And all is right with the world.

Today kidding season started. The season of every 2 hour feedings, 3am maternity watches, missing meals and showers, and sleep (whatever that is?).

I’m still shaking a cough from my 4th cold of the year (yes, that’s 4 times I have succumbed to some sort of plague since the holidays!).
We still don’t have our intern/apprentice program figured out (although I’ve met some awesome people!).
We are at the end of our fiscal rope (winter = almost all of the expenses, no income, coming off of 3 hard years… ouch).

But who the BLEEP cares?!?!?

Not me. Not one bit.

Winter has had me down.
Unable to get out of bed.
Unwilling to change from my robe.
Unresponsive to phone calls or invitations to meet.

I’m convinced today that is isn’t the cold, or the wet, or the gray of winter that crushes my spirit.
I think it’s that absence of spring. Does that make even a little bit of sense?

Spring means chartreuse buds bursting from their burgundy shrouds on branches.
Spring means bulbs cutting like swords from the soil and exploding into brilliant hues for the rays of sun.
Spring means frogs singing a rhythmic chorus, croaking a song of love to anyone who appreciates their perfect pitch.
And Spring means babies. ALL sorts of babies. Chicks and ducklings and piglets and lambs… and on our farm kids.
Kids galore! Baby goat kids to fill every corner, every arm, every step, every heart.

When the baby goats get here, all is right in the world.

Xantippe's spotted boy

Xantippe’s spotted boy

Even the challenging births, the ones that bring us pain and anguish and cutting sorrow, somehow help to set the world right again.

Jazz' 3 kids

Jazz’ 3 kids


Kidding season is the harbinger of milk season. Not only do I have the most perfect playmates in the entire world, but I have the promise of milk to make cheese with.
Oh yes! The cheese room is ready and I am ready too! Soon, fresh milk will be turned into fresh cheese… and aged cheese… and even cajeta! Oh my!

My mouth is watering to think of it… but for now, I’m just happy, content… at peace with the world, with a baby goat in my arms, trying to nurse my chin, enjoying the new life on the farm.

Jazz' doe kid

Jazz’ doe kid


Happy spring.

Lilac buds and crocus blooms,
Vicky

If you want to come see the babies – our farm is open at 3pm every day from April 1 through July 6 for bottle feeding. No appointment needed.

Our farm store is open at those times (because we DO expect you to shop here if you come for bottlefeeding – our feed bills need to be paid somehow… don’t make us start charging for bottlefeeding!) or every Saturday & Sunday from Noon-5pm.

The farm is available for tours by appointment, but we do charge for those! Yep. Our time is valuable and is already stretched too thin. Don’t worry, you won’t even miss the money and it will go to a good purpose here, but you’ll remember the tour for years, maybe a lifetime.

Xantippe's kids

Xantippe’s kids

Posted in About the Farm, Cheese, Critters | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Intern(s) wanted… kind of.

We are looking for interns to share with a local produce farm. That much is true.
BUT…
We are looking for so much more.

In my secret heart of hearts (well, not so secret now, it’s on the interweb), I am looking for a successor team.

The farm could have closed. We have spent so much, accumulated so much debt, worked ourselves too unhealthily hard, but we made it. Our farm plan calls for the farm to break even year 3 and start making money year 4 (and on). We are on track. We did it. We have absorbed the losses and extra expenses caused by the extended 4-year start up. We are here. We have arrived. The farm can now start carrying itself. We just don’t have the steam to carry it forward – there are extenuating circumstances, but to be honest, that is not for interweb publishing.

Losing the farm would be more than sad. It would be sad, to be clear, but not just sad. Losing the farm would lose agricultural status for our property (more land out of farmland is never a good thing). The start-up and infrastructures costs would be nothing more than wasted effort and monies.

But still, closing the farm is an option on the table.

What my dream looks like though, is way different than a dusty, closed dairy.

Cutting curds to make delicious cheese.

Cutting curds to make delicious cheese.

My dream includes taking a team that wants desperately to have a micro-creamery, but can’t because of the huge capital investment. You see, we’ve already done it. We’ve built the dairy.

