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    Chicken you can feel good about eating

    Our chickens eat feed that was never sprayed with chemicals, and they run around outside living chickenly lives and munching on clover. We rotate our chickens’ yard so they always have fresh greens, making them healthier and more delicious. You’ll be able to taste the difference. If you want a deeper relationship with your food, you can follow what’s happening at the farm on Facebook. (You don’t need a Facebook account to see it!)

    We sell mainly whole, frozen chicken but also have a limited number of frozen packaged parts. See our Orders and Prices page.

    We deliver frozen chicken to Minneapolis, and we welcome you to our farm in the Northfield area.

    NEWS FROM THE FIELDS

    The baby chicks are growing!

    March 19th, 2014

    The chicks that we picked up at the post office in December have grown from adorable little fluff balls into regular hens. They’re much smaller than our grown layers and aren’t producing eggs yet, but they have all their feathers and one of them is trying to crow.

    This week, a few have been venturing outside for the first time. It clearly takes some courage for them to step out into a new world, and most aren’t interested. A few are willing to take the risk though, especially some Delawares, which are cream-colored with pretty black accent feathers.

    Working near their coop this morning, I saw three bright young Delawares outside their door. They drew themselves up to their full height in their curiosity and looked thin and graceful as a chicken could ever hope to look. Every curve of them was made more alive with wonder, and I smiled to see them.

    A cat, which was accompanying me, trotted ahead toward the coop, and when the chickens saw her, the magic of the moment was done. They shrunk a couple of inches and turned their heads back and forth, fluttering their wings nervously. All at once, it occurred to them that the cat was coming straight towards them and was not changing its course. Struck with the enormity of the situation, they flapped their wings wildly and retreated back into the safety of their coop.

    This tiny gray cat, which has a policy of ignoring all poultry, continued past the coop with dignity. I think she was perfectly aware of the disturbance she caused, but she just played it cool because she has learned how to manage chickens. Last year, some rather feisty hens chased that cat’s great big son all around the yard, but they left her alone even though she was half his size.

    All these characters remind me of my children. My two year old, like those little chicks, has grown from being an adorable ball of softness to being a fountain of wonder as he daily tries to make his world a little bigger. I watch my bigger kids try to master the art of standing their ground with grace, just like the cats, and I cringe when they confront the human equivalent of feisty, pecking hens.

    As a mother, I’m probably doing exactly the same thing too, but with more exhaustion and less zeal. Along with the extra helping of exhaustion, I bring something else that I don’t see in my animals or my children. I bring an awareness that this will all come to an end. The young ones will all grow up. I’ll probably be around long after these particular chickens and cats are gone. The things I love today will be replaced by something different, and maybe by something beautiful. But this day, with these people, these animals, and this particular kind of wonder, will never come again.


    Two kinds of pigs

    February 25th, 2014

    We picked up five mixed-breed pigs earlier this winter to join the guinea hogs that have been with us since August.

    These pigs are a mix of Berkshire and Chester White, so they’ll be larger and leaner than the guineas we sold last year. (We’ll still be raising guineas as well!) Berkshire heritage should give the meat an especially good flavor.

    These hogs are pink with black spots, and after growing for a while at our place now, they already they dwarf the solid looking, furry black guineas.

    We’re very happy with how they were raised before we bought them — free-range with outdoor pens, hand-fed, and without hormones. The farmers at Pig in the Patch, who bred these pigs, have raised hogs for a very long time and are a wonderful resource.

    Picking up those new pigs was a mellow experience that involved driving to the next county, visiting with a friendly farmer and then pulling home a trailer full of pigs nestled in straw. Although they were cautious about exiting the trailer, a little corn convinced them, and they were soon settled in their new abode.

    Buying guinea hogs is not so easy, and realistically, we’re going to need to start breeding them if we want to keep offering them, (which I really want to do).

    To bring home our current batch of guinea hogs,(the rare black breed) I drove a minivan home from Iowa filled with five pigs, three kids and a generous heap of luggage.

    We picked up pigs in Iowa because it is hard to find the rare guinea hog. They are absolutely lovely pigs – notoriously gentle, easy on the feed budget and especially delicious.

