Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Goodbye, Little Farm

On Monday, our family will be leaving Little Bent Creek Farm and moving into our new home in the city of Charlotte. My husband's job is demanding that he live closer to his office, and so we must go. It is breaking my heart to give up this place that has held so many of my hopes and dreams, and I'm finding that I can't quite muster up enough courage or perspective yet to write about this new transition we're making. So with this post, I will simply say goodbye. Goodbye, good readers.

Goodbye, gentle goats.

Goodbye, chatty chickens.

Goodbye, cuddly bunny.

Goodbye, little red barn.

Goodbye, playful creek.
Goodbye, bountiful garden.
Goodbye, peaceful meadow.

Goodbye, butterfly unicorns and forest fairies.

Goodbye, strenuous chores.

Goodbye, curious visitors.

Goodbye, kind neighbors.

Goodbye, dear friends.

Goodbye wild turkeys and deer. Goodbye, barn snake. Goodbye, wildflowers.
Goodbye, Secret Place and Enchanted Garden. Goodbye, cozy town and gracious library.
Goodbye, bees I had yet to keep. Goodbye, pony we had yet to bring home. Goodbye, camps, workshops, classes and field trips I had yet to offer.
Goodbye, old dreams. 
It is time to welcome new ones.

--by Mitchell Nott

what is a dream if you cant achieve it
what is a dream if you dont believe it
i want my dreams to all come true
i want my dreams to be shared with you
a dream is a place of magical things
a dream is a place where bluebirds sing
all our dreams we are longing for
a dream of you that i adore
why is dreams all filled with joy
when after a dream it is destroyed
why is dreams of something we cant have
when we dream of the things we once had
dreams come with so many meanings
happy and sad so many feelings
so why do we dream if it hurts inside
when we watch our dreams all fade and die
if i was a dream id fly away
id dream of happiness and make it stay
what is a dream with no ending
why do dreams start descending
what is a dream that aint complete
why are dreams so discreet
dreams are full of many things
dreams are full of true feelings
believe in dreams and youll succeed
believe in dreams yes i do indeed

Friday, June 21, 2013

Grimy Hands and Happy Hearts: Summer Camp at Little Bent Creek Farm

Last week was one of the best weeks of the year for us here at Little Bent Creek Farm. It was the week we hosted a small flock of kids for a day camp aimed at teaching them about small-scale farming, sustainable living, and environmental responsibility. We had a blast! Mainly because the kids themselves were such adventurous, curious, and kind-hearted people.

Most of the photos here were taken by my multi-talented friend, Patti McKinnon, who helped me plan and organize the camp and who served as my primary assistant during the week. In addition to all those invaluable contributions, she also led the children in a "Farm Yoga" session each morning--a wonderful way to start our days together! Also helping me were Patti's oldest son, Niall, and my two daughters, Segi and Simi. Critical, too, to the camp's success was the support of Carolyn Walker, the founder and director of Woodland Discovery (, which sponsored the camp and provided invaluable logistical support and resources. Thanks to all of you--and again, especially to the campers themselves--for making our week together so full of fun, learning, and adventure!

Each of the five days of the camp followed a theme. On Monday we asked the question, "What do farmers do?" The highlight of that day was going out to the barnyard to do farm chores together: feeding the chickens; gathering eggs; feeding and grooming the goats; and feeding and petting the bunny. I've never seen kids enjoy work so much! I boiled the eggs the kids had gathered (along with a bunch of others) to offer them as a nutritious tip for their labor. Yum.

Afterwards, we sent everyone out into the woods to collect sticks and assigned them the task of constructing their own miniature barns and corrals out of those sticks, short lengths of twine, sheets of bark from our paper birch tree, and craft glue. (This project proved to be a tougher challenge than we'd bargained for, and helped us all appreciate the genius that early American farmers must have employed in building their own rustic barns and fences.)

On Tuesday, we explored how farm animals communicate with one another and learned about the importance of farmers learning to understand those patterns of communication.  This time in the barnyard, the campers concentrated on watching and listening to the chickens, the goats, and the bunny and trying to interpret what they saw and heard. They also tried to see if they could effectively communicate their own messages to one or more of the animals. Later, when we came back together, they acted out and interpreted for the larger group the actions and sounds they had witnessed. Needless to say, we enjoyed some very creative performances! After this, the kids crafted model farm animals out of clay. (Patti later baked their little goats, pigs, chickens, horses, mice and snakes in her oven at home and returned them to their proud creators the next morning.)

On the third day, I taught the campers how to make homemade yeast bread. My own favorite part of this day came several minutes after I had explained how yeast is actually a living organism and that a central part of bread making involves waking it up and coaxing it to work for us. The kids, not surprisingly, were skeptical about this, and after several minutes passed with no action taking place in the bowl, they began to get fidgety. But then, suddenly--WHOOSH--there it was: the bloom! "Wow!" They shouted. "That's crazy!" "How did it do that?!"

I also gave them a chance to grind whole kernels of wheat into a coarse flour; to feel, smell and taste the difference in whole wheat flour and white flour; and to mix a combination of these flours, along with a bit of salt, into the water and yeast. Later, they each got to knead and shape a small loaf of their own. During the second part of the morning, they made homemade butter to go on their bread loaves, vigorously shaking cream in small jars until it solidified. The loaves were baked and buttered just in time for their parents to pick them up. Mmmmm . . . I hope they shared a nibble or two!

Thursday was "We all need water" day. We began the day by discussing how dependent farmers are on having plenty of good, clean water for livestock and crops. We also talked about how important it is that farmers (and those of us who support them) make sure that farming practices don't pollute the waterways around us. Wildlife biologist Lenny Lampel (Natural Resources Coordinator at Mecklenburg County's Conservation Science Office), taught us about some of the creatures whose lives depend on those waterways and led us on an excursion into Little Bent Creek, where we uncovered and examined several of those creatures: crayfish, dragonfly nymphs, various small fish, salamanders, water boatmen, damselflies, and others. Then we returned to snack on watermelon and, of course, to visit our friends in the barnyard and tell them all about our adventures.

On Friday, the campers learned about organic gardening--why it is that some of us choose to cultivate our crops this way and how it differs from conventional farming. Then they got a tour of our vegetable, flower, and herb gardens and tried their hands at harvesting lettuce, green beans, garlic and herbs for their families. They went at this with gusto, stuffing their storage bags full of fragrant green produce to take home.

After a break to visit with the animals in the barnyard, they returned for an exercise in seed starting. First, we taught them how to make their own seed-starting pots from newspaper. They then filled these with organic potting soil. In one of these, they planted nasturtium seeds, and in the other green beans. Now they can do some "mini-farming" at home!

Our final activity of the week was to welcome the campers' parents, grandparents, and other special people to our backyard for a short Closing Ceremony. Here each camper was awarded a well-deserved "Honorary Farmer" certificate.

They were, indeed, a great group of "small farmers," and my family and I are grateful that they got to be a part of our own little farm for a week. Happy future farming, kids--whatever that might mean!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


This is just a quick update to let our Little Bent Creek Farm friends know that we have more eggs than ever available for sale!

Here's a bit of information about the hens who lay our eggs: They all belong to heritage breeds, some of which populated our country's very first small homesteads. They spend most of their days free-ranging throughout our organically run farm (we don't use any herbicides or pesticides--ever). Their diets are supplemented by scratch and layer feed, both purchased locally. All this means that their eggs are significantly higher in folic acid, protein and Omega-3s than most grocery-store eggs. We have never medicated our chickens for anything, so their eggs don't contain any traces of antibiotics or other icky stuff.

So here's your chance to taste some happy-, healthy-, hippie-hen eggs! If you live somewhere in our vicinity and would like us to hold a dozen (or a half-dozen) for you, just let me know (at They are $3.50/dozen.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fawn's Chicks Arrive!

"Don't count your chickens before 
they hatch."

Thursday last week, Segi came running to tell us that she heard one of Fawn's eggs peeping. "They're coming! They're coming!," she and her sister shouted as they ran about the yard in excitement. Oh, how hard it was to wait all through that lonnnnnnnnng night for the next morning to come. What would the chicks look like, they wondered. Would all of them survive? Any of them? We knew by now--had learned the hard way--that there are many factors that can prevent chickens from surviving the ordeals of incubation and hatching.

When the next morning did finally roll around, the girls lit out to the barn even before chore time and, sure enough, there it was: the first little chick! Golden brown with dark stripes on its back, it looked to be part Ameraucana--indicating that Stripees has more umph than we had given him credit for. (Sorry, big guy!) Segi named this one "Forget-Me-Not." The next day, another little one broke its way through its tough calcium shield and into the big wide world. A lighter gold, she evidently shares her mother's breed of Buff Orpington. Simi named her "Daffadowndilly" (inspired by the A.A. Milne poem).

To help Mother Fawn protect her little ones, we decided to move the three of them and the eggs that hadn't yet hatched out of the nesting box in the coop and into a cage in an extra stall inside the barn. This would allow them to get to know one another in relative peace and quiet. (Adult chickens are notorious for attacking and even killing other hens' little ones.) They weathered the transition from coop to stall remarkably well. I'd assumed Fawn would put up a huge fuss when we grabbed her out of her nest, but maybe she'd gotten pretty sick of sitting in that same spot for the past month--or perhaps she was simply too exhausted to care where she was. (You know what I mean, don't you, all you mothers out there?)

