Indulging before the journey

 Indulging in a wild Mardi Gras family dinner. Very different from my indulgences of a lifetime ago. But equally delicious.

Indulging in a wild Mardi Gras family dinner. Very different from my indulgences of a lifetime ago. But equally delicious.

You wake up and it's over. Like a crazy storm or a wild affair, you soaked it up for everything it was worth. And it was delicious. It was so rich and delicious that you aren't even sad it is over. It was time. And now enters the season of stripped-down simplicity. Thank goodness.

Having gone to college in New Orleans and lived just off the parade route for a few years, Mardi Gras is special for me. I get pretty nostalgic and try to recapture some of Fat Tuesday--we always have jambalaya and I always make a king cake and listen to music that I love from the Big Easy. Fat Tuesday is SO BIG. I can't help but still get a little swallowed up it.

It's the celebration that comes before penitence. The party before shit gets real. Anticipating the time of sacrifice, it's about binging on joy and food and liquor and music and Moon Pies... a time of "too much." In fact, the reason we have this outrageous party is because the next day, we can't. I don't know if that's desperation or seizing the moment. It's probably a little of both.

A lifetime ago, I went to a George Clinton concert in the warehouse district during Mardi Gras and the concert spilled out onto the street afterward, parading down Tschopitulous Street with the P Funk. Excess until it overflows--the city always shuts down to party. But it is all stripped away at midnight. They clear the streets right at 12 o'clock and the street sweepers come through to wash away the indulgence... and maybe even those bad decisions that came with it. Again... thank goodness.

And it wasn't even like you go back to regular life. You enter into LENT. Swinging from excess to sacrifice. We made a REALLY BIG MESS and now we are going to clean it all up and go to church. But Lent is, most of all, a time of relief for me now. A time when there is sacredness in simple tasks. Even though it's a holy season, but it almost feels like the pressure is off. No parades, no makeup and parties. No baggage. Simple living.

Ash Wednesday mass reminded me of what we do to prepare for Easter. We mark ourselves, saying that we are ready for the journey. Then, we start shedding the things we don't need anymore for the journey to rebirth. We can celebrate and indulge all we want, but before we can start the journey, we have to put that stuff down.

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo writes about a man who was going to paint his walls. He went to the hardware store and gathered all his materials: drop cloths, mixing sticks, paint brushes and gallons of red paint. With his hands overflowing and things tucked under his arms and even a brush clamped between his teeth, he tried to open the front door. According to the story, the man says, "I teetered there for minutes, trying to open the door, not wanting to put anything down. I was so stubborn. I had the door almost open when I lost my grip, stumbled backward and wound up on the ground, gallons of paint all over me." He laughed at himself for his foolishness.

Mark goes on to write that we cannot hold on to things and enter. "We must put down what we carry, open the door, and then take up only what we need to bring inside." Thank goodness. That part speaks to my soul.

My twenties were like one big, long Mardi Gras, I think. And when it was over and the street sweepers came through, I put all down for the next part of the journey. It was swept away and I entered into being married and a mother... just exactly as I had always hoped. And not without its own indulgences. But that is another post.

I called my friend Jill today, who picked up the phone and said she had just been thinking of me.
"That's creepy. Why?"
"Well, it's Mardi Gras and I was thinking it would be nice to drink a bunch of hurricanes and go check pigs in our bikinis." 
True story. This is also the friend who had a heated conversation with her father about the rules of wearing thongs to do chores that summer. Of course, he meant flip flops. And that, too, was lifetime ago. 

But it really was delicious.

I hope you indulged. And I hope that you are able to set some things down before you move on to this next part of the journey. See you on the road...

Black Market Farm in the schools

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Here’s what’s happening

We approached the business manager at Albany County School District over the summer about a grant that helps get local meat into schools by covering processing costs. This state grant is definitely not producer-friendly and only reimburses USDA butchering costs at $.80/lb, which clearly is not sustainable. But we felt like it was an opportunity to start a conversation and get healthy, local meat into schools, so we went for it. And we knew that our community would help us support this initiative. We told the District we would be willing to donate 300 lbs of ground beef.

We found out we got the grant right before Christmas break. Chili will be on the menu in February for all the elementary schools and it will be noted as being supplied locally, by us. That’s over 1500 school-lunch students who will have access to healthy, local, pasture-raised meat. It is AMAZING!!!

I've had a lot of folks asking questions about this important development and how we can keep it going. The best thing? ASK QUESTIONS. The school administration and especially the school board REALLY listen to parents. You have the power here. If you are interested in supporting our farm to school program with a donation, we can cover costs and even potentially expand the program for this school year. If the school district worked with the food service program to put our meat on the menu in February, we are on to something. Pass around this link, email it to parent groups and school staff. Let’s keep the momentum building.

 

Here’s what I know

The school board is currently evaluating the 5-year contract with Sodexo, which is up this year.

Here is the recommendation from the food service consultant, paid by a USDA grant to review the food service program, give a summary report of program effectiveness and recommendations.
http://www.boarddocs.com/wy/acsd1/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AUPLBK55C67E

In our experience, USDA-supported programs can be tricky to navigate, because government policies are lobbied so heavily by the commercial food industry (which is caught up in the complex processed food, corn commodity issues). 

Full disclosure: my mom was the School Food Service Director for ACSD for over a decade when I was growing up. She was replaced when the school district decided to go a managed food system, many moons ago. I don’t have any experience with the current food programs, but I do know quite a bit about the schools’ kitchen capabilities and potential staff needed, as they cooked as much as possible at individual schools during that time.

As a family, we’ve been listening to the Omnivores Dilemma (the kid's version) and it’s been a really helpful perspective in this conversation. We have it on Audible, but here is the book: https://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Young-Readers/dp/1101993839/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516226856&sr=8-1&keywords=omnivores+dilemma+kids

 

Here’s what I don’t know

I don’t know where the Board is at in considering the food service program. And here are some of the questions I am asking:

  • Would ACSD be willing to negotiate with a management company to buy meat and produce locally (again, I’ve heard that most management companies don’t do that)? 

  • Are they willing to look at taking the food preparation back in-house? What are the financial and staff considerations of making a move like that? 

  • If buying local meat and produce (or having schools grow some of their own) is cost prohibitive for either the district or management company, are there other resources to consider? Grants? Donations? How could we help make a program like this sustainable?

I think we have to listen as much as we talk in order to get a revolution started. And I’d love to hear what everyone is learning! Please share your comments below and let’s keep the momentum going!

Donate

The Day Before (or Finding Our Center)

One year ago, everything was on the table. I had lost my job--and as an overfunctioner and an achiever AT MY CORE, I focus on "mastery and intelligence, with a mission of creating awareness, order and unity on the planet.” (that’s a scary-accurate description from the Rhys Method click here). In my personal and professional life, I had been complete. And then suddenly, I wasn’t.

You know what's crazy? The day before, Matt and I had sat down to answer the always-lingering question in our arguments or threats... just throw in the towel on our life in town and move back out to the ranch. Which may or may NOT have included all five of us. This was a BIG QUESTION. It sounds silly, but this question had come up because we were getting ready to put up our Christmas tree and Matt wanted it at the ranch and I wanted it at our house in town.

The day before, we answered THE question. We were committed for five years--no more feeling like we could bail because we were frustrated or because of some other whim that threw us back into this conversation. Unless something totally major and unforeseen happened in those five years, our decision was final.

So, even though it was harder on Matt to manage Black Market Farm and there was a long list of other benefits ranch life provided, I was the major earner and would not be able to practice clinical therapy out at the ranch. We also loved our neighborhood, the kids’ school, and our friends. So, we called it. We got our tree and put it up at the Stonehouse in Laramie. The next day, I lost my job.

It was a mic-dropper moment that stuns me to this day. The universe threw me a curveball.

Since then, I’ve been taking care of myself and my family and all of these mouths and bodies and spirits. And I went “all in” to life at the ranch, to building a business and to figuring out what the hell we are doing… a work in progress.

Last week we closed on our little stone house in town. There's a SOLD sign in the front yard--THAT part of our life no longer belongs to us. And it's okay, because I grieved my heart out the first time around (I was crying when our renters signed the lease last March, as some of you know). But I was laying in bed the other night thinking to myself, "it's almost as if the whole thing never even happened." Like the four years in town and the career moves and the climbing and striving and reaching and the achieving… like it was all a digression in the middle of a story. Which is unnerving.

But right now, the kids are in school with 6 other kids at the two-room elementary, tucked away in our nearby tiny town. I'm a business owner, working full-time with my husband and we are living out on the ranch like we have been doing this our whole lives. Yes, it's like the whole thing never happened. And the only explanation I have is that we have been peeling back the layers, especially over the last year, to find our center.

And even if you move within that center, it's still a circle. Right back where you started. THAT is peaceful. As peaceful as raising three kids and four cats and a puppy, not to mention all the food we are trusted to raise for others (cattle, hogs, chicken, turkeys, lambs, goats...) can be. And, let me tell you, it's still more peaceful than LBF (Life Before Farming). Because we are truly free to find our center... which was right here the whole time.

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WHAT WE ARE (NOT)

Let's get one thing straight--we are in this for the long haul. Since you've joined our movement and trusted us to raise your food, we haven't taken any of our decisions, or our patrons, for granted. And we want you to know it's only getting better. All of it!

Lots of people have been asking me and Matt and what we learned at the marketing workshop in Jackson, Mississippi last week. It was AMAZING. We were in a room with 20 other producers (ranchers, farmers, etc) from around the United States, talking about how to get the healthy, sustainable food we raise into the hands of the millions of Americans who need to eat. It really felt like we could change the world by changing what people eat... good for the land, good for the body, good for the soul. In fact, the guru of the pasture-raised, direct-to-consumer, rebel food movement, Joel Salatin, said that he wished our "best and our brightest" were graduating from school and heading to the farms, to solve food shortage, eco-diversity, federal regulations and other incredibly complex topics. Which felt REALLY good to my achiever parts and satisfied my farm-raised-city-girl-career-woman-mother complex. Woohoo!

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We learned a lot of specifics, but one of the most important things Matt and I found was the center of why we are doing what we are doing at Black Market Farm. Our mission is to create community by providing direct access to natural, healthy, sustainable food. That's our center. It's direct, it's based on a relationship and nothing about it is elite. It's simple. And it's transformative for health, for the ecosystem and for the experience of knowing EXACTLY where your food comes from, how it's raised, who raises it, and how it gets to you. Less than one-hundred years ago, we ALL knew that! Because if we didn't raise it ourselves, we had to find someone who did. And our communities were based on mutually-beneficial relationships. You be the butcher, I'll be the baker and they can be the candlestick maker.

This isn't a luxury. It might easy to dismiss this idea or what Matt and I are doing as a privilege, but it's what can hold us and our family and our communities together. And what we are offering isn't just for the elite. And we are getting more and more clear on that the closer we get to our center. We've played around with lots of terms since our inception, not even two years ago. Like kids and teenagers, we've been trying to figure out who we are.

We felt like we could change the food system by offering largely heritage breeds, which sounded like a GREAT idea. And yet, they were very slow to grow (especially at 8,000 feet!), which means the cost of raising them was increased and, in the end, we were doing a lot of explaining about why the expensive heritage poultry didn't look like the chicken you get in the grocery store. We still believe natural is best and modified Franken-breeds won't have a home on our range, but maybe not so much skinny-ass stewing hens, either.

We thought about going organic. The certification process is incredibly complicated and restrictive, not to mention cost prohibitive. We were looking to be more FREE with our food, not more restricted. Which is why you probably won't see any kind of certification on our products anytime soon. Unless really good, happy meat becomes a certification. But until then, we'd rather have you come visit the farm.

We thought maybe it was important to offer a customized experience. But we this needs to be balanced with accessibility. We would LOVE to have our local, custom butcher do all of our processing, but unless we have contracts for shares of the live animal in advance (and if it sounds like a complicated loop hole, it is) we can’t have him do the harvesting. And even if we had all that in place, we cannot cross state lines with the meat, which leaves us with a very limited market.

We believe that everyone should have access to local, healthy food, directly from the sustainable, humane folks who raise it. Matt and I are talking about our product more and more as an "everyman" food and not an exclusive option. You may hear us talk less about customization and more about accessibility. Or more about animals that are healthy and sustainable at our high elevation and less about specific breeds. It's a learning curve and knowing what we are NOT is just as helpful as knowing what we ARE.

The story behind the story

The most amazing things have been happening lately.

National Geographic was doing a story on bird cognition and they called us to photograph some chickens. They saw our website and thought we would have a great backdrop for some shots, so the photographer ventured down from Jackson to stay at our ranch for a few days. It was incredible. Charlie is an amazing photographer and naturalist and I got the feeling, as we were eating grassfed burgers (of course!) and drinking beer around our table that I should know who he is. In case you are wondering, we SHOULD have probably known who he was. You can look him up here: http://charliehamiltonjames.com/. I don't have my own Wikipedia page--do you? It was a humbling experience and nothing is more validating than looking at your life through the lens of a professional photographer. And then having over half a million people like it, too.

Here are some of the images you might have seen on Instagram and several you did not. I don't know where or if the pictures of our birds will make the final cut, but you will be the first to know, if we do.

Speaking of not knowing, less than five days later, I received a random email while I was working on the computer. A woman in California wanted to know how she could get our beef because she just heard a story on NPR. We knew that the story had aired in Wyoming a few weeks ago, so it meant that NPR picked up the story nationally. And when we looked on "Here and Now," we saw it airing that day. It's all very exciting!

I have lots of thoughts on all of this and since it's been so long, I will blog again soon. But we had to share our news and the stories happening here... it's breaking news!
 

The Second Coming

 From "Wisdom of the Oracle" by Collette Baron-Reid

From "Wisdom of the Oracle" by Collette Baron-Reid

As I write this, I’m eating miniature marshmallows, one of my many guilty pleasures. I refilled all my spice containers yesterday and descaled my tea kettle last week. I applied for a new job as an online counselor. Not only do I have energy, but sometimes I even have moments of clarity. Whoa.

A week and a half ago, I snapped. I just couldn’t take the heaviness and sadness and grief anymore. It’s been bleak for so long that I forgot what it felt like to be normal, let alone GOOD. Or great. I feel joy. And it’s freaking amazing.

It happened as I was getting ready to show a video to my new elective class “How to Light Your Fire.” Don’t let the title fool you, I was TOTALLY going through the motions and phoning it in. But I knew I was looking for inspiration and teaching those elective classes teach ME something every time. This one is an experiential, philosophical class that will morph throughout the trimester into whatever the students want it to be. Right now, we are watching Rhonda Byrne’s movie “The Secret,” which is where I found myself the day I woke up. Perfect timing.

“The Secret” is about the law of attraction and manifesting elements into your life by staying in high energetic vibration. Which in turn, feeds high energetic vibration. It’s like love and God and optimism on crack. And I know this sounds woo-woo, but it’s a game changer. Goodbye guilt and shame, hello love and fearlessness.

 

 Sunrise. On Easter. Clear roads ahead.

Sunrise. On Easter. Clear roads ahead.

By some miracle, this is corresponding with Easter, with spring and the season of resurrection. I had forgotten how much I love to connect to other people—I didn’t realize how much I had been hiding. The season of grief and shame have passed. Alleluia.

I’m not saying this to rub it in your face (and I love that my gauge is spice containers and the scale on my tea kettle). I want to offer hope or inspiration... or something. Because it was DARK. And now it is LIGHT. I’m not saying I’m totally healed but I am definitely waking up from a loooooong winters nap. And even though I might just be feeling normal, it is such a far cry from the pain and grief and inwardness of the last three months (and much longer, if I’m honest) that I feel unstoppable.

So what’s to grow out of this? I’m sharing a picture from the oracle cards that I have—a beautiful card where the image says it all. I pulled it last week. And the answer to the question isn’t crystal clear yet. But we hosted an Easter party with some friends and family out here at the farm and I want more of THAT. I want more connection: to our food, to how we live our lives and to each other. I want to host it and grow it and FACILITATE it. Joy from the simple things, deep meaning out of regularity and, most of all, staying connected. Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s hosting farm stays and farm-to-table events, maybe it’s starting our own YouTube channel. But something is cracking here. And it’s not just me.

So, here’s to regeneration out of the blowing-up of the volcano. Come on in. The water’s fine.

A prophetic visit this past November to a waterfall on a giant volcano--Molokai. You have to ask permission from the spirit there to enter. I was granted access. Boy, was I.

Holy season

Our family has been experimenting. This lent, we decided to give up all screens. I still have to use the computer to work sometimes, but we don't watch TV or use iPads or have our phones for backup when our kids get bored. We read a LOT, play board games, do projects or make things and work together as a family. The kids will tell you I decided we were giving up screens for Lent, but TRUST ME, this was not my idea! They suggested it and I almost fell over. And then decided, "Okay. Let's do this."

There have been so many interesting things that have sprung from this experiment. The first was how much I rely on screens when I don't want to deal. Either tuning out in the evenings (for me) or knowing that the kids will be entertained by something other than me or each other or by some other self-imposed creative outlet. They've cut up boxes and designed robots for each other, laid in their beds and looked at books, listened to a lot of music. And, of course, fought. But they would have fought anyway. I just can't use the iPads as distraction to break up their disagreements. Which also sucks.

The first weekend, I thought I was going to cave. It was SO HARD. They seemed restless and bored and I wanted to do things and it was just hard. It's not like the weather is awesome out here right now either, (its so damn windy!!!) so having cabin fever is a real thing.

Most of you know that my word for this year is "clear." Politically, I want to get clear about what I can do. Vocationally, I want to get clear about my life's work. Personally and for my family, I want to clear the way for building an intentional and uncomplicated life.

We are also reading "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" together as family and clearing our spaces completely and forever of things that don't spark us joy. We are about 3/4 way through at this point. It's hard and wonderful and energizing and draining work. And the kids have taught me so much about what sparks joy for them! they have kept about 95% of their stuffed animals and shedded about 75% of their toys. With joy. How incredible is that?

To celebrate, last night we watched movie together as a family. We talked about that decision a lot, but we decided that if the goal of Lent is to simplify and be more intentional with our time together, the movie was an excellent way to highlight that. It's not all or nothing. It's both.

AJ said that he has noticed that "technology is taking over our lives." He recently had a sleepover as his cousin's house and he said that all his cousin did was "skateboard and spend time on his phone." Had AJ had an iPad in his hand and his eyes glued to the screen, he wouldn't have noticed that.

I'm ready to finish painting and make our space beautiful. I'm ready to plant new things and get ready for spring. But first, we have to finish purging and shedding and clearing the way for what we want. And all of that sounds completely liberating.

What can I do?

Maybe it’s a cry of desperation or a need to feel like we can make a difference. Sometimes it’s a need for control. But it's a question I hear (and find myself asking) a lot right now. When we don’t feel like we have any choices or that we can help. In any area. What can I do? What can I possibly do?

I’m a do-er. I’m a first-born daughter of a German-Irish farming family. On both sides. There is ALWAYS something we can do. Which is why it is so intolerable when it feels like there’s nothing to hold on to. Nothing we can do.

I watched my family lose everything in a fire in our hog house back in South Dakota. I was six years old and literally found the flames in the barn. Even before that, there was a tone of fear in the air, during the farm crisis of the 1980s. I remember those rallies. And my family did something. Even when we lost everything and had to leave the only thing my father had ever done, we did something. We moved across the entire state and settled on the edge of the Black Hills in Wyoming. We were the first Lutterman’s to leave the county, and we left the state. It was hard times… I remember that. But when you grow up in a farming family, it almost always feels like hard times. Or my version of farming families, anyway.

 The family farm where I grew up. H Lutterman, on the silo, was Henry Lutterman, my paternal grandfather.

The family farm where I grew up. H Lutterman, on the silo, was Henry Lutterman, my paternal grandfather.

Not a lot has changed in agriculture since those days. Little farmers are still consistently at risk and at the mercy of mother nature, or volatile futures markets or the health of the land and the animals they raise. Farmers are tough because they are so incredibly vulnerable and hard work makes a big difference.

My good friend, Emily, recently gave us a shout out and asked people to support us, "Not just because I consider this family a part of my family, but because, in a political climate where little importance is placed on sustainability we will depend more and more on people like this to continue to produce food and make business choices that put our earth and our families first!"

Many folks feel a call to political activism right now. I'm in awe of the amazing things happening right now, and also the hard work that is going into these efforts. Getting a fire rekindled after it’s almost burnt out takes a lot of energy, but there also has to be some hot coals waiting underneath all that soot. Waiting for some air for you to gently blow. And then—poof. It takes on a life of it’s own. THAT’S what you can do.

You can actually participate in raising your food by investing in community supported agriculture. The farmers have a job because of YOU. You can be connected to your source—actually have a relationship. And you can make sure that wherever you are getting your food, they are doing things that matter to you. I’m not here to judge or tell you what those things should be. Only you know. But you can actually walk the walk here and reap what you sow. When you and our community believes in us and asks us to raise your food, we are honored to be your rancher.

Go to the source. It’s the first rule of journalism, of finding the purest and most honest version. And when it comes to food, it’s as old as civilization itself.

 He can do this with his eyes closed. :)

He can do this with his eyes closed. :)

I found it.

My purpose right now? To make the simple life decadent. To hold sacred all of the ordinary. To create beauty out of nothing but what's on hand and a lotta love. To find constant wonder and humor in the messes--and charm in the mundane. Splitting wood. Playing chess. Making bread with (and for) my kids. Total participation.

Matt and I are committed to creating this life out here on the ranch and sharing it with others. That is our life and our work. We are raising our food and living off the land and we don't have to compromise that. We are holding tight to our values of sustainability, community and a direct connection to food (and life in general). To connecting with something larger. We will not fill it up with things that don't matter. We've worked too hard to get here.

I like to have a litmus test. A guide to hold up our decisions and ask, "Does it fit? Does it match?" I always think of it like the chlorine test strips to for pools.

The top square is: Does it bring our family together? If it doesn't bring us closer or diffuses our energy and doesn't put our family relationships first, it's not gonna pass. This is first.

The next square is: Is it simple? Is it natural? Our commitment to sustainability also means that we strive to make things uncomplicated. And when I use the word sustainable, I'm not being trendy or just talking about the environment (although that, too). Are we doing the most basic, stripped down version? If we start with the basic and build, it will come together naturally. It will also do what's it's supposed to do, organically.

Next: Are we working with what we've got? Are we using it to it's greatest potential? In the winter, we have snow. Rather than battling it and fighting it, we have to use it to the best of our advantage. Snowmobiles instead of the constant battle of plowing the road. But this also fits with each of our gifts. When we fully use our resources and their potential, we create flow. It's a symbiotic relationship.

The next square: Are we being open? "This. Or something better." Not micromanaging the outcome, but being open to the final version (because it's usually more beautiful than we could put together). If we can stay curious and experiment while listening to our intuition, we can't go wrong.

 An image from my latest vision board.

An image from my latest vision board.

Finally: Does it nourish us? If it depletes us of energy, it's not sustainable. Working hard for what we believe in is one thing... fighting an uphill battle is something else. Feeding our creativity but also creating compassion for us, for the world around us. This is the lagniappe, the "little something extra" (a concept I picked up from New Orleans--I love it). The simplest things can help us feel decadent.

  Beignets. Another lagniappe from New Orleans.

Beignets. Another lagniappe from New Orleans.

How do we overtly instill these beliefs into our family? I don't know. Doing it, for sure. But I think talking about it, too. Like I said when I started out, these posts are partly to help others understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. I hope that also means my kids some day.

Clearing space. Starting with my wine glass.

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I'm almost through purging. You would not BELIEVE what I have thrown out, given away or readied for a mid-winter garage sale. A mid-winter garage sale, people. I am dedicated. And it's like a cleansing of my soul.

Sometimes, when I first start out one of the "sessions" (and with three kids, our 2017 CSA launch and Sigel family birthday season, my purging is divided up into many, many chunks), I find myself wandering aimlessly, not knowing where to start. Do I start by sorting out all the stuff I definitely want to keep? Do I spend my energy "nesting" and finding cozy homes for all the things I want to keep? This inevitably leads to me painting something or desperately wanting a sewing machine or coning Matt into building a new cabinet (that I will insist on designing and finishing) because wherever I want it to "live" isn't finished yet. Which is obviously where I want to spend my energy. Designing space is my thing. Designing Space and Looking for Inspiration. That might be the title of my autobiography.

As I start and then stop and then find myself distracted in the another room and then remember that I'm supposed to be seriously focused and tackling this project, I feel frustrated. I feel a little lost and a lot overwhelmed. And then there I am again--struggling. It feels heavy... like, if I could just get the train moving in the right direction, I could actually chug up this damn hill. And this isn't even that big of a hill! Is it depression? I'm not ashamed to say that doses of medication and lots of yoga are the antidote to my clinically-diagnosed chemical imbalance that I battle in my brain, off-and-on every few years (that's another post, too). But I'm taking care of that right now.
Is it grief? These changes are still taking their toll on me, so don't overestimate my level of functioning when you see me around town. Considering I still haven't had Lucy's birthday party and took down decorations the night BEFORE Matt's (it wasn't even on my radar!), evidence shows that I'm lacking in my usual levels of over-functioning.

When I wander aimlessly in those rooms, or in my life, the way I bring it back is to figure out what I don't want. I have to start with the trash can. There is no other way than to clear the path and get rid of the crap I don't want or need or is broken or was a mistake to let into my house in the first place. Or all of the above. It is roll-up-your-sleeves, get on all fours, sort through every piece kind of work. Meticulous and tedious and the kind of attention to detail that no one can do but me. You know the kind. If it's not sacred, if it doesn't make me want to stop everything and play with it or wear it or cook with it; if I haven't ever used it in 10 years but keep thinking I might need it at some point; if I can't picture exactly where it will go and how I will use it in my new life, it's gone. That shit takes time, dude. And I'm committed to doing it like a boss. Which, I actually am. And since I have no job, this might as well be my best work. (that's my new joke--you don't have to feel sorry for me) (but you can) 

I don't know for sure what I am welcoming in yet or how it's all going to unfold (although, looking around the dome house, you wouldn't THINK I don't know what to welcome in... it's not exactly sparsely appointed in here). But I have to start with what needs to go. I might be done being a traditional school counselor or mental health therapist, a career that's defined me for over a decade. That's on the table. But I wrote about what I know stays in this post: http://www.blackmarketfarm.com/blog/2017/2/7/ptmojcowq8fwdgvx9tewn68jjcdeva

I have to feel lighter. This is my action plan. Lighter definitely means less STUFF, less BUSY-NESS, and shedding of emotional baggage. Still working on that last one. And since I often feel a little lost and a lot overwhelmed, I'm treating it one trash can at a time. God help me.

Success on my own terms. A little self-indulgence.

My friends just shared a link for an audio course from a guru that we all love and admire—it’s about defining your success on your own terms. When I lost my major income source this winter, I suddenly had the thing I had been praying for—SPACE. I had just wanted space to do these exciting and creative things. But since I had been a working mother (and we are talking 2-3 jobs here, people) and raising three kiddos, that opportunity was illusive. And then suddenly it wasn’t. In fact, it has become my new job. (which is exciting but doesn’t pay very well. And I don’t really care because it feels essential to my survival right now).

More of this. Please.

If it seems like I am writing or living this life as if my life depended on it, it’s because it does. And I have no idea what the final product will look like or what all of this will turn in to. I am trained as a clinical therapist and I live in the middle of nowhere. But something tells me that am called to interact with people on my own terms. Literally, on my own property out here in the middle of nowhere. And, again, I have no idea what that even looks like.

Here’s what I know:

  • I love writing. I love sharing what I write, but mostly I just love writing. It helps me make sense of all of this.
  • I’m a super passionate person and I haven’t felt that way in a while. Like, light-shit-on-fire passionate. I want to do that.
  • I love hosting and centering around a theme or concept or event. You might not know this, but Matt’s and my wedding was a DIY affair out here on the ranch for over 300 people. Seven-piece live country western band, pig roast and sagebrush and roses. THAT is good stuff.
  • I love being at the ranch. It is hard to drag my ass into town on the days that I need to do that. Once I get there and I’m working with the students at my schools, I love it. I’m good at it and they need it and it’s wonderful! But I don’t want to drive into town to feel that way. I want it to be out HERE.
  • Speaking of kids, nothing helps me be more mindful than the needs of children. And when I can immerse myself in it, it is magical. More of THAT.
  • I love an adventure. I redefined myself by moving to New Orleans for college where I knew no one and then again to Chicago (also solo) and living and working downtown for five years. If I’m happy at home, it’s probably part of a larger adventure. Check.
  • My love language is quality time. Quality time with myself and my husband and my kids and my girlfriends. Just flat out quality time. And for what I’m lacking in income right now, I’m certainly making up for in this department.
  • I am so deeply longing for spirituality and meaning in my life that I am looking for it (and finding it!) everywhere. This probably isn’t sustainable, but it’s even on Matt’s XM radio every time I get into his truck (thanks for that gem last week, Howie Day). It is borderline crazy. But when I’m lost, I look for guideposts. And I only have to see to the next roadside marker. My eyes are peeled right now.
  • I am inspired by the creativity of creating something out of nothing. Capitalizing on the resources available to make something new. In cooking, my sister-in-law calls it “roulette dinner” where you make whatever is in your cupboard into something delicious. I am fascinated by crafts that repurpose old furniture or metal or other available trinkets and turn it into a one-of-a-kind creation. I’ve joked for years about staring the “Crafty Cricket” in my garage. If you know my dad, you will know that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree on this fascination.
  • I love living “off the grid” (or thinking about living off the grid) and homesteading. To me, homesteading means staking your claim and building your own place in the world. I could do that ALL DAY. And not just my physical environment. I like to stake my claim and build my own place in the world by decorating my house and cooking and building a business and writing. Homesteading my life.

I love that one of the things my mom said when Matt and I were moving out to the ranch was, “Good. Now I don’t have to worry about you guys anymore.” Blink. Blink. Blink. I had just lost my job. But I know exactly what she meant and I felt the same way. Isn’t that insane?? I would add that I absolutely know that we are going to be (even better than) alright. That’s what I know.

This post is self-serving and gratuitous. And absolutely a cry for help! If you can help me make sense of all of this, please contribute to the commentary in my head.

 

A Life Worth Living

We have been SO lucky. I’ve had lots of lovely messages from friends, family and people I hardly know, encouraging me and my family during this time of transition. Of course I worried about what others would think… mainly because I have been afraid to lose my connection with people who I lean on with all my heart. But instead, I have found people reaching out. Even things like my dad saying to AJ and Lucy, “I couldn’t be happier that you kids are going to school in Centennial.” They feel that support. I feel that support. And I’m incredibly grateful.

This is bigger than moving our family to a new home or running a business. This way of life that we are choosing is about creating something different and living the full experience. And even in the middle of a power outage or a temper tantrum or my panic about how I’m going to have a career as a clinical therapist in the middle of nowhere, there is an underlying current of perspective (I almost wrote “an underlying current of peace” but that just feels unbelievable, even though it is also certainly true). A slower pace has created either an abundance of time or a lack of necessity or crisis. And I’m not sure I care which one it is, because the result is the same. The result is space. Room to breathe.

  This is my vision board from almost two years ago. How could I not see this coming??

This is my vision board from almost two years ago. How could I not see this coming??

There are SO MANY parallels between what we are doing and what we believe. Between raising honest food and leading an honest life. Between nurturing and nourishing animals from birth, only to harvest them to have them nourish us. Between shoveling shit out of pens and shedding the shit in our lives that we are carrying around. Between the beginning and the end. I never want to lose sight of that or stop talking about it with my kids and my husband or feeling it or living it.

And now we are putting ourselves out there and I feel vulnerable again. Which is part of this journey, too. We have an opportunity to share our way of life with others and connect people to their roots, to their food. We are asking people to invest in our vision with our Kickstarter campaign. Because community supported agriculture doesn’t exist without a community. And we can’t hold this sacred space without the literal SPACE to do that.

Maybe people will get sick of me. Maybe I will run out of things to say. Maybe it cheapens it to share our vision and make it not only a viable life, but an abundant one. And we have to balance all of that. But for us, this is a choice we are making with intention and courage. And that is a life worth living.

 

 

Getting unstuck

I can’t do it. I’m stuck. This post is supposed to be about these amazing, exciting opportunities that Matt and I are pursuing with Black Market Farm. And, trust me, I will totally get there. But I can’t get there without talking about where I’ve been. And I’ve been stuck.

I have been REALLY stuck lately. As in, high-centered, wheels spinning, going nowhere… mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically (which I will get to in a moment). Paralysis, fear, frustration, anger, disappointment, overwhelm, grief. They are all loaded into my Honda Odyssey, taking up all the seats. I have been grieving all the things that I write about and many more that I’m not writing about. Things feel difficult and questions turn into more questions and complications, not the answers I need. How do I drive with all that baggage? I better figure it out “real quick,” because there’s a plow coming and I need to get back on the road, or else I’m going to be stuck here until spring. Which is something I have considered.

The thing is, Matt and I have these dreams—personally, for our family and our business at Black Market Farm. They are so close and so strong and powerful and they are pulling me, like a tow truck, out of the ditch. Or in my case, the tractor. You guys, this stuff is BIG. And exciting. And I can clearly see how it’s going to all come together! I’ve just got to get back on this damn road.

And I swear, I have the best intentions. Let's start with the two-hour mission to get the kids off the bus. It was a lovely day--no wind, beautiful snow everywhere... I decided to walk with Jude in the sled down to the highway, where the bus drops off the kids.

It went downhill fast from there. We loaded up, and after careful consideration of the drift behind me and the snow-packed road I had just walked with Jude, I chose the driveway in front of me. Even though I knew the other driveway had just been blown out by our neighbor with a snow blower. (you see where this is going, I'm sure). I picked the wrong driveway back to the house. Turns out, it wasn't snow-packed. It was packed with snow. Lesson of my life: I overthink it and I take the difficult path. Can I get an amen?

I called Matt (who finally answered... never mind that he didn't answer my two calls and text about which ROAD TO TAKE!). He was not happy and I felt like a total fool and neither of us could smile about this predicament. But that was only for the first 40 minutes. Here’s the text I got as I was finally unstuck and headed down the highway toward the other driveway. Mind you, it had been an hour since I had asked my original question.

When stripped down to our barest essentials, we have found uncompromising values that we can really share. In fact, that’s exactly what we are going to be doing.

Getting back on the road means we are launching our 2017 CSA season. We know what we know, and we are ready to practice and grow. And we are launching it in a big way! An international Kickstarter campaign that you will be hearing about in the next few days--you get to be directly involved. Look for emails, videos and more… we will need your help. :)

When the going gets tough, the tough get… clear. We are really clear about our focus on food and a natural, sustainable and healthy way of life that we have an opportunity to share. And we are building on the incredible community response and enthusiasm! We don’t have to do this alone. In fact, we can’t. And that is beautiful.

It's time to shed the baggage and get back on the road. And, while it's not always easy to choose simplicity, it will ultimately be what sets us free. And gets us out of the ditch.

What ISN’T making it into 2017 (and the sled behind the snowmobile)

Last night Matt had to meet me at the highway and pulled Jude, our groceries and me in the sled behind the snowmobile for nearly a mile, the distance of our driveway. Lucy came along for the pick-up (she had been waiting at the Dome House for our arrival) and she and I sat together on a cushion in the back of the sled with our arms around each other. I couldn’t see her mouth, because it was tucked away behind her parka, but I was smiling the whole time. I’m sure the novelty of these types of things will wear off, but right now we love it. Even (or especially when) we are stuck.

I’ve been packing up our house in town and getting it ready to rent out. When I posted the pictures on Facebook, a little part of me was heartbroken, “We’ve worked so hard to build this life and it’s tidy and beautiful… who would choose NOT to live here??” But I packed. I sorted and tossed and donated and organized. My word for 2017 is CLEAR.  

I was introduced to the “word of the year” concept several years ago in a yoga class by one of my closest friends, Emily Brown. She probably doesn’t remember this, because we weren’t friends yet and I was just another student in the yoga class she was teaching that day. But I never forgot it and have borrowed this tradition every year myself. It’s my version of a new year’s resolution.

For me, CLEAR is not just about the verb--to clear away, to clear out or to remove in order to make room. It’s also the adjective--free from darkness, obscurity or cloudiness; sharply defined; of a pure, even color or tone. And the idiom, “in the clear” absolved of blame; free. And probably a million other uses that aren’t obvious to me, yet.

But back to the verb form, to clear away. As I packed up our things to make room for a new family, here are the things that aren’t traveling with us in the new year… there simply isn’t room in the sled behind the snowmobile.

  • My kids’ play kitchen. If they want to play kitchen, they can play in my kitchen. We are all in this together and we don’t really need to fake it with pretend things. Let’s just use the real shit. AJ is old enough to cook anyway, and we all know how good our 3 year-old is at cracking eggs from my last post. Cooking is self-sufficiency.
  • Doing it the “right” way. Instead, we are going to follow our intuition and “feel” our way through the year. Keep our principles at the center of our decisions and act responsively, though not reactively.
  • Showering routinely. I am underfunctioning and find that I just don’t have to make the effort all the time. Underfunctioning is VERY healthy for this overfunctioner. I’m getting rid of the striving, doing it the best and giving it 110% all the time. Good enough is better than good enough, if we are doing it for the right reasons.
  • The “apps” running the background. You know how your phone gets drained of power quicker when the Weather Channel and email and Pandora and Facebook and Safari and Youtube and Pokemon Go (if the kids have my phone!) are all running the background? Yeah, we are clearing our apps. There is nothing wrong with any of these apps, we just don’t want them running all at the same time. It’s draining. One at a time.

Here is what IS making the cut in 2017:

  • My grandma’s silver and my crystal wine glasses. For everyday use.  Yes, on the ranch. Things just taste better when they are served with love, or with something you love.
  • My salsa and Latin dance music. I use it to clean, to concentrate and to motivate. My best friend in college was Puerto Rican and I miss our days of going out and DANCING. I read somewhere to make a list of 20 things that you love and the last time that you did them. This is one of my 20 things.
  • Writing. For the love of all things holy to me, writing as if my life depended on it. Because it kind of feels that way. Writing letters, cards, writing these posts and even flirting with a book. I have so much to say and share and it doesn’t even matter if no one reads it. This stuff HAS to get out. Writing for the sake of writing.
  • Whatever else is packed in all those boxes in the back of the horse trailer that almost didn’t make it in yesterday. In fact, Matt got stuck and had to pull the truck and trailer out of the 18” of snow at the ranch with a tractor. We agreed last night, exhausted, over dinner, that we probably didn’t use our intuition yesterday. School was cancelled (TOTALLY unheard of), the windchill was almost 50 below that morning and cars were twisted sideways and stuck all over town… basically any time you turned off a main thoroughfare (those are the only streets the city plows), you ran the risk of getting stuck. And Matt said, “What? We thought we were better than that? That somehow we could overcome the weather with sheer determination? Who do we think we are?”
 A book Matt was abandoned this morning to get the kids ready to go outside. Not staged. None of this is staged. Hence, the dusty side table.

A book Matt was abandoned this morning to get the kids ready to go outside. Not staged. None of this is staged. Hence, the dusty side table.

As we were packing the trailer yesterday, Matt also said, “I’m glad it’s really cold,” and it was, 11 degrees below zero, in fact. We had to shovel a path from the house to the horse trailer. He said, “The horse and cow shit is frozen, so it won’t stick to the bottom of the boxes!” Now THAT is making lemonade out of lemons. Or maybe pie out of horse apples. And I love that it’s not uncommon for people here to use horse trailers instead of U-Haul’s. Welcome to Wyoming and life on the ranch.

By the way, here’s what was happening right behind me as I was writing this post:

Uploaded by Black Market Farm on 2017-01-07.
My intention is to document as accurately as possible and then try to create meaning out of this crazy-ass journey (isn’t that true of all of us?). By connecting and sharing our story, we might find a common thread here; we also have a unique opportunity for a life that friends and family are genuinely curious about. I don’t sugar coat, but I don’t catastrophize either—it’s all happening somewhere in the middle. If my writing is half as entertaining as the actual adventure, I’m doing my job and creating our family story to share for generations. I suck at baby books.

*I don’t have an editor and most times am lucky to get this posted, let alone fine-tune the writing. If you see something, say something! Grammatical or spelling errors are like having something stuck in my teeth. I’m doing the best I can—send a message and help a girl out! :)

Reclaiming our ground

For most of you, this will be the first you hear of our big news. After four and a half years, we are moving permanently back to the ranch, effective immediately. Not visiting or staying for a long vacation--all the plants and the cats and the fish have officially moved in. The kids are starting school in Centennial, a two-room school with six other students, a week from Monday. We are reclaiming the ground where we started 12 years ago and choosing to raise our children with a connection to this beautiful Wyoming land, raising their food and learning about self-sufficiency, simplicity and sustainability by directly experiencing it. A romantic ideal? The reality is a bit of shit show.

A week ago today, I pulled into the ranch straight from a party with my tribe of girlfriends in town. I knew I would be seeing the dome house (yes, it's a geodesic dome and it even has a sparkling, popcorn ceiling inside, to boot) with fresh eyes--it would be the first time we would be staying here with the intention of moving back to the ranch. Matt and I had lived out here for six years when we first met and then bought a house in town, since Laramie was always part of the equation for my work as a therapist. But suddenly, my work was changing and Laramie didn't have to be the center of our picture anymore. In fact, our spiritual, emotional and physical "work" as a family HAD to be done at the ranch. And after long, soul-searching conversations, we decided it was time to move back home to the ranch to raise our kids.

It was an easy decision and difficult all in one breath. It meant we could reclaim and build a really intentional life while raising natural, pastured meat for Black Market Farm. But we had built a life for ourselves in Laramie--we had a great community and the kids were in our favorite school and I had been blessed with the most amazing girlfriends, none of which are easy in a super rural state. 

So, there I was, pulling into the driveway last Thursday after sharing our news with my girls, through hugs and laughing and heavy sighs. I noticed that the lights were out in the house and, sure enough, we had no electricity because Matt was replacing the main panel in the house. It was 8:00 at night. We also had no hot water because our pipes were frozen. Jude, our youngest, had a fever over 101 and we had no acetaminophen to alternate with the ibuprofen every three hours so the poor guy can sleep. In fact, it's over an hour and half round trip to get to a store that has acetaminophen (he actually had Roseola and fevered for five days before breaking out into a rash and braking the fever. We did end up going to town for that acetaminophen, as you might have guessed. I've never typed that word so many times in my whole life). Welcome home.

The past week has been a beautiful mess, in the most honest way. The kids oscillate between tears of grief and blurting to everyone we see their excitement about moving to the ranch. We've talked a lot about how it's both and we get to feel it at the same time. I introduced them to the term "bittersweet." We are feeling it. And, of course, I worry about them. What if they don't like living out here? (more about my shame story of growing up on a farm in later posts.) Are we doing the right thing by pulling them out of a school they love? What if we are lonely and isolated and miserable? No one is sleeping in their own beds (we are still setting up everyone's bedrooms) and while it's amazing to in this all snuggled together, I worry. Will our lives ever be normal again, let alone intentional and wonderful?? And what does normal even look like in the middle of nowhere with three kids and these lofty intentions? I've never even seen that.

Here's how I know we are going to be okay. I found the word LOVE made out of clay on the shower door last night. And there's more evidence.

More days than not, the kids and I are outside. I pull them in the sled behind the four wheeler, making sure to hit the jumps that come from the drifts on the sagebrush, at their request.

I made a loaf of bread and it rose better than I've had it rise in a looooong time. AJ says "that means Lakshmi is here" (the goddess of abundance). I made most of our food from scratch, usually because I don't have the pre-made ingredients (like salad dressing!) on hand and I'm improvising food (and everything else) as we go. But we had one of our turkeys we raised and it was incredible. 

  AJ named all the turkeys we raised "Fred," so every time we eat turkey, AJ says, "It's Fred! We're eating Fred!" I can't tell if its outrage or humor, but he out-eats all of us at the table.

AJ named all the turkeys we raised "Fred," so every time we eat turkey, AJ says, "It's Fred! We're eating Fred!" I can't tell if its outrage or humor, but he out-eats all of us at the table.

Matt taught the kids how to start a fire in the wood stove. Right now, AJ is experimenting with water evaporation on the stove. Jude and I made three batches of cookies and if he sees me in the kitchen, he's learned to pull out the drawers like a step ladder and get on the counter to help me cook. He's better than most adults I've seen at cracking eggs. He's three.

And my brave little Lucy is teaching her brothers to test their limits. She came to me and said, "Mom, I want to try something but I need to know if I'm being safe." If she could do that for the rest of her life, we're doing something right. She set up pillows at the bottom of the stairs and she made an indoor sled. Here is the result and no one was hurt. This time. I know they are taking chances and I'm okay with that. Calculated risks are part of this experience. 

My intention is to document as accurately as possible and then try to create meaning out of this crazy-ass journey (isn't that true of all of us?). By connecting and sharing our story, we might find a common thread here; we also have a unique opportunity for a life that friends and family are genuinely curious about. I don't sugar coat, but I don't catastrophize either--it's all happening somewhere in the middle. If my writing is half as entertaining as the actual adventure, I'm doing my job and creating our family story to share for generations. I suck at baby books.

*I don't have an editor and most times am lucky to get this posted, let alone fine-tune the writing. If you see something, say something! Grammatical or spelling errors are like having something stuck in my teeth. I'm doing the best I can--send a message and help a girl out! TIA :)

 

 

Sustainability defined.

 Photo: Colorado Mountain School

Photo: Colorado Mountain School

Let's talk about the the Tao. In the book, The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer talks about finding the middle way by feeling for the edges. We believe that directly ties into sustainability. 