What we need it energy. Passion. Someone willing and excited about doing what we do to hand the reins over to.

So, interns. Sort of. That’s how we’re starting. With the right interns we hope to teach them, train them, mentor them, usher them into micro-creamery world. (Oh, and we would share them with a produce farm so they can learn about growing produce and maybe have a productive market garden too!)

With the right team we hope we can help them learn about running a small dairy. Then (shh… don’t tell), we hope we can have them run our dairy, so we can step back.

Baby goats need feeding and love!

Baby goats need feeding and love!

Okay, not really step back. For that first year after intern year I will be in full-fledged consultant/resource mode. Our farm will serve its original goal. It will become an incubator for others with dreams, but not resources.

Leasing land is commonplace for interns ready to graduate to their own produce farm. However, leasing a diary/creamery is all but unheard of in this country. We want to change that.

We want to offer an educational/intern/apprentice experience and the facility to expand the business. Maybe more farms will follow suit. Maybe we can be a trendsetter. I know not many are so willing to put their huge capital investment on the line, but we are that passionate about what we do and what we stand for. It is time for more people to put their money and assets where their mouths are, we aren’t extraordinary, we are simply choosing to live with integrity to our values/goals. Enough lip service. Support local agriculture by SUPPORTING local agriculture (if that’s too vague, yes, I mean with your money).

The goal is for the next 2-3 years that a hard working team and ultimately their interns, will work the dairy and create products and agriculture equity on Whidbey Island. At which point they will either be ready to move on to develop their “perfect” dairy (with less wasted expense than we had) and pass on the torch to a new team… or they will choose to stay in our little town and keep our little creamery producing amazing local dairy goods.

Do you know some hard working, committed folks that dream of being part of an amazing micro-creamery? Would they be interested in a little diary incubator?

Send them our way!

We have babies coming, we’re ready to take this year on… but we need their help, as much as they need our infrastructure. Let’s team up.

Resting in the field with the "girls" is where I belong.

Resting in the field with the “girls” is where I belong.

Posted in About the Farm, Cheese, Critters, It's Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Christmas Eve on a farm:

The year is almost over. Winter solstice has come and gone and days are getting longer once again.

Our goats have been dry (not in milk) for a while and they are getting pudgy with the new lives forming inside them. They are getting fuzzier with their winter coats getting thick and full.

The sheep are warm under several months of woolen growth.

Winter is here.

Tonight we celebrate… not Santa, but the old Christian tale of animals talking at midnight. http://www.skywriting.net/inspirational/stories/the_night_the_animals_talked.html

My mother, the most amazing woman to have ever lived, helped fill our young minds full of tales. The one that has stuck the longest for me was the story of the Christ child, born in a manger because there was no room at the inn, waiting for the Wise Men (which presumably were late because they wouldn’t ask for directions!).

It wasn’t the Christ child or virgin birth or even the idea of there being THREE wise men (really, one would be believable – two maybe even possible… but three?), that caught my young imagination. It was that on Christmas Eve, at midnight, the animals could speak.

In my young years I tried and tried to stay up late, not to see Santa, but to be able to speak with our animals. I never once occurred to me that animals, once they could speak, might not speak English! It wasn’t until my teen years questions like that came to mind.

Now with a farm full of critters, this idea of the animals talking at midnight catches my fancy every year.

I’m so taken with the story, but the reality is I get to talk to my animals every day. They don’t speak English, but they do understand it… at least a few phrases. They communicate to me, they interact with me all the time… mostly for food or affection… kind of like humans, I guess.

I do love the critters and the humans in my life. I love the animals that communicate so clearly and plainly, but not in English… and the humans, even with their less direct and sometimes downright confusing communication.

With love, from our farm to you,
Happy Christmas Eve, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your critters.

Snow Heart on the Little Brown Farm

Snow Heart on the Little Brown Farm

Posted in About the Farm, It's Personal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Facebook reads your deleted comment?

This is some scary George Orwell kind of stuff:
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/12/facebook_self_censorship_what_happens_to_the_posts_you_don_t_publish.html

When I first read the article I nearly screamed. What a violation!

