to start.  We are still suffering through bitter cold and counting the days until spring.  It was a dry winter until February hit, and we finally got snow.  And the snow just keeps coming every couple of days.  An inch here, 6 inches there.  That might not mean much to you, but for me, it means I get to use the horse-drawn snow plow we bought last fall!  Enjoy!!

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This past 2 weeks, S decided he felt ready to switch roles again.  He wanted to take over farm work and let me go back to being mom, wife, cook, and so forth.  If you’ve followed for a while, you are likely aware that S ripped a tendon in both elbows.  We don’t know how he did it.  He literally woke up one morning with his arms hurting.  Nothing unusual had happened the day before, so he thought perhaps he had a touch of tendonitis.  I won’t repeat everything I posted previously, but suffice it to say, after 3 doctors and specialists and 2 physical and occupational therapists, his condition continued to worsen.  The medical professionals he spoke with all agreed that pain should be his guide.  One doctor told him not to lift over 20 lbs, and all said essentially, “If it hurts, don’t do it or you might tear the tendon completely from the bones.”  As time went on, the pain progressed to the point that he couldn’t do hardly anything.  JR had to tie his shoes for him, I had to button his shirts.  As his condition worsened, my work load increased.  Not only was I running the farm and lifting anything over 20 lbs (i.e. feed bags, hay bales, digging, shoveling, harnessing, firewood, you name it!), but as he worsened, I also had to take over more inside.  I had to strip beds for the younger kiddos, and remake all beds. S could still cook, but I had to move the pots around the kitchen for him. He was left basically cooking, doing light cleaning, and folding laundry.  His biggest task was homeschooling the kids, because it was about the only thing he could do that didn’t cause pain.  Talk about a rough few months!   Just think about everything you use your arms for!  At one point, I desperately needed help moving some hay.  S got resourceful to get the job done without using his arms:

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He had to go and buy a pair of slip-on muck boots and avoid button-shirts, just so he could dress without assistance.  Brushing his teeth hurt.  We had to use our hard-earned savings to hire help to get tasks completed that I just couldn’t do alone.  You get the idea.

At wit’s end, S saw a new specialist.  We don’t know the guy’s full history, but he was an orthopedist who may have had some training in Chinese medicine.  In any case, he scoffed at the advice from all the other doctors and therapists.  He said basically, “Of course it’s gonna hurt!  You ripped two tendons, and everything is going to make it hurt!  For the next 6 months or so, you are going to be in pain, whether you use them or not.  So use them.  Don’t overuse them, and don’t do anything ridiculously strenuous.  Sharp pain is bad, but dull pain and general ashiness is fine and expected.  Work through it, and come back in 5 weeks.”  Crazy as it sounded, nothing else was working, so S decided to try it.  He started working, slowly at first, and gradually increasing.  At first there was pain, but amazingly, the pain began decreasing each day until it just wasn’t there.  A month in, he said he was ready to take over.  He is now using his chainsaw (on a limited basis), hauling things (still tries to keep weight under about 30 lbs.), and has taken over all outdoor chores.  He is even milking the goats to give me a break, which was impossible from the intense pain 2 months ago.

No, his tendon’s haven’t reattached.  We have a few theories, but ultimately, we have to give God credit for the healing that has happened.  S is careful not to overdo things, per the doctor’s advice, but he fully expected to deal with pain for the next 6 months or more.  Yet, it disappeared.  That cannot be explained.  The only time he has an issue now is if he works a bit too hard one day, then he might just have some slight discomfort/achiness at the end of the day.

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S chainsawing logs, while JR and M use the log-splitter to turn the smaller logs into firewood. R and the little boys helped by stacking the firewood. A great afternoon of family team-work!

