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Welcome to the Farm!

July 28th, 2011

The Open Gate Farm is an award winning, sustainable farm where chickens, ducks, a dog, a cat, and two middle aged humans have had a great life.  We have retired this year and closed the farm, the bakery, and the nursery.  We will miss you, but trust you will go visit our new non-profit, Growing Gardens For Life, with which we come alongside orphanages and group homes to teach the children how to raise food.  You can follow us there now, at www.growinggardensforlife.org and discover the joy of food and family in a new way.  We are taking The Honorable Farmer class we’ve taught and are teaching it to orphans and at risk children, then helping them put in gardens to feed themselves and their communities.  Click the link and begin a new life with us!

Happy Hoeing for Him,

Jon and Elaine Stevens

Trenches and Benches, Basins and Berms

November 10th, 2012

Trenches and Benches, Basins and Berms

 Dear Friends:

We woke up this morning before dawn to rain coming in our open window.  Soft drops had dampened the carpet and we enjoyed the falling water more than we can tell.  With humidity in the 20% range, we knew the carpet was not in trouble…it would dry quickly.  But to feel the rain on our faces after days of blazing sun was a treat from heaven.

Immediately our minds turned to the gardens we are putting in at Rancho de Sus Ninos, an orphanage in the countryside where Tecate meets Tijuana.  Much of our work has been done preparing for a morning like this, a morning when life giving water falls from the sky to open the seeds and start the cycle of birth, growth, and death all over again.

The pile of manure the size of our living room has been nibbled on by pitchfork and wheelbarrow and moved into windrows of growing beds curving across the field with dirt paths between them.  The curves were carefully marked out by our first volunteer, Tim Colton, who knew how to trace the lines with a tall triangle made from salvaged boards, some twine, and a hunk of old rebar we found.

e used the same tool in the steep field of the orchard to lay out the path for the Bobcat with it’s scoop to form trenches and benches, or basins and berms as he called them.  With those in place now, erosion can stop.

Water landing on the dry earth, which is not able to soak rain in as fast as it falls, will flow into the bowls and pause there to soak in slowly.  It then will, if there is enough, flow through the soil under the berm and water the trees we will be planting on the downhill side of the berm.  A marvelous, natural system to gather water and use it for creating food, not deep gullies as it rushes to the rivers and the sea

We are on the western edge of the Sonoran Desert, in an ecological convergence zone where the dry sand meets the very occasional winter rain from the Pacific Ocean.  This translates into sagebrush and scruffy grasses and weeds with long, long tap roots.  Except where man has gone.  There the dirt roads of even an occasional passing disturb the soil enough plants can’t grow and erosion can set in.  Like our lives, this is a fragile environment.

It is not hard to see the parallels in our lives.  When left to grow naturally and easily, we are filled with life, with the sagebrush and ground squirrels of friends and neighbors, with the lizards and ants of children and parents,  all adding color and character and quality to who we are and what we do.

But when the “world” with it’s ways of walking through our lives uninvited shows up our lives can erode like the soil of the desert.  All the goodness we’ve gathered can be rapidly eroded by the call of the television and advertisements and pressures of a commute.  It does not take long for the beauty of our lives to become polluted by the footprints of the greed of commerce, the insanity of lust.

So the question comes up, what are the trenches and benches, the basins and berms of your life?  Who put them there and when?  Was it a kindly grandfather who patiently showed you how to ride a bike or prune a grapevine?  Was it a loving parent who listened to you tell a childish joke over and over and laughed with you every time at the silliness it reflected?  Perhaps there was a teacher who opened your mind and your heart to the wonders of the wilderness or the beauty of a good book.

Whoever it was, it is never too late to thank them.  Call them now or even if it is only with a look up at the sky toward where they have now gone, let them know you appreciate their gift of being a basin and bench for you so the rains of life would not wash away the goodness of your personal soil.

And don’t be surprised if they ask you about how you are doing at being a basin and a berm, a trench and a bench for someone else.  It’s a great job, doing that.  One that will bring life to others and to you as well.  A life that is not being washed away by the harsh rains of the world.

Happily Hoeing in Mexico for a season,

Jon and Elaine, you traveling farmers and all their pets who are home on the island building benches and berms for all their friends.

Ducky Dahlias at The Open Gate Farm

October 11th, 2012
Dear Friends:

Some of you have asked if, now the stand is closed and we are off to the adventures of the non-profit, Growing Gardens For Life, will these newsletters continue?  The answer is YES!

We held a meeting with the dog, cat, ducks, and chickens, and they all voted overwhelmingly to keep in contact with each of you and let you continue to look through this window at their world.  In fact, both Ben the rooster and the Parson Dudley Brown said if needed, they would pinch write columns for us.  Turns out they’ve been working on their laptops down there late at night, studying up how to type so they can get out a few ideas of their own.  That could explain our high electric bill and their recent fondness for our coffee grounds.

It was a good thing they had been gobbling those grounds.  Last Sunday afternoon we had our open house for Growing Gardens For Life to share with folks all the details about this new adventure of coming alongside orphans and at risk children to teach them how to grow food and put in gardens with them.  We had a wonderful turnout and that included some charming children who love feathered friends.  Especially those that waddle to get where they need to go.  We noted several times when it was only the sharp eyed watching by the “look out” duck that they escaped this “love” by diving into the flower garden and hiding behind the dahlias.

There is nothing more charming than a duck trying to look like a dahlia.  They have such a way of waving with the blossoms in the wind it almost fools us.  But we can usually see the difference though apparently the kids can’t for they would give up and go swing for a while.  Good choice, children.  And so unlike us foolish adults who would have thought the ducks were just playing hard to get, both the children and the ducks are at peace.

When do you let go of those things which don’t want to play with you?  When do you set aside a dream and turn and go to the swing set of life and pump hard then launch yourself from the high flying seat to land laughing in the grass?  It’s not always easy to know.  Over the years we all have done this at one time or another, but how do you really know when, as Christians describe it, the “call of God” is upon you and you turn 90 degrees and go another way?

If you go to the Old Testament, to the story of Moses, it took a bush that burned but never burned up to get him to let go of chasing sheep and head back to town to become the leader of a couple million slaves and guide them to freedom and their new lives.

For us, it has taken the arrival of the state wide cottage kitchen laws to realize we needed to let go of the bakery and retire and listen for the call of our new life and then answer it.  And in our case, the bakery had become the tail that wagged the dog so we shut the produce stand down too.  Doing that completed the process, cleared our vision as it were, and gave us the gift of time to build the foundation for Growing Gardens For Life.

What is if for you?  A job layoff?  A new baby?  A new grandchild?  Not all the burning bushes of our lives are negative.  In fact, at the end of the day we can see they produce pretty positive results.  But it does take turning from the path we’re on and going over to check out the possibilities.  And then voting with our feet what we will do.  Will we chase the ducks until we and they are exhausted or will we let go of the dream of touching a feather and instead find the waiting swing set and start pumping?  When we do that, we will hear loud cheering from the highly caffeinated ducks in the dahlias of our lives.  And we will know it was the right thing to do for everyone’s life will be better.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the changeable farmers, Snickers the resting dog, Mystery the understanding cat, Ben and his flock of kid dodging chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of dahlia hugging ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

Snickerdoodles At The End

September 19th, 2012

 

Snickerdoodles at The End

Dear Friends:

Snickerdoodles will be the last cookie.  Your lovely lady farmer who has baked your cookies all these years shared that when she was a little girl in perhaps the 4th grade, a friend at school gave her the first snickerdoodle she had ever had.  The friend fished around in her lunch box and hauled out this treat and gave it to her and one bite is all it took to get hooked.  And one bite now takes her back to those school days and the discovery of true friendship.  Perhaps it will for you too.

So the bakery will have old friends and new ones too.  Each weekend there have been new treats show up and this final weekend will be no exception.  The loaves of Seedy Farmer Bread will be watching from the far end of the case to see what visions of loveliness arrive.  Come join them in the fun!

All the plants in the nursery are on a special sale.  This weekend, pay what you want for them and what you give will be going to our orphanage project, Growing Gardens For Life.  We are donating all of them to this program to raise money to help us teach the orphans and at risk children at Rancho de Sus Ninos in Tecate, Mexico how to raise food and then put in gardens with them so they can eat healthy meals.

The produce in our garden is winding down and now in short supply.  We expect to run out of it this weekend, so if you are wanting some beets or kale, you may want to arrive early.  And do come early, for this is Harvest Jubilee Weekend when we will have all those folks from Seattle and Arlington and all over coming out to experience the country life for a few minutes.  Saturday will be nuts.

And then on Saturday evening it will be over and the stand will close for the last time.  We will lower the front, cover the memories we’ve made, and then turn and step carefully into the future.

A wise man once observed that, “When your only tool is a hammer, all you will see are nails.”  The implication being, of course, that smart people have more than one tool in their tool chest.  A saw, a screwdriver, a plane, and a chisel are all handy too, for specific jobs.  They open our eyes to doing more and being more and suddenly we can do more than pound nails.  We can be more than a cog in the gears of commerce. We can build the whole building.  We can construct a rich and satisfying life filled with windows that look out on a marvelous world and doors we can go through to explore it.

 

Have you ever noticed that as we go through life, we collect tools along the way?  It might be a pair of pliers from the side of the road or the special drill bit to put holes in doors for the knob.  It could be a second language so we can graduate from college or the ability to speak in public from our first job in sales.  Perhaps it is the knowledge of how to bake a beautiful cake or paint a happy house or raise a cheerful child.  But each tool we add to our tool kit enables us to do more and be more in the farm of life.

Then along comes a time to change employers or professions and we sit collecting unemployment checks while we fish around in our tool box, oiling the pliers and sharpening the knives and figuring out what to do to keep our ship afloat.  We look for the tools to plug the holes and stop the leaks, for the knowledge and experience to make ourselves valuable to an organization so we can get somewhere in life.

Or perhaps that day comes when we retire, when we pack up our whole collection of professional tools and launch into the great unknown of no regular paycheck, of no commute, of no water coolers and lunch rooms.  It is a time when a few of our tools may get relegated to the museum of our life, when we put an old favorite on the shelf to pick up a new tool, perhaps a new way of doing and being.  It is the moment of the greatest freedom one can experience in life.  And because it is true freedom to do and become more than ever before, it is truly frightening.

