Initial Earthworks

Had a spare 30 minutes left on the mini-excavator we rented to put in the front swales and decided to try an 'ad-hoc' duck pond.  I've seeded the fill from that pond with Comfrey (bocking 14), Jerusalem Artichoke, cilantro, and a dent corn.  The feature will serve multiple purposes.  It will serve as a duck pond as we add ducks, and possibly geese to our flocks.  It allows us to trial another 'Seed Mix' for recently constructed swales in high clay high organic matter soils.  If it performs well, it is of the size to be able to supply a years worth of on-farm mix for swale expansion next year.  In the back of the photo are two artic kiwis with an autumn olive in between.  The cages and agribon are to protect from browsing and wind.  To the right of the pic above the shovel are the flags marking our first apple tree guild.  I still owe you guys a post about the front swale system and the apple tree guild.


We've Got Chickens!

Oh it feels good to be back to farming. In early January we received 100 assorted brown egg layers from Murray McMurray Hatchery. It has been 1.5 years since we last had chickens and we have been missing having a constant supply of yummy, nutritious eggs. After a month of staