To market, to market, to buy a fat …..

This is a tough one. They were sweet and docile lambs, without specific names because they had been designated as the ones to go to market. You see, my brave granddaughter is raising a flock of sheep, and in the process is learning both the joys and sacrifices of farm life.

For months she’s been arriving at the barn by 7 AM to feed and nurture her flock, clean out their pens, give them fresh water, and play with them, and then again in the afternoon. Every day. She’s learned to take temperatures and give medicines and to help her dad deliver babies, which arrived en masse from the Finn mothers who are known to be prolific. Some survived, others didn’t. That was an experience for all of us, especially for a fifteen-year-old young woman!

Then it was time for the summer market auction. As it turned out, raising farm animals was a costly undertaking, with feed to purchase, as well as milk supplements for the babies who were competing with their siblings for mama’s milk. Plus, there were  occasional visits from the veterinarian. Part of the arrangement from the onset had been to learn management and business skills and that meant…….sending two of the animals to market.

The auction was a quite an event! The young 4H members groomed their animals and  accompanied them in the show where they competed for ribbons. The next day they bravely escorted them onto the floor again for the sale and …. let them go.

It breaks my heart to think of it now, a few hours later, but also fills me with wonder and respect for the farm families of our communities. What they do is hard work that requires commitment, strength of character, and resilience. I applaud them all!

Post script – I also want to share the positive atmosphere and sense of caring among those at the auction

  • one farm family for another
  • friends who offered generous bids to support the effort
  • those who made a purchase and then gave the animal back and donated the funds or turned the animal over for resale, supplying the tables of hungry families in the community
  • those who took the animal home to their farms
  • the many volunteers who worked at the auction
  • and, most of all, the young people who made it all possible — emerging leaders in our communities. Without a doubt, we can count on them to do amazing things in the future!

Blueberries are in ….

and my kitchen is a mess. The sink is full of stained utensils. A large soup pot sits idly nearby waiting to soak in warm soapy water. You see, I just cooked up a batch of fresh blueberry jam. Various mason jars fill one side of the counter along with an assortment of extra rings and flat lids. I’m sitting here at the computer to rest my legs and prepare for the clean-up. At this point I could be thinking about how easy it would have been to select several lovely jars of jam from the shelf at the grocery store or my favorite country market. But wait…

I would have missed the treat of going to the farm stand to buy freshly picked berries, the feel of those lovely little fruits as I washed and drained them, the hands-on work of chopping them with my large chef knife and discovering below the deep blue skin a soft yellow-green center. And I would have never had the fun of measuring all those cups of sugar. This is where the healthy aspect of jam becomes questionable–nearly twice the amount of sugar as fruit– and the directions make it clear that the exact amount of sugar is required for success. I’ll just spread the jam very lightly on my toast and muffins, I think, while stirring the conglomerate of fruit and sugar together with a pat of butter. The butter is to reduce foam. Now who ever knew that foam could develop from berries and sugar?

With the stirring and timing complete and after skimming off any surprise foam that may have snuck into the jam, I carefully ladle the hot bubbly mixture into jars using a funnel to prevent spills. I keep a small portion aside. Somehow spots of deep reddish- purple end up on the stove and counter and on my kitchen towels but all is well if I manage to keep the jars upright as they become filled with the beautiful steaming hot liquid. The potential for burns is real and caution is important. With sealing lids and rings screwed on, the whole project is slowly lifted into a large pot of boiling water one jar at a time for the final treatment–the boiling water bath.

The most fun is the final step as the jars are gently removed and begin to cool. The difference in temperature causes a suction and the lids pop as they are pulled tightly onto the jar. I count the pops to be sure all jars are sealed. Finally I can relax, leave the jam alone to cool, and taste that little sample I had kept aside. It’s sweet, still warm, and fresh as a garden full of summer blossoms–this is why I love to make blueberry jam!