There is not the compass of needing to satisfy some boss, of having to earn hard dollars to support a life style.  Instead the lifestyle is designed around the money available and the only boss to satisfy is one’s conscience.  Those long, dark nights of the soul leading up to that day, those hours of wakefulness when we should be sleeping as we try to think all this through are over forever and the day is finally here.

We wake up, look in the mirror, and walk away from the images of the past and into the great unknown of this new day, this day like no other, when we encounter true freedom.  And whether we run and hide from it or embrace the change it offers will depend not just on what tools we’ve gathered over the years, but also our vision of the future.

In the Bible, it says that, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  So it is that we must at these change points of life, set about consciously creating a new vision.  If we don’t, we perish.  If we do, then we can sing with Don Quixote that great song, “To Dream the Impossible Dream” and ride off into the sunrise with our friend, Sancho Panza, at our side and who knows…we might change the world by giving hope to others.

As we do that, as your two farmers become “snowbirds” and this winter head off to orphanages and group homes to see if by teaching how to raise food they can give hope to the children and staff in another country, we will be using both the tools we’ve gathered over the years as well as new ones provided along the way.

It has been frightening at times, this creating a new vision in the crucible of change.  It is not easy and it takes a lot of talking together as we figure out what decisions need to be made and then making them.  It is taking time to adjust to new identities, new discoveries about whom we are and what we need in order to live lives of love.  But it is creating a wonderful world for years to come.

Then, when we return here in the spring and look at the land and consider the vision for next year, our tools will again provide us the means to go forward into our new life here.  And from the foundation we’ve found in this community on Camano, it will be a beauty.

So as you do that, as you create your visions of a new future, be brave.  Dream big, impossible dreams, and you will find the tools you have gathered still have use, still have life giving strength in them, still have the ability to give hope to others and will give you a life you would never have imagined when you put them in your tool kit those long years ago.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine the dreaming farmers, Snickers the tool hunting dog, Mystery the well oiled cat, Ben and his flock of hope giving chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of dreaming ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

Chicken Time

May 28th, 2012

Dear Friends:

Here comes Thursday!  Get the car gassed and ready because there’s going to be one outstanding sale on the remaining strawberry plants…name your price!  But not more than a dollar each.  And you have to have a hosta.  Their leaves are stunning and they love the shade…something we seem to have lots of this year.

So while you’re filling the car with healthy plants, grab one of the loaves of bread and fill your table with healthy food.  And the lettuce!  By golly it’s in, folks.  We’ve got plants in the garden that will probably cover a small table.  Or at least the plates on it!  Merlot, Grandpa Admire, Canasta…had all three in a salad last night and it was awesome.  And if you like kale, well…that should be enough of a hint.

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Nutty Farmer and Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Peanut Butter

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowls
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Peanut Butter

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Peanut Butter

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowls, Viking Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Rhubarb Scones featured this weekend!

Whoopee Pies for the brave!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Rhubarb – fresh from our field, organic, sweet, succulent, pie ready – $2.00 / lb

Full heads of gorgeous lettuce – $2.50

 

Time is a relative thing here at The Open Gate Farm.  We have a chicken who finally figured this out.  Americana chickens are not dumb.  A trifle grumpy at times, but not dumb.  This brown hen was looking through the little farm office window studying the clock when it dawned on her how it all works.  She rushed back to the flock and broke the news gently for it was shocking.

Seems they have been concerned that we are letting them out a couple minutes later every morning.  They wondered if we had a problem with our alarm clocks up in the big house.  But every time we get there we announce, “8:00 folks, time to hit the lawns and fields and get to work!”  They were thinking this was odd because not so long ago it was dark when we said that and now the sun has been up for over an hour.  How could it still be 8:00 a.m.?  Were our clocks broken or were we living in a time warp?

But this bright girl had watched the clock and realized there is no relationship between the clock on the wall and when the sun comes up or goes down.  She considered the theory that there are two time machines at work at the same time, so to speak.  One is the sun which has days that grow longer and one is the clock that has days whose length never change.  Once she got her head around that idea, it all fell into place.

So off she went to explain this rather complicated idea to her feathered friends.  She had to field a few tricky questions, like whether this explained why we put vinegar in their water or why we only let them in the big garden during the short dark days of midwinter, but she got through it quite well.

Understanding time is always difficult.  Even people have trouble with it.  The value to the chickens in knowing about 8:00 changing each day relative to the sun’s distance over the horizon was that the clock, not the sun signaled their release.  The value to some people is that going by the sun instead of the clock can mean they miss planes, weddings, and the start of the movie.  Yet even with people we can find some who live by the sun.  We call them, “Snowbirds”.  When the days get shorter, they head south and when the days lengthen they come north again.

The chickens and ducks thought this most interesting.  It reminded them of the swallows and robins that show up here in the spring and leave when the leaves fall.  They wondered if we could show them a picture of these snowbirds from a bird book.   The best we could do was a small photo of the author on the back cover.  But that was enough.  It encouraged them to know not all the people in the world have the disconnect between 8:00 a.m. and the sun’s location.  Some folks actually live at the pace of life that makes sense to a chicken.   It’s called, “retirement”.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine Stevens, the dawn breaking farmers, Snickers the clock watching dog, Mystery the clock avoiding cat, Ben and his flock of much smarter chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of well-timed ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

 

 

She’s Come Home

May 22nd, 2012

Dear Friends:

A lovely weekend is ahead, regardless the weather.  Here at the farm the air is warm now and the flowers are dressing in their brightest colors and calling for our attention.  They like visitors too.  After all, who of us does not like being admired for our finest qualities?

Strawberry plants are on sale here this weekend!  At 20% off (aka $2 each), you can get a healthy plant in a gallon pot.  Many have more than blooms.  Think berries. And they are ready to send out runners to fill your beds with more plants than you can count so next year you’ll be ready when the rhubarb is for some fine pie!

But until then, you can come on by for some bread and lettuce and enjoy a great meal from our selection at the stand the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 9 to 5.  Oh!  Take note!  We have changed only the name…”Olive Cheese Boats” are now being called “Viking Boats”.  With all the Nordic heritage around here, this seems a natural.  A customer came asking for the, “Viking Boats” and we thought it fit well.  So come on Saturday and load up on the best boat a Viking ever ate!

 

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Nutty Farmer and Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Butterscotch Cookies

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowls
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Butterscotch Cookies

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Butterscotch Cookies

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowls, Viking Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Berry Scones featured this weekend!

Whoopee Pies for the brave!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Rhubarb – fresh from our field, organic, sweet, succulent, pie ready – $2.00 / lb

Full heads of gorgeous lettuce – $3.00

 

Annie has come to live with us full time and we think she’ll fit right in.  She lived here before.  In fact, she was born here.  Or hatched, to be more accurate.  You see, Annie is a sweet, tan with traces of white, little Indian Runner duck.  She was in the last clutch of eggs Margaret hatched and raised a year ago.  She went with the rest of her siblings to a farm toward the north end of the island where they all have enjoyed a lovely pond and huge fields.

Unfortunately bullying is not a trait exhibited just in our public schools.  For several months her brothers have been picking on her.  Literally.  All the feathers on her neck and back got plucked out and they were, well, just plain mean to her.  They chased her away from food and wouldn’t let her play in the water or anything.  Her farmers rigged up a separate place for her and her feathers mostly grew back in, but several attempts at reuniting her with her siblings just did not work.  It’s hard to teach ducks not to bully once they get started.

So home she has come.  You’ll recall that, as Robert Frost said, “Home is where when you go there, they have to take you in.”  And this is her home.  No matter where you roam, home is also where you lived when the babies were small.   And this is where she was small.  Here is where she chased and ate her first bug.  Here is where she learned how to swim.  Here is where she first tasted a blade of sweet grass and drank deeply of soft water.  Here is where she learned to be part of a group, to belong to a flock.  We have taken her in though, not because we had to but because we wanted to.  And when you meet her you’ll know why.

Introducing a new member to a flock must be done carefully.  We made sure she arrived in the evening after everyone was in bed.  We let her out of her cage inside the poultry house as dusk was falling and watched as she trotted over to the others who were clustered in the corner.  No one chased her away so we left them to talk it over, to get re-acquainted, and we walked back to the house in the dark.

Now, in the light of the early morning, we’ve been down to check on her and all is well.  She was sitting on the nest under the nesting boxes where the ducks all lay their eggs.  As we approached, she popped out and trotted over to the others and stood at the back of the flock, waiting for the door to open.  When we let them out into their yard, she did stay inside for a bit.  Eventually though, she shot past and joined them out by the swimming pool.

The Parson took her under his wing, so to speak, and showed her how they drink from the pool, then how they root in the grass for bugs and slugs, and how they help the chickens finish up the cracked corn before the sparrows can steal it.  We are leaving all of them in the small yard for a bit to give them time to lay their eggs.  Soon though, we’ll be opening the gate to the yard knowing she has an adventure waiting for her as her new flock lead her around the place, showing her all the great spots for whuffling in the grass  and that crown jewel, the little pond in the woods.

Watching all this has brought to mind what it is like for us to enter a new situation too.  For example, it is the same when we go visit a church or group to talk about Growing Gardens For Life, our project to come alongside orphanages and teach the children how to raise food.  We enter the room, hoping to find it friendly and filled with kind people.  We look around and find the pastor or leader who guides us to the details which will help make our visit pleasant and productive.  And just like Annie this morning, we are so relieved to be welcomed and to begin to share stories with those we meet.

At the stand, we meet many people who are in the same boat as Annie.  They are newcomers to the island, brought here by these hard times as their previous lives became too painful to continue because the economy or employment issues bullied them unmercifully.  So we take the time to welcome them, to point them to houses for sale or a good dentist or a great park, and most importantly, a faith community where they might find new friends and a parson to show them the ropes.  It is only in community that we thrive and a church is the fastest way to find friends who are of a common mind.

With the wide variety of denominations we have here on the island and in Stanwood, it seems there should be one somewhere that would be a good fit for them.  Loneliness around here is a choice.  Some folks seem to like the pain of it.  But Annie didn’t and so with the help of our loving flock and under the care of the good Parson Dudley Brown, she will be able to come out of that shell, to leave the fear and terror of bullies behind and join joyfully in the line that we herd each evening to the safety and shelter of the poultry house.  She will have a place, a place in all our hearts where she will belong.  Welcome home, Annie.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the home building farmers, Snickers the guardian dog, Mystery the watching cat, Ben and his flock of grain guzzling chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of welcoming ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

PS  The web site for our orphanage project is now up on the Internet!  Check it out at www.growinggardensforlife.org and see what’s new!

 

 

 

 

 

Sort of Clear Communications…

May 17th, 2012

Dear Friends:

The deep purple lilacs are blooming.  The chickens are strolling across the lawn like they were royalty.  The ducks are floating on a sea of green, and the swallows and sparrows are swinging by with food for their families.  With the blue sky overhead and birdsong all around, this is feeling like we’re in a Walt Disney movie.  Pardon me while I get a fresh baked Snickerdoodle from the stack just out of the oven.

If this sounds awfully good to you, then come on by and set a spell while you chew on a cinnamon roll.  Or any other of the fine breads from the bakery.  And when you are ready to head home, let us know and we’ll pick a fresh head of lettuce for you or pull a garlic plant so you can make tongue tingling pesto.

And poke around in the nursery.  Our native plants are on sale this weekend at 30% off!

 

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Nutty Farmer and Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Snickerdoodles

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Snickerdoodles

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Snickerdoodles

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl, Olive Cheese Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Berry Scones featured this weekend!

Whoopee Pies for the brave!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Rhubarb – fresh from our field, organic, sweet, succulent, pie ready – $2.00 / lb

Full heads of gorgeous lettuce – $3.00

 

There have been some miscommunications going on around here and it’s time we attended to them.  We know what Snickers means when he barks at the door.  Just check which side he’s on and get him to the other, thanks.  Or when he barks at 2 a.m. and insists on going down to check on the ducks and chickens.  He’s probably heard they were going to a party over at the neighbor’s coop and he needs to do a bed check.  We think it means there’s a varmit down there and so slipping on the boots we grab a flashlight and go to chase it off.

But that dandy little motion detector that lets us know when you come by the stand is starting to go off more often than people are present.  It’s taken some research and waiting, but we finally caught the culprit in the act.  Across the road and on the other side of the ditch from our little yellow and white bakery and produce stand is a row of trees.  There is tall grass in the ditch, filled with seeds and bugs apparently.

A very handsome robin is now living in one of those trees and drops down frequently to the buffet at his feet.  Then he flies up with a load of shrimp or crab legs or pie for the kids.  Then back down to get some napkins.  Back up to show the young ones how to use them.  Then he has to take the trash out.  And every time, you guessed it, he’s triggering the alarm.  We drop what we’re doing and hustle out to help someone only to be met by the still, calm, quiet of an empty country road sweetened by a soft birdsong.

He’s kind of human, that robin.  Sending a signal he knows nothing about which tells folks something that is not true.  We know the signal means empty stomachs are at the stand.  He just hears a distant bell and figures it means chow’s ready.  How often have we done that?  How often have we sent a signal we didn’t know we’d sent and it causes high blood pressure and alarm?  Cutting someone off on the highway and not realizing we had done it.  Or blinking to get some dust out of our eye and someone thinks we’ve winked at them.  The ducks do it too.  Quackers will yell at the others to find where they’ve wandered off to and we think she’s reporting a coyote on the radar when all she wants is company.

But at the end of the day, we have to set aside these unintentional messages, sort them out and realize that they are just part of the price we pay for living in community, whether it is a community of chickens or chow hounds or birds being good parents.  And every now and then, the alarm actually does find a human to report on.  And then we are happily drawn into the community we know and love and all is well once again.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the alarmed farmers, Snickers the alarming dog, Mystery the low battery cat, Ben and his flock of chatting chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of hanging out ducks, all of whom live joyfully with the robins at The Open Gate Farm.

The Squirrel’s Revenge

May 8th, 2012

Dear Friends:

Mother’s Day!  We’ll have hanging baskets and lovely plants up at the stand alongside a bit of rhubarb and if you get here at the right time, one of our first 6 heads of lettuce that are finally ready!  The cookies this weekend will be “baker’s choice”, another way of saying we’re making all our favorites, one batch at a time!

 

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Nutty Farmer and Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Baker’s Choice

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Baker’s Choice

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Baker’s Choice

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl, Olive Cheese Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Berry Scones featured this weekend!

Whoopee Pies for the brave!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Rhubarb – fresh from our field, organic, sweet, succulent, pie ready – $2.00 / lb

Breath taking garlic !  $1.00 with free recipe for pesto

 

 

A Mother’s Day story which involves mostly men…

It was all that grey squirrel’s fault.  It really was.

It would have been better if he had not found the barrel of cracked corn for the poultry we keep under the eaves of the chicken house.  It would have been better if he had not gnawed through the lid and helped himself.  It would have been a lot better if, after the squirrel was relocated to Eagle Acres a few miles away (good luck, squirrel), the scrap of plywood screwed into place to repair the lid had kept the torrential rain out.  And it would have been much better if the cracked corn, now nicely dampened, had not fermented.

It might have been nice if when we were wheeling Bonnie and Clyde to their old home and went past the chicken house in the evening after everyone was tucked in for the night, if Clyde had not given a wolf whistle.  He was just trying to announce their return  home after a year herding goats, but he should have kept his beak shut.  And it would have been really nice if the Parson had not developed a taste for the fermented corn mash.  A duck with a hangover is not a pretty sight.

It would have been better and it would have been nice, but it wasn’t.

Bonnie and Clyde, as you may recall, are two young ducks our dearly departed Margaret hatched out one year and who then went off to become goat wranglers over in Snohomish.  These prodigals have now come home and our hopes for their rejoining our little flock are fast fading.  It seems the Parson Dudley Brown, our senior gentleman duck, in his hung over state has decided Clyde’s cowboy manners are not needed here.  Now in the morning, after his morning “cracked corn”, he has taken up chest bumping the fence until Clyde comes over.  Then the shouting match commences.  It’s not pretty.  They both know too many strong words.

The Parson Dudley Brown is an upset clergyman on his way to teach a sinner the difference between right and wrong and the reality of eternal brimstone.  Clyde, on the other hand, claims to be a cowboy who could teach the old man how to hold his liquor.

No feathers have flown yet, but we are concerned it won’t take long for a fight to break out if we let them sort it out themselves, beako to beako, so to speak.  The only thing the Parson has going for him is a slightly tarnished virtue.  Clyde, on the other wing (or hand) is sleek, smooth, fast, and smart and about has a ¾ pound advantage.  He is “in the silk” as prize fighters like to say, and has youth, weight, and reach on the Parson.  Clyde knows the moves, though the Parson knows virtue.  It would not be an even fight.  No, we really should not let them argue with their bodies.

So if you know of someone who would like a pair of charming ducks, let us know.  Bonnie is laying eggs like a politician and he’s a great one with the goats.  He’s not a bad guy, but we are definitely keeping him away from the mash.  He could be a mean drunk. Goat wranglers have a reputation, you know…

And the Parson?  We’re cutting him back to mash on Sundays and then only a little for communion.

So folks, that’s what happens when a squirrel turns the cracked corn barrel into a distillery and a duck eats too much fermented mash and comes out in the morning with a headache.  He will never see the straight and narrow which leads to harmony, happiness, and a good  home.  This could be a lesson for many of us.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the refereeing farmers, Snickers the umpire dog, Mystery the time keeping cat, Ben and his flock of staggering chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of embarrassed lady ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

Moving Eggs

May 2nd, 2012

Dear Friends:

If you’re low on sunshine, come by the farm!  We are the hole in the donut of rain around here according to the new radar dome up on the top of the ridge.  But if by some odd chance rain is actually falling, come by anyhow and fill your bags with sunshine from the bakery.  This week it is chocolate chip cookies and butterscotch bars for the brave of heart.  A double header for the kids in the orphanage!

Smaller loaves of our popular breads are now available.  Some single folks who love the bread reported they took two weeks to polish one off so we started making some half loaf size and they sold well last weekend.  You’ll never find fresher and finer anywhere around here for your summer sandwiches!

This week we attend our first big Farmer’s Market!  We’ll be over in Snohomish with dear friends, Matt and Petra Hurja, and their family staffing the scene.  So if you can’t make it there, come on over here and get what you’d like of the following:

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Nutty Farmer and Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Chocolate Chip

Butterscotch Bars

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Chocolate Chip

Butterscotch Bars

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Chocolate Chip

Butterscotch Bars

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl, Olive Cheese Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Berry Scones featured this weekend!

Whoopee Pies for the brave!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Rhubarb – fresh from our field, organic, sweet, succulent, pie ready – $2.00 / lb

Breath taking garlic !  $1.00 with free recipe for pesto

 

Ben, our big red farm rooster, came by the farm office the other day.  Hopped up onto the deck and strode through the door.  Clearly a man with a heavy matter on his mind.  A slight frown furrowed his brow and with a quiet cough he began to lay out his concern.

Seems the girls are hard at work, laying as many eggs as they can because they know we need them for the bakery.  However lately they have laid 5 and been delivering only 4.  After some hard detective work they think they found the thief.  Ben said they saw a four legged fellow in a long brown furry coat trotting off with one in his mouth.  His four legs worked faster than their two so they never saw what he did with it.

Now Ben was discreet and never named names, but it was not hard to figure out that our dog, Snickers, was involved.  It was interesting to us because yesterday Snickers came to the back door, sat down and barked.  Between his front legs was a lovely, green, fresh egg.  He has taken to gathering the eggs for us, it seems.  He had heard us talking about how much work we had this year without the extra help and he wanted to pitch in.  We praised him and gave him a reward for his effort.  Tonight, we intercepted him on the way to the porch with another egg he’d lifted from a nest.  Good dog.  Sort of.

Ben was, of course, relieved to hear we had gotten the hen fruit after all, but was concerned that the dog not try to snack on one on the way up.  He has done that in the past as we all know and so was banned from the chicken house for a year or two.  We assured our noble rooster we would keep a close tally on the egg score and see that all that get laid get delivered.

But it raised an interesting observation.  When we do something for someone which looks wrong to one observer (i.e. the hens saw it as stealing) with the best of intentions (gathering the eggs for his master and mistress), if the egg were to break in transit was a wrong committed?  Especially if he then ate it?  When does a good deed become a bad deed?  Or can it?

One paragon of virtue explained that a half truth becomes a lie the moment it leaves our mouths.  That is probably so.  But here is a new situation in which what appears as a sin to one person is a blessing to someone else.  It may be that what is needed is to not come to any conclusion which tarnishes the reputation of another.  If the hens had kept their investigation going a bit longer and stationed themselves along the route they saw him taking every time, they would have seen him at the back door, delivering the goods.  It may be we sometimes come to a conclusion too early…though we never think we do…and we should keep our eyes and minds open just a touch longer to find the real truth.

