Sunday, October 23, 2011

“My” Farm

Back in May I watched Food Inc and then started reading Fast Food Nation.  I was shocked at what I was learning about how our food is made.  Shocked.   Mistreatment of animals, mistreatment of humans, processing food so much that it has to be artificially flavored it with the flavors that it had to start with, and more…  I wanted to make some changes in what I ate and joining the CSA was the first step and it has brought on some other changes…

I decided I wanted to know where my food was coming from.  I thought about hitting the farmers market but I always have a hard time deciding what to get and end up buying too many odd things.  Also, there’s not one near me that’s convenient to my schedule.  I started looking into CSA’s and I hit gold!

My simple google search lead me to Bull Run Mountain Farm! It looked great and they had a pick up at the Manassas Train Station on Friday evenings at 5:30.  This was perfect since the train station was on my way home and I usually cook over the weekend so I could get my CSA veggies and then plan meals!  I emailed them and the farmer got right back to me, inviting me to join for the remainder of the season!  I was even able to get a fruit share so I was getting a whole bunch of peaches at first and then a whole bunch of apples!

I got CSA veggies for about 10 weeks and it was great!  I got new veggies that I’d never eaten before and started cooking a lot more!  Veggie Corn Chowder, Parmesan Potatoes, Butternut Squash Soup, Apple Cake, Chili, Zucchini Bread, applesauce, homemade hot pepper jelly and more!  Every Sun I was spending most of the day cooking up all the yumminess I’d gotten on Fri.  I only had a few failures and so far I haven’t drawn blood or burned myself either!  I can’t say I’ve used every bit of ever veggie I’ve gotten, but I have been able to use most and sometimes things I don’t use stay fresh enough to use the next week. 

Of course, all good things must come to an end and last Fri was our last week of veggie pick up.  However, it wasn’t entirely the end of the CSA road – yesterday all the shareholders were invited out to the farm to glean the fields!  It was all you could pick!  I got some great stuff that I hadn’t gotten in previous weeks.  Not only that but I got to see “my” farm and where my food was coming from!  I’ve already signed up for next year and I’m anxiously awaiting June when we start getting vegetables again!

The farm is located in The Plains, VA which is in Fauquier County out 66.  I double checked my google maps directions and matched them to the directions on the farm’s website – google maps had the farm in the same place as on the farm website so I decided I was good to go and didn’t read the directions on the farm website. 

The gleaning was scheduled to begin at 10:30 and I wanted to be on time – didn’t want everyone else getting the good stuff! Leah and I set out about 9:30 and quickly made our way to the farm.  We turned off 66 onto a nice 2 lane road with a double yellow line, then we turned on to another 2 lane road, this one with no double yellow line – the roads were getting smaller as we got further and further out.  We quickly came to the road the farm was on.  It was a very narrow dirt road with a large sign indicating that it was a Private Road.  There was no sign about the farm or anything.   The farm’s address was on this road so I figured it was right so proceeded down the road. As we bounced along there was no indication at all that there was farm back up in there and not even any houses!  It was beautiful with the the fall colors and all, but it was feeling a bit “Deliverance-y”. 

P1110592 (I took this pic on the way back, but the whole road looked like this!)

I did pass a driveway with 2 very large (8-10 feet high!) rock cairns on either side, but there was no address or sign so I kept going.  Soon I came to a driveway with an address – it was 44___ and we were looking for 43__ but I didn’t know if the numbers were going up or down.  Of course the phone had no service here.  We kept going down the road until the road ended in 2 driveways, neither of which were my farm.  There were signs on the trees that said “organic farm, do not spray” My farm is not “organic” because it’s a total pain to get qualified through the government, but they don’t use pesticides and stuff, so I figured these signs were a good indicator that I was getting close! I ended up turning around in someone’s yard which was tricky because there was very little room! On the way back I decided to explore the where the road marked by the rock cairns, that was right about where the “organic farm” signs started too, and sure enough it was the road to my farm! :-)   There’s something kinda cool about it being a secret place that only those in the know can find!  Turns out the exact directions, including turn at the rock cairns, was outlined in the written directions on the website.  Silly me for not reading!

P1110560View of the farm as you drive in

Our first stop, after putting on our boots since the fields were very muddy, was the large map they had written on a big piece of cardboard and had leaning against a tractor.

P1110559It’s hard to made out the actual map!  I had to study the map a few times to fully get my bearings and know which veggies were where. Turns out Leah and I were among the first shareholders to make it out to the farm so there weren’t many people there yet!

