July 31, 2012

Here's to Family Farms! And Music! And Rural Communities! And Red Ants Pants!

We had just a fantastic time this weekend at the 2nd Annual Red Ants Pants Festival in White Sulphur Springs.

It's nothing short of amazing to watch a big pasture outside of a small Montana town come to life the way the Jackson Ranch does for this festival. And, to know that one incredible woman's vision for women in leadership and strong family farms and viable rural communities is the reason for it all makes it even more so. That's the reason we go. Because even in dust and heat (and with a toddler in dust and heat) -- it's just magical to watch it all come together and feel that energy.

This is the second year we've done the festival and this year, the music was even better (Mary Chapin Carpenter!) and we were able to do a demonstration of our bike-powered fresh flour, in addition to selling whole ancient and heritage grains and our sourdough Farmer Bread.

About 125 people showed up for the demo (called the Tour de Flour) to hear us talk about heritage and ancient grains, fresh flour and the renaissance of family farming. And, at least 15 brave people signed up to compete to win flour and bread with our grain-grinding bike time trials. (We did, however, had to call it at 7 contestants because the mill got so hot it started to gum up -- basically baking -- the flour. We've never tried grinding that fast, for that long or in that kind of heat. :)

To top off the excitement, the Red Ants Pants Foundation -- which is why the whole festival was started to begin with -- announced on stage Saturday that we are one of their first grant winners. Pretty darn cool, especially considering how highly we think of the foundation (and of our friend Sarah Calhoun, the owner of Red Ants Pants). Basically the organization was founded:

-To develop and expand leadership roles for women
-To preserve and support working family farms and ranches
-To enrich and promote rural communities

To that end, this year, the foundation used the proceeds of last year's festival to dole out community grant awards to people and organizations working toward those goals. We were so honored to be on this first list.

We won for a project we've been dreaming about for some time now: stone-milled ancient and heritage grains. So, thanks to the foundation, we're shopping now for an electric (our legs are so happy!) stone mill that will get fresh flour to our Grain CSA farm share members (sign up now!) as well as individuals, restaurants and bakeries across the state and the region.

So, even despite the dust and rain and sunburns, it was a tip-top weekend.

Here's the proof:

Willa and her Papa had a grand time walking around the festival, collecting rocks, listening to music and watching all the people. This girl did not get her Mama's aversion to crowds.
We got to hang all weekend with Emily, our amazing, awesome, incredible apprentice.  Here's Willa and Emily (or, "Ammee" to Willa) watching Mary Chapin Carpenter, sipping on a lemonade slushy and yelling "Good job people!" after each song. (That was Willa's idea.)

Oh, Mary Chapin Carpenter, your voice is like home to me. Here's one big reason why, and why she was just the perfect voice for this event.

July 19, 2012

When Things Make Sense, And Then They Don't

There are days when your life make sense. And then there are days it doesn't.

Being aware and respectful of how quickly it can change from one to the other can make you more thankful for the days it does and more patient on the days it doesn't.

On Monday, it all made sense, all this scrambling around, all this juggling. This cobbled-together existence of farm and work and home and parenting -- it's for something.

Mostly, it's for what I get to do on Mondays when I deliver farm shares to customers and veggies to the Mountain Front Market in Choteau. On those days, I get to: 1) get food to rural folks who are so appreciative of good food and good farmers and good local economies and good community and 2) do this while my daughter, who I often worry will someday resent the fact that we spent our summers schlepping vegetables all over the Golden Triangle, has a big time helping our friend and market owner Jill. This week, she helped stock apples.

Jill told me later that Willa would pick up an apple and stare at it for a few moments, intently exploring each curve and bump and color before handing it up to Jill to stock. "Isn't that what we should all be doing?" Jill asked. Stopping to smell and touch and really see the things in our lives?

After all that hard work, Willa sat down for a glass of milk with Jill in the back and Willa colored while Jill made new labels for the produce I'd just dropped off. I had a vision of her at 5 or 6 or 7 doing the same thing every Monday -- helping Mama deliver veggies and drinking milk with Jill in the back of a grocery store.

I thought about the stories someday she might tell her kids about those afternoons spent in the store. Picking out treats. Coloring. Hanging with her pal Jill.

I thought too about how similar her stories might be to the stories my Mom tells me about her childhood in her grandparents' store.

(My great grandparents, Lebanese immigrants, owned and ran "People's Grocery" in Great Falls -- which my Great Grandpa Mike called "Pe-op-o-lee's" -- for many, many years. Maybe the retail side of food was in my blood as much as the growing side after all.)

Sometimes, that full circle stuff just chokes me up, I tell you. I turn into a big, sappy fool. 

But, then, on Tuesday, wham. Nothing made sense. There were many tears, too much to do, not enough time, calls and texts and urgent emails, lettuce wilting, needing ice, conference calls wedged between my shoulder and chin while I tried to walk a squirmy, hot, cranky toddler in a stroller (nap, dammit!) for the third time around the neighborhood, spilled liquids on keyboards, sticky skin, dishes piling, dog puke on the couch and a mountain of laundry that seemed to have doubled in size overnight. Oh, and a veggie pick up at our aforementioned disaster of a house.

No, I don't have any photos to illustrate this s*^tshow.

But then! Wednesday. Harried, but manageable. Willa's pal Carey, who takes care of her occasionally while I work, saw the ridiculousness the day before in our house and so she offered to take her for the whole day. (And, she baked one whole cake and brownies and cupcakes for us to boot. That woman has saved my life more than once, I swear.) And then to cap off a productive day, we had our awesome farm apprentices over for dinner.  (Stuffed zucchini. Recipe to come.)

As I finished dinner prep and got everything out to the table, finally, I felt a calm I hadn't felt for a few days.

And I was able to stop long enough to witness this little girl's Papa tickling her with a few leaves.

Things made sense again. Just. Like. That.


By the way, I'm back on the column writing for The Daily Yonder (a very cool online journal about Rural America) this week and my return column is about making room for special things to grow.

July 5, 2012

Farro It, Dude!

Hey there. We've been off gallivanting in North Dakota. Why? Because that's what Montana farmers do, apparently. On the only three days they have off in a row, they drive to North Dakota to talk to other farmers about, you guessed it, farming.

So, I don't have much to tell you this week. But, I do have a new recipe over on the farm blog to share:

Warm Prairie Farro Salad With Baby Beets, Blue Cheese and Mustard Greens



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