All of my editing, keystrokes, comments, private messages I choose not to send are being retained anyway?

As a fledgling writer I often type, delete, re-type, edit my thoughts as I put them down on paper.

As a hot-headed, opinionated person, I way too often fly off the handle and then backspace, backspace, backspace until I can write an ‘acceptable’ reply/comment/message.

It turns out ALL of those keystrokes are not necessarily unread. I am still more than a little freaked out about it.

But then, the Pollyanna in me rises up once again.

It turns out someone has had the opportunity to read all of those items I deemed not Facebook worthy.

I wrote and re-wrote several multiple paragraph comments when a friend’s husband died. I ended up deleting them all and was left with a simple, pathetic “I am so sorry. *hugs*.” It was too heart wrenching to put all of those previous edits out into Facebookland, but it was cathartic to get the feelings out.

Often I respond to political posts that I think about sharing, commenting on, standing on a soap box for… and then I think that is just isn’t worth it. After all, my friends that agree with my perspective already agree. Those that don’t will just be offended. They won’t read/learn/change their minds. Backspace, backspace, backspace.

Facebook friends who have been inappropriate to me… if they read my first drafts would no longer be friends of any type. Backspace, backspace, backspace. Until cooler heads prevail or sometimes no response ever, just leaving the offense lay out there like a dog on a hot summer day.

Backspace, backspace, backspace. It has saved me friendships, connections, relationships. And now it isn’t real. Those thoughts still exist, somewhere.

It is like having your inner thoughts still alive, out there for someone, someone unknown to me, to see.

To be honest, it still gives me the heebie-jeebies, but it also feels a little bit good. Those thoughts were real, sincere and part of me. They didn’t die with backspace. I may not even remember them now, because I was able to let them go with backspace, backspace, backspace. Pollyanna, maybe. But for me it feels better than wasting my time shaking my fist at the storm clouds.

I won’t quit using Facebook, even in light of this revelation, but I will be more cautious in how I use it… because backspace, backspace, backspace will be left for other places… even after a glass of wine (or two).

Posted in It's Personal, Rant Rant Rant | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Size counts.

Size counts.

Somewhere, I really am sure it does… but let me tell you some places it doesn’t.

Size doesn’t matter at Handcrafted on Whidbey. If your budget is small or large, it’s all good (and it’s all local).

We have customers come in and spend their entire Christmas shopping budget with us, because they believe so strongly in what we are doing. We had one today. Their entire budget was $28.62 (yes, that included some laundry money).

What they found? A piece of unique handblown glass, a magnet (metal and glass made by awesome local talent), and an inspirational card… and they had change.

Wishing StonesmagnetsMARcard

We have other customers that have come in and spent hundreds of dollars. They picked perfect items, some for themselves, some for family and friends.
We have customers that have come back to buy matching items to items they found the first time they were in.
We have customers who come just to take it all in… all the talent brought to a few hundred square feet of retail spot on Bayview Corner.

I know about budgets and financial limitations. I also know the other side of the coin, where finances flowed freely. I get it. I honestly think I prefer this (not that the money stress if fun… but valuing things beyond their pricetag is, well, priceless!).

I could be choosing to do something with my time that would reward me financially, but that’s not it for me. Money has merely become a tool, finally, in my life.

My daughter could be working several other places, and at her young age has chosen to band with her mom and pull together this beautiful experience for our local talent, for our friends, for our community. As a mother I could not be more pleased or proud.

Community service comes in many shapes and sizes, peer groups, financial brackets. Our little pop-up store isn’t a non-profit… if we had income we would certainly be paying taxes on it (and we are all paying sales tax), but it doesn’t make it any less of a community venture. 85 talents, from jam makers to oil painters, from jewelers to authors, from weavers to woodworkers… all have the opportunity to have a little brighter New Year, because of you. You shopped local. Whether it was $5 or $500… size doesn’t count, YOU count. And for the artists that can keep on creating because they can now buy more materials to create with (or they can simply pay their heating expenses for the winter), you count a LOT. From us, from them, THANK YOU.