Our first stop was the string beans!  They are purple! When you cook them they turn green.  We’d gotten some a few weeks ago, but these were much bigger and  there were TONS.  Leah and I got a little overzealous picking them and I have a lot! Good thing I LOVE string beans (can’t really call ‘em green beans!)

P1110550Bean flower!  P1110551 

P1110554 P1110555 P1110552

Next we moved on the lettuce!  We ended up with 3 different types of lettuce! They had mild mustard lettuce, strong mustard lettuce and “oak leaf” lettuce (basic lettuce). We’ve only gotten a little bit of lettuce so far so this was exciting as well! 

P1110556  P1110558

Next up we treked back down the road a bit to the hoop houses.  In the process we passed the chicken house!  They raise chickens for fertilizer and provide 6 eggs a week for shareholders who purchase an egg share.  Next year I’m getting an egg share, so these guys will be producing my eggs!  You can’t really see ‘em, but we could hear ‘em!

P1110561In the hoop houses we picked peppers (which I thought were spicy so I didn’t get many – turns out they were bell peppers and very yummy!) and cucumbers!  Most of the tomatoes were either very green or squished.


Heading toward the hoop houses P1110563




P1110565 P1110566 P1110567 P1110568 P1110569 

P1110573 P1110574 P1110575 P1110576

Had a hard time pulling Leah away from the tomatoes!

In the middle of the hoop house area there’s a graveyard! I have no idea who is buried there, I need to ask Leigh.   This might make some people saw “ewww” having my veggies growing right next to a cemetery, but I think it just adds to the experience!  It’s kinda cool I think!

P1110570 P1110571This whole farm reminds me of what the farms that were in Shenandoah National Park would have been like before the park was created.  There are remnants of the farms and cemeteries all over the park! 

Also by the hoop houses are the bee hives!  We all got about a pound of honey from these bees!  I’ve never eaten a lot of honey, but lately I’ve been putting it on everything!  It’s very yummy!

P1110577The hives have electric fencing around them to keep the bears out.  I’m not even kidding.  Just last week Leigh was woken up at 3am by the dogs (2 Great Pyrenees)  barking like crazy and when he investigated he found a large black bear enjoying the honey!

Our next stop was the pond by the eggplant field: P1110579 Finally we moved on to the eggplant and hot pepper field.  Leah was very excited about picking eggplant and I have WAY more than I ever thought I needed, not even sure they are ripe!  We didn’t pick any pepper, I’m pretty sure these were the hot ones and I didn’t want Leah handling them – just touching them get the oils on your hands which make rubbing your eyes or your nose painful!

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There were geese right by the eggplant fields!  Leah walked up and said “How you doing?” to the geese!

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Our last stop was another lettuce field.  This one had a lot of weeds in it! It was easy to see the difference between the weeds and the lettuce, but I got a few weeds anyway.  I hope they are edible because I may have accidently eaten some along with my lettuce.  Leah decided it would be fun to jump over the rows of lettuce!  It was cute, but she was tramping on the lettuce so I knew it was time to go!

P1110590 P1110591 I’m so glad I got go out and visit my farm!  Wondering what I’ll eat between now and June without my CSA veggies!  Good thing I’ve got Wegmans!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Leah’s First Hike: Sky Meadows State Park

First thing today, Leah and I went out to “my” farm – Bull Run Mountain Farm – to help glean the fields.  After we were done I had plans to take Leah to Shenandoah National Park for her 1st hike!  I had the perfect hike all picked out…but it’s the peak weekend for the fall leaves and everyone and their uncle was flocking to Shenandoah to see them.  Front Royal was all backed up and after sitting in traffic for awhile we finally got in sight of the turn off to Skyline Drive and I saw that ALL the cars were attempting to head into the park.  Insane.  We turned around and headed to Sky Meadows. I think Sky Meadows ended up being a better choice!

Sky Meadows was crowded, but it was manageable.  For some reason it’s not as popular as other places, so even on an extra super crowded day, it was manageable.  

It was close to 2 when we got there!  After got our admission paid and the receipt on the dashboard, we gathered up everything we’d need for lunch and hike.   We found a nice picnic table in the sun (it was chilly!) and had a quick lunch/snack before heading to the trail.

When hiking with a toddler one must remember that it’s not about the amount of ground covered or the speed with which we move, it’s all about the experience of being in the woods!

At first Leah had a hard time understanding the concept of “forward motion” – she kept running back and then running back to me and running back where we’d already been.  I thought this was going to be more difficult than I’d expected.  

