Archive for » 2013 «

Lessons Learned on the Windy Tundra of Ohio

1. Don’t attempt to carry a salad across the yard from the house to your office uncovered.  The wind will pick up your lettuce leaves and carry them sailing into the air like a kite.  You will have to go back to the house and make a new salad.

2. Don’t expect the wire clasp to hold the rabbit door open for ventilation.  It will snap and you will watch the door sailing open and closed at least a dozen times before you decide to put on your parka and trek across the yard to latch it closed.

3. Don’t attempt to go outside without putting your hair into a braid first.  The loose hair will whip you in the face and dip into the stream of water as you attempt to clean out the chicken waterer.  And if you still haven’t put it into a braid, you will clip off a bit of hair as you cut greens for the rabbits and your hair blows into the scissors.

4. Don’t try hollering across the yard to your daughter.  You will both strain your voices repeating yourself 8 times yelling “I can’t hear you!”  And you will still have to walk to the house to talk to her anyways.

5. Don’t leave the greenhouse doors open.  The wind will suck up all the plastic trays you neatly put away and whirl them out of the greenhouse in a vortex, spreading them ambitiously around the yard.

6. Don’t try to hang up Halloween spider webs on your porch in an attempt to look spooky.  The leaves from your maple tree will blow into them turning them into leafy sails until they collapse into a lump on the porch.  You will still have to remove the staples that held them up even though they are no longer there.

7. Don’t expect your child’s hula hoops to remain in their place on the back porch. They will be blown in many directions across the yard, ending up in bizarre places.  If there is snow on the ground, expect to be impressed by the windblown patterns created by wildly rolling hoops.

8. Don’t expect any sympathy from city folks.  It is a beautiful day down in their part of the world.  They won’t believe that a wind gust sweeping across the fields almost blew you away as you walked to the mailbox.  And they will think you’re joking when you call your  home the windy tundra of Ohio.

9. Don’t expect your flightless ducks to remain flightless in a  wind storm.  They will put their noses to the wind and jump up repeatedly until the wind lifts them up and floats them for seconds at a time.  Expect to gasp in amazement at their playful craziness.

10.  Don’t be afraid to be crazy like a duck in the wind.  Jumping on the trampoline on a dark windy evening is breath taking and will make you realize that living on the windy tundra of Ohio is a pretty darn good place to be.

Farmin’ in December

Snow. Lots and lots of snow. And cold. Too much cold.

I’m a cold wimp and my sentimentalities have been feeling bad for the critters living out there in it every minute of every day. And while I’d love to bring them all in the house for a warm up, I know that wouldn’t help (and would put me to the top of the crazy farmer list). So I’ve been doing my best to keep them all comfortable – deep straw bedding, fresh thawed water, extra protein, and heat lamps on the single digit nights.

And they are doing just fine. The sheep and goats seem unfazed, although they apparently don’t enjoy walking in snow because they are sticking very close to their little barn.

The turkeys insist on roosting on the fence instead of sleeping in their straw house, and a silly duck keeps laying eggs in the snow (only to have them crack and freeze in place).We’ve kept one duck pool thawed and they are enjoying their daily romps in the water, sometimes just hanging out in there as the snow falls around them.  That water heater does a fantastic job!
The girl bunnies are snuggling together under their heat lamp and nibbling the last of the fall apples. Sable, the fluffy angora bunny, was recently brushed and is softer and fluffier than ever! Brushing him took out a lot of hair (his loss is my gain! SO fluffy!) so he’s been chillin’ under his own personal heat lamp at the corner of his bunny condo.  All is well in the rabbit house.
The chickens have slowed down laying which is completely expected at this time of year.  The cold has brought the various ages of birds together and the older ones are softening a bit to the younger ones. (Those older hens can be mean to the young girls! Apparently until they learn their place in the flock.)

