Dateline: Prairie Fruits Farm, Sunday, March 24th 5PM. The snow began falling at about 1:30 that afternoon. All was quiet in the doe barn as I made my mid-afternoon rounds. The kids were snuggling inside their heated boxes after gorging themselves on mid-day milk. I had finished all my chores in the cheeserie (this included making our first Sunday batch of chevre of the season), feeling good that things were in order. I relished the thought that I might get an hour or so to relax before the evening milking. Wes had ventured out to buy some groceries just as the snow started falling, and on his return to the farm, his truck veered into a ditch over a now ice-covered Lincoln Avenue. After waiting for nearly two hours for AAA road service to pull him out, it was time to go back out to the barns to get ready for milking and kid feeding. By then, there were at least five inches of snow on the ground, and the wind was howling and blowing snow horizontally in our faces. We had told our evening helpers not to come out due to the treacherous road conditions: Wes and I were flying solo on the evening chores. Wes trudged out to the doe barn (dragging his recovering Achilles’ tendon leg along) to find Ingrid had delivered quadruplets—two does and two bucks. One of the bucks weighed in at nearly 10 pounds; the remaining three each weighed close to seven pounds! Poor Ingrid!!! Wes milked her out while I cleaned off the kids and placed them in a warm box under a heat lamp. As I was getting the kids checked in, Wolfie went into labor and delivered the first of her three kids. The other two came over the next three hours, the last one being a breached doeling who I pulled out of her exhausted mother after 9PM.
Between Wolfie kids’ births, I got milk feeder buckets ready for the kids in the kid barn, fed them, plugged up the cracks and crevasses where snow had drifted in and re-bedded the wet areas with clean dry straw. I let our dog Blue out for his evening run, and he was disappointed to realize I wouldn’t be throwing him a ball that night. Even he with his boundless energy and love of snow didn’t seem that keen on venturing outside the kid barn that night.
After stabilizing the kids, I came back into the milking parlor to discover that yet another doe, Lola was going into labor. She was very busy cleaning off the Wolfie kids as they were born, getting herself geared up for her own motherhood. Wes finished milking, I helped him clean up; he milked out Wolfie and I fed her kids that were already born. Lola was taking her time going into full blown labor, so we trudged back to the house to eat something before the next wave of kidding. Lola finally delivered her first kid at almost 11PM and then Huckleberry started pushing. Nothing was advancing, and I could see she was straining and grinding her teeth. So, I donned the OB gloves, squirted on some sterile lubricant and betadine and gently inserted my fingers in the birth canal. I felt a little tail and recognized it was breach. After some coaxing, I was able to pull out both hind legs and slowly extricate the doeling inside. Huckleberry was done with a lovely long-eared black singleton. Lola started pushing again just after Huckleberry delivered her kid and out popped a doeling. By the time I got the kids cleaned up and under heat lamps and milked out their mothers it was past midnight. I fed the kids their colostrum and headed back into the house at about 1AM. Four hours later when Wes went back out the barn for morning milking, now with close to a foot of snow (and drifts much, much deeper than that) on the ground, Millie had just delivered two healthy doelings and one still born kid.
The spring blizzard of 2013 brought us 12 kids out of five does in a 12 hour period. Before this kidding marathon, I wondered if the does could sense bad weather and delay the onset of their birthing. I now know this was a sheer figment of my imagination or just plain old wishful thinking. Despite the profound exhaustion, I am happy to report that all 12 kids are doing well.
The calm after the storm: the 12 "blizzard kids" snoozing after feeding on milk.
Just to convince you that I can even now have a sense of humor about the whole episode, I am copying this news article that confirms my earlier dismay about the groundhog’s erroneous prognostications:
"Punxsutawney Phil's handler takes blame
PITTSBURGH — An Ohio prosecutor who has light-heartedly filed charges against the famous Pennsylvania groundhog who fraudulently “predicted” an early spring says he may consider a pardon now that the animal’s handler is taking the blame.
That’s right, Bill Deeley says the animal rightly predicted six more weeks of winter but Deeley tells The Associated Press he mistakenly announced an early spring because he failed to correctly interpret Phil’s “groundhog-ese.”