    Late last summer we found some for sale near an Iowa town we planned to visit anyway, so we arranged to pick them up on our way home.

    We met the pigs just south of Des Moines. They were black, furry and about the size of cats except instead of being lithe, they were heavy and solid as logs. We settled them into our straw-lined dog crates, repacked our luggage around the crates and we were on our way.

    It was a hot day and the air-conditioning was running. Soon cries of protest rose up from the back seat. I want my kids to take these things in stride, so I encouraged them to be philosophical about the smell. Pigs themselves don’t smell. Pig manure smells, of course, but they’re not unique in that.

    Then the odor reached the driver’s seat. Mercifully, I found a way to keep fresh air sweeping from the front of the vehicle to the back and then out. It didn’t smell like potpourri, but the smell diminished to the degree we could all cope with it by being philosophical.

    We stopped a couple of times to give water to the pigs, leaving the back of the minivan open so it would not get too hot. As I was buckling my toddler into his car seat at a rest stop, an elderly woman pulled behind us and shouted questions at my daughter.

    “What are those?” the lady hollered.

    “They’re just little babies!” my daughter gushed.

    “They’re little baby WHATS?”

    “Pigs!”

    “Where are you taking them?”

    “Home to our farm!” my girl answered. Apparently satisfied that nothing awful was happening, the lady pulled away.

    At our next stop, my fourth-grader carried a half-gallon Mason jar into a gas station to fill with water for the pigs. We were in the entryway when the jar slipped from his hands and shattered with an explosion that sounded like a gun shot.

    For what seemed like forever, I stood immobile, as did the large line of people at the cash register.

    When I glanced up, I saw a dozen faces staring at us in silent horror. I tried to look normal and reassuring, telling my stricken son that it was OK, and then explaining loudly to the cashier that we dropped a jar.

    Mercifully, we were on the last leg of our journey at that point and did not take any more breaks.

    Those pigs arrived safely and are doing well. I think they are marvelous, and I am delighted that four of the five are females, which means we may be able to breed them and keep them with us longer. Really, I think I’d better breed them. I don’t want to drive more pigs home from Iowa if I can avoid it.


    Chickenly grace

    January 15th, 2014

    An era ended for us last month.

    Our first batch of laying hens that gave us eggs for two summers’ worth of farmers markets was not laying much. In the younger hens’ coop we filled an egg basket to overflowing, but a visit to the older hens left us with a few eggs rolling around in the bottom of the basket.

    I cried when I took them to be turned into stewing hens. We’d raised them since they were fuzzy chicks, and I recognized all the individual, quirky birds.

    I talked with them every day for almost two years, enjoying their comforting, crooning comments. Organic chicken feed is expensive, though, and we are trying to run a business here. So I did what I felt I had to do.

    My one comfort was that a few of my favorite birds left to start a second career as models. They joined the little flock of chickens kept by Glynnis Lessing, a ceramic artist who lives just north of town. All her chickens are black and white because she makes black and white pottery, and some of it is graced with pictures of chickens.

    I can understand why an artist would want chickens. The birds have a hilarious way of being graceful and awkward at the same time. People share this trait with chickens, but it is harder for us to laugh at ourselves because our awkward moments are so painful.

    Chickens, on the other hand, never seem embarrassed. After being forcefully reminded of its place in the pecking order, a chicken just ruffles its feathers to clear its thoughts, then moves on with chickenly dignity.

    Watching them do this is almost like witnessing redemption.

    All their grace and awkwardness are on full display, too. Sometimes a demure little hen will remind me almost of a swan with her lovely-curved neck and the delicate way she carries herself.

    Then I shake my pail of kitchen scraps and my picture of grace hurtles toward me on legs so short that her little body rocks back and forth as she runs like a boat on high seas. Those scrawny three-toed feet fly out behind her portly body as she sprints, and all comparisons with a swan become a joke.

    I laugh at that joke, feeling like I’m laughing at myself, as well as my chickens.

    The chickens I have seen on Glynnis’s pottery make me smile, too, because they remind me of that same wonderful joke.