A couple of die-hard chickens are still roosting in the apple tree every night.  Yes, even in the single digit temps we’ve had.  And yes, there is a heat lamp in the chicken house right next to them keeping the sane chickens warm. Even in the ice storms those tenacious girls were clinging to their branches. Who am I to fight with such will power!Will power, determination, and good nutrition have been on my mind a lot as I walk out in my parka to care for them twice each day. You may not believe that as you watch our Christmas cookie pile dwindle away, but those traits seem so important as I watch my feathered and furry friends tough out the cold winter with nothing but their bodies on.And there’s something they get from it.  Those stubborn chickens in the trees are toughing it out for some reason.  The ducks purposely post themselves outside their shelter, head into the wind, eyes closed, as if reveling in the feel of it blowing their faces.I think back to their wild ancestors, or ones like them who live apart from humans.  And I know that my flock and herd would be doing those things if they were left on their own in the world.  So why should I stop them now?  I used to lock the chickens and goats in at night.  I no longer do. I trust the flock dynamics (the turkeys seem to scare away all small predators and the dog keeps coyotes at bay) and our fences, and let the critters tough out the cold as they see best.

Some nights I look out and see the goats laying in the snow, right under the moonlight.  And I feel a bit envious of their coats and thermodynamics. In the moonlight is a beautiful place to be, crazy as the cold has been.  I’ve found myself reveling in the evening moonlight with the wind on my face, slowly adjusting to the temperature, and I know my animals will be alright.

And then I go into my warm house and cozy up to the wood stove, grab another cookie, and thank God I’m not a chicken.

This is so juicy!

Every time I teach our Apple Cidering program, I’m naturally asked the question – what’s the difference between apple cider and apple juice? Apple juice is on the shelves all year round, but cider is only available in the fall – what’s the deal?

Let’s start exploring this mystery of the world by looking at the color and consistency of each.

Apple juice is a light tan color, whereas cider is a dark brown chestnuty color.  Apple juice is thin; apple cider has body.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you cut up an apple, the slices will turn brown after a bit of time.  That’s oxidation – the apple flesh’s reaction to being exposed to air.

When we make cider, the apples get crushed up into bits and pieces – and then those bits and pieces get pressed so that the juice of the apple comes out.  The juice carries with it tiny particles of apples. (If you hold a glass of cider up to the light, you can see them floating around in there.  You’ll also find them settled to the bottom of the jug after it’s set for a while.)

The tiny apple bits in the cider oxidize, making the cider darken up after a few minutes.  If you drink it right then, it’s fresh apple cider – the best the apple has to offer!

If the cider makes it way to a retailer, it’s pasteurized first, both for safety and to hold the cider longer so that it doesn’t start to turn to vinegar or hard cider before it’s sold.

Apple juice on the other hand is finely strained, so those tiny bits of apple are mostly removed.  Since those are the darkening agents in the cider, apple juice is lighter in color.  Sometimes after filtering, the apple juice is concentrated for shipment and then rehydrated later on.  Some companies add extra water to the concentrate, making the juice thinner; some companies also add sugar.

So apple juice isn’t as clear-cut as cider – you have to read the ingredients on the back of the bottle to know what you’re getting.

Apple cider on the other hand, should never have added sugar.  If the cider is “raw”, meaning not pasteurized, it will state that on the label – along with a government-mandated warning.  Raw cider can only be sold by the producer of the cider direct to the customer – never by a distributor.  So if you buy the cider at a grocery store – it’ll be pasteurized.  If you buy it at a farmer’s market, there’s a good chance it’ll be raw – but you can always check the label.

So why the warning on the label?  Well, we all know how dangerous fresh fruits and vegetables can be right?!   Ok, a little sarcasm there, but really, it’s because the apples are fresh and unprocessed.  Yes, we all eat raw apples and they don’t have warning labels on them.  But cider is a processed product, even though it’s minimally so, and consumers can’t take the precautions of washing the apples prior to consumption.

Also, cider apples aren’t usually the pick of the crop.  Actually, they are almost always “seconds,” meaning they’re the ones that aren’t perfect enough for grocery store sales.  They may have bruises or cuts, worm holes or skin blemishes.  Despite their imperfections, they still have so much goodness inside – which is why we cider them rather than composting them.

Remember the spinach and cantaloupe scares?  Those were real issues with fresh produce that caused a good many to get sick.  Bacteria that are present on or in the fruit can do that with apples and cider as well.  So the very young and the very old, and those with compromised immune systems are warned as a precaution.

As technology becomes available to make food safer, there’s the temptation to always use it so that the risk of contamination goes down.  Large food suppliers are known to irradiate fresh food to not only protect consumers, but to preserve the “freshness” of the product so it can be sold for a longer amount of time before spoiling. Not my idea of fresh, but I can be somewhat of a food snob.