Butler County, Ohio prosecutor, Mike Gmoser tells the AP he’s reconsidering the charges in light of the new evidence and may issue a full pardon."
Farm Open House, Breakfast, On Farm Sales
This Saturday, March 30th, we will be open again from 9AM to 12 noon for Spring Open House. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the high 50’s. It should be a gorgeous day for an outing to our farm. However, the high temps and sun mean that our farm soils will be trying desperately to absorb an enormous volume of water from the rapidly melting snow. The upshot is that the farm is likely to be pretty muddy during Open House. We will have extra folks on hand to direct people where to park to minimize the muddiness.
We thank all the folks who ventured out to the farm last week for our first open house of the season. We appreciate your patience and good nature in having to wait in line for breakfast. I wanted to let everyone know that we have worked out the kinks in our credit card acceptance vehicle, so we should be able to move people through the breakfast ordering line more smoothly. Even so, if you have to wait in line, you can shop with the farmers who will have their wares waiting for you outside the breakfast dining area.
We will have a nice assortment of cheeses and gelato for you, including lots of chevre—perfect for the holiday table. We’ve got a few new gelato flavors this week too including Honey Chevre and Rhubarb Swirl! We’ll also have some of the beautiful goat milk soaps made by Red Barn Farm (with our milk).
Blue Moon Farm will be at the farm with salad mix, arugula, spinach, kale, chard, cilantro, carrots, turnips, and potatoes. Tomahnous Farm will have carrots, potatoes, garlic, shallots, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, cilantro, chard, napini, kale, herb plants, fig trees, dry peas and soybeans, and (maybe) soap. Lucky Duck Farm will have chicken eggs and duck eggs (all free-range, pastured, and organically-fed), and ground beef (100% grass-fed), ham, and bacon (the pigs are pastured and organically-fed). Stewart’s Artisan Breads will be here with bagels, breads, granola and biscotti along with Kosher for Passover chocolate cookies that are AMAZING!!
What’s for breakfast??
- Swiss chard strada
- Batatas bravas (spicy potatoes)
- A special kids’ breakfast
- Delicious potato knishes made by Alison (these are a meal unto themselves not to be missed!)
- A secret sweet pastry
- Coffee by Columbia Street Roastery
- Goat Milk Hot Chocolate
The ultrasounds of goat bellies taken last fall foretold of the early March goat baby explosion, so theoretically, I should have known what was coming. Intellectually knowing is one thing; experiencing the torrent of babies (0 to nearly over 90 in about two weeks’ time) is completely another kettle of fish (sorry for the mixed metaphors-sleep deprivation does that to a person). Over forty does have kidded to date with lots of triplets and twins to show for their labor toils. We've had three sets of quadruplets so far, not close to approaching our record number of seven sets last year. There’s almost “no room at the inn” inside the kid barn right now. Each night, we divide the pens into small groups so that they can snuggle under the heat lamps without piling too high on top of each other.
Every kidding season has its patterns, and this year, the theme seems to be lots of tangled kids struggling to make their way through the birth canal at the same time. I'm beginning to wonder if there's something in the water or some phase of the moon that might be causing these strange in-utero alignments. We’ve been going through lots of OB gloves and lubricant as I dive in to find baby heads and limbs. The trick of trying to extricate two kids stuck in the birth canal at the same time is making sure you have the right legs associated with the same head. So far, we have been successful at delivering all of these babies without endangering them or their mothers. Even Alison, one of our cheese makers, has had her hand in (literally) delivering a couple of challenging births.
With babies comes milk, and this week, we have started making our first batches of chevre, Angel Food and even some Huckleberry Blue. So, this Saturday, March 16th, I will venture north to Chicago’s Indoor Green City Market to offer our Chicago patrons the first of the season chevre along with some delicious late lactation Moonglo and Huckleberry Blue. I’ll be there (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on Cannon Drive just north of Fullerton) from 8:30AM to 1PM.
Our farm open house and breakfasts start next Saturday, March 23rd, so stay posted for details about the breakfast menu and what products we’ll have for sale. Also, if you haven’t checked out our venues for our 2013 Bread, Cheese and Gelato CSA (and the special farm dinner for CSA members), you should. We’re offering four pick up locations this year in Bloomington (two), Peoria, Springfield and Naperville. We’re trying to reach a goal of 100 CSA members this year, so help us get there!