Sue Taves

Unbroken by Sue Taves
Broken Mended Hearts series

Posted in It's Personal, Oprah's Favorite Things - if my name was Oprah not Vicky | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

50 Days Across the USA

It started out as a fledgling idea.

To be honest so did our little dairy, so that is a terrifying sentence for those that know me.

I had an idea where I wanted it to go, but I felt it needed a life of its own too, so I didn’t put very many rules or guidelines on it… I just posed a question to my 700+ facebook friends.

“If I went to _____ what should I not miss?”

There were a few states that got more attention than most. I live in Washington State, so it didn’t surprise me when Washington State received a large response. I have many, many friends in (or from) California, so again… tons of input.

I know virtually no one in Virginia or Mississippi and I got very little input.

There was something I was hoping to learn, without coming right out and tipping my hand. I was hoping to get some help plotting a trip I am planning on taking. I got some help with that!

However, I learned SO much more.

I learned that no matter who your peer group is, there is something valuable in EVERY. SINGLE. STATE. Of the United States of America. EVERY single place has things, people, places deemed worthy of seeing, meeting, getting to know.

Every. SINGLE. Place! Do you understand that? Not just places where people are excessively ego-driven about their zip codes. Each State… all 50. Not one is worthless. Not one deemed as a throwaway.

This was just my little peer group. Your peer group extends the reach, extends the value.

Is that as significant and ground-shaking to you as it is to me?

In this time of hate and discontent, this time where discourse is dismissed and division is the altar we are worshipping at… each State is valuable. Not Red States, not Blue States. Not religion or location or creed or color or gender or ANY dividing lines… simply 50 valuable States, creating a union of spectacular places to go, see, be.

So the results? Well, they will become an outline for a journey you will learn much more about in 2014. The road trip isn’t intended to start until 2015, but there will be a few short visits in 2014 to make sure the plan is feasible… and this time social networking will be just as big of a part of it, I won’t be able to do it from the warmth and safety of my sofa!

In the meantime, thank you for participating… I received more than 27,000 words of encouragement, recommendations and invitations. Social networking… I know some people don’t like it, but I am a fan! Thank you.

(It isn’t too late to participate. Here are the ‘guidelines’ I posted… want to contribute? Add to the comments on this blog!)

And this is where I will add my apology for ignoring my blog for too long. We have been busy… did you know that even before market season was over we opened a pop-up shop at Bayview Corner? (Handcrafted on Whidbey… check it out!!). We start our winter market soon too and Laughing Bellies Toffee season is here!!

Holiday Shopping at Bayview Corner

Holiday Shopping at Bayview Corner


I will try and keep you more up to date… maybe check us out on Facebook, I seem to update there much more often!

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Birthday Celebrations!

If you and I are FaceBook friends, you know how spectacular my birthday weekend was.

Birthday Cake

Birthday cake from Tree-top, dang they are awesome!

However, now that it’s behind us, I want to share the lowlights of my birthday weekend.

I let you know about all the wonderful love I was enveloped in for the weekend (Wow! Still reeling! Thank you!!), but Sunday late afternoon I got an urgent text from Tom while I was out having drinks after market with some friends and Christine.

Goats were sick. A lot of goats were sick. Really, really sick. More than half of the girls in our new pen were throwing up… just to be clear, healthy goats do not throw up.

New Pen for the Girls

Girls enjoying the new pen!

We rushed out from our fun time, made the ferry after only waiting in line 3 minutes, and got home. Many of the goats were already recovering, but some were still doing quite poorly.

In my market clothes, I worked with Tom to diagnose and treat to the best of my knowledge what was going on. Girls kept improving. We were down to only 3 left to watch through the night.

Oh, except did I mention that I sold two of our favorite doe kids from this year to a young gal in Oak Harbor (Check and Luna)? Check was sick now too. The poor first time goat owner was dealing with one of her two new babies throwing up like poltergeist.

It became a long night, on the heels of night with just over one hour of sleep, after two days of markets, topped off with a cocktail (or two… or three, but who is counting?).

By this morning all but one goat was markedly improved. By midafternoon all of them, including Check, were feeling okay and on the mend. (Check and Luna’s new mom is awesome!)

Check

Check – can you see the check mark on her hip?

Check  without the checkmark

Check’s non-checked side.

Now, that full night sleep I’ve been longing for, it IS going to happen.

THIS is my favorite birthday gift of all… a healthy herd and a full night of rest. But it doesn’t diminish the heartfelt wishes, visits, cards, cake, songs and love I’ve felt all weekend. This is just the icing on that perfect cake.

Thank you for the love and for letting me bask in it and use it to pull me through a worried night when I needed my energy for my girls.

I will say it again. I am a grateful goat momma and the luckiest person I know, in no small part, because of you.

Happy, happy birthday to me.

 

 

 

Posted in About the Farm, Critters, It's Personal | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Herd Hurts, and Healing.

Some days on the farm are so fulfilling I feel my heart will surely explode with joy and gratitude.

All days on the farm are challenging. Most often that challenge is rewarded so many times over, the exhaustion, the sweat, the drama, the costs all somehow seem reasonable.

Recently we celebrated our third year of selling our cheese and we were openly embraced by our community who enjoyed our specials and our sales with great enthusiasm. It was as an anniversary should be. It was filled with joy and love and time with special people.

Behind our joy lurked a heavy heart.

On our farm we have quite the reputation for being foolish about our livestock. I believe the problem stems from the fact that we don’t consider our animals livestock. At most they are petstock. We love the animals of our farm. I have been told that local ‘real farmers’ don’t take us seriously because we are so soft. I find it easy to believe there is truth to that, and I can live with that.

We cannot keep them all, I know. But we do go to extraordinary levels to be certain they have the best lives that we can provide for them, no matter their individual limitations or fates.

This year the loss toll has been high. We lost our big, strong doe Yukitat, daughter of my beloved Camellia, to complications of a difficult kidding. As a matter of fact, this spring, over the course of two weeks we had a rash of challenging deliveries, stillborns, premature deliveries and complications. All of the mothers survived, except Yukitat. Our vet became a regular fixture on the farm, and I credit him with saving all of the does he could.

YukitatUsually by the time kidding season has passed, so have all of the health-related stress issues of the farm.

However, in May we lost the last cat we had when Tom and I met, Kitten (AKA Itty Bitty Kitty), had complications of her old age catch up with her.

This year summer brought more sorrow. In late May, Meeps, who had joined a local herd and was maturing well, came back home very sick. On June 2, one year to the date of his arrival, Meeps died in our arms. The special year we had with him has left an indelible mark on our hearts.

Then August brought with the surprising loss of Ollie. Ollie was healthy and fine in the morning, noticeably struggling while we were getting a hay delivery and gone within an hour. It was sudden and shocking. We had no time to prepare, call the vet, or even try to help. We were helpless.

Ollie spreading love.

Ollie spreading love.

http://www.southwhidbeyrecord.com/lifestyle/216217091.html (here is the link I forgot to add when originally posting)

This made it two losses that still bring tears just to think of them.

Now sweet and bossy (depending on if you were human or 4-legged) Layla has been laid to rest. This past week our lovely Layla, who had gone to retire on a friend’s farm, died. Our hearts are broken. That lovely doe provided so much for us here, and there. It couldn’t be helped, and the sweet old girl did not have enough fight left in her. Even with the best veterinary care, it was inevitable and the kindest and best decision to make. It doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. I was fortunate to get to spend some time with her during her illness and her last day. It was her I went to go see after losing Ollie. Even in her illness, Layla laid with me, pulled me closer to her with her head and comforted me through the loss. She was truly a special soul.

My heart aches.

Layla and Coco

http://wabisabiwhidbeywife.blogspot.com/2013_08_01_archive.html (here is the link I forgot to add when originally posting)

 

This afternoon I got to take some time after chores, cheese care, visiting with guests, hoof-trimming, mowing (and before raising a shelter and finishing some fencing), and just sat in the pasture with my girls.

After the initial onslaught of attention, my Velvet Rose stayed by my side. She rubbed all over my head, shoulders and back, then she was satisfied to just stand over me and chase off any would-be interlopers that vied for my attention.

Velvet Rose helping to style my new do.

