November was a whirlwind of activity. With building projects, calving, markets, turkey harvest and a major power outage all in just 30 days!
October weather has run the gamut from typical frosty mornings following bright, clear nights to balmy, tropical feeling days. It is strange to have the varied hues of fall while the temperature feels like July. Like every fall, I have to retrace my steps at the day’s end to collect cast off long sleeve shirts or the lightweight down jacket that seemed necessary when I first stepped out the door. Another hallmark of the season is that the light fades early, this allows us to get inside hours earlier than in the previous four months and for me it means a return to books. I just started, The Shepherd’s Life which chronicles the life of the author, James Rebanks in England’s Lake district. I’ve included a brief excerpt here that I think captures the essence of why I farm.
There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months, and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow, and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives, and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter. We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true. Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape.
Calving continues and we have three healthy bull calves out on pasture. Evening chores now include a few minutes to watch the calves frisking around together, tails straight up and long legs stretched into an ungainly gallop. We have four more cows to calve and hope all arrive as healthy and without incident as the three so far.
Jake has been busy with all sorts of projects including groundwork at our new property for our walk-in cooler and freezer, setting water and electric lines for the hoop house and egg washing area in the garage, and building a third moveable hen house for our growing flock. After a week with the excavator the property has gone through another stage of transformation, bringing us closer to having our hoop house and cooler/freezer completed by year’s end.
What’s in Season?
We’ll have LAMB & GOAT this weekend at the BTLT’s Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm. It has been a wait and thanks for your patience. Our pasture-raised lambs are slow-growing and with the warm fall we wanted to maximize our opportunity to keep them on pasture as long as possible. Our goats spent their 18 months with us browsing on the field and road edges of the farm. They visited Whatley Farm in Topsham to do some work clearing up the gullies bordering their crop fields. Knowing these animals will nourish your families reassures us as we let them go. We’ll miss the individuals in each of these groups while taking solace in the bonds of trust and care with the animals who remain.
We’re nearing Halloween and this has traditionally been the deadline for ordering your holiday birds. Having scaled up the number of turkeys we produce, there are still birds available. Enjoyed yours? Spread the word to your friends and family by sharing these links to reserve turkey or goose.
Tuesdays through November 22nd
8 AM-2 PM Brunswick Farmers’ Market on the Mall Brunswick
Saturdays through November 4th
8:30 AM- 12:30 PM BTLT’s Farmers’ Market Brunswick
Saturdays beginning November 11th
9:00 AM – 12:30 PM Brunswick Winter Market Brunswick
As the days get shorter the tempo of the farm keeps picking up. Though our daily chores take less time our project list remains lengthy. We’ll be installing a new walk-in cooler/freezer on the farm this fall as well as putting up the hoophouse for our laying hens. These pullets (at right) will be the first residents!
Despite the lack of rain in July and August we are feeling good about the season overall. Two major accomplishments are the amount of hay produced (3,000 + square bales and 175 round bales) and the clearing & seeding of 12 acres.
We are eagerly awaiting calving season, which should begin in another 10 – 14 days. The mama cows are especially loved. The corn husks from the garden and apples gleaned from around the farm are welcome treats. Unlike many of our other animals the calves are pretty elusive. After their first week they are wary of us and jealously guarded by their mamas and aunties. So, once they arrive we spend their first few days seeking them out and stroking their soft, clean hides. Visit the blog for some calf photos designed to tide you over.
We had some excellent help in August and you may have seen us at market with our nieces and nephews who hail from Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. It as much fun to have help feeding birds as it having these visitors get us off the farm and out to have fun!
What’s in Season?
We’ll have BEEF this weekend at the BTLT’s Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm. It looks like there will be more grilling days in our future, so be prepared with some of our certified organic and 100% grass-fed beef. We will have a full range of steaks as well as roasts and slow-cooking favorites for the inevitable rainy days. Our cows perfectly express our ideals of land management as they harvest sunshine in the form of grass and transform it into delicious, healthy meat.
