Friday, January 8, 2016

2015 Warren County Farm Tour

2015 wasn't really my year, and it is hard to write when you feel like all you have is complaints and negativity.  But I wanted to share a fun day the kids and I shared back in August.

Warren County in Southern Iowa is home to many wonderful family run farms.  The Warren County Farm Tour offers the opportunity for locals to visit several farms, meet the farmers, tour the gardens, animals barns, sample goodies and buy locally produced products.  And though we live and run our own small family farming operation, it was so enjoyable and educational to see how other farms run.  Out of the 10 participating farms, the kids and I visited 5.

Goats at Laotian Farm

Our first visit was to Laotian Farm.  We got to see a unique rotational system of ducks, chickens, goats and cattle implemented by the Laotian born farmer.
Chickens at Laotian Farm
Owner of Laotian Farm - "Air"

3 yr old in indoor arena at Ridgetop Horse Ranch
Our second stop was one of the kids' favorites of the day - Ridgetop Horse Ranch.  A family operated horse ranch that opened in 2012, Ridgetop Horse Ranch has a beautiful indoor arena, along with 80 acres of outdoor timber and riding trails.  They offer riding lessons, birthday parties, retreats and trail rides.  So you can guess what all my kids were begging for after this visit!

5 yr old in indoor arena at Ridgetop Horse Ranch
7 yr old in indoor arena at Ridgetop Horse Ranch
10 yr old in indoor arena at Ridgetop Horse Ranch

Some places have very creative names, some have very descriptive names and some are straight to the point.  Stop number three was The Farm.  The Farm boasts a barn full of animals, the most adorable shop and refurbished farm machinery.

Barrel train at The Farm
Tractor at The Farm
Equipment at The Farm
Kids and large hay bale at The Farm

milking a goat at Willis Farm
After taking a ride in the barrel train, petting the animals, checking out all the old tractors, trucks and other equipment, strolling through the shop and putting everything they sell on our wishlist, it was time to leave The Farm and head to our next destination - Willis Farm.  The Willis Farm is a diverse piece of property including hay fields and pasture, 5 gardens, a 107 year old restored barn and commercial zinnia gardens.  During the Warren County Farm Tour, visitors could tour all the gardens and the barn, along with visiting several vendors set up on the front lawn.  Vendors were selling handcrafted items, fresh honey, produce and goat's milk soap.   

milking a goat at Willis Farm

We ended the day at Peace & Plenty Farm, not too far from home.  I could have spent hours here, and the kids had a great time too.  From the front porch of the farm house, a bluegrass band played as people sat on blankets relaxing and eating locally raised meat - bbq'd and catered by a local restaurant.  The rest of the lawn was filled with more local vendors, selling handcrafted goods and locally grown produce.  Down by the front driveway is a pond, stocked with fish for the kids to catch and release.  I purchased the softest t-shirt from the FarmHer booth and have thoroughly enjoyed my free calendar every time I sit at my desk to work (I guess it's time to get a 2016 one!)

fishing at Peace & Plenty Farm
fishing at Peace & Plenty Farm
fishing at Peace & Plenty Farm
fishing at Peace & Plenty Farm

So after spending hours driving to and walking around enjoying these five farms, I can say that the kids an I had a wonderful time, but were thoroughly ready for a rest when we got home.  On our drive home the kids talked about all the fun things they saw and did and requested that next year we be a part of the farm tours also.  Unfortunately, we don't live in Warren County... but maybe we can do our own farm tour anyways!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Working Hard on the Homestead

In March of this year, I took on the roll of Clarke County Farmers Market President, just in case I thought I might have some spare time on my hands.  Our local farmers market is fairly small, averaging about ten vendors per market, but they are all enthusiastic about their products and love to talk to our customers about how they are produced.  And more than that, they are a community of friendly neighbors who work together, help each other and want to make the market an awesome place to be.  I have so enjoyed getting to know these people better, introducing some new things this summer, such as partnering with local fitness groups and dietitians and being a part of a statewide scavenger hunt for school aged children through Iowa Farm to School. 

11 puppies

At about this same time, hubby managed to cut his hand so badly at work that they sent him to the hospital for stitches, we were trying to look for homes for 11 puppies and we were finishing re-siding the house and two other buildings.  Needless to say, between hubby's already busy work schedule and injury, I did a lot more work myself on the siding than I expected. 

wild violets

In April and May the farm was starting to look more like spring.  Flowers started blooming, we received all our new chicks and ducklings and our new trees began to arrive.  The kids were great helpers getting the boxes ready for the new little birds.  Unfortunately, due to several different circumstances, we lost most of the babies early on.  We still have a few new chicks and one new duck though.  The kids were pretty upset, but it was a learning experience for all of us.  Luckily the older chickens are still happy, healthy and producing more eggs than we can eat.  (They have been big sellers at the farmers market!)

Towards the end of May we discovered our first ripe strawberries in the garden!  The strawberries were followed by wild black raspberries, mulberries, red raspberries and black currants.  All the rain and sunshine helping the fruit to ripen was also helping the weeds grow like crazy.  It didn't take long for the kiddos to be tired of helping mom pull weeds in the garden.  And I have to admit, I wasn't so keen on pulling any more weeds either!
 It seemed like, no sooner had we gotten our new cherry and peach trees into the ground that we were hit with a pretty big storm.  On June 24th there were sever thunderstorms, large hail, strong winds and funnel clouds.  Many throughout central and southern Iowa experienced damage to their property.  We lost a large apple tree (the kids favorite one, of course!) and several limbs fell off others.  Our small trees were untouched though, thank goodness!!

fallen apple tree

This is where the summer gets really fun!  For nearly three weeks, my mom, stepdad, their two kids and my niece were here to replace the roof on the house.  Hubby and I helped as we were able, but the work was nearly all done by my parents and kids ages 7 and up (the 3 and 4 year old would have loved to be up on the roof too...)  No one can quite tell a story like my stepdad, so here is an excerpt from an email he wrote about the experience:

"MAN, was that ever a project.  Got'r done in two weeks flat though... Had to use a lot of child labor to get it done.  Debra ran the "all child roofing demo and shingling crew" pretty much non-stop from 8 am till 9 pm, with short breaks in between.  That's the problem with kids . . . you have to stop to feed them.  Ages 7 (Addy), 9 (Lily), 12 (Natalie), 13 (Nicolas), and 16 (Kaci).  Good thing the child labor laws are fairly lax in Iowa.  (They all did wonderful, with a little complaining from time to time.)  I was in charge of initial damage assessment, equipment and material procurement, general project oversight, deck rehabilitation and rafter tail repair.  The work project (after planning and material procurement) took 13 full days, hard labor with one day off in between.  I personally packed 122 shingle bundles (60# a whack), up a ladder to the top of the roof on my shoulder (thats 7,320# total).  Nicolas and I unload (by hand) the first half of the removed shingles from a flat bed trailer in over 100 degree temps.  I estimated it would take "an hour or two", but it took over five hours and we must have drank over 5 gallons of water.  Total tonnage off loaded:  4.8 tons.  Debra worked with the other kids on top of the roof in the 100 degree heat and high humidity to proceed with demo of the remaining shingles (two layers deep).  It was a great weight loss program.  I lost 8 pounds in two weeks!  Back down to my high school wresting weight.  Now that's what I call a vacation baby."

It now feels like we have a few major projects to cross off the list... But they are quickly replaced by new projects.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014 Year in Review

The blog has been quiet, but if you follow us on facebook you have likely seen photos of our animals, garden and projects showing that things on the farm are certainly not quiet!  As we gear up for the new year of adventures, here is a look at what we did in 2014.

We look forward to keeping all our friends, family and supporters updated in 2015.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

And the winning name is...

After many fabulous suggestions and polling all our friends and family, we are pleased to announce that we chose Redhead Homestead as the winning name!  We have been trying it out this summer at the farmers market and will soon be launching a website, so please stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Farm Name (part 2!)

Back in January we asked for your assistance in naming the farm.  The kids had helped us come up with some ideas and some of you suggested some great names too!  From the chart below, you can see that Redhead Acres was the clear favorite.  Unfortunately, there is already a farm in Missouri with that name.

So now we are into round two of picking out a name.  We have come up with a whole list of names below similar to Redhead Acres.  And we are calling on you again to help us narrow the choices. 

  • Redhead Meadows
  • Redhead Fields
  • Redhead Family Farm
  • Redhead Pastures
  • Redhead Patches
  • Redhead Homestead
  • Redhead Country
  • Redhead Tillage
  • Redhead Cultivars

* Our offer still stand of a free jar of homemade applesauce to the person who submits a winning farm name.

double rainbow & apple trees

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Mommy Clean"

My kids receive hand-me-downs, surprise treats and gifts from many people that care about them.  Whether it's a new doll for their birthday, a bicycle for Christmas or a box of too small clothes from a cousin, my kids do not want for much of anything.  Throw in my OCD tendency towards keeping things (no I'm not a hoarder!!) and not wanting to be wasteful or fill the landfill up needlessly, and it all adds up to a lot of stuff.  Having a lot of stuff not only takes up space but it also takes up time.  Time picking things up and putting them away.  Time cleaning things or trying to clean around them. 

Every year, at least once, hubby and I go through boxes and closets, toy bins and dressers trying to choose things taking up time and space in our lives.  Before moving to Iowa, we held three yard sales and sadly after filling the U-haul truck, I still had to leave behind 15 boxes of books and several other items.  One thing I did not really get through before the move though was the kids' toys.  In the more than 8 years of our kids' birthdays, Christmases, Easters and assorted other events those toys can really pile up. 

Luckily we devised a plan early on to keep the toys out of the kids' room(s).  I thought their bedroom should only contain clothing, books and a few special dolls or stuffed animals.  The bulk of the toys would stay in a designated play room or area.  When our oldest was a baby, she had one toy box in the living room.  After having two kids, we kept them in a shared bedroom so that we could use the other room as a play room.  Even after the third kid entered the scene, we kept them all in one bedroom, with a play area in our sunroom. 

This plan has worked well. Young kids do not have the same need for privacy as adults and they love having ample space to play.  Keeping everyone's toys together in a designated area helped minimize the complaints of "mine" and eased the sharing of toys with siblings.  It also helped keep the bedroom as a quiet place for sleeping and reading.  When baby brother was napping, the girls could still play with their toys in the other room.  Here on the farm the girls share a bedroom and the boys share a bedroom, but the toys still have a separate designated area on the porch.  I admit I do not pay particular attention to this play area and sometimes the kids take all bins and dump the toys on the floor.  As long as they get everything picked up when I ask, I no longer worry about sorting into the labeled drawers unless we are doing a purge or having company.  :)

But the girls' bedroom seems to have taken on a whole new identity this winter.  Maybe because it's been too cold to even play on the porch and everyone has been cooped up too long, but toys seem to be creeping inside and hiding in every crevice of their bedroom.  Dirty clothes cannot seem to find their way three feet towards the door into the hamper and the kids must be holding daily fashion shows judging by the clean clothes piling up.  Last week I dove head first into their room and hung up all their dresses, folded t-shirts, pants and jammies.  Matched socks (my least favorite job!) and swept every sort of knick knack, trinket and bauble out from under the furniture.  I arranged books on shelves by size and framed photos to put on their dressers.  Then enter Spring Break... I tried to walk into their room yesterday, only to find myself unable to move with stepping on something or other.  I let it be known that if the clothes were no picked up, beds made and toys put away before lunch today, there would be consequences!  Each girl limited to 5 outfits of my choosing!  If you have elementary aged girls, they are probably as opinionated and picky about their outfits as mine, so this is motivating.  Except today, it wasn't.  From the kitchen I heard laughter and playing.  I gave a 1 hour warning, which soon turned into a half hour warning.

What I have gleaned from facebook friends and fellow parents, this struggle is common.  All the stuff piling up, the battle to control the toys and clothes.  I used my trusty label maker (did I mention I'm a bit OCD?) to label each dresser drawer and each toy bin, but that will only go so far.  I know my children clean best with specific guidelines, such as "pick up all the books" rather than the general "clean your room."  So after today's battle, I am instigating some new rules and methods to our bedroom cleaning routine.  I created a checklist to be posted on the door.  The girls can see what is expected for their room to be "mommy clean" - up to mommy's standard of clean and not just everything hidden under the bed and in the closet. 

click on photo to download pdf of the checklist

 Anything left on the floor overnight will be confiscated and sent to toy jail.  I found this cute printable on the Little Mama blog (and another version at Organized Mom).  The printable includes chores that kids can do as ransom to free their toys.  So over the next couple months we will be testing the checklist and toy jail methods.  We will also be getting rid of some more toys and clothes to free up time and space.  I will keep you posted on our progress, but in the meantime, keep us in your prayers!!  And if you have any brilliant ideas to help tackle the clutter, please let me know.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