Velvet Rose helping to style my new do.

My herd breaks my heart. My herd mends my heart and makes it whole.

My friends, my supporters, my customers, yes, you… you are part of my herd. Thanks to you and my 4-legged herd for healing this soft heart and keeping it whole, and overflowing.

With affection,

Vicky, Chief Milkmaid

Posted in About the Farm, Critters, It's Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Anniversary update!

Little Brown Farm is celebrating their 3rd Anniversary!

On August 13, 2010 Little Brown Farm sold our first cheese to the public.

This weekend at the Bayview Farmers Market (Saturday 10am-2pm) the grateful Chief Milkmaid is thanking our customers by offering a few specials.

First:
Our world famous Laughing Bellies Toffee! Made with Little Brown Farm’s Ugly Butter (pure cultured Jersey cow butter), this treat only makes appearances for special events, including the holidays.

Second:
Goat meat. Delicious and good for you. Grass fed goat meat is lower in cholesterol than even chicken. We love the lean meat slow cooked (we cook with tomatoes or goat yogurt and seasonal veggies – ask us for recipe ideas at market), or on the rare side cooked on the grill.

Third:
A discount. A savings for you as our Thank You for your support over the past three years.

For any purchase over $10, we are giving a 10% discount. You don’t need to ask for it or use a special code word. It is good for every customer, on every item (including meat, butter, cheese, yogurt, dulce de leche and toffee!!).

These specials are available at our Farm Store too! The Little Brown Farm Store is open from noon-5pm Saturday and Sunday. For details and directions: http://www.littlebrownfarm.com/Farm_Store.html

For three amazing years we have been lucky enough to get to pursue our passion. Our hard work has been embraced by you, our neighbors, friends and customers, and THAT has been the greatest reward we could imagine.

Thank you.

Vicky Brown
Chief Milkmaid
Little Brown Farm

Posted in About the Farm, Cheese | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Anniversary to us!!

Happy Anniversary to us.

By “us” I mean the Little Brown Farm and all of those who have been a part of it.

This dream took 7 years in the planning. 3 years in actually planning, training, learning. 4 years in getting through roadblocks including being prevented for years from developing a farm plan (lack of funding and the WEAN lawsuits were mostly to blame – ultimately Snohomish County Conservation District took pity on me and Eric finally helped us complete our farm plan), to stalled at the county for construction permits. Sigh… All in the past. We made it.

3 years and one month ago we went through our final inspection to get our approval to open our little creamery.

Cheese making room

Cheese make room

We were the first micro-creamery to make it back to the dairy landscape of Whidbey. At one point Whidbey boasted more than 20 dairies. The majority of those sold their milk to Darigold. They weren’t micro-creameries like we are, but not much is like it was in the 1970’s, is it?

Now there are two diaries on Whidbey and a third poking its way down the road to certification. Hopefully someday soon my business plan dream of having 7 dairies on Whidbey will be realized. There is great value in numbers.

So the anniversary? Today, three years ago, Friday, August 13, 2010 was the first time our cheese was available for sale (at bayleaf and the Second Street Wine Shop). We sold cheese we made from milk we milked from goats we raised. If feels just as good to sell cheese today. I am certain this feeling will never get old.

Caprine Cream Chevre from the Little Brown Farm

Caprine Cream Chevre from the Little Brown Farm

I am so proud. I am proud of our girls, I’m proud of the team that helped me get here (Tom, Christine, Mike, Jordan, Anna, Tom S., wonderful volunteers, chefs, cow dairy collaborators, customers, and friends!). I am proud of our cheese. I am proud of our integrity. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and the hurdles we have overcome (and are still overcoming). I am proud of our successful Kickstarter and our awesome backers.

I am proud of the Little Brown Farm.

Thank you for supporting us, with your purchases, your kind thoughts and deeds and your supportive words and valued input. Thank you for being part of my dreams coming true.

Happy 3rd anniversary to you, and me.

PS For special anniversary deal(s) this weekend at market – I hope you’re connected to us through Facebook and Twitter! We will be announcing there… or just get your butt to Market and help us celebrate! 🙂

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