Saturday, July 28, 2012

What's Your Superpower?

Blistering.  Today, summer finally started to show its teeth with temperatures around 102, and threatening to get worse in the next few days.  But the Barnies, gathered in the LRB, fought back with our secret weapon - four flavors of ice cream.  Oh yeah... much better.

Shielded from the heat, we spent some time mulling over an idea I had originally posted on Facebook, about the bartering/time bank concept.  A friend of mine in Los Angeles is active in a Time Bank program there, and I've been very intrigued with his reports.  This idea dovetails nicely into the thought I've had for a long time, that the JRF community could do something very similar.

In a community like ours, and many others, the members each possess lots of amazing skills, interests and passions.  They also have certain weakness or needs.  The beauty of community is that these strengths and weaknesses can fit together like puzzle pieces to form some wholeness.  Sort of like the Avengers, we can band together and take advantage of all the amazing things each one of us can do.  I help you, you help our friend, our friend helps me.  It all comes back around.  We keep the resources local, cut down on the need for cash (or debt), and we live Awesome.  Sound interesting?

We have a lot more mulling and research to do, but I think we've started a very good conversation.  To help us along, I sent a sign-up sheet around the room today, having any interested Barnies sign their name, list their skills (or Superpowers, as I like to call them) no matter how unusual, and their contact information.  We'll build from this list.  If you'd like to be included, please drop me an e-mail - the more the Awesomer.  If you have any ideas about how you think this might work, please let me know.  I'll be stewing on it too.

In the meantime, we packed the LRB with an almost-record-breaking group of friends - some old-timers and some first-timers, and shared our common thread (get it?) by knitting, crocheting, and spinning together.

Denise DOMINATED our Show and Tell time with all her State Fair entries!  Wow, has this girl been busy!

Hanane's tri-loom piece, whipped out in very short order...

Annie takes a break from her stitching while Gin continues work on her very gorgeous embroidery piece.

Lisa takes notes and Hilary spins alpaca.

Suggie knits and enjoys her first time back to the LRB in some time.

Grandma Tutu, also absent too long, joins us again with a beautiful lace piece - with the right amount of stitches on the needles!

Rita dug deeeeeep into the stash to find this bright yellow roving.

Sweet Brenda was back after an extended absence.  Life has a way of pulling us away from our true loves sometimes, but just for seasons.  

Smokey navigated all the whirling spinning wheels without getting her tail caught.  We were in awe.

Greta's soft yarn.

CJ's funny stories.

Solving sock issues.

Tutu's ride comes to fetch her.  Hiya Phil!

We are an awesome band of Avengers.  I hope you'll suit up with us to find out how we can all contribute to the shallow places in each others' lives, filling them up, rounding them out, and being filled in return.

Whoa! How'd We Get Here?

This is a a big day, y'all - and it completely snuck up on me.  This is my 1000th blog post, and it's only about a week to the day from the 6th anniversary of Blog Post #1.  Now, if you scan the archives, you'll see that some years were more chatty than other years, and I think I blew off 2008 completely.  

But on these pages, we've managed to document and live through the entire history of this farm to date, beginning with the arrival of our very first sheep, the history of the Little Red Barn, the comings and goings of so many of our sweet critters, the passing through of so many people who enjoy learning about fiber and farming, the development over the years of our amazing Community, and lots, lots more.  That was a sobering, but encouraging saunter down memory lane.  Sometimes we forget how far we've come until we get a chance to pull out the dusty photos and remember.

Reminiscing is great fun, but I want to focus on the future.  As I scan through the years of posts, it's clear that what makes this blog worth your time is the deep sharing... telling the stories that bring out the common joys, struggles, and victories of all of us.  When we can join hearts through these pages and say, "hey, I know exactly how that feels"...  that's what makes our time together on the blog really meaningful.  That, and cute animal pictures.  Those are good, too.  

Remember when Ruthie was a house dog?

So these are the things you can expect from this blog in the next 1000 posts... I invite you to come along, share your own story with us, and prepare to really, really live.


I saw this quote in Emma's school counselor's office, and I just love the practical and encouraging advice:

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
~ Arthur Ashe

I promise, this is what you can expect from me and Jacob's Reward Farm in the coming years...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Alien in the Pasture

Nothing ever stays the same around here.  This farming adventure allows us weekly opportunities to tweak and adjust our systems, so that everything works more smoothly, effectively, cheaper, and easier on the back.  That's great for someone like me who enjoys change and novelty.  Plus, it's my back that needs to be protected.

I've been ruminating for several years now about how to feed hay to our critters with the least amount of waste and work.  Though I had considered large round bales as an economical choice, I just didn't see how I could keep the hay out of our fleeces as the sheep or alpacas worked down those big bales, usually from the inside, out.  I thought about using a cattle panel/t-post contraption to contain them, but it seemed like a big hassle.

Young Dan delivers our bale from Poole Feed in Wylie
One round bale is like 12-14 small square bales
One of my favorite suppliers, Premier One Sheep Supply came up with a panel system that they swear works for sheep, and will save us money in the long run.  So I bit the bullet and bought their panels.  (I love to mess with the mind of our UPS driver who has to deliver such crazy packages to the farm.)

Tella is puzzled about being penned up.  She loves to help with projects.
I penned up the dogs to keep them out of the way while the hay was delivered and while I worked on the panels.  I also moved the sheep to the adjoining paddock to keep them from being underfoot - they are such absolute obstructionists when it comes to building projects.

The only tool I needed was pliers to untwist some wires.  Sweet.
Six heavy-duty welded wire panels, and six crazy pigtail wires that serve as hinges to connect them,  make up the system.  Strategically placed larger openings in the panels allow the sheep to get to the hay without destroying the bale or getting their heads caught.  Which would be a definite downer.

The pigtail wires twisted right onto the panel ends to hinge them together.  Brilliant.
 The panels went together very easily, and fit tightly around this bale.  Now, I just hope the sheep like the hay, and that as they eat it down, I can keep the panels pulled tightly around the bale.  This is supposed to reduce waste quite a bit.  If you've seen our sheep pens, you know how much hay gets completely trashed instead of eaten.  It's like burning cash with a blowtorch.

"What the...?"
Two brave sheep...
Now three...
Now the whole flock gathers round...
 When the project was done and I released the critters, you would think a spaceship had landed in the pasture.  Everyone, including the dogs, was hesitant to get close to it.  But they're all very curious critters, and they soon overcame their fears.  The dogs got bored and moved on, and the sheep relaxed and dove into the chomping.  I'll check back in 24 hours or so and see how much hay has been consumed.

It looks like it's going to work!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Unpacking Community

On the hottest day of the year, the Barnies gathered in the LRB to get some relief from the heat, from the mundane, from the lonelies, and the blues today.

Dina and Virginia
I asked the ladies to help me think out loud about this idea of community here at Jacob's Reward Farm - our Agriculturally Supported Community.  I've been thinking about it a lot, but what's important is what the community thinks of itself, and what it communicates to those interested in becoming a part.

We talked about what our community means to them, and what the lasting value is for them in their lives.

What words or concepts come to mind when we think about the friendships and community here at the farm, and our hours together several times a month?

If we can nail down the seminal characteristics, and the reasons this community works, we can build it and grow it into a long-lasting force for good in the world.

Some of the words that came up in our conversation:
"Open."  "Non-judgmental."  "I fit in."

"Intelligent."  "Accepting."  "Inspiring."

"Restful."  "Intentional."  "Caring."

Hugs with old pals
"Nurturing."   "Welcoming."  "Diverse."  

"Challenging."  "Healing."  "Fun-loving."

Extraordinary skills
Is there a reason to exist beyond the community itself?  What do we have to offer the greater community around us?  What about the environments we go home to -- are we different when we go home?  Some of the Barnies told us that their husbands encourage them to come to the farm because they're so much nicer when then come back!  That sounds like a really good thing.

When I shared with the clan about my trouble resting and taking time for myself, the ladies came up with lots of great ideas for me, and encouraged me to keep things in perspective.  How can we all encourage each other in the areas of our lives that are tough for us?  Do we dare risk showing that much of our weaknesses to our friends?

And how can we band together to address needs around us?  We have addressed some charity needs through yarn storming, baby cap knitting, food bank donations.  Can we do more?  Can we spread some of this sister-love to folks in our worlds who need it so desperately?

Blessed rain...
And just then, when we didn't think we could take another degree of summer swelter, a few little rain cells blew in and dropped their quenching loads -- a lot in some areas and a little in others.  The temperatures released their death grip on us and gently stepped aside.  We felt the coolness, as welcome as a smile from a friend on a difficult day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Robbie Goes for a Ride

Robbie is the only critter we have who came with us when we moved from Plano.  He's over nine years old and wrestles with a few harmless neuroses.  But he's our faithful house dog, and we love his low-rider, wide-body self.  Looking in his eyes, I'm only just beginning to see his age creeping up on him.

For the past couple of years, he's kept his head down and helped me forget that he needed to go visit Dr. Abraham for his usual pokes and prods and sprays up the nose.  But today, his luck ran out.  He had to skip breakfast and hop in the car.  He immediately shed three seasons of fur on the front seat of my car, anticipating some heinous trauma ahead.  I was ready for that, and had put down a sheet to protect my upholstery.

