Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Taking the Plunge

I filled out the application. I scanned it to my email. I wrote the email to Shelby Davis of Mr. P’s Mountain Smokehouse. I thought about it one more time, looked over the edge, and hit send. That was it. The point of no return.

The 30 Acre Wood has officially become a vendor for Schroon Lake’s 2013 Opening Weekend festivities, where I will be selling my homestead soft cheeses. I’m scared to death.

They say if you wait to be ready for something, you’ll never do it. I’d been debating whether to do a booth for the weekend after Shelby tossed me the idea.

My guest post on The Social Silo garnered more attention that I had planned on. People started talking about it. The post directed people to my blog, and the next thing I knew I received email from Shelby asking to profile my cheesiness on the Schroon Laker blog. The small town network is alive and well around here.

My knee-jerk response was "I’m really not newsworthy." Now, let’s think about this a minute. I want people to be interested in and buy my product, yet I’m afraid to let people know about it.  That makes a whole lot of sense.

Our new logo, courtesy of ubertalented daughter Jessica Jones

I approached my coworker, Donna Moses, about sharing a tent with me. She makes amazing crafts and figured if we split a tent, then neither one of us has to make a huge amount of product to have a nice display. It was a good way of taking some of the pressure off myself. Then Donna decided not to participate due to numerous family obligations. Totally understandable, but I did tell her that if I have a total cheese-related freak-out going into this, I’m holding her responsible.

So that leaves me and my half-dozen or so variations of soft cheeses all alone in the spotlight. Or at least in the tent.

Fromage draining
this morning
I’m still experimenting and trying to perfect (to the degree that you can) my cheeses. My first mozzarella/pesto log turned into a watery, gooey mess on the first try, but that’s where troubleshooting comes in. I’m trying different flavors for fromage blanc, which has winners and losers. Larry loves them all, so he’s a poor tester, although he’s good for my ego. Friends have been getting samples with "Tell me what you honestly think" attached to them.

If you don’t leap at some point, you never get anywhere. You stand on the end of the diving board forever, with your toes gripping the edge until they cramp. I dove off my board. I emailed Shelby my application. Needless to say, I receive a very enthusiastic response from her.

Had I not pushed myself to do this, I don’t know what I would have waited for before I went "public." A bona fide production kitchen? A cheese cave? Kudos and atta-girls from those nearest and dearest? That’s stupid. Time’s a wastin’, as June and Johnny would say. If I’m not going to have fun with it, what’s the point? And fun is getting out there with my coolers and containers and samples and chatting it up with folks on a beautiful spring weekend.

Now I have to get cooking!  See you in the park on May 25!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Fifth Season

Someone came up to me the other day and said, "I didn’t recognize your truck in the parking lot. It was so dirty." That’s a tell-tale sign of mud season.

Ah yes, mud season, otherwise known as The Fifth Season, the precursor to spring. That long-awaited time of the year when the robins come back.  And I don’t bother cleaning floors.  Really, it’s like shoveling before the snowstorm ends - what’s the point?

Larry can get up the driveway in his front wheel drive Jetta, but the truck bogs down and I need four wheel drive to get off the road. Either that, or I back up in our neighbor's driveway and get a running start, shooting across Charley Hill Road, hopefully with enough momentum to get me to higher, drier ground.  Going through the turnaround becomes extra exciting, because sliding a foot or so in either direction is going to smack off a side-view mirror.

It also makes for squishy paths to the barn, and once the dirt bared itself, the chickens began to dig and churn and revel in its earthy glory. The horses came off Pasture A, reluctantly and unhappily, as now it has to be protected from their sharp hooves and allowed to grow unhampered. The rest of their area, aptly named the "sacrifice" area, now becomes a mud pit of its own until things dry up. I rotate feeding locations to try and minimize the damage.

Tis the season for old houses like ours to be catheterized. The sump pump is an important part of its long-term care. One spring when we had an ice storm and the power was knocked out, I came home and looked down the cellar stairs, to see kitty litter boxes floating like sand-filled pirate ships in a foot of water.

Mother Nature has been fickle this spring. This morning the sky was bright blue and a warm breeze caressed my face. It is now raw and raining, on the verge of sleeting - again.

[courtesy doranna.net]
It can be hard to stay chipper in weather like this - spring seems so close, yet so far. But yesterday I took a moment to look around the yard - the front garden soil looks black and rich. The perennial bed that I planted last year looks ready to pop as soon as it feels a few days of successive warmth. When I brush a horse, there’s a pony’s worth of hair on the ground at the end (note to self: do NOT wear Chapstik in the barn).    Hardy souls like crocuses and lilies are starting to push through the ground.

And the robins? They’re braving the rain and sleet. They know warmer weather’s just around the corner. And clean floors are way overrated. 

Coming soon to a yard near you!



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Great Expectations

Each year, shortly after New Years, Larry and I write up a list of what we want to accomplish on the homestead in the coming year.  They have taken many forms over the years - from formal typewritten lists to something scratched out on a napkin in Flanagans.  The new list gets pinned to the kitchen bulletin board on top of the prior years' lists.  A planner at heart, I love seeing hopeful To Dos in writing, and at the end of the year when we scratch off our accomplishments, well, it doesn't get better than that.

Is he sticking his tongue
out at us?
Our homestead goals range from practical (fix cellar doors, paint upstairs hallway) to optimistic (get riding ring done, get horse trailer).  Some are carried over from year to year to year (Larry's "get a deer this hunting season").  But they do happen (I have faith in my husband), and seeing past accomplishments helps us keep our eye on next year's prizes.

The past couple of years we have been selling eggs and getting more out of our garden.  Ever the entrepreneur, I'm trying to find ways of generating a little income from the homestead.  Larry's been encouraging this plan all along, but I've been poo-pooing it due to lack of time, lack of knowledge, lack of fill-in-the-blank.  But getting involved with the Farm Bureau, and getting to know other people who are making things happen, has been a steady source of encouragement. 

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a small farm business plan workshop sponsored by Saratoga County Cornell Cooperative Extension.  Well, talk about lighting a fire under my butt!  Not only
was it an education learning how to tailor a business plan to a small farming enterprise, it was cool meeting and talking with other people doing similar things.   Although everyone's business had a slightly different focus, our goals were all the same - to establish/expand what we've got to make it better, and make it a viable business.  There's nothing like being in a room with like-minded individuals to get you inspired.

I have been working out my business plan since then, and in mapping it out in my mind and on paper, I've seen some areas that, theoretically, should work better than others.  There's nothing like the nitty-gritty of actual numbers to see if something is realistic or not.  Layers will take a little time to turn a profit, where broilers are a relatively quick turnaround.  I've been amazed at the response I've gotten from people interested in my soft cheeses, and I think there would be a market for my onion braids. 

I can dream, can't I?

In following our business plan guru's suggestions, I applied for our DBA and opened a separate checking account for The 30 Acre Wood.  Larry and I are mapping out an expansion of the chicken  coop for a new batch of chicks.  I'm hoping the weather gods cooperate and we have a good garden this year.  We'll start small, see what works and what doesn't, see what people want, and see what happens.   

We're looking forward to crossing more off our list at the end of 2013, including "get a deer this hunting season."