Well, Ben headed back to the coop to let the girls know the whole situation was under control.  We headed back to the house to count our eggs before they hatched.  Snickers wandered off to the back woods where he heard the ducks were hiding a stash of eggs that needed attention.  And peace returned to the nests and egg cartons of the farm.  Though we all are keeping a closer eye on the dog.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the egg cracking farmers, Snickers the egg hauling dog, Mystery the cat who eggs the dog on, Ben and his flock of egg making hens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of egg hiding ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

The Parson Becomes A Wood Duck

April 25th, 2012

The Parson and crew, admiring all their hard work...

Dear Friends:

There is nothing like thinking one has sent the newsletter only to discover it still in the file on Saturday morning, waiting for someone to hit, “enter”.  Sorry last week’s was so late!  Great material for that upcoming best seller we’re writing, “Humility and How I Achieved It”.

Ginger Snaps are the cookie of the week!  They’ll be plain and fancy…the fancy ones being the Whoopee Pies.  And our newest bread, “The Nutty Farmer”, will make it’s debut too!  Luscious, healthy whole wheat studded with almonds, we have been eating on a loaf all week and it is as good today as it was 6 days ago when we made it.  We’ll have it on the stand every day, but come early…they won’t last!

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Nutty Farmer and Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Ginger Snap

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Ginger Snap

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Ginger Snap

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl, Olive Cheese Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Berry Scones featured this weekend!

Whoopee Pies for the brave!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Rhubarb – fresh from our field, organic, sweet, succulent, pie ready – $2.00 / lb

Breath taking garlic !  $1.00 with free recipe for pesto

It’s spring, when a young man’s fancy turns to…baseball?  Nope.  Love?  No again.

According to our Indian Runner duck, the good Parson Dudley Brown, now is when a young man’s fancy should turn to splitting wood for next winter.  He had his flock up inspecting our shrinking woodpile the other day and suggested we might consider getting wood in now, in the spring, so the summer’s heat could dry it and have it in prime burning condition by autumn.

You might not think a parson would know much about cutting and splitting wood, let alone a duck, but both those breeds are pretty observant, thrifty types.  When they are in the same person like ours, you can be sure he will have a well funded retirement.  With the economy the way it is, he is thinking there may be a lot more people wanting to burn wood in a stove than to burn money in an electric meter. So to help folks not hurt themselves he suggested we take a few notes as soon as we got some wood to work up.  That didn’t take long.

A few days later a dear and long-time customer asked if we wanted some firewood, so we quickly accepted the gift.  We burn wood for our primary heat source and any that comes along we’re grateful for.  When we went to fetch it and found it was 5 pickup truck loads, we were thrilled.  So was the parson.  While the hard stuff, the maple, was already split, the alder, birch, and hemlock were still in nice rounds.  We got it home and grabbed the maul and went to work, we on the wood and the parson coaching from the inside the fence.

In his most polite manner, he suggested we set up a row of 6 to 10 pieces to split at the same time.  Then we could go whop, whop, whop, whop, and save a lot of time and energy.  Stopping after each piece splits to set up another takes a lot more time and, he reminded us, time is money, even on a farm.  He said he heard of an Episcopal priest around here who uses a big tire to keep his pieces upright until the whole round is split.

He suggested on the larger ones to hit them once on the far side, once on the near side and once in the middle.  Continue that pattern and even big rounds will soon pop apart.  The really huge ones of course we hit along the edges, nibbling away at them until they are small enough to give up.  But he was right.  Most of the time.

Occasionally though, one round would not surrender to this onslaught.  Pausing to catch our breath, we heard the Parson’s quiet voice suggesting we flip the round over.  He had seen lightning strike a tree once and was impressed at how, when you strike from the top down it splits more easily than when you try to split from the stump up.  And he was right again.  We spotted which way the trimmed off branches had been pointing, set the round with them pointing up and with a few strokes had more wood ready to stack.

When we had a wheelbarrow loaded and ready to go into the woodshed, we found the good duck waiting for us there.  He made sure we got the ends of the piles built squarely and without wobble and then told us to be sure to place the wood on the stack with the bark side up.  He said it helps lock the wood pieces together so the stack is less likely to fall in an earthquake and if rain does get on it, the bark side being up it can shed the rain like water off a duck’s back so to speak.  The wood, like the duck’s skin, will stay drier longer and we’ll all be happier.

He’s a good duck, that one.  Concerned that his farmers be warm in winter and not work too hard in the summers.  Glad to share what he knows, the Parson Dudley Brown has become a friend to all who pass by.  His tall, stately demeanor, his modest style, his humble way of relating to everyone, his peaceful nature all speak of what anyone would want in a true friend.

As we finished up, he gently commended our efforts and then wondered if we might have a minute to change the water in their little wading pool.  He needed a good bath after giving us a hand with the wood and that’s always nicer with clean water.