Pasteurized cider keeps longer.  It can sit unrefrigerated in a sealed container in a grocery store display for a long time.  Raw cider by comparison needs to be kept refrigerated and will start to “turn” after just 4 or 5 days.  That’s because raw cider has active yeasts, whereas those same yeasts would be killed during pasteurization.

So there you have it! Apple cider is fresh squeezed, pulp and all.  Apple juice is finely filtered with the pulp removed (and sometimes concentrated then reconstituted with added stuff). Both are yummy and delightful on a crisp fall day – or heated up with a sprinkle of cinnamon as winter starts to sneak in!  Cheers!

They called me what?!

This is our last week of summer programs – and wow – it’s been a whirlwind! We had 72 events and presentations around town!  I can’t tell you how proud and excited I am by that!
This summer we taught in all the different nooks and crannies of central Ohio.  And I learned one very important thing –  this work is so important!

Let me give you an example why:

Last week we brought all the farm animals to Parson’s Library.  A boy of about 12 walked up, pointed to the rabbit and asked “Is that a goat?”  I told him “no, that’s a rabbit.”  He turned, pointed to the turkey and asked “Is that an ostrich?”

Seriously. I’m not making that up.  And he wasn’t trying to be funny.

The librarian shared with me that many of their children never leave their neighborhood – ever.  They don’t go to the zoo.  They don’t visit the metroparks.  And they’ve certainly never been to a farm.

That is an extreme example, but certainly not the only one.

At the Livingston Library, some teens were betting each other who was right about the identity of an animal. One girl was certain she was right, but I had to tell her that our giant (and gobbling) 50lb turkey was not a rooster. A short time later a middle aged woman asked me the same thing.

At a suburban Goddard School, a child of about 8 asked me if the rabbit was going to lay an egg while we were there.

Countless adults and children have shared that they had never before seen a live turkey. Adults have told me they didn’t know that roosters don’t lay eggs – or that roosters were chickens.

These in-person touches of animals are so valuable – and so needed.

When I first started this business, I was very sensitive to people calling us a petting zoo.  Those words made me cringe because the experiences we provide are so much more than what that term has meant all my life.

Yesterday at a suburban Primrose School, the vibrant calendar in their lobby had a picture of a happy chicken with the words petting zoo under it. They meant us.

During their visits out to the animals, a girl came out who was so afraid of the big turkey that she was practically in tears.  She begged me not to take the little turkey out of her cage. But I did.  And I held and stroked that sweet turkey Bella and the little girl came over and touched her.  And then she did the same thing with each animal, begging me not to take them out, and then slowly coming over and placing her hand on them.  It was powerful.  If this was their experience of a petting zoo, then I’m glad to be it.

She experienced her fears in a safe and gentle way and then she walked through them.  It reminds me of a magnet I have on my fridge that says “Do something everyday that scares you.”  This business has been that challenge for me.  And I realize that often times I’m offering that challenge to others, whether it’s by touching an animal or introducing them to a new experience or idea.

At a Kindercare this summer I taught a group of multiple ages about beekeeping.  Afterwards, a young boy called out to his friends, “Let’s play honeybees!”  And off they ran, buzzing and ‘flying’ around the yard.  They were processing through play what they had just learned, embodying an insect that they beforehand may have feared.

Just today, a group of 20 children held worms as we prepared their classroom worm bin together. They passed them around, gathered them together in squirmy balls, and found babies and cocoons, so thrilled that those little guy/gals would be with them for 8 weeks.  Those same children may have yesterday pulled worms to pieces or ran away from them.  But today they learned about them and they loved them.

In a Wool Spinning program this week at a Goddard School, not a single child could tell me what the plant was that they were all wearing.  In a Dairy Delicacies program this morning, no one knew the difference between skim and whole milk.

Living in the city, we often forget – or never learn – that our lives depend on plants and animals and insects. We may not question what our food is or where it came from, or realize that we’re wearing a plant or an animal.

Connections are what make life meaningful for us.  It helps us to appreciate that other lives participate in our own, sometimes in unseen ways.

That connection also helps us to not be afraid – to understand why worms are slimy or bees sting or turkeys gobble.