    I feel she sees that same beautiful blend of grace, awkwardness and chickenly dignity. Then she puts it on display so people can appreciate it.

    My chickens that now work as models might nourish people, just as surely as the chickens that will be eaten in warm, nourishing stews.

    As much as our bodies need good food, our hearts sometimes need to be reminded that we — along with our chickens — are graceful and awkward at the same time and that even this can be a source of joy.


    Egg subscription

    November 1st, 2013

    Our farmers market season is over, but our hens are still laying up a storm! We’re going to offer egg subscriptions to be picked up at Ian’s parents’ house in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.

    - WHAT? A 10-week subscription. After that, you can renew for another 10 weeks. We’ll keep going like that until the market season starts again in May.

    - WHEN? Picked up Thursday nights from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The first one runs Nov. 7 through Jan. 9. (We’re skipping 12-26, so that isn’t counted in the 10 weeks!) On some nights – like 11/14 and 11/28– the Minneapolis delivery might have to be moved to Tuesday.

    - WHERE? Ian’s parents’ home near 46th Ave. S. and 40th St. E in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. OR at our farm – out by Millersburg in the Northfield area.

    - HOW? This is a prepaid subscription. We have a limited supply of eggs – although we’re getting more layers within a week – and we’ll take subscriptions on a first come first serve basis. You can send us your check by mail or give it to Ian when you first pick up your eggs. We might have extra eggs available some weeks.

    - COST? $47.50 for 10 weeks, a discount off the regular price of $5 a dozen. Please bring your cartons back to us!

    - WHAT IF YOU MISS A WEEK? If you occasionally have to miss a pick-up we’ll try to get you 2 dozen the next week. If the supply is really tight, there might occasionally be a longer wait for the replacement eggs. Or, if you want, we could donate your skipped dozen to the food shelf for you.

    Our hens will be eating organic feed and going outside during the winter except when the wind chill is way below zero.


    Winter drop-offs

    October 22nd, 2013

    The regular farmers’ market season is coming to an end in Minneapolis, but we’ll be bringing chicken to the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis every month. We’ll be at Ian’s parents’ home near 40th St. E. and 46th Ave. S from 3:30-4 on:

    11/23
    12/21
    1/25
    2/22
    3/22
    4/27

    (Those are all Saturdays) We’ll send out e-mails when one of those dates is drawing near to ask if we should bring something up for you.

    We’ll also be at the Kingsfield/Fulton holiday market on 11/10 from 9 to 2 p.m.

    We won’t stop selling on farm either because it’s getting colder! You can still get a slight discount by buying chicken directly from the farm.


    Dressing for fall

    October 16th, 2013

    I never have cultivated much of a fashion sense, but at this time of year, clothing starts to feel very important to me. This morning, the indoors seemed warm and inviting, and the outdoors looked like a place to avoid. Still, my toddler and I had to venture out in the cool mist to take care of the animals. He was dressed in a yellow slicker with a hood, looking like a ray of sunshine to me, and I wore my Carhart jacket. Both my husband and I balked a little at the idea of buying the pricey Carharts, but we pushed past our reservations, each purchasing one as a gift for the other.

    My mom, who always wishes beautiful things for me, was a little disappointed in my husband’s gift. “How does it look? ” she asked.

    “It depends, I guess, on the look you’re going for,” I answered. “If you’re trying to look like a farmer, then it looks perfect!” Honestly, the feel of it it is more important than the look because when I’m wearing that jacket, I am rarely distracted by the weather.

    This morning, my Carhart protected me from drizzle as my toddler and I marched out to care for a batch of chicks in the most distant coop. Instead of paying attention to the rain, I was wondering whether the speedy toddler was going to trip and crash on his stomach in the mud. (He did fall, several times, but picked himself up, saying “I’m OK.”) The rain that looked so daunting from inside was not even worth my attention.

    When the chicks were done, we opened the hens’ coop and brought some corn and damaged squash to the hogs. Watching the hogs nibble and wrestle with some of those hard squash, I breathed that cool damp air, and savored the smells of wet earth and newly fallen leaves. Standing quietly under the trees by the pig pen, it felt like I had an intimate relationship with this little patch of the world.

