Jan and I would love to have a self-sustainable organic household one day. So we decided to do some voluntary work on a little organic farm to find out if that way of living suited us or if it was just another romantic idea the two of us had. Through the website http://workaway.info we found the Funky Acres Farm, run by Jaime, her husband, Eric, and their two-year-old, Echo. The fact that they still work the land with horses and that their house looked like it was built on an unconventional way, interested us a lot.
We arrived on a Friday. Jaime showed us around and took us with her to catch the cows, Patience and Gracy, who were up hill. Gracy needed to be milked and afterwards the milk had to be filtered and canned. To can milk, you have to put a plastic foil between the jar and the lit, because otherwise the milk tastes strange. We helped her out and got to taste the rich milk of the Jersey cow, it tasted really well! We were lucky, because the next day Jaime was going to the farmer’s market to sell some of her famous cowboy cookies. Some of the cookies came a bit crumbled out of the oven, so we could eat them. They were delicious, especially together with the fresh milk!
When Eric came home he took us along to show us the daily morning and evening chores: feeding and watering the meat chickens – really stupid birds, they don’t even get in their cage at night by themselves, so we had to put them in every time to protect them from foxes, and on top of that, they are really stinky; checking on the layer chickens and collecting their eggs – luckily for us, these birds are smarter; feeding the pigs, who act like they have been starving every time. Now this sounds quite easy, but it was hard work. The huge buckets of water were very heavy and hard to walk with, as well as the food bags. The shores were going to be our daily responsibility, because Jaime was six months pregnant and shouldn’t be doing heavy lifting.
After we finished, we tasted some more cookies and milk and had breakfast for dinner, because that’s what they do often on the Funky Acres.
The next day we woke up at 5 am, to do shores and to join Jaime to the farmers marked. After we set up the table with goods, we had a very relaxing morning and got to know Echo a little bit better. She is quite amazing. She can walk really steep stairs all by herself, while carrying a milk jar; she climbs fences as if it is the most normal thing in the world to do when you’re two and she helps her mother baking bread. She found us really funny and sometimes literally peed her pants while laughing. When she bumped her head against a table, for example, I said: “BOINK!” and she couldn’t get over it and laughed about 5 minutes, repeating the word and since then she used it every time she or someone else bumped something. Even when on the first of September she fell all the way down the stairs, which scared the bits out of me, she cried and wanted to be hold, she sobbed: ‘Echo boink, Echo boink.’ Brave kiddo.
Anyway, in the afternoon we went back to the farm and Eric took us with him to do some work with the horses. We both got to ride the wagon, and we found out that working with reins on the car is much more delicate than while horse riding. The next day, we were going to the Interlake Fair with the horses to do some wagon rides for the kids, so we had to get used to being around Annie and June. The fair was really nice and many people wanted to take a ride. Even a 92-year-old lady jumped on. We were good grooms and as a reward we got a really nice hamburger from the farmers.
The rest of the week Eric was going to be truck driving, so it was only us and Jaime running the farm. We learned a lot!
We learned to do some gardening. We harvested garlic, onions and carrots and weeded the garden while doing so. Especially the garlic was a lot of work, because it was a little bit over time and we had to clean it and dry it afterwards.
We realized that farming makes your house dirty pretty quick, so we cleaned it a few times and we helped Jaime doing some of the cooking. We learned to can plumes, pears and pickles. They all turned out to be very good, especially the pickles, even though Jaime had misread the recipe garlic wise. We also dried some of the fruits and ate them as snacks. She also showed us how to make butter, which is really fun, and cottage cheese, a little bit harder to make. We taught her in return that nutmeg goes really well in your mashed potatoes and white sauce and that Oreo fudge brownies are simply the best.
We also got to butcher the meat chickens. That was something else. First their throat needs to be cut. I tried it once, but I chickened out and even didn’t cut the feathers, so that job was left for Jaime. Afterwards the chickens needed to be plucked, a really tough job with these animals, Jan turned out to be very good at it. And then they had to be gutted. My hands seemed to be perfect for that job. In the beginning it fell a little yucky, but as I got used to it and got to recognize the different organs, the job became easier. Which was a good thing, because we butchered 60 birds! The other birds were brought to the slaughterhouse, so they could be sold, because you cannot sell animals you butchered yourself.
When Eric came back, we did some fencing with the horses and replaced all the horses to another field. Fencing is a nut job. First you have to dig a hole, then you put the pole in, then you take the ‘misery whip’ – impossible to carry – and knock the pole into the ground. Jesus, I stood by and watched the men work and handed them some equipment when asked.
We had little time off, because there is always something to do. One afternoon we went to the lake to write for the blog and another afternoon we took the canoe for a paddle on Otter Lake. The other free moments were shorter and scattered around during the day.
Turns out, we really enjoyed doing the chores. They give you some time to relax because you are working really hard, with your mind focused on feeding the animals, so no time to go wondering or overthinking stuff. We also enjoyed spending time with sweet Echo, the kid who really knows what true sounds animal makes (Watch video on Facebook to witness J ) and how to play and live independent, without getting bored.
So the farm life suits us pretty well. Now we know some valuable things for our future life:
- Pigs love sour milk.
- Meat birds are stinky and we don’t want any.
- Geese and ducks help you to keep the grass short.
- If you want a Border Collie, but don’t have the room for sheep to give him a job, take ducks (their eggs are good too!)
- Horses that know word commands, are a must! (Once Annie was haltered to a pole, and she pulled it out and panicked, Eric just yelled: ‘Annie, hooooow!’ And she stopped immediately and was set free.)
- Chores are relaxing.
The only thing left to do is find a place where we can do all this within a reasonable budget. But that is for later, first we go on and explore this beautiful world a little more.