Through connection and understanding comes appreciation – and through appreciation comes respect and protection.

Yes, this is important work – and no matter what you decide to call what I do, I’m so proud to be able to do it.

And I hope that by sharing it with you, it will help your own connections grow, inspire you to walk through your own fears, and will help you appreciate each step along the way!

With love!





I’d love to hear from you!  Comment below.


The Achiever

Oh what a great summer we’re having!  To be honest, I was quite intimidated going into it, with more programs on the schedule than I’ve ever done before.  And if you know me, you know I don’t get intimidated easily.  But this summer was looking to be a doosey and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with so many back to back programs while trying to keep up on all the office work, farm work, and having a daughter out of school wanting to enjoy summer vacation (and not just work for Farm to You – but I must say she’s a helluva worker!).

But I had thankfully taken a good look at the calendar early on and had made sure I had some breaks scheduled in.  Now I’m so grateful for that foresight!  Because when you’re a farmer, there is always – and I mean ALWAYS – something that is going to need done. Heck, if you’re a parent, there’s always something needing done!  Add business owner and educator in there and you can understand my fear of overwhelm.

But it has been amazing!  What could have been exhausting has been feeding me. Sure, farm animal visits are tiring – there’s a lot of physical work involved – but they also give me energy.  I love the questions and conversations, the surprised looks and the heartfelt thanks.  And I just love being up in front of a group teaching about things that are so interesting to me – like honey bees or spinning wool or how chicks are hatched from eggs.

That all relates to something I learned about myself last weekend at a retreat with some amazing natural women.  On Saturday we studied enneagrams, learning about ourselves through our personalities. Turns out I’m an “Achiever,” one quirk being that I have a hard time slowing down.  Aint that the truth!

Knowing that makes it even more important for me to step back and focus on renewal. It makes me a better parent, farmer, teacher, and entrepreneur.  And it makes me a better person.

It’s so easy to forget about oneself in the busyness of the tasks in our lives.  If you’re at all like me, you want your life to be simpler, richer and full of experiences that make you feel a sense of harmony and connection.

That’s a big goal of Bring the Farm to You – teaching people about experiences that can connect us to our lives through our food and fiber.  And since another quirk of the “Achiever” personality is that they like to perform, what a great balance for me – getting to live out my personality while sharing things I love deeply!

I wanted to share this with you because each of us has our own dreams for happiness and goals of harmony.  What is it that fills you up and gives meaning to your life?  I’d love to hear about it!  Please share your comments below…

Lilipoh Magazine, Spring 2013; Christa Hein interview

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Saying Goodbye to a Friend
by Christa Hein 

I’m a farmer.  That reality is alive in my every day as I put on my coveralls and sludge through the mud or snow.  Even if I’d rather sleep in or work in my pajamas – I can’t.  I’m responsible for a whole bunch of feathery and fuzzy critters.  And that involves a whole lot of me.  It means I’m a farmer even when I don’t want to be.

But sometimes I don’t feel like a farmer.  Like when a turkey dies and I want to share that sad fact with the world.  But I don’t.

Because I’m a farmer.

I’m still learning about my own farmer stereotypes.  One of those is that farmers just take death as it comes.  We’re supposed to right?  I mean I started with 8 turkeys in spring and sent 5 to their untimely deaths.  (One was the casualty of our dog who has also been learning how to be a farmer this year.)

I’m raising animals for food – death is a solid fact of that equation.  I’ve manned-up and accepted certain parts of that, reflecting and honoring as I go so that the life lessons aren’t lost on me along the way.

But last weekend I stumbled into a new experience – the death of a farm animal I had made my friend.

You may have heard about Shirley in my Thanksgiving musings.  Or maybe you saw the picture of her first egg that I posted on facebook. (I was proud like a grandma!)

Shirley was one of the two turkeys we saved from the knife so that she could become a part of our permanent herd. She was the one I knew I was keeping from the time she was young. She greeted me each day and I celebrated with her when she started her first clutch of eggs.

When she died suddenly last weekend I wasn’t sure what to do. So I went to get my husband Chris.

Chris couldn’t do anything that I couldn’t. But I needed someone else to see her, to experience the sight of her laying there feet up. I needed to share this experience with someone.

Since I had just, a week before, posted a picture of her first egg on facebook, I expected myself to post about her death. I got close. I even wrote the post. But I couldn’t publish.