    There’s something special about being outdoors, not for fun, but because we need to be there. We end up learning how an autumn drizzle sounds sounds falling in a field of sorghum sudan grass, and we know how clean the snowy winds smell. We end up seeing the stars far too often, going out after dark to take care of something, but those stars can feel like mysterious companions when you’re looking up at them often enough.

    In the end, my mother’s wish that I should have beautiful things is fulfilled by that rugged looking Carhart jacket. I am gathering a rich collection of stars, the perfume of rain, the treasure of intimacy with a little patch of the world. Anyone who tries to store such extravagant beauty in their heart is bound to be changed by it.


    Help from our Friends

    October 7th, 2013

    At the farmers markets, we love discussing differences between our two breeds of meat chickens, and we can wax eloquent about the virtues of our old-fashioned hogs. We can explain how we keep our animals outside eating greens, and why that’s unique and important. We speak with some authority about these things.

    We are able to speak with authority because we’ve had help. Almost four and a half years ago, we uprooted our family of four from our beloved South Minneapolis home so we could follow our dream of farming, and we started to fix up a farmhouse that sat vacant after a foreclosure.

    The wind whipped and wailed around the house like a chorus of querulous voices, and enormous farm equipment moved through the vast black fields at night, looking more like space ships than tractors. Inside the house, we tackled the leaky windows, distressed carpet, and stolen pipes. We bought 50 chickens, and my husband built them a coop. When I looked up from my work long enough to form a thought, I marveled at our hubris.

    Then my husband Ian did something that changed our life: He bought a used dehumidifier. The man selling the dehumidifier had an antique tractor at his house, and so he and Ian started chatting. They talked for more than two hours, and after that, my husband had dehumidifier and a friend.

    My husband’s friend Chuck grew up farming in Iowa in an era when a family farm looked more like what you see in children’s books. They had a menagerie of animals, and they rotated their land through pasture, hay and corn, to protect the fertility of their miraculous black soil. It is the kind of arrangement that supported people for many generations, and it’s the kind of farming we would like to do.

    Chuck had plenty of advice about how we could keep our first little flock healthy. He also had advice about machinery. Early in their friendship, he and my husband drove out to buy our tractor together, then spent hours in the garage, working on carburetors and leaking gaskets.
    Four years later, Chuck still puts in time on our tractor, but he has branched out. When we got 8 inches of rain, and our chicken coop flooded, I called Chuck. When we weren’t sure we could finish building a coop before the arrival of some laying hens, Chuck was there swinging a hammer. When we sit down to plan what our farm will look like in 10 years, he’s there with ideas.

    Sometimes, when I have a moment to look up from my work with chickens and hogs, I still marvel at our hubris. The thought is overshadowed by respect for the people who have walked this path before us and who want us to succeed. Our friendship with Chuck has helped us stay rooted us in a solid tradition of farmers. For that, I am grateful.


    Meat birds going outside in the morning

    September 24th, 2013

    Our meat birds really go outside in the morning. We’ve all heard of the “free range” birds that actually stay inside all the time, but that’s not the case with our birds. They all go inside at night by themselves now, and we just shut the door to keep them safe from predators. Then, in the morning, they’re ready to go outside again as soon as they possibly can. They really like the morning and evening times, and in the middle of the day, they’ll probably rest in their coop again for a while.


    A spook in the coop

    September 13th, 2013

    I was doing chores at twilight when I heard men’s voices from one of my chicken coops. My first thought was that it must be visitors, but the only vehicles in the driveway were ours. The chicken coop sat dark and still, with cornfields stretching behind it as far as I could see and distant lightning flashing in the sky.

    The coop where I heard voices was the same one we’d emptied of chickens a few days before. Our gourmet meat birds grow up so be so lively and vibrant that after we take them to the processor, their old coop seems eerie and desolate.

    The longer I stood listening to the voices, the less they sounded like regular people. They varied in volume, sometimes were muffled, and sometimes were gone. I decided that a couple of stalkers were not chatting in my chicken coop, so it was safe for me to finish the chores.

    I was almost done when my husband came down to meet me, telling me that he heard men talking. He thought we should check it out together. I was more of the opinion that we should head inside, but I didn’t want to leave my husband alone with the voices, so I agreed.

    My husband reminded me of how my great aunt used to pick up radio signals in her filling, and he expected something around the coop was doing the same. This sounded possible. My mother’s friend had also picked late-night WCCO radio on his toilet seat and had to set a heavy book on the commode to quiet it down so he could sleep.

    We stood by the edge of the chicken yard together, looking suspiciously at the mesh fence and wondering if it was acting like a radio. Then we gazed at the darkness behind it, split by lightning flashes. The voices reached us in waves, sounding confident and masculine, but just muffled enough so we couldn’t hear words.

    It occurred to me that I’ve seen fireworks from that direction on the fourth of July, and I started wondering if maybe the turbulent atmosphere was intermittently carrying sounds from a celebration in New Prague.

    I wanted to tell my husband this, but I couldn’t think of the words “New Prague.” As I stuttered and searched for the words, I apparently looked stricken with a flashlight casting spooky shadows on my face from below. My husband waited in suspense, wondering what unspeakable thing I was trying say. Finally I spit out the wrong words: “Maybe it’s a celebration in New Ulm!”

    At this point, we started hearing polka music. It was a rollicking version of “The Chicken Dance.”

    I have never been so happy to hear polka. We listened until the song ended and the sky to the southwest blinked with fireworks. If the people at that celebration were half as happy as I was to see those fireworks, then the event must have been a smashing success.


    Guinea Hogs

    August 10th, 2013

    A person might call someone a “pig,” to say they are sloppy or overindulgent, but when I started really watching hogs, I noticed something very different. Pigs are confident. They have reason to be confident too; they are strong, and rowdy and smart. Being in charge of these animals sounded daunting to me. I thought maybe I’d pass on the idea of raising them.

    Then I saw guinea hogs. I was on a tour of Scattergood Friends School Farm in Iowa, when I walked up over the rise and saw small, black pigs standing in a pasture. They looked approachable, and I liked them almost immediately. During the last several years, I’ve learned more about the hogs and have only learned more reasons to admire them.

    They are an old-fashioned breed, which was perfect for the farms where most people lived until a few generations ago. They’re gentle, and they are bred to be able to grow on food that they find themselves. In this way, they’re not as dependent on corn and soybeans as the modern breeds. They would fit well into the multi-species pasture system we’re working on developing.

    When most people moved off the farm, and pork production changed, the breed was almost lost. In recent years though, their numbers have grown from the hundreds to the thousands. Because they’re rare, and also because they are unusually delicious, they made the Slow Foods Arc of Good Taste, a list of endangered foods that are worth preserving.

    We have eight guinea hogs on the farm now, and also some pork in the freezer. It’s good stuff. We’re selling it mostly at Fulton Farmers Market in Minneapolis.

    So far, my favorite time with guinea hogs was driving five piglets home from Iowa last week. We put them in two dog kennels in the back of the minivan, and checked on them frequently to offer them water.

    At one rest stop, my daughter was looking in on them with the hatchback open, and the pigs were snuffing and grunting and making amazing noises. An older couple pulled up by the car and asked my daughter about the pigs.

    “What are those?” the woman said.

    “They’re just little babies!” my daughter answered enthusiastically!

    “They’re little baby WHATS?” the man asked with incredulity.

    “Pigs!”

    “Where are you taking them?” the woman queried.

    “Back home to our farm!” my girl answered, and the couple nodded, apparently
    satisfied and pulled away again.

    The piglets arrived safely at our home, and we are not actively trying not to feel too attached to them. They are the size of large cats, but are built like little tanks. Lifting one — which we did when we were transporting them — is like lifting a piece of heavy firewood, except firewood usually doesn’t put up a fight when you try to carry it, and these guys do.

    My husband’s friend, who grew up raising old fashioned pigs, said it would be easier for us if we had 20 of them instead of 5. Maybe some day we will.