City Slickers

In 1971 my grandparents fled the big city and purchased 27 acres outside a small town.  A few months later my grandpa wrote a letter to my grandma's brother in Maryland, detailing all the challenges they had faced.  I wish I had the letter to share with you.  Luckily some of the stories live on.

the old farmhouse
    The house that stood on the farm when my grandparents moved in was old.  It was a two story farmhouse, heated by a large black stove in the living room and had an outhouse sitting nearby.  As you might imagine, snowy winters in Iowa are not very warm.  And when you live in an older house with minimal to no insulation and a heat stove that is far from a central heating system - that means the far away bedrooms upstairs were not nearly as toasty as the living room.  They probably wore warm jammies and added another blanket to their beds.  Maybe even snuggled up to their sister to keep warm.  But what happens when you head downstairs to the bathroom in the middle of the night?  Well if you lived in this particular house, you discover that snow is drifting in underneath the wall of the modern bathroom that was added onto the house.  And that the water in the toilet has frozen!  Yes, true story, it happened in my grandparents old farm house!
the old outhouse

Earlier this summer I shared some of our challenges and misadventures (here) in adjusting to farm life.  Summer quickly turned to fall and winter.  It has now been seven months living in Iowa and though we are settling in and adjusting to our new routines, it seems like the misadventures never end.

    The Weather.  
    When the girls started school at the end of August, temperatures were in the high 90s/low 100s, which is higher than the average 78-84* for that time of year.  Since the schools are not equipped with air conditioning, the kids were released early every day for the first two weeks.  The snowfall in October and November was a welcome change from the humid summer weather.  Winter break rolled around and the kids could barely last an hour all bundled up outside (picture Ralphie and Randy in a Christmas Story).  Everyone was looking forward to school starting back up when suddenly the Polar Vortex appeared and sent temperatures plunging to near record lows at -13*.  If that wasn't cold enough, the extreme wind chills dropped the outside air to -40*.  School was canceled for two days.
    The Vehicles.  
    Back in October on a drizzly evening, as we headed home from gymnastics, my minivan slowly drifted to a stop on the side of the interstate.  Lights were flickering and I could tell the battery was not fulfilling its duties.  Turns out the alternator was a goner.  Hubby and I changed the alternator the next day on the side of the interstate in the rain (me in my flip flops).  I thought the car and I came to an understanding after this episode, but two months later, on our way home from a Girl Scouts' Christmas potluck, again the lights start flickering and I know what's coming.  I tried to make it all the way home before the battery died, but instead we slowly came to a stop on the side of the road.  Just me and four kids.  In the dark.  During winter in Iowa.  Fortunately there was a house super close by that we were able to walk and wait for hubby to drive over and get us.  And here's where it gets funnier.  Hubby arrives and hooks up the minivan to be jump started.  If we can charge the battery and just get home, he can hopefully put the belt back on.  But his car runs out of gas.  We're again stuck on the side of the road with all four kids in the dark and cold.  Hubby had a nice 1.5 mile walk home to get a gas can.
    The Plumbing.   
    In the upstairs bathroom toilet there was a little doohickey that broke.  Since hubby previously worked as a plumber and is generally all around handy, he decided to fix it.  Apparently there was something about this set up that he was not familiar with, so he went to the downstairs bathroom to compare.  Somewhere along the lines, the same doohickey broke in the downstairs toilet!  (Lucky for us there is a third toilet in the guest room).  Hubby had to make a trip to the hardware store, where apparently the people working there were unfamiliar with the pieces he was looking for.  Hubby was finally able to get the toilets back together after a bit of work with the hardware store, so things were back to normal.  Until the upstairs toilet developed an unrelated leak.  A leak that was so small, no one noticed it until it had loosed the glue under the linoleum and the bathroom floor began to bubble up. 
    The Germs.   
    My freshman year of college I lived in the dorms.  The heating system apparently did a great job recycling air throughout the dorm building because it seemed like as soon as one person was sick, everyone in the building was sick.  Being cooped up in the house this chilly winter, I am reminded of those days.  I am fairly certain that every single germ the girls have come into contact with at school comes directly home to their little brother. The same little brother that loves to snuggle, stick his fingers in your mouth, lick your chapstick and share your drinks.  In other words, he likes to share those germs.  This has been the winter of endless colds!

Through it all, we still stand by our decision to move to the farm...but we are really looking forward to spring, when we can air out the house, get our hands dirty in the garden and I can start feeding the kids outside so I don't have to sweep the kitchen so often!