Update from the Farm
Tonight's blizzard of pelting snow hitting my face sideways has me questioning the prognostications of the large rodent from Pennsylvania. Nonetheles, from inside the barns, many signs are pointing to spring. Last week and this, we have been busy cleaning and prepping the goats for kidding season. Several resemble double-wide trailers in girth; I predict several sets of quadruplets again from gaugin their "rear view."
2013 FARM DINNER SEASON
We've got the lineup of farm dinner themes and dates posted on our website now. Chef Alisa will be revisting some of her favorite cuisines and we're welcoming back some of our favorite guest chefs. We've also got a few new guest chefs this year. The first five dinner dates will go on sale on MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25TH in the evening, EXACT TIME TO BE DETERMINED. NEW THIS YEAR: To allow more folks to sign up for each dinner, we will be limiting the number of seats per person (signup) to four. I encourage folks to familiarize themselves with the workings of our website and with ShowClix (once the descriptions get posted there, which should be over the weekend) well before Monday evening. If you encounter any problems, please let us know so we can correct them BEFORE THE RESERVATIONS GO LIVE ON SHOWCLIX.
I also encourage you to read our general description of "Dinners on the Farm" to familiarize yourself about what to expect when you come to dine at our farm.
Bread, Cheese and Gelato CSA sign up now open
Our sign up for the 2013 CSA season is now open. You can sign up for cheese, gelato or Katic bread shares (all three or one of the three--you choose!). We're expanding our membership to 100 members with five pickup locations (two in Bloomington-Normal, one in Springfield, one at our farm and one in Naperville). We're also offering an exclusive farm dinner to all of our CSA members (some time in the fall; date and details to be determined). Check it out!
In honor of Ground Hog Day and wishing he doesn't see his shadow (although enough with the up and down temperatures already!!) to hurry spring along, we're making the journey north this Saturday to the big city to sell some cheese. Nat and Alison, our cheese makers (just back from sun and fun in the warm tropical climes), will be at the Green City Market this Saturday, February 2nd from 8:30 AM to 1PM (for those of you who haven't been before, it's located at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on Cannon Drive just north of Fullerton). They'll be bringing a limited but delicious assortment of our winter cheeses:
- The last of the tangy and complex sheep milk feta
- Rich and sharp Moonglo--our raw goat milk tomme style cheese
- Roxanne: buttery and slightly dry, raw sheep milk brebis
- Eldon: our sweet and creamy raw sheep milk blue
- Huckleberry Blue: a sassier cousin to Eldon--made for all you blue cheese lovers out there.
We should have some of our farmstead honey available as well. If you're in Chicago this weekend, stop by the market, say hello to our cheese makers and pick up some cheeses to adorn your winter tables.
Greetings from Prairie Fruits Farm in winter. The soils are bare and finally frozen. The big news on the farm is the arrival of our first farm dog, “Blue.” He’s a boisterous, sweet, one-year old Australian Shepherd-Australian cattle dog (and he might have a few other rogue genetics thrown in) mix. We inherited him from a friend of ours, and he seems to be settling into farm life quite nicely. He and the goats are engaged in staring matches as they slowly become used to each other. He and Wes started obedience training this week, and once they graduate from that class, they will start the training for livestock herding. It was an instant love affair between Wes and Blue. I, on the other hand, am learning what dogs are like and how to relate to him. I am really a cat person at heart. Nonetheless, I am in awe of his beauty, his intelligence and his desire to please (this last trait is NOT something cats possess).
On other news fronts, the does mid-sections continue to grow and they’re starting to waddle when they walk. We’re working through our seemingly endless list of winter chores—repairs, prepping for the kidding season and just getting caught up on all things that fell by the wayside during last year’s production season. Kidding season will be here before we know it. In the meantime, crazy Eddie, our handsome Nubian buck, amuses himself by trying to push Blanche, our white Americana hen, off her evening perch. Goats get bored in winter.