Though the holidays seem a safe distance away, they will come sooner than you think! Please plan to reserve your Holiday Birds! Your thanksgiving turkeys are growing rapidly and keeping us entertained with their antics. Geese are ready now and will be available frozen for Thanksgiving or fresh the week of December 19th. These birds are raised on grass, supplemented with certified organic grain and vegetables. Follow these links to reserve your turkey or goose.
We’ve almost crested our summer peak! Our final groups of chickens will be harvested over the next two weeks with geese and summer turkeys following soon behind. This is welcome news as another hot, dry summer has left us wishing for more grass. We are turning those wishes into action by using the Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN) no-till drill to seed our newly cleared 12 acres.
A no-till drill is a piece of equipment that allows you to add new species of plants to an existing field or to seed a brand new field (like ours) more effectively. The drill rolls across the ground, uses coulters to slit open the soil, drop in a seed and then another set of coulters and rollers close up the slit over your seed. The advantages of using this tool are that the seed goes just where you want it and the chances of germination are much greater given that it is in contact with soil.
As many of you know we own 70 acres adjacent to the home farm. Over the course of just 4 weeks we worked with Comprehensive Land Technologies to open up two existing pastures, the area for our new barn and to selectively thin for silvopasture. We are thrilled with the results and very excited to see the grass grow. Stay tuned for a blog post that will chronicle the clearing.
What’s in Season?
Goat is back in stock! If you haven’t tried it, I encourage you to do so. You can find recipes here. Our cashmere goats are raised on pasture and browse for a lean, mild flavored meat very similar to our lamb.
By the first weekend in September we will have additional beef and turkey. Our beef sold in record time this year, so if you are waiting for steaks, thanks for your patience. For now, enjoy the burgers! If you prefer a turkey burger then you’ll be in luck too.
Since we’re talking turkey- you can now order your Holiday Birds!
Your thanksgiving turkeys just went outside and are enjoying a summer forage crop of millet. We call the turkeys the “goats of the poultry world” meaning they are always scheming about ways to upend our expectations. Whether by escaping from their brooder, roosting on the cords of their lights or chirping with delight – these birds are never boring!
The first group of geese will head to harvest at the end of the month, so if you’re contemplating one for the holidays we encourage you to test one now. These birds are raised on grass, supplemented with certified organic grain and local delicacies like our just ripe green apples. The geese are gorgeous and we’re looking forward to sharing them with you. To order, follow these links to reserve your turkey or goose.
May seemed like an especially long month, with so many different things keeping us busy. We received chicks every week, transitioned from barn life to pasture rotations, took Sam (the bull) up to Penobscot for the summer and let our summer turkeys out of their brooder. Everyone is doing well despite the cooler (then much hotter) temperatures and wet pastures. It remains delightful to have the hot sunny days of summer and rain too (since last year we had so little!)
Our goose, TW has hatched out 7 goslings! We stopped selling goose eggs in April so we could let her set and she did a great job. She and her mates are very protective parents but the goslings are sooooo cute, nothing will deter me! You can see more photos and a video of the goslings on Instagram. I got to hold all 7 goslings in my shirt for their move down to our East pasture. There they will grow up with a stream and fresh grass to mow.
Our newest batch of laying hens arrived on Friday. This group features all white breeds including White Rock, Austra Whites and Delaware. We are excited to try two new breeds in this group and thrilled to keep having Delawares on the farm. They remain my (Abby) favorite chicken. The Austra White breed is a cross between an Australorp and White Leghorn, these birds will lay white eggs and will (we hope) combine the efficiency of the Leghorn with the laid-back temperament of the Australorps. Having unique breeds in each group will make it easy for us to keep track of how old the hens are when they get mingled together in their winter housing.
What’s in Season?
This is a big week, on June 17th we’ll have fresh chicken, rosemary mutton sausage and chicken mousse at Saturday market! Fresh chicken season is just getting started, look for it most Saturdays from now until September. We will again be offering whole and half birds as well as a full-range of cuts.
Some call it, “deliciously addictive” and our rosemary mutton sausage is good in just about everything from chili, breakfast omelets to burgers.
Turtle Rock Farm, run by the unparalleled Jenn Legnini is pleasing OUR taste buds with a smooth as butter chicken mousse. It is life-changing!
Look for turkey and goat to return by the end of August. We appreciate your patience and thank you for purchasing so much grass-fed & organic meat!
We now offer a Market Share CSA. The program is modeled after a traditional CSA meaning the farm receives payment upfront for a share of the harvest throughout the season. In Apple Creek’s model you will receive a 10% bonus for every $100 share purchased. This means our $110 market share will be priced at $100, a $220 market share at $200 and so on.
You can purchase your share at market and upon doing so you will receive a swipe-able card loaded with your share amount. Simply bring the card to market, we’ll swipe it and you’ll draw down your share. We hope the CSA will make it even easier to shop at market, give you added value and reduce the fees paid to our credit card processor. Your card can be refilled at any time and is good for all our products.
Haying has begun!
We’re just about done with lambing with a single ewe left. The goat kids have begun to arrive and we have 10 kids out of 5 does so far! The lambs are bashful and shy when they are born, while the goat kids come into the world willful and independent.
We give all our newborns a shot of BoSe, a selenium and vitamin E booster commonly given to goats residing in selenium deficient areas. Selenium is necessary to maintain muscle tone in adults, and prevent “white muscle disease” in newborn animals, read more. These shots are given under the skin and take less than a minute. However, in that time the average goat kid will emit 2-5 blood-curdling shrieks. Keep in mind these babies are roughly 4-6 pounds, half the size of lambs, which can weight between 10-15lbs. Size can be deceiving when it comes to these little ones!
Our first batch of broilers arrived on Thursday which to me is the OFFICIAL start of the season. We plan to start having chicken at market by the end of May with weekly processing through the summer. Part of our expansion plan includes having a walk-in so we are aiming for fresh chicken at both Tuesday and Friday markets. Stay tuned for a post on our processing schedule or follow the farm’s Facebook page where we’ll announce where you can find fresh chicken.
Our first batch of goslings also arrived! They are the sweetest of creatures. These are the only babies who are visibly excited to see US! These Emden goslings will be raised alongside our broilers this year to protect them from the avian predation we’ve experienced the last few years. A fellow farmer shared with us the tip to start them off together so that the geese learn to appreciate the chicks from an early age, otherwise some bullying occurs. We will be offering holiday geese again this year. Like turkeys we will start the reservation list in July and you’ll be able to choose when you’d like your goose in either November, December or January.
We have 10 DAYS left on our crowdfunding campaign. Our thanks for the donations we’ve received so far. We love growing happy, healthy animals and appreciate your recognition of our work. Your continued support means a great deal to us.
The funds we raise will be used to purchase a hoop house, nest boxes and related lumber and supplies for a larger and improved winter house for our hens. A year from now we aim to have 500 hens laying which will mean more of our great eggs and expanded availability at Morning Glory in Brunswick and as an “add-on” share to a local vegetable CSA. There are many benefits to be derived from this expansion. We’ll be using 4 moveable houses to rotate our hens through pasture which will add a tremendous amount of fertility to our soil. We’ll need it as we open up our new land and to ensure the continued productivity of our current acreage.
Please support our campaign and share it with your networks of friends, family and neighbors who are excited about new farmers and local, organic food. No pledge is too small and we’re glad to accept pledges at farmers market and answer your questions about the project. We created a detailed post about the farm’s expansion plans and in coming weeks we’ll share how the changes we’re planning will improve animal health, streamline management and allow us to grow the farm while maintaining the same high quality of products & our sanity!
We know that crowdfunding isn’t for everyone and we’ll be launching a Market Share CSA later this month. This will allow you to purchase a flexible sized “share” and give you a cash bonus based on the size you choose. Much like a CSA this will help us have operating funds during May and you’ll have the flexibility to use your share to purchase whatever you like throughout the 2017 season. Look for details at market and in the next newsletter where we’ll also talk about outdoor markets- just 4 weeks away!
Update! We reached our funding goal!
Thank you so much to those that contributed, shared our campaign and let us know of their support for our farm’s growth. We are so appreciative.
Though our hens produce more than 100 dozen eggs each week we are often sold out within the first 2 hours of our farmers’ markets. Our eggs, produced by free-roaming and adventurous hens are in high demand because of their golden yolks and unparalleled freshness. We love our animals and want to provide them with the best possible living conditions. Through this project and others detailed in our “growing out” plan we can both improve animal well-being and create efficiencies. These changes will enable us to grow our business to provide more local, organic meats & eggs to the great Brunswick area and support us as full-time farmers.
Last week we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $12,000. The funds are specifically to build housing to double the number of hens we keep from 250 to 500. We also see this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the farm, our products and kickstart the farm’s expansion. At present we lease the majority of our farm buildings. Over the last 3 years our business has grown, fueled by local demand, and we’ve outgrown our leased barns. We’re ready to begin expanding the farm to land we own in order to build the larger barns, processing areas and the cold storage we need to farm long into the future.
We have great markets, unparalleled products and a love for our work- with your support we can make this vision a reality. Please pledge & share our campaign.
In the agriculture community the idea of “scaling-up” – whether it means getting big or “right-sizing” your operation- is frequently discussed. What “scaling up” commonly refers to is a farm diversifying its market channels to include not only direct to consumer sales (CSA, farmers’ markets, farm stands) but also wholesaling products to local foods stores, supermarkets or distributors. I think many readers will be familiar with the phrase of Earl Butz, “Get Big or Get Out” which became the rallying cry for commodity agriculture and large scale farms. I worry that this “Scaling-Up” idea may be construed as the same idea with just updated marketing. It also concerns me that by simply saying we are scaling up our farm, our customers would think we’re just getting bigger, not getting better. So, I began to mull over how we might clarify increasing the size, scale and efficiency of our farm.
Our aspirations include marketing some of our products through wholesale channels, hiring apprentices or other help while providing an income to both of Jake and I to work full-time on the farm. But our pressing concern is supplying our existing markets in Brunswick. To do so, over the last three years we’ve been “growing out”- increasing our number of ewes and does for breeding, adding a 100 or so more broilers to our poultry. We’ve done this to such a degree that we’ve also grown out of our existing barns!
Between 2014 and 2017, all of the farm operations were based on land leased from Jake’s family. In 2014, as part of our future farm vision, we purchased an adjacent 70-acre property that we call “North Ridge”. This property is where, this year we plan to build a hoop house for our chickens, a large barn for our sheep and goats, a hoop barn for equipment, hay and feed storage and our farmhouse. These plans also include renovating our existing two-car garage to include a farm store, egg processing room, walk-in freezer and cooler. Over the last year we worked with The Resilience Hub in Portland to design a site plan illustrating our vision.
This plan is an extremely helpful tool, so let’s talk about what is included:
- A clearing project that will remove trees from two existing, fenced paddocks as well as the sloped areas located along the road frontage. This will create additional grazing areas for cows, sheep and goats.
- A Hoop house will serve as a winter shelter for our chickens. At present, we are limited to just two portable coops (pictured below) which house 125 birds each. Building the hoop house will allow us to increase our flock to 500 hens. This means more eggs at market (HOORAY!) and the ability to supply new markets such as CSA and local food stores. The hoop house will include such amenities as running water and electricity so that we can provide water indoors without having to carry 5-gallon buckets of water over mud, ice and snow. We are launching a crowdfunding campaign through the platform, Barnraiser to kickstart this project. To view the project in full please visit: http://www.barnraiser.us/projects/apple-creek-farm-hatching-an-expansion
- A Barn will provide more space for our breeding does and ewes. We need this to separate groups for flushing, breeding and lambing. As you can see in the photo above (Detail of Site Plan) there will be several paddocks where we can sort animals by their body condition, age or other factors. The new barn will allow us to feed everyone under cover which is particularly important as the Spring and Fall tend to be longer and wetter. Winter has come to include wider variations of temperature which are tough on the animals and making feeding outdoors (without wasting grain in the rain or wind) rather difficult.
- A Hoop barn will create storage to keep our tractors, balers and other equipment out of the weather, stack round bales of hay under cover to reduce spoilage and work on equipment out of the rain.
- A Farmhouse is a key component of having the farm infrastructure move to this location. The house will be modest and designed with aging in mind. We look forward to having a guest room for friends & family to come and visit!
- The Garage renovation will create space for a farm store, which we plan to open in Fall 2017. The store will be modest, open once a week and be the meeting location for farm tours and on-farm events (coming in 2018). We’ll also build an egg processing room where we can wash, grade and pack eggs. Perhaps my favorite addition to this space will be a walk-in freezer. Presently we rent very affordable and reliable freezer space in Bangor. Over the last three years we have used this space to store and build our inventory for Brunswick Winter Market. Though inexpensive, it has taken an increasing amount of time to manage inventory and transport product to and from the facility. Building a freezer on-site will help us spend more time on the farm and more storage for our products. A walk-in cooler will be used to store fresh product which is frequently requested at market. Building a walk-in will mean we can sell fresh chicken at both farmers’ markets during the summer and direct from the farm. It will also mean all Thanksgiving turkeys can be picked up FRESH!You may be asking, “what about the land you’ve been using?” We will continue to lease 70 acres of land from Jake’s family, the land that we call “the home farm.” Located there are the sheep & cow barns where we will continue to house our finishing lambs and kids and our cow/calf pairs. Since our farming methods won’t be changing we will still be using all of the land on both “the home farm” and “North Ridge” as well as leased land off the farm.
Lambing is underway! So far lambs have been arriving every 12 hours and wow, that would be amazing if that pace kept right up.
In case you missed it- our annual report is now available. For those of you unfamiliar, the report is our opportunity to share the year’s numbers and statistics through infographics. We had an amazing season despite the lack of rain and our thanks goes out to all of you for purchasing our products and coming out to markets. We have finalized many of our poultry orders for 2017 and geese will be BACK!
Please mark your calendars and plan to join us at Open Farm Day. This year’s date will be Sunday, July 23rd. The date coincides with the Maine’s state-wide Open Farm Day as well as Bowdoinham’s Farm & Art Trail. As in the past a local foods BBQ will be held in the afternoon. The farm will be open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm for tours, an opportunity to meet the animals and to visit our pop-up farm store.
If you’re looking for a unique addition to your Easter celebrations you can find it at Wilbur’s Chocolates in Brunswick or Freeport. Janet learned the art of making these ornate “panorama” decorative eggs from Jake’s great grandmother, Lucienne Galle. The eggs are filled with tiny figures and each is accompanied by a story about the animal inside, imagining a life on Apple Creek Farm. You can read more about this tradition in a past post, Eggs of All Sizes.
We’ve added an online store for our sheepskins and goat hides. While these are available at the farmers market year-round the online store will be stocked with an entirely different inventory. Our hides are tanned by the kind folks of Vermont Natural Sheepskins and by the traditional craftspeople of Buck’s County Fur Products.
This essay is from Two Farms: Essays on a Maine Country Life by Janet Galle.
2006. It is available at Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick or from Apple Creek Farm.
Winter quiet often inspires reflection and this winter is no different. These thoughts arrive during our daily work– feeding the animals, preparing meals or as we plan for the upcoming season.
Titans of the Forest
Trees are like the dinosaurs of the plant world but not in the sense of being extinct. It is the size that counts. They easily top Tyrannosaurus Rex — in sound, as well as height. I never look up enough when I am outside to truly appreciate the dinosaur-like plants that tower over me. Rather, my view is usually straight on, about six feet above ground level. In spring, in autumn, after a snowstorm, I see this picture: lacy, delicate trees, etched and painted by Mother Nature. I forget there is another — the view of giants.
In the middle of a snow-sleet storm this past week, Nell, our new pup, and I went for a walk with the wind swirling around us, tugging at her fur and my scarf, bringing tears to our eyes. There were no other distractions in this storm, only the elements and us. Near the ice pond we stopped for a while, stood still. Nell leaned against my leg as we were engulfed by the rage of the wind. Twigs and small branches flew through the air in a fury. Detritus from last autumn’s leaf fall was scooped up and hurled back to earth. Wind howled, and the trees above us answered in kind. They were not taking this beating like lambs.
Ice-covered branches and the slender tip tops of trees clinked together, jostling each other like fans at a football game. They pushed and shoved under the wind’s influence, always returning to their original position and then moving quickly in the opposite direction, all the while chattering and clanging. Ice in a glass. Tap dancers on stage. Horses on parade with their clattering shoes hitting asphalt. All of those sounds rained down upon Nell and me as we stood under the bare ash tree towering 50 feet above us. I crouched beside her, held onto her for comfort. The forest was filled with passions in a storm, and nowhere was it more violent than under the trees.
The more the wind pushed, the more the trunks swayed, groaning as if sick or injured, left to die along a path. Unlike their distant branches that reach the sky and greet the sun on brighter days, the trunks sustain the weight of the entire tree, limb to branch to stem to leaf. Theirs is the task of transporting food, minerals, and water. Here the sap swells, rises, freezes, and then slowly melts. Here the transportation system — switching terminals, platforms, and connections — carries out its work. It is a life of burden and responsibility — and endurance.
On the first farm by the ocean where we once lived, when my children were young and I was frequently awake in the dark, bewitching hours of night with a baby on my shoulder, I would watch the white pine and northern red oak along the shore. Throughout winter those trees moved like tyrannosaurs stalking along the ocean’s edge. Their entire bodies seemed in action except for their feet which were rooted and solid, the support that kept them from tumbling. Groaning, not from illness, but from exertion in the battle, the trees struggled to remain upright.
I am fascinated when trees have lost that battle, when I come upon the newly-split wood, splintered into daggers, of a fallen pine deep in a forest. The intricate web of roots and rootlets that have provided water and minerals, sustained a tree for a lifetime, are exposed. Death of a titan is dramatic. Sixty feet of fallen tree is not to be scoffed at.
At the university in Ohio where I went to school, an old red oak that once defined the center of the campus, now over 200 years old, was taken down this year. It did not lose a battle to a wind storm as the trees in my woods may, but fear of the consequences of such a defeat drove the campus officials to “remove” the tree first. Their comment, “It was only a matter of time before a storm blew it over…”
But just imagine. Sprouted about 1795, that red oak grew up in a forest which stretched from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. It watched over the birth of the university and the comings and goings of countless students who strolled beneath its branches. People do not take kindly to the loss of such a tree.
I wonder, then, about the lesser-known trees that tower over Nell and me, the ones complaining loudly about the strength of this particular storm. They will survive. They are still young in tree years and have flexible trunks and tenacious roots. Long after we have gone on our way, these ash and maple, hemlock and fir, pine and beech which inhabit our woods will have withstood the sting of sleet, the weight of snow, the pelting of rain. The titans of this forest may wail in response to the wind, but they will win the battle. From the viewpoint of giants there is no room for whimperers. Nell and I will do best to weather this storm under the protection of a roof.