Near Laramie, there is a beautiful, native Indian, sacred space called Vedawoo. It is a jumbled pile of huge, granite rocks, some of which fit together and others that look like they are precariously placed, ready to topple at any moment. It is a feat of nature and looks like something out of a science fiction book. 

If you look closely at the granite, or if you are there for one of the afternoon thunderstorms that are so common in the summer, you will see the path that the water takes down these huge, boulder mountains. Inevitably, this water has to face one of the solid rocks; it cannot go around. I love watching the path this water takes. Even when it's not raining, you can see a slightly grey area where the water washes down the rock. 

Like a stream of water finding it's path down the face of a large, granite boulder, so is the middle way. The path of least resistance. Michael A. Singer talks about it as a blind person finds their way down a sidewalk, using their cane. The cane isn't there to feel for the middle, the cane is there to feel for the edges so that the person can navigate towards the middle. And keep themselves out of harm's way.

You know when you hit your edges. Your health falls apart, or your family or housework needs desperate attention, you feel overwhelmed or utterly hopeless. The other side is also filled with unsustainabilty--late nights where you could talk or hang out together ALL night, days so action-packed and exhilarating it feels like you are flying through at a million miles an hour. Or that "new love" feeling where you can't get enough. Of whatever! When it comes to money and budgeting, it's those periods that you oscillate between pinching every penny so that you feel you're living a life of depravation and then your pendulum swings to the other side and you spend excessively (some people refer to it as "bleeding money"). Living in either extreme is not sustainable. 

To know the middle, you have to feel for the edges. When one view feels too extreme, you've hit the edge. Feel for the middle. In this climate of polarized views about food, politics and ways to manage your life and your family, the edges are all over the place! Find your way. Find the middle.

Black Market Farm is committed to sustainability on the land, throughout sustainable, rotational grazing practices; for our animals, through humane-based pasture raising; and for our family and yours by offering natural meats, available directly from us to you. We build a relationship. We raise your food. You make food choices that are healthy and sustainable to your family.

Liberate your food. Liberate your health. Liberate your meat. :)

Boots on the Ground

A selection of shots from our wedding day, almost 10 years ago! See if you recognize anyone’s boots...

Black Market Farm is devoted to sustainability. We believe in integrity and practicing what we preach. Which is where YOU come in!

We know that as we continue to grow and people join our movement, we do not exist in a vacuum. We are reaching out to our community and trust that this process will help bring us the support we need! 

We are calling this our Boots on the Ground campaign. As we form our foundational advisory board, we are turning to the people who have believed in us from the beginning. Help us spread the word! As you look at these positions, someone will pop into your mind. You can connect us; you have the relationship. Introduce us, virtually or at an upcoming farmer's market (we will be at them as regularly as possible for the rest of the season). Or shoot us an email and we will reach out to them!

Our advisory board does not have fund raising or capital contribution responsibilities. They're job is to literally be our "boots on the ground" with their specific skills. Here's what we need.

-Financial steward: This person is responsible for helping us determine best funding streams (grants vs investors vs operating loans, etc) and guiding our fiduciary vision of sustainability. We believe that we have access to money and resources that can be used in divine ways and we want a guiding entity helping us make those decisions. They will also help us examine the feasibility of potential projects and growth areas for Black Market Farm. (10 hours/week at most!)

-Legal advisor- Contract law, liability waivers, etc (as needed; approx 10 hours/month)

-Number cruncher: This is our accountant, bookkeeper and database administrator. He or she is responsible for keeping the numbers all together so that we can do our best work (oversee banking and account activity, accounts payable and receivable, organizing membership data and generating reports). This person will also help keep us in line! (5-10 hours/week, much less once system is in place!)

-Farm hand: This person (or family, or couple) will be our support at the ranch. They will be lead by Matt to help with daily chores, animal care and infastrucure. We will use their hands and expertise to help us build outdoor coops, and keep things running smoothly at Black Market Farm so that we can attend farmer's markets more regularly, be designing projects and delivering meat and interacting with our members. These folks will also be super helpful when we are doing our events! (10-20 hours/week, can be rotational with other families!)

Interested folks should email matt@blackmarketfarm.com to fill out an application and be willing to meet with us to find the right fit. They should also be willing to exchange sweat equity for farm stays, meat trades, and special access to Black Market Farm events. We want the team to feel like a family! We need creative, innovative people who aren’t afraid to jump in on the ground level to get this thing going. It’s both cutting edge and old-fashioned bartering… just like us.

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How to trim your bush. Or, taming the wild. (my longest post, yet. Ha!)

Today, something really simple happened. And it changed where I'm at with this entire project. 

I've been gestating houseplants lately. I think, because Matt and I decided not to have any more children about one year ago (and we would typically be scheming the next baby right about now), I've decided to place my nurturing capabilities into other venues. I've also been weirdly obsessed with getting a family dog, which is probably also connected, but that is another post.

In acquiring these great, assorted houseplants, I had to assimilate them into my environment. Which is probably not as traditional as you might think. (imagine that) 

I put out a general request on Facebook, here in Laramie, WY, that I would gratefully pick up castoffs from folks who were willing to "botanically relocate" their surplus houseplants to a devoted home. I spent as much as the owners would allow learning the story of the plants' homes and why they are being so trustingly signed over to my care. I felt I owed the plants that responsibility.

The plant in the picture was living in a run-down trailer home with a woman and her three boys. She was so inspiring and interesting... she recently graduated as a statistician and was relocating to Washington, DC (her youngest asked her if she was going to work for the President and she thought about it and then said, "Yes! I guess I am."). She was doing this all alone, without her ex-husband, and knew that in moving her belongings, three boys, and severals pets, the plants "weren't going to make it." Wow. She was SO GENEROUS, with her time and her amazing plants. Had I not had a meeting that I had to run off to, I could have dug deeper into her story all morning. As it was, we talked for as long as I could stand in the drizzling rain with her two pit bulls and I drove back into town and went to work.

I wish I had "before" pictures. When AJ saw this houseplant, he was shocked and quickly set to work rearranging the living room furniture to help decide where to put it. Then he hid medium-sized toys in the plant for his little brother to find. It was THAT big and out of control.

I walked around it for almost a week before getting a large tree-trimming tool to tame the wildness. I like to arrange flowers, so I felt like the task held similar strengths. After pruning several unwieldy "trunks," I set to the task of tethering it to stakes and to itself, to help it grow in a more unified manner. Things that grow too big, too fast, with no structure, are not always the ideal. Of course, neither are those that are too confined... I also acquired a couple of jasmines, intricately vined into the structured shape of heart. And I (not so) secretly delight when their vines go shooting off into the general dining room space. I also love those that refuse to be contained.

All of this is a slow lead-up to the actual paradigm-shifting event that happened today. There are two plants, an orchid in the short stages and a variegated purplish-pink leafed plant of some kind, that routinely leak any amount of water all over the table top where they rest. It is a simple fix, right? Yet, have I done anything about it?? No. For weeks, I've been watering these babies and then watching them bleed all over my table and mopping it up.

I walked into the garage today and realized I had two perfect solutions. Not even looking, sitting right out on the counter in there, were several of those "watering saucers" (I'm sure there is an official name for these, but I have no idea what it is. So I relate it to tea.) And guess what else? I only had two sizes and each fit the plants that had been overflowing all this time. Coincidence? I think not. (Okay, maybe it is, but as a therapist and person who seeks meaning, I have decided it wasn't).

My epiphany was that within all the natural, beautiful, untapped potential of nature or our creativity or of our families and communities, the structure of a container can bring meaning and simplicity to the complexity of all of it. If you've been following my blogs, I've been trying to embrace the wild, unpredictable nature of it all. But it hadn't occurred to me that MAYBE the wild, unpredictable nature needs my structure and predictability to hold the elements it actually depends on to survive. Yowza.