Cheese and Market News
Although we’re not in active cheese production over the winter, we have been tending to the aging cheeses such as Moonglo, Roxanne and our blues. The feta too has been maturing slowly as it is bathed in its whey-brine. SO, we’ve decided to travel north the Green City Market this Saturday, January 19th to offer our Chicago patrons some of the beautiful and delicious cheeses. We’ll be at the first winter market inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from 8:30AM to 1PM. We’ll have our farmstead honey as well as:
- Sheep milk feta—this stuff is SO delicious; it just keeps getting better and better. We are enjoying it drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh herbs—WE THINK IT’S SO GOOD, WE’LL GIVE YOU $1 OFF IF YOU BUY 2 CONTAINERS.
- Moonglo—made with late summer-early fall milk, you can still taste the pasture in this cheese
- Roxanne—the last batch of last year’s production; slightly crumbly and nutty with hints of butter—perfect for slicing, melting or shaving
- Eldon—our very rich raw sheep milk blue—super creamy and slightly sweet
- Huckleberry Blue-the first from our fall milk, raw goat milk blue—a bit sharp and slightly pungent—it’s perfect for the blue cheese lover in your family.
- maybe a few containers of previous frozen plain chevre--very limited quantity, so come early
We’ll be back at Green City in February (2nd and 16th most likely), so stay tuned for details about cheeses for those dates. For those of you in the Champaign-Urbana area, we won’t be attending the Urbana “Middle Market” in January and February, but we might consider it once we’re back in production in March. In the meantime, check out the local stores including the Common Ground Food Coop and World Harvest for availability of some of our cheeses.
Cheese,Gelato and Bread CSA news
In the very near future, I will be posting information about signup for our Cheese, Gelato and Bread CSA. We will be partnering again with Katic Breads. We will be offering the CSA in Bloomington Normal and several pick up locations in the western suburbs of Chicago. I will let everyone know when the sign up goes live on our website. To sweeten the pot (as if the cheese, gelato and bread aren’t enough), we’ll be offering our CSA members a “sneak preview” of farm dinners and give them an opportunity to sign up before the reservations go on sale to the public at large. STAY TUNED!
As I awoke to a gusty 50 degree morning, it was hard to fathom that the day would end so dramatically differently. In anticipation of our final on-farm sale, we harvested the still-lush field-grown spinach, kale and chard and snipped a few of the fresh herbs. The grass was still green, the soil soft and muddy; remnants of a fall reluctant to lie down and die. We knew that the warmth wasn’t right for the date on the calendar, and we hurried to finish the winter buck pens inside the kid barn. It didn’t take more than a handful of grain to lure the bucks inside to their winter digs just as the wind gales started to escalate. By noon the rain was blowing sideways, then it stopped altogether and the sun came out. New black clouds collected along the southern sky and by early afternoon, the temperature was plummeting and the sky was spitting raindrops on the verge of freezing. It’s strange how the transformation from rain to snow can happen so quickly when the wind is blowing more than 25 miles per hour. As the sky darkened for its typical early winter hour, it occurred to me that folks might not be able to make it out to the farm tonight. A few brave souls trickled into the warm barn, greeted with hot cider and evidence of warmer weather.
Today was our last day of milking and our last day of cheese making for the season. As I reflect on the end of our season, I am struck by a recurrent theme of perseverance in the face of extremes—extreme heat, extreme drought, extreme wind, extreme highs and lows. We set some records: highest number of quadruplets and triplets born on the farm, highest amount of cheese produced and of course, our American Cheese Society first-place award for our “black sheep” cheese. Our goats performed remarkably well despite the environmental extremes they endured, and our summer dinner guests were great sports and ate with gusto, despite the sweltering temperatures. Our farm continues to harbor the beauty of the prairie in the midst of these extremes-I witnessed some of the most dramatic skies throughout the seasons. It has been a good year for us, and I want to thank all of you who have supported our farm. As the wind howls outside and this season draws to a close, I know that in true cyclical fashion, it will be raining baby goats in a few short months.
Elly May and Jethro wish you all the happiest of holidays and good cheer!
Winter happenings and CSA signup
We’ve got some exciting things planned for the winter including expanding our cheese and gelato CSA to the greater Chicago area. Stay tuned for updates just after the New Year.