So now the woodshed is filled, the ducks are clean, and the heat of summer can come and do it’s work to prepare us all for a wonderful fall together.  And we suppose it would only be proper to invite the ducks in for a marshmallow roast some winter’s evening, to enjoy together the blessings of our shared efforts.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the wood warmed farmers, Snickers the stick chasing dog, Mystery the snoozer cat, Ben and his flock of wood picking chickens, and the good Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of fireside ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

PS  New update on Growing Gardens For Life at the farm web page!  Click this link for the latest!  http://theopengatefarm.com/?page_id=697

A Secret Ends

April 19th, 2012

Dear Friends:

Peanut Butter.  It’s here.  In the cookies.  And they are so large only one pile at a time fits under the clear glass cookie dome.  So if you are ready for a great gift to yourself or someone else, come on by!  The proceeds ($1 each) all go to support Agua de Vida Orphanage in Mexico so that is a good thing too!  And yes, they are the walls to the Whoopee Pies we’re offering this weekend.

Garlic.  As they say, “Eat a clove of garlic a day and you’ll sleep well, but you’ll sleep alone.”  Well, you don’t have to do that, but if you take one of our garlic plants from the stand ($1.00 per) and make it into a pesto, your pasta will be pleased and your tongue tingled and your health improved.  We even have a jar of the pesto up there for you to taste before you commit this culinary hari kari.  Folks, this is the formal announcement that our produce department is open for the season!  Our offering is limited to the garlic this weekend, but stay tuned!  The rhubarb can’t be far behind.  And just over the horizon…hmmm.

Open Thursdays through Saturdays  9 a.m. to  5 p.m. – At the farm!

The Open Gate Farm Bakery

Breads

Cookies
For the Orphanages!

And More!
The Seedy Farmer every day!

Much more…

Thursday: Oatmeal / Molasses & Whole Wheat

Peanut Butter

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl
Friday: Challah & Whole Wheat

Peanut Butter

Scones, Focaccia
Saturday: Whole Grain & Whole Wheat

Peanut Butter

Scones, Focaccia, Kalamata Bowl, Olive Cheese Boats too

Health Department Approved!

Cinnamon Rolls With Pecans and Raisins –Plain and Frosted – Every Day!

Almond / Orange Scones featured this weekend!

The Open Gate Farm Produce Stand

Breath taking garlic !  $1.00 with free recipe for pesto

We have kept a secret here at The Open Gate Farm for many, many years.  Ages and ages, if you are a duck.  There is a reason, of course, for every secret has a reason for the secrecy and ours was quite reasonable we thought.  The ducks aren’t so sure.

If ever you have wandered down our back lane, you may have noticed a small trail leading into the woods where the lane turns it’s corner and heads past the hoop house.  Last week, Quackers, the mottled black duck, finally summoned up the courage to stand on tip toe and peer down that path.  It looked safe.  It sounded safe.  And it smelled entrancing so down the trail she trotted, ready for an adventure.

And she found out our secret.  The Pond.   An enchanting, entrancing piece of paradise that no duck had ever discovered before.  She felt like Lewis and Clarke, or one of the Spanish Conquistadores, gazing on a world never before seen by her fellow ducks.  Not even suspected.  We watched her stand and gaze for the longest time, tilting her head to check out the canopy above for danger, peering around into the bushes for trouble, and when none was found, returning her eyes to drink in the sight before her.  A pond.  A little pond in the woods, just the right size for 5 good friends.  Turning slowly, she trundled back the way she came until bursting into the sunlight she began calling the others.  This kind of really important news needs to be shared right away!

This little landscaping feature was dug by a previous owner when he had some spare time with a borrowed backhoe.  It’s about the size of a bedroom but lots more interesting.  Especially if you are a duck.  It serves as a gathering place for water draining from up hill that is guided into a French drain which is piped to the top end of the pond.  A little dam at the back, deep into the woods, gives it depth.  It overflows in winter and dries up in summer.

For several years we kept feeder goldfish in it, watching them grow and fatten.  Then a heron would drop in and the pond would be empty again.  We’ve seen raccoon tracks on the little ramp down into it.  Now it just sits, filling and drying out and as the seasons pass, becoming home to an occasional branch.  We’ve never told the ducks about it because we worried about coyotes cruising the woods looking for sandwich material.  Now, however, that was not an issue.  At least not for Quackers.  She had the news and was eager to share it.

Secrets are important, of course.  There are things in all our lives which will never be told.  But we might consider the secrets we hold and see if they shouldn’t have a sunset clause attached.  After our presence here had penetrated the woods and coyotes had changed their travel from the back lane to beyond the neighbor’s fields, we didn’t really need to keep the pond a secret from the ducks.  We could have told them years ago.  And while they will expect us to keep it filled in the hot days of summer, it will be worth it to see them swimming in the shade and bathing in the water they love so well.

Now in the mornings, when we open the gates to the chicken run and their big coop, the ducks have taken to shooting past us in a hot foot race out the door and down the back lane to the little trail to paradise.  They pick up their skirts and hustle like matrons at a church picnic racing to see who can ring the bell to call the men and children to lunch.  And once there they dive right in, splashing and laughing and drinking deeply of our secret; they are delighted with life and all it holds for them.

So the ducks want you to know, if you have any secrets, this might be a good week to consider them and if they are old and out of date and no longer needed, share them.  It may well bring a duck in your life more joy than you realized.

Happy Hoeing,

Jon and Elaine, the secretive farmers,  Snickers the all knowing dog, Mystery the wise cat, Ben and his flock on non-swimming chickens, and the Parson Dudley Brown and his flock of delighted ducks, all of whom live joyfully at The Open Gate Farm.

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