So, here's where I landed with all of this. And, granted, this wasn't a lightening bolt of inspiration... this was a few-glasses-of-wine-with the-kids-in-bed kind of epiphany. Some guiding principles, all of which fit into how we raise our kids, our food and, generally, how we show up in the world. This might be my longest post yet!

Everything we do, every new venture we undertake, is infused with the following characteristics:

Freedom. We are not doing this out of obligation or martyrdom. We believe that we are free to make those choices we make, with our family, our food, our individual lives. We can choose something different. And THAT is liberating.

Creativity. We can live out the option that gives each of us the highest degree of self-expression, for no other reason than we have a duty to bring our voice into the world. Other people might not get what we are doing and that is TOTALLY okay. Actually, it makes it interesting!

Natural and organic. Not the food certification, but a broad-based way of living. That one thing naturally leads to another. Building on the natural strengths of the land, the animals and each of the people we work with. Unaltered. But not unrefined.

Simplicity. "Chop wood. Carry water." Not making things more complicated is actually THE way. Taking a solid foundation of old-fashioned knowledge and using that to the best of it's advantage with all that we have learned since then. Which might not actually be as much as we think.

Interconnectedness. Nurturing all of this in a way that supports our resources and putting those relationships at the center of what we do. Our relationship with the community and our community's relationship with their food. Our relationship with the animals and our commitment to giving them the best life possible, which is represented in our food. It's all connected.

Responsiveness. Not reactionary and not trendy. But truly responding to the needs of those around us. Our earth, our family, our animals, our members, our community. All of it. It is an experiential-based learning that cannot be read about or taught and, even at it's messiest, is a powerful tool.

Predictability. As much consistency as the wild alchemy of Mother Nature allows. When we can provide the best possible circumstances for nature to do it's thing and then create the space for that to actually happen, it's a beautiful thing. And to know that our animals, our land, or even our family and community can trust the safe structure we provide is our definition of good stewardship.

LESSONS FROM SAUERKRAUT--I'm just going to let this post do it's thing.

Piggy back.jpg

I have been obsessed lately with things  that produce themselves. Right now, right this moment in my kitchen, I am brewing kombucha, fermenting 5 gallons of sauerkraut, and bulk fermenting more loaves of sourdough bread than is rational. That feels kind of crazy and completely out of the blue. 

I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, it is not surprising at all that I am in love with processes that happen truly spontaneously. You see, one of my strongest traits is that I have a LOT of tools for making things happen. Many people who know me see me (for better and worse) as an agent of change... I make shit happen. It's is fun and empowering and has served me really well in my personal and professional life. It is also exhausting! And, ironically enough, my best and truest work as a human being happens when I simply don't have any tools left and I'm stripped down to my raw (and also pretty amazing) self. I get real and it's magical. It is a miracle that I can just let things happen; and whenever it happens, I. Love. It. And I am totally confident that this process is not, in any way, unique to me.

From the surprise party my girlfriends threw me for my birthday, to the 30 heads of cabbage I cut up (EVERYONE at the produce pick-up site could not imagine what I was doing with a case of cabbage!) and definitely to the flour and water that I left out on my counter (that my babysitter threw out one night as she was cleaning up the kitchen, so I started over :))--all of these things are happening IN SPITE of me. In fact, if I fucked with it at all, it would be destroyed. WHAT??! That is pretty exciting in my little world.

Another element that I have to agknowledge is the food fad of using fermented foods to heal your gut. As in, transforming your physical and physiological (and some say psychological!) health from the inside out. I've always been on board with the "you are what you eat" vein of thought... and sometimes I've been a gigantic bag of Cheetos. No shame. But using food to HEAL has intrigued me. Maybe even shook me to my core. And that's absolutely an intentional pun.

I believe that understanding and developing who we are at our CENTER, heals us. I'm a therapist for god's sake. And in the past several years, through the practice of yoga and a better understanding of how I believe the universe to work, I've taken that to many levels... through spirituality by surrounding myself with like-minded souls, through physical practice with my body, to the brain through meditation. But I never really considered the literal interpretation of healing from the inside out by creating and eating really specific foods, and certainly not rotting ones. This is definitely a newly-aquired taste. Maybe I'm on a quest.

I think it's my way of not only handling, but maybe even embracing, this turned-upside-down transition that our family has undergone since embarking on Black Market Farm. In so many ways, it's such a natural and organic evolution of our life philosophies. Anyone who has experience with animals and livestock knows that there's a LOT that is out of your control. Hell, I think my first encounter with that was parenting, right? In trying to create simple, natural food, there are a lot of complications. We are still in the process of creating a symbiotic relationship, and so is my fermenting food. 

And we are making progress. ALL the pigs now snuggle together with that HUGE mama and her babies, and several hens now roost on the sow's back and ride outside with her (literally piggy-back) every morning. When they all wandered down the road last week in search of a new mud wallow, Matt found them tucked back into their barn taking a nap that afternoon. Which is lucky because an 800-pound pig goes where she damn well pleases and herding her back into her pasture isn't something we attempt.

I am blown away by how much in our current life is best left by providing the most conducive environment and just allowing "it" to do it's thing. Our animals, this business, parenting our children, heck, even this blog that I am writing right now! That is terrifying, but also liberating. I think my life's work is to create the closest-to-ideal setting for the alchemy to happen and just let that shit do it's thing. And I have a hunch I'm not alone.

(A) New Life on the Ranch

Do you ever get the feeling that life is going to move on ahead, with or without you?


Our mama pig had her babies just a few days ago. It was very exciting and also resulted in a lost school day for AJ (dad was supposed to take him, but had to help deliver the babies!). She farrowed at least a week earlier than we expected, so when Matt walked down to do chores that morning, there were already three babies doing their thing, nursing on their HUGE mama. She had several more and everyone is doing just fine. Turns out, nature was going to do its thing with or without letting us in on the secret. And the miracle.

For us, adjusting to life on the ranch as a family has been a very similar experience. We just can’t quite get it together, in terms of planning or coordinating, but the animals and the kids and the ranch just keep on going. At this point, Matt, and our two youngest kids are out at the ranch nearly 100% of the time and AJ and I come out when we can and commute to Laramie on the weekdays. Or, because we've also built this beautiful life and community (not to mention my job and AJ's school!) here in Laramie, I gather all the kids together and have them in town with me. All in all, it means that we spend the night all together as a family no more than 3 nights each week. I'm not sure why I wasn't planning on that part, but I really didn't see it coming.

Granted, this is the height of the season for planning and infrastructure and well, actually launching this brand-new venture. And as I sit in town and miss my other two babies, or wish Matt and I could have some face-to-face time instead of hour-long phone calls after the kids are in bed, part of me thinks we are barely getting by. That this is a struggle and a hard life and nothing we would ever choose for ourselves. But another part of me can’t BELIEVE that Lucy is so lucky to spend all day, the last of her days before kindergarten next year, helping Matt with chores or picking up cows and pigs that she will help raise on the ranch. Or that Jude gets to show off his ranch and his animals to the bus full of students from Beitel Elementary that came out last week for a farm tour. A two year-old tour guide!

It’s all true, isn’t it? Life is messy and kind of hard and certainly we can make easier choices (and often do!). When we say that Black Market Farm is about a lifestyle, this is what we are talking about. And while we get to take on 100% of the growing pains, we also get to take advantage of the amazing return on our investment. For every missed school day and failed perfect parenting attempt, there are filthy, dirty kids who were outside ALL DAY. For every hour of hauling straw, putting sunscreen on the pigs' backs or worrying about the new piglets, there is an hour of no emails, no reports and no one to answer to, but our family and our animals.

Sustainability is something we think about every day. For our animals, for our relationships and for our family. Life is full of trade offs: consistency for freedom, predictability for flexibility, convenience for simplicity. We all make a thousand decisions a day where something makes the cut and something else falls away. This is our new life. And we are grateful to be sharing it with you.