 

We have discussed the challenges we have faced over the last 6-8 months.  S feels strongly that God has been trying to teach us a few lessons and prune us into what He has in store.  Despite the challenges, it did force us to make some changes for the better.  We realized that all our children were plenty old enough to help out a little more.  We taught the youngest how to strip their beds on laundry day, and the oldest how to re-make their beds.  We bought a bedwetting system for A to help reduce the laundry, and although we are still going through the process, it seems to be working.  We changed chores around a bit to spread the load a little.  We expected a little more from the younger children, rather than having them play any time they weren’t in school.  We joined some great work exchange programs, which I will discuss later.  S even used some of his “free” time to become a bit of an activist on legislative issues around our state.  S values my house-work a bit more, and I have a new appreciation for the tremendous amount of work he does around the farm.  Certainly I had my moments of frustration, as did he.  However, if faced with the right attitude, we believe any challenge can teach us and grow us into better people.  It can improve communication and team work among a family.  And it can make us all stronger in the end.  We aren’t totally out of the storm yet, and still face some challenges, but things are looking up, and we hope this season is coming to an end.

Shortly after my last post, I wrote the following, as I’d much rather have a cheery blog rather than a depressed one:

“We are absolutely, totally, and completely IN LOVE with our team of draft horses!  Their primary job around the farm was skidding logs around the farm as we cleaned up our woodlands, but since S’s arm injury, their workload dropped.  We were worried they wouldn’t be quite as good at driving with what we feared was too-light of a workload.  God provided for us, though!

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We were asked to be the “Wells Fargo Wagon” in a theater production of “The Music Man” at our local outdoor theater.  This theater draws crowds from all over the country. Even though they couldn’t afford to pay us much, they offered to give us a full page ad in the theater flyer for the rest of the season.  That was a HUGE deal for us, as we desperately needed the advertisement for our farm products and services.  So, right after S’s injury, almost every evening was spent at the theater.  We spent several nights at rehearsals, getting the horses used to the stage lights, crowd noises, applauding sounds, kids running around in the shadows, and the whole routine (we also had to carry the “professor” in the back of the wagon).  By opening night, they had the routine down.  They could not have been more perfect!!  We were so proud of our boys, and they were such a huge hit, the show was a sell-out almost every evening, and the townsfolk are still talking about it!  We had a great time, and made a few business contacts during the time we spent there.  It was a very small part, but here is a link to our part of the performance.  After this scene, we were set up in back for intermission, where the audience could come pet and ask questions about the horses while we just stood there for 30 minutes, then we were the opening scene for Act 2, as we trotted away.  Enjoy:   The Wells Fargo Wagon Performance

We are doing wagon rides in town every Saturday evening, which is another job to keep them going.  One evening, a local camera-man showed up, asked to take a few shots, video, and interview us for a “small” deal he produces and an article for the paper.  Again, interested in promoting our business, we gladly accepted.  One thing led to another, and he asked to come do the same at the farm itself.  Well, not only did he write a newspaper article, but he used the video footage to produce a mini-documentary that will soon be aired on the Fox station in 5 mid-west states!  If I’d understood that part, I’d of at least worn a little make-up.  After two hours of filming in the blazing sun and humidity, let’s just say that our appearance in the video is very authentic!  I can’t show you that until the footage airs, but hopefully that will be soon.  With the challenges we have faced recently, I have found myself watching that footage time and time again, to remind me why we love the life so much.  It was very well done, I thought!

In between, I am able to find a job or two each week to keep the horses busy and stimulated.  We are trying to wean ourselves off our 4-wheeler, so the horses can take over those jobs.  We are in the process of purchasing a fore-cart so we can take over the last job done by the 4-wheeler–pulling our mower.  Once we have it, though, I will be relieved to not eat so much dust while grading our driveway! Watch the horses grade the driveway here Despite the decreased workload, the horses are keeping their calm, easy-going dispositions.  I still long to ride them (never have), but just never can find the time to do all the needed prep work to get on.  They have never been ridden, and since I don’t have a saddle, I am hesitant to jump on bareback without a LOT of prep work.  With backs 6 feet high, that would be a very LONG way to the ground if they disagreed with me!  Nonetheless, I am enjoying everything about them, and greatly looking forward to what the future holds.”

About 18 hours after I wrote that post draft, the horses were turned out to graze in the orchard.  While grazing, Nick made his way down to where some chicken tractors (with sharp tin roofing) were being stored.  We don’t really know what happened next, but we heard a loud bang and ran out to find Nick’s front leg pouring blood everywhere!  He had punctured his knee all the way to the joint capsule, slicing the tendon sheath, but narrowly missing the tendon itself.  The entire front of his leg was laid open, with tissue hanging everywhere.  Blood pumped from small arteries with each step, so we quickly tried to stop his movement.

I confess, I totally lost it.  With everything from my last post, and now this, with all the fears for Nick and knowing what it meant for us, I absolutely lost it.  I was sobbing so hard, I could hardly get Nick’s leg wrapped and compressed to stop the blood flow.  My poor husband, with painful arms, was trying to hold Nick still and trying to comfort me at the same time.  Eventually I got control and did what I needed to do.

Many hours and a huge vet bill later, Nick is on stall rest for an unspecified period of time. It is touch and go for the moment.  He is using the leg, which is great news, but the opened joint capsule could get severely infected very easily, which would be very bad.  His leg is wrapped, under fairly tight compression, and has a drain to try to reduce the swelling over the next few days.  He is only allowed out of his stall twice a day for a short walk to graze a little, then back to the stall.  He is on twice daily doses of Bute to help with the pain.  He obviously is favoring the leg a lot, and has a tendency to drag and stumble on that hoof.  We won’t know for a couple of weeks if the stumbling is due to soreness or nerve damage.  We are praying it is not the latter.

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As far as our business goes, we are finished with wagon rides for the season, which was possibly looking to be our greatest income source.  I have lost the ability to do the work around the farm that the team was capable of as well.  The horses have been together as a team since the beginning, so I am going to try to re-train Bud to work as a single horse.  Today, I am just trying to teach him to graze alone, which is a feat in itself.  He wants only to stand beside Nick’s stall.  It will limit what I can move around the farm, but he’s still capable of pulling quite a bit of weight, so it’s better than nothing for sure.

Suffice it to say, this was a huge hit for us, financially, practically, and for me, emotionally.  As S said, we can really do nothing but pray, seek direction, and take things one day at a time.  I have faith this is a season, and all seasons will come to an end eventually.  I do have to give mention to the fact that, in the midst of all the crises, God still provides.  Yesterday evening, a group of church folks showed up with a huge meal, several chainsaws, and a tractor, and spent several hours working in our front field to help us get caught up on a big project.  It was a tremendous blessing, and really helped lift our spirits!  If you’d keep our situation in your prayers, though, I’d appreciate it.  We are still blessed in many ways, and have no doubt there are many who have much worse struggles than we are dealing with.  Sometimes–like when my horse is pouring blood, and I’m on the verge of another low blood sugar, we just have to remind ourselves of that.  God never promised us an easily life.  To the contrary, he warns in His word that the life of a believer is a hard road to travel.  He asked us to follow Him and remain faithful, despite the obstacles that life throws at us, but He also promises that He will be there, He will provide, and we will become better because of it.

Our little farm has been crazy busy serving customers this spring.  We have truly been humbled by the number of total strangers that have paid deposits for meat, live animals, and classes offered by our farm, all in the faith that we will supply their order.  Considering the fact we just moved here a year ago, and have no “name” or reputation here, we believe that’s a big deal and a huge blessing.  We also feel it is indicative of the tremendous need for healthy, pure foods and good stewardship in farming in our area.