Final Farmers’ Market of the Year
We have one final farmers’ market on Saturday, December 22nd- Chicago’s Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. We’ll be there from 8:30AM to 1PM with cheese, honey, cajeta (our goat milk caramel-very limited quantities so come early) and even some gelato. Come on out for a local food holiday blowout. We’ve got:
- Fresh chevre—your last chance to stock up for the winter-plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper
- Sheep milk feta-it’s been aging beautifully and the taste is sublime. We’re running a special to honor its delicousness—buy two containers and get $1 off each container.
- Angel Food Brie
- Little Bloom on the Prairie
- AND Introducing our rich, creamy and sweet raw sheep milk blue “Eldon”—named after the Amish farmer who milks the sheep and supplies us with this delicious milk.
Our gelato flavors—all locally sourced—include:
- Pumpkin Pie gelato—pumpkins from the Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur IL
- Seedling Orchard Cider sorbetto
- Autumn berry sorbetto-a wild harvested tart and tangy berry-beautiful pink color, lip smacking taste
News flash in the journal Nature: archeologists have discovered evidence of a 7,000 year-old clay cheese strainer. There was a wonderful radio piece on National Public Radio this morning highlighting the importance of Neolithic cheese making in humankind’s transformation from hunter-gatherers to agrarians. The research scientists called milk a “super food” (of course, we dairy folk already knew this) and suggested that our ancestors had trouble digesting it—yes, lactose intolerance has been around for millennia (who knew??). Transforming milk into cheese by the elegant act of acidification rendered this digestively-challenged product into a nutrient rich powerhouse. Cheese sustained our ancient cousins so they could have the energy to cultivate new crops and tame those wild ruminants. By reasoning, then, you might say that cheese played a critical role in the birth of the world’s great civilizations. Heady stuff for the simple curd; let’s celebrate cheese’s simple ancient beginnings as we go from lightness to darkness in this winter holiday season. If you want to read or hear the piece on NPR, go to:
Don’t forget to pre-order your holiday gift basket on our website—for those of you picking up your baskets either at the December 15th Urbana or Springfield Markets, we need your order NOW. If you’re picking up your basket at the December 22nd Green City Market, please place your order by Wednesday AM, December 19th.
End of Year Holiday Markets and On Farm Sales
This Saturday, December 15th, we have two holiday markets: Urbana and Springfield. Urbana’s market runs from 8AM to 1PM, and Springfield’s Holiday market at the State Fairgrounds runs from 9AM to 1PM. We’re bringing plenty of cheese to adorn your holiday tables:
- Fresh chevre: plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper
- Angel Food Brie—perfect for that baked brie appetizer you make for holiday parties every year
- Little Bloom on the Prairie—our camembert style goat milk cheese is rich and creamy
- Black Goat and Red Dawn—one’s got ash, the other one’s got smoked paprika—both are available in very limited quantities
- Sheep milk feta—this feta is tangy and crumbly; perfect for finishing any roasted winter vegetable dish you plan to make for the holidays
- Moonglo—our raw goat milk tomme—a bite of summer pastures in winter—kinda’ hard to beat!
- Roxanne—the raw sheep milk brebis—a recipe inspired by the Pyrenees style cheeses of Spain and southern France
We’re running a special for this holiday season: if you purchase a container of feta along with either a bloomy rind cheese (Angel Food, Little Bloom) OR a wedge of Moonglo or Roxanne, we’ll give you $1 off the price of the feta!!
In addition to cheese, we’ll have some of our late summer farmstead honey and very limited quantities of our goats’ milk cajeta-that velvety caramel sauce that so many of you have been craving.
For our Urbana market goers, we’ve got some holiday gelato and sorbetto to don your holiday dessert tables:
- Holiday Spice—a lovely blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove—think eggnog without the egg
- Licorice—this is the REAL deal for you licorice fans—pure, unadulterated licorice root—slightly earthy, quintessential licorice taste
- Pumpkin Pie—it compliments any chocolate dessert to a tee
- Apple cider sorbetto- a great pallet cleanser for that fancy holiday meal you plan to make
- Autumn berry sorbetto—beautifully tart
On Farm Sales: We’ve decided to open our doors for the holidays. We’ll be open on Thursday, December 20th from 5 to 7PM for your last minute local food holiday shopping needs. We’ll have cheese (of course), gelato (of course), some freshly harvested spinach and kale from our farm, holiday breads (from Stewart’s Artisan Breads) and maybe even a few dozen farm fresh eggs. Details to come next week, so stay tuned.