We got to visit the new offices today after the practice spent about a year remodeling after a fire.  It's all fancy now, let me tell you.  I felt under dressed.  But Deb greeted us as usual, and showed only mild surprise when I handed her three zip lock bags of poo for fecal testing.  (I'm known as the Poo Lady with Deb, because very few other people bring her Beans in a Bag.  Hey, why waste a trip?  It was time to check on the parasite loads in the sheep and alpacas.)

Only a couple of other patients waited with us in the lobby... cute pups and one really gorgeous, vocal kitty.

The kitty was headed for spaying, but I'm not sure what the puppies were in for.  They didn't look nearly as nervous as our Rob.  He drooled a small lake on the shiny tile floor while the minutes ticked past.

Finally the vet techs called us into an exam room, and Dr. Abraham gave Robbie a thorough going-over.  Aside from some slightly grungy teeth, Robbie came through with flying colors.  Not bad for an old man with a bit of middle-age spread.  There are four other dogs here at the farm who also need one kind of attention or another, so Robbie's dental visit will have to wait just a little while.  As Dr. Abraham profoundly observed, he's not getting any younger.

And neither, Dr. Abraham, are we.  Just sayin...

Monday, July 16, 2012

We're Not a CSA

Been doing a bunch of soul searching since my last post and I wanted to catch you up on a huge breakthrough I had Saturday...

First, let me back up a bit.  After Wednesday's post where I admitted I was worn out and wondered what the heck was wrong, several things happened.  My friend Amy offered to help me wash alpaca fiber, which was so humbling, but such a welcome gift.  Amy's good at it and fast, and turned this huge roadblock in my life into a teensy tiny little speed bump.  Huge problem nearly conquered.  Wow.  I'm still amazed.  That helped me lurch forward here on my end, skirting and prepping even more fiber.  Funny how when the log jam begins to shift, everything starts to flow...  Can't thank you enough, Amy.  You started to help me open my eyes...

Then, I got a call from a new friend, Roni, who just recently bought American Livestock Magazine.  She wants to enlarge the focus of the magazine to include more fiber stuff, and wants to write about our farm, and rare breed sheep, and fiber CSA's.  Wow again.  Roni and her husband stopped by the farm on Saturday and we had a really great visit - we decided we're peas in a pod, as she's a spinner, knitter, alpaca breeder and all around fiber fanatic.  She and her husband were pure delight to spend time with.  Does it get much better?

Anyway, back to my Big Revelation.  I was thinking and thinking before Roni came over, about how to tell her the story of the farm, and how to explain just who we are.  And then it hit me like a bolt:  We're not a CSA, as in "community supported agriculture."  We're an ASC - Agriculturally Supported Community.  I just made up that title and acronym, so don't try to Google it.  Here's what I mean...

We started out being about the fiber - the animals, the processes, the crafts, and the people who are into all that.  But we've grown into primarily a community, held together by the fiber.  It's People Before Product at the LRB.  The fiber is like the engine that drives the life of the community, but the community is the vehicle itself, that takes us where we want to go.

Think about why you love the farm.  Is it because you can't get alpaca fiber or wool fiber or knitting classes anywhere else?  Nope.  Thanks to the internet, and living near a big city, you can get that stuff almost anywhere, with a snap of your fingers.  What makes the farm different?  The people.  Your sisters.  The gifts and passions that each friend brings to the group.  Old friends and new friends, and always another chair for a newcomer.  We have so many different talents and skills and personalities represented that the mosaic or tapestry of our community is breathtaking.  Our community isn't only local - we have friends in the virtual worlds of Ravelry and Facebook and Local Harvest and Meet Up, who depend on this sense of community just as much as the regulars who gather at the LRB on a third or fourth Saturday.  We're here for each other.  And we're here for our wider community, through the generosity and gift-giving of our members.

I pushed the analogy nearly to the limit as I thought about felt and how it's made: wool fibers agitated by hot water or dry needles to interlock together into a seamless fabric.  Kind of like us.  Locked together in friendship through lots of interaction of ideas, fun, trials, victories, and creativity.  And this is so much greater than any dream I have ever dared to dream for the farm.

Now don't panic - not much about the farm will change because of this new vision of who we are - nobody in the pasture will change, the shares will still be there, as will all the fun in the LRB.  The critters you love and the life we document will all still be here.  But this special focus will help me prioritize and make decisions about how to plan for the future with our resources.  Maybe I can stop trying to be all things to all people - a guaranteed meltdown waiting to happen.  No, this new lens will help me see much better where we need to go.

It may be a while before the acronym ASC catches on, but I think we're on the cusp of a very important social construct.  And I'm so happy you're along for the ride with me.  Maybe, everybody else figured this out ages ago and I'm just now finally able to articulate it.  That wouldn't surprise me.  I'm great at missing the forest for the trees.

What do you think?  Is this a better way to describe who we are as the JRF family?