A few days later, Fawn's third little one--another with Ameraucana patterning--hatched out. After some hemming and hawing, the girls settled on the name "Lilac," in honor of the lilac bush that grew at the edge of our old yard in central Ohio. As you may have gathered by now, Segi and Simi have decided to follow a flower theme in naming this year's chicks. I keep suggesting monikers like "Bogwort," "Fleabane," and "Dutchman's Breeches," just to mix things up a bit, but so far they've been ignoring me. "Just wait until some of these delicate little cuties grow into VERY indignant daddy roosters," I told them. They were unimpressed, reminding me of my own lessens on the pitfalls of accepting social constructions of gender (and the fallacies of gender-fying entire species of plants and animals) and assuring me that they will thoroughly instruct any rooster we may end up with on the irrelevance of whatever social stigmas his apellation might bear. (Sigh.)

Unfortunately, little Lilac (who Simi--our resident chicken anatomist--has now determined to be a male) didn't fair very well during his first couple of days in this world. We're not sure if he was weak right from the start or if his "failure to thrive" was due to abuse and neglect. But within 24 hours of his birth, we noticed that the two older chicks were picking on him, booting him out from under Fawn and pecking at him. At the end of the second day, the girls found him lying almost lifeless in a far corner of the cage, feet in the air and barely breathing. The other chicks and their mother were now completely ignoring him, having evidently decided their job was done.

By the time I got out to the barn and picked Lilac up, he was cold to the touch. I was certain he would not live another half-hour. But--to comfort my distraught girls as much as anything--I quickly untucked my shirt and placed him against my tummy. I held him there as I instructed the girls to get the heat lamp from the barn's attic and to gather up some wood chips, a water dish, and some chick feed. In the few minutes we spent busying about the barn collecting all these things, I started to feel a bit of squirming under my shirt. And then a bit more. By the time we were locking up the barn doors and heading toward the house, Lilac was making peeping sounds. Could a little bit of body heat and TLC really be so transformative???

As soon as we got to the house, we went straight to the Discovery Room and got down a large plastic storage bin from one of the closets there. We spread wood chips in the bottom of it, hooked up the heat lamp in one corner, and place Lilac inside. We still weren't sure he would make it. After a moment of peeping and looking about, he collapsed and went to sleep. We put in food and water and over the past three days have gone back there over and over again to put his little beak into each of them, encouraging him to take a bit of nourishment. The girls have also been reading to him, singing to him, playing songs to him on their recorders, and cuddling him. A couple of times, I've thought he just doesn't have it in him to pull through, but then I'll come back a while later and find him looking much better. Today we all think he's going to make it.

Why do we care so much? After all, as I pointed out in my last post, we don't even need any more chickens on our farm. What's the big deal if this little one dies? Come hold him in your hands; hear his tiny voice peep; watch him take a thirsty gulp of water. Feel him, hear him, see him struggle to live--just like all the rest of us--and you'll know.

Abusive siblings and a negligent mother are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangers faced by newly hatched chicks--and even chicks still incubating in their shells. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we have learned the hard way during the past couple of years just how right your grandma was to caution you against "counting your chickens before they hatch." In fact, just a day after Forget-Me-Not pecked her way into the world, Simi came to tell us that there was a black snake curled up on a clutch of eggs next to the hay manger. When I went to look, I found it in the process of trying to fit one of the eggs into its small but ambitious mouth. Wow--quite an impressive stretch!

As luck would have it, my mom and dad just happened to have arrived that afternoon from East Tennessee for a  weekend visit. Within seconds, my dad--or, as he is now known in this household, "Pop-Pop the Brave"--grabbed up the snake by its tail and calmly carried its furiously writhing body out of the barn and into the barnyard. It didn't take long for the two of us to agree that we would not kill a black snake unless absolutely necessary, so he carried it down to the bottom of the pasture and tossed it onto the bank of the creek. We're pretty sure it will be back. But hopefully not too awfully soon.

So what about all those other eggs out of that dozen that Fawn has been sitting on for the past month? By yesterday, nearly a week after the first one hatched and well over the 21-day timeline for poultry incubation, it seemed pretty clear that it was only the three that were going to produce chicks. Why? Did Fawn get up too often after the first two were born? Were the others "bad eggs" all along? We really don't have any idea. In any case, I'd decided that I would take all the "duds" away this morning during chore time. As I was piling them one-by-one in the muck bucket, though, I thought I heard one of the eggs singing to me. I listened more closely. Sure enough, one of them was peeping--faintly but vigorously, insistently. It seems as though another little fighter is on its way into our farm family, after all! The girls have already picked out a name: "Snapdragon."

And the other eggs in Fawn's clutch? Again--who knows? I suppose we'll leave them there a few more days and see what happens. In the meantime, we'll certainly be more tentative in making predictions and plans for the clutch that Naughty Sweet-Sweet is now sitting on. There are simply too many ways for unhatched chicken equations to get scrambled up. Just like we could have learned from grandma if only we'd listened more attentively.