Along those lines of stewardship and farming, as you know, in late March, we brought home our new team of Belgian horses.  We spent a couple of months getting to know them and testing them out in all sort of circumstances.  We pulled logs out of woods, up hills, around pond edges, and even logs stuck in vines overhead.  We had them pull the wagon across train tracks, around fires, on busy roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, and more.  We loaded the wagon with lumber, firewood, hay, and people.  We hooked them to and asked them to drag 1500 lb round bales, fence posts, and our incredibly noisy road grader.  We drove them into our small town several times, tested them on steep hills and around crowds. I had the kids ride bicycles all around them while I drove several times, and even had 3-year-old R squeeze a squeaky toy until the team was OK with the idea.  You get the picture.

Well, all that work is paying off, and we are increasingly thankful for the time, effort, and extra money we saved to invest in a really well-trained team.  These boys have impressed us at every turn.  We were warned on multiple occasions that once folks got wind of our team, the requests would start pouring in.  Boy, oh, boy were they right!!  Our first request was to help pull a log out of someone’s back woods, and we did in exchange for some of the lumber for milling.  The next request was to help demo horse-drawn plowing at a local state park.  We decided it would be a great experience, so we hitched up, drove the team to the park (just a couple miles away), unhitched, and the more experienced teamsters helped us hitch up to a plow and set to work.  We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but clearly our team had plowed before.  Nick, the off horse, dropped right down into the furrow, both boys leaned into their collars, and they pulled just like old pros.  Considering it was a special demo day for the public, we appreciated that the boys made us newbies look really good!  So good in fact, that we were then requested to come give rides at the state park on a weekly basis.

S on the plow at the state park demo

S on the plow at the state park demo

We weren’t quite ready for that step, but it made us start planning and brainstorming a plan of action.  Another month or so went by and we decided to start offering wagon rides every weekend through summer in our little town–which, by the way, has NOTHING else to do on weekend evenings.  Because our little town has never had such a request, we discovered that there were no licensing or permitting requirements.  They only asked that we put “diapers” on the horses to catch manure.  The city officials were excited, so we got the legalities in order, got the horses’  “Bun Bags” for their manure, and had our first weekend rides.  We decided offering such rides was a great way to stimulate the horses’ mentally, get us all off the farm once a week, and generally give us all a change of pace.  I wouldn’t call it booming business, but considering we only gave folks a couple days’ notice, we were pleased with the turnout.  It will help buy hay for the winter.  That evening, however, we were spotted by multiple other folks.  One was a theater director who has requested us and our team play the “Wells-Fargo” wagon in an upcoming outdoor production.  Another hosts a fall festival and really wants us to offer rides to help increase business there.  A third is interested in having their almost-senior high school student hire our wagon for prom next year.  WOW!  And we aren’t even advertising yet!

We haven’t committed to anything else just yet, as we are still plenty busy here on the farm.  We are talking and planning though, looking at our calendar, and I’ve started doing a lot of sensory work with the horses to get them used to more and more activity, just so we are as prepared as possible.  For now, we are focusing on keeping the team working several days a week doing miscellaneous work around the farm, and holding our Saturday evening wagon rides in town.  We are creating flyers to notify weekend tourists in the area and at the local hotels of the event, and we are considering other activities that help get word out about our farm, which will hopefully drum up business in other areas of our farm business.  It has been fun so far, though, and we look forward to seeing how our little farm business morphs as time goes on.  In the mean time, if you are interested in hiring draft-horse services in the central IL region, you can check out our farm website at http://www.redgatefarmllc.com and send us an inquiry!

Horse-Drawn Wagon Rides

Since bringing our new boys home, we’ve been working hard to find ways to keep them working.  We have been testing them out in different environments, gradually working our way towards going all the way to town.  Recently, we accomplished one of our final obstacles–“the” bridge.  We have a rather long, roughly 1/3 mile, bridge between us and a major highway that then takes us into town.  The bridge not only has that hollow bridge sound (which horses don’t generally like), but it has low concrete barriers overlooking the drop off into the river.  The asphalt changes color about 3 times as you cross the bridge (which horses don’t like), and there are 3 large, metal expansion joints as you across.