What would people say? Condolences on your dead turkey. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to put people there – in that awkward situation of wanting to acknowledge the post, but not sure what to say about a dead animal who is usually dinner.

At that moment, I realized that being a farmer is a lot more complex than I appreciated. There are things we aren’t expected to feel. And if we feel them, we risk making people uncomfortable.

I mean, I’m shedding no tears over the chicken that’s thawing in my refrigerator for tonight’s dinner. I won’t ask for condolences as I enjoy my chicken and rice.So why Shirley? Am I less of a farmer for feeling something for her?

I think not. As emotional and feeling beings, we’re meant to feel something. That’s why so many of us give thanks before a meal – to acknowledge the fact that we’re consuming life.

When we make the conscious decision to let an animal into our life – when it ceases to be dinner and starts to be family – something changes inside us. We allow ourselves to connect at a deeper level.

I had done that with Shirley. I’ve also connected with our chickens Miracle and Owl – but not most of the rest. As with friends, there are just some spirits that touch us more than others.

And so as I say goodbye to my friend Shirley, I realize that even though my response to her passing may not be stereotypical of a farmer, I’m guessing it’s pretty common.

There are so many of us – and we each react to death a different way. I’ve realized that by sharing my loss, I’m becoming the farmer that I’m meant to be.

One thing is for certain; this daily walk among life and death is making me a better human. And by pausing to acknowledge the passing lives, I become a better farmer.

And though I won’t mourn the chicken as I sit down at my table tonight, I’ll give thanks for the life it left behind to become my dinner. I can eat and love at the same time.

And a magic new year…

Sunrise on the hazy pasture

On a bitterly cold morning at the start of the new year, there was an hour that took my breath away.

Ice crystals had formed on every surface.

The sunrise was casting a glow through a thick haze, bouncing the spectrum of the rising sun through millions of delicate shining reflections.

The fences were brilliant and radiant.  I was mesmerized.

I couldn’t stop photographing them from different angles.


Ice crystals on fence wire

The changing light, fading in and out, made them all the more magical, showing different characters and moods to the crystal reflections.

It was as if the whole world were crystallized.

My intention of hurrying through chores to get back to the warm house was dissolved in the experience as I lingered for over an hour, holding my face up to the windy sun and feeling gratitude for the morning, the day, the new year.

Ice crystals on fence

All around, discoveries of the mundane made me feel alive in the newness.  While nothing physical had changed, apart from the ice, my surroundings were different this morning.

Each step of chores became a slower and more conscious action, noting the details and beauty in the things I had come to expect to see every day.

The bird nest that had been in the apple tree since spring was now framed in snow and ice.  The very branches of the tree created a spiny fortress of reverence around it.

The water pump held jagged gems on its red metal that dissolved into nothingness as my hand lifted the handle and the warmer water ran through the pipe.

Off in the distance, the sun was rising.  But the heavy haze sat low on the ground, obscuring the neighboring farmers, holding me in a veil of private reverence.

As the minutes passed and the sun rose higher, I looked around in all directions, marveling at the modest temple that was my home.  The earth itself was glowing, casting spectacular light that was penetrating deeper than my eyes.

It was touching my soul, that space where breath goes in and out in silent worship.

The promise of a new year was alive in a gift from the elements.

What other unexpected treasures would alight in my life?  What magic was waiting to be discovered in the routine of my days?

The morning stayed with me, returning in my mind as I sat in meditative silence later that afternoon in my office.  As the sun set across the field, the same awe, inspiration and gratitude wiped over me.

How easily it would be to ignore the beauty and rush through life with my head down, braced against the wind and cold.  I know because I’ve been there too often.

On this day of magic, at the start of this new year, I was reminded that no matter how cold, or lonely, or scared I feel, there are always unexpected gifts of beauty to renew me.

I have the choice to lift my face up and experience the day at my core, allowing the sun or rain or wind to reach in and fill me with the magic of nature.  Even in the windy cold tundra that is sometimes my home, beauty is always within reach.

And sometimes when we least expect it, we are caught breathless in the magic of the moment.

At the start of this new year I feel indomitable hope and excitement!  I wish the same for you!


I’d love to hear your thoughts, reflections and hopes for the new year!  Please comment below.