P1110601 Finally I redirected her to run to the sign and that was the end of the doubling back (one good thing about toddlers is that they are pretty easy to redirect – most of the time!).

Soon we needed to use some rock climbing skills:

P1110603These steps kept pulling off her boots, but she was determined to climb them herself!

Next we had to cross a bridge! I didn’t get a picture.  After that we crossed a wooden style  over a fence.  She went up by herself and wanted to go down by herself but there were two people waiting to climb over and I just picked her up!  Also didn’t get a picture!

We were now walking the edge of a big field.  The trail is wide grassy and goes straight uphill.  Leah took off running! :-) There were a lot of butterflies and when Leah saw one she’d point it out to me and then say: “How you doing?”. SO. FREAKING. CUTE.

We were having a lot of fun until we rounded a corner and saw this:

P1110604 Those brown/black things in the middle are cows.  You can see them better here:

P1110605 The cows were grazing in the field that we were hiking through.  This is why there is a fence that we had to climb over.  I’ve been to Sky Meadows several times and hiked this trail every time, but this is the 1st time I’ve see cows. 

Leah was very excited!  She was talking to the cows saying “MOOOOO” as we approached.  She’s quite knowledgeable about cows – knows what they say and that they eat grass.  She does however think they are green.  Gotta keep working on that!

When we got close I noticed several of the cows had stopped eating and were giving us the stink eye.

P1110606 (Note that I DID NOT zoom in here…we were *that* close!)

P1110607 It was then that I realized just how big these cows were. (They were huge)  They were giving me the evil eye and I was wondering what exactly I’d do to protect myself and Leah if these cow decided to charge.   There were LOTS of people hiking up the mountain and the cows had pretty much ignored them all, so I pressed on.  Leah at this point decided we were a bit too close to the cows and demanded to be carried!

We safely passed through the cows and continued upward.  I pulled out the trail map and started considering how to make our hike a loop so as to avoid going back through the cows!

Quickly though the cows were forgotten because she found a stick and a small hole to dig in!

P1110609 Eventually I got her to move on but soon, she decided we needed to stop and smell the (dead) flowers:



P1110614 When she finally declared that she was ready to proceed she did it drum major style, swinging her flower:


P1110616 As we continued up the hill we encountered the inevitable:

P1110619 A cow patty.  Leah demanded to know what it was – I simply explained that it was cow poop.  I don’t think “poop” was a known word until today!  I may get in trouble with Susan for expanding her vocabulary!

Soon she spied another inviting stand of dead flowers and wanted to stay and play! She played with them for 15 minutes!  I’m not even kidding! I kept asking if she was ready to move on and she’d say “No thanks!” or “No Way!”  so what was I do except take pictures!





While Leah was playing with the flowers two cows made their way from one group of cows to the other and they walked past us.  Leah looked up and saw them and said “Oh man!”!  :-)

I finally pulled her away from the flowers and we headed back down the hill. We safely navigated the cows again! They were still giving us the stink eye, but I picked Leah and hurried past! We didn’t make it to the view point, but we’d had a great time!

Leah was a bit cranky on the way back – she was in dire of need of a diaper change (Auntie Issa failed to pack an extra diaper in her backpack…grrr…we could have stayed out longer if I’d put just one in!) and I’m sure she was tired and hungry – a little milk helped us forge ahead!

P1110627 By the time we were back to the bridge she was quite the happy camper!

P1110628 At the end I decided I needed to document which trail she’d hiked on her 1st ever hike (we hiked the Piedmont Overlook Trail)

P1110629 Then I asked her to go over and stand by the sign:

P1110630 When we made it back to the parking lot I saw a cricket and pointed it out to Leah.  She watched it for a little while, then asked “How you doing?” She kept asking, I think she was annoyed by not getting an answer!  She studied the cricket enough to see how it was was hopping from place to place and she started following it, hopping along with it!  It was SOOOO cute!  I didn’t get it on video, you’ll just have to take my word for it!

You can kinda see the cricket…it’s the tiny black thing in from of Leah’s left foot. 



By the time we got close to the car every step was producing tears so I picked her up and she put her head on my shoulder, totally exhausted.  She did perk up once I changed her diaper though!

Overall I LOVED taking a walk in the woods with Leah!  Next time I attempt a hike with a toddler though I will bring a backpack to carry the kid in so we can hike further and I can get more exercise! I wouldn’t want her stuck in a backpack the whole time – it would just be nice to have options! I will also bring a diaper and a back up diaper!

Here are a few other pictures I took: