It’s been a busy January/February so far here at Miles Away Farm. On overcast foggy cold days, I’m indoors planning the garden, ordering seeds, researching fruit varieties for the perennial garden, paying my business taxes (Washington bases their business tax on gross, not net. What’s up with that!), and researching new personal care products (vanilla sugar scrub anyone?).
I’m also trying to line up product liability insurance, which is proving to be difficult because I want to be so diversified. Some are scared off by eggs, some by fragrance in toiletry products, some by the foot traffic for classes I might teach in the commercial kitchen. I’m starting to feel like Joel Salatin in his book “Everything I Want To Do is Illegal”.
I’ve applied for my Washington Egg Handler/Dealer license – now I just need the inspection. Selling eggs off farm in Washington is actually not that complicated. You need to have a work area (that can be sanitized – not your kitchen), a designated storage area for supplies, potable water (which can be a jug with warm tap water in it), a hand washing station (i.e. soap and paper towels in addition to the water) and a refrigerator. Our place has a well built shed with power that has now become the “egg shack”.
You can’t reuse egg cartons so I had to order some pristine new ones (lets face it, you can find anything on the internet). There are some specific labeling requirements, but they are really not a big deal. I picked up an extra refrigerator on Craig’s List for $100 (though given whatever had been spilled in it, they should have paid me to take it – yuck). I currently have 15 hens, and will incubate 20 more chicks this spring to aim for a total of 25 laying hens (50/50 male-female so if I want 10 more hens, I need to hatch 20 more chicks – the extra males become dinner). As the days get longer, I’m starting to get more eggs per day, and am now up to about 56 a week. (My mail lady buys 3 dozen a week, which is keeping me from being overrun until I am official). We’re also planning on getting ducks this spring and selling duck eggs as well, so all of this red tape will pay off in the end. Eggs ALWAYS sell at market, bakeries LOVE duck eggs, and our local pasture finished meat grocer will also take any extra I have.
I’ve also applied for the licenses needed to sell plant starts and have a “legal for trade” scale for use at Farmers Markets. I did everything without a scale last year, and would like to be able to weigh stuff this year. The scale requirements are specific. You can’t just use your OXO Good Grips scale (which I use for soapmaking and is quite accurate, but noooooo, you need to buy a new one). Some of this just seems like an excuse for the state to charge you extra money.
I’m also taking a class on Sustainable Small Acreage Farming and Ranching with Washington State University on Thursday nights through April. I lucked out that they are teaching it in Pasco, which is only about an hour away from Walla Walla. I attended a Women in Agriculture conference last Saturday, which gave me a chance to meet some other local producers. Michael and I are signed up for a Friday/Saturday course on raising beef/pork and lamb/poultry (pick one from each group – we’re doing pork and lamb) and for another Saturday course on Sheep/Goats. ‘Tis the season to cram in as much educational information and networking as possible before the growing season begins and there is not much time to do much but harvest produce and make lotion. Farmers market applications for both Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater (about 10 miles south) have been mailed. Phew.
On sunny days we’re out measuring the fields, figuring out where the missing irrigation sprinkler heads are (we had to dig up 3 or 4 – thankfully it was installed on a grid system with consistent spacing, so we were able to guess where to start looking) and figuring out how much water they put out (2.5 gal/min in a 40′ radius). We’ve also been digging out valve housings that have been completely buried by gophers. You pull the lid off, and if it weren’t for the plastic box housing, you’d think that the lid was just sitting on the ground. This process has once again reminded me of why I did not become an archeologist, as I remove soil one small trowel full at a time to avoid breaking a plastic housing or disconnecting wires. We’re still trying to figure out the extensive irrigation system installed here (the previous owner identified a 5 valve box that runs most of the yard sprinklers as the main shut off valve to the house so she wasn’t much help). Existing infrastructure is great. Existing infrastructure with directions would be even better. Ha.
And in amongst all of this planning, we’re appreciating the little things in life, like watching the chickens enjoying a dust bath on a sunny day. They always look like they are having an epileptic fit and I have to check that they are OK.
Or finding a little salamander slumbering under the duct taped wires that were all I found in one hole (salamander was relocated to the compost pile).
Or noticing that the iris (there are a million iris here), daylilies and daffodils are already (it’s only February – can you say Zone 6?) peaking above the ground. Or hearing a bee buzz by you while you are out pruning branches out of crab apples, black walnuts, willow or various pines. Or taking the time to order and plant a particular type of daffodil (Cragford) that I grew up with on the farm in California and have missed since. We also gave a 15 ft tall forsythia that was crammed in between a conifer and an apple a major haircut and brought some of the branches into the house. Within a week or so, they were in full bloom. I had always wanted to try “forcing” flowering branches like this, and was excited to have it turn out so successful.
Oh, and most exciting, we finally completed our WhizBang cider press and grinder. I bought the plan book on how to make it while we were still in Colorado, and have been assembling parts for at least the last 6 months. We picked up a used garbage disposal at a Habitat Home Supply store for $5. The motor (the most expensive part) we happened to have from a parts auction my husband bid on before cider was a gleam in our eye. It just happened to be the right kind. And we put the left over stored apples (that were in the canning closet making everything smell wonderful and making the potatoes sprout) through it to try it out. From some of the resulting batch of cider I made some apple-red chili jelly. The chickens happily got the left over apple pulp. Total cost? Around $250 (I ordered food grade parts from the whizbang guy rather than making my own out of wood and then sealing them, so the cost went up). Cost to order a new one from Lehman’s? $700 + shipping. Sweet! I see hard cider and apple jack in our future.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re miles away from having enough apples, now that we have a press to put them in, and can’t believe that spring will be here before you know it.