Chicagoans: Please remember that there is NO Green City Market this Saturday, BUT there will be a final market on December 22nd. We will be there with plenty of cheese, honey, cajeta and maybe even some local flavors of gelato and sorbetto.
If you're in a quandry about what to give as a gift this holiday season, you're problems are solved. You can now order a beautiful gift basket of Prairie Fruits Farm cheeses accompanied by either our farmstead honey or by cajeta, our delicious goat milk caramel sauce. You must be able to pick up your basket at either the Urbana Holiday Market or the Springfield Holiday Farmers' Market (both on Saturday, December 15th) OR Chicago's Green City Market (Saturday, December 22nd). ALL ORDERS NEED TO BE PLACED BY THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13TH AT 5PM. Here's the link:
Champaign-Urbana cheese lovers: I will be at the Common Ground Food Cooperative on Tuesday, December 11th from 5 to 7PM sampling our lovely & tangy sheep milk feta. Billy LeGrand, the Coop's Cheesemonger (and their wine and beer connoisseur), will have special treats to accompany the cheese including olives, crackers and some lovely organic italian wine. Stop by to taste and say hi! If you're not already smitten by this cheese, I'm sure you will be.
Unbeknownst to me, yesterday, December 5th, was World Soil Day, “a day to remember that we owe our existence to those few inches of living and life-giving topsoil.” This time of year, after the crops have been harvested from the fields and the stubble tilled in, the soil is laid bare to showcase its inherent richness. Coincidentally, Wes and I were driving from Chicago to Bloomington and then back to Champaign yesterday, bearing witness to the abundance of black “dirt” that blankets much of central Illinois. We even passed the town of Flanagan, the namesake of one of the most productive prairie soils on the planet, “Drummer-Flanagan silty clay loam.” It is so black, it’s almost blue. These soils are the foundation of the longstanding agricultural heritage of this region; indeed, they are the starting point for the distinct nature of our goats’ milk and the cheeses we produce from their milk.
Farmers' Markets: Cheese and Other Gifts
Chino, our cat, models the new Prairie Fruits Farm T-shirt--no animals were harmed in this picture--he was purring the whole time!
We're attending two farmers' markets this Saturday, December 8th: Urbana's Holiday Market and Chicago's Green City Market. We'll be debuting our new Prairie Fruits Farm T-shirts at the Urbana Market. Our in house model, Chino, shows off the green T-shirt above. We also have poppy red and grey colors--all sizes including child sizes. They make GREAT holiday gifts!!! As for cheese, I have been telling folks for a few weeks, that now is the time to stock up on fresh chevre to put in your freezer. In addition to chevre, we'll have:
- Angel Food Brie
- Little Bloom on the Prairie
- Black Goat
- Ichabod--this is the last of our pungent pumpkin ale-wash rind sheep milk cheese. If you've tried it and loved it, come early to the market to get some.
- Sheep Milk Feta
Upcoming events and other news: I'll be at the Common Ground Food Coop in Urbana on Tuesday from 5 to 7PM sampling our sheep milk feta. It's not just for summer salads. We'll have goodies to accompany the feta as well as a recipe or two. The Coop will be offering the feta at a discounted price that evening, so come by to taste and to buy some.
We are putting together some beautiful holiday gift baskets of cheese, honey and other Prairie Fruits Farm products. Stay tuned for details about how to pre-order your basket. We'll have our final batch of gelato made for the markets on December 15th--THIS IS URBANA'S FINAL HOLIDAY MARKET AS WELL AS THE HOLIDAY MARKET IN SPRINGFIELD. FOR OUR GREEN CITY MARKET PATRONS, PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE WILL BE NO MARKET ON DECEMBER 15TH, BUT THE FINAL MARKET OF THE SEASON WILL BE HELD ON DECEMBER 22ND. Cheese is the perfect gift for the holidays.