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The day finally came to try.  The first time, I went alone in the wagon–just in case.  To be extra safe, S actually drove in front of me, just in case the team spooked, he could do…..something…to keep us from being run over by a semi should they run right into the main highway.  As it turned out, though, his services weren’t needed.  The boys couldn’t have cared less about the bridge.  The different surfaces caused them to do a double take, but that was about it.  The expansion joints were the only thing that got their attention, but once across, they recovered and walked as if nothing had just happened.  We crossed the bridge, turned around, and went back across to go home.  On the way back, however, the sun was at a different angle, reflecting off the joints, which really concerned the horses.  Nonetheless, we made it with only a bit of hesitation.

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The next time we went, we decided to go further, and actually drive up the main highway a bit, before turning off to go to a local park.  Again, just in case, I drove alone until we crossed the bridge.  S met me on the other side, where he and the kids jumped on board.  We took a trip to the park, where the horses (and I) got to practice waiting patiently while the kids played.  Rule #1 of driving horses is to NEVER let go of the lines, and rule #2 is to stay on the horse-drawn vehicle whenever the horses are hitched.  Should a hitched horse spook, you can’t outrun them, but as long as you are on board and holding the lines, there is a good chance you can prevent a spook from getting out of hand.  So, that’s what we did.  Only they never spooked.  And frankly, I rather enjoyed myself.

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Finally, we headed the 2 or so miles back home, with hardly a hesitation at the expansion joints.  I expect the next trip will only get better.

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One day, when we actually have a 1/2 day to spare, we will actually drive to town.  We just haven’t figured out when that will be.  The only thing stopping us is our lack of free time to do such things.  It’ll come, though.  Our list of big projects is winding down, so hopefully sooner than later.

 

We’ve been putting our boys to work around here, doing some very selective logging of our forests.

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Logging with draft power has many advantages.  Horses can maneuver and squeeze into rather tight areas that a truck or mechanical logging equipment never could.  For this reason, land does not have to be clear-cut to remove a handful of very desirable trees.  We can go in as stewards of our land, select trees that are dead, dying, overly mature, clusters that are too thick, etc., cut only those trees, and have the horses haul them out.  The result is land that much prettier, purer, and still appears natural, as opposed to looking like an explosion took place and left everything looking ugly and dead for several years.  Another advantage is that horses leave a smaller footprint–not literally speaking, as their hooves and actual footprints are quite large, actually, but metaphorically speaking in terms of being “green” and earth friendly.  The horses do not compact the soil like the large machinery does, and rather than pollute the remaining trees with exhaust smoke and petroleum fumes, the only waste the horses might leave behind is a pile of manure that will simply serve to fertilize the soils.  It really is a beautiful thing.

For us, it is still a 2-man job.  We are mainly collecting still-usable downed logs from the edges of the timberland for the most part, to either mill or turn into firewood for next winter.  We haven’t gotten to the cutting of standing trees yet.  We plan to do more of that later this summer when other projects are completed.  S isn’t quite comfortable doing the tight squeeze turn-arounds yet, and is still practicing his driving skills.  I, on the other hand, am not good at lifting the heavy logging hook and attaching it to the bigger logs (the thing must weigh 60 lbs plus the evener and chains!).  In addition, when the horses are fresh, they aren’t perfect at standing still and waiting while we get it right, and risk stepping over their trace chains.  So, for now, we log together.  I do most of the driving and focus on the horses, while S does the land/trail prep work and handles the logging equipment.  Also, if we happen to get ourselves in a bind (which we have a couple of times), then it is nice to have help around!

For your viewing pleasure, here is a video S took earlier this week.  We had to haul a stack of fenceposts from the pasture to the barn for stacking.  There was a very tight turn at the end to get them where we wanted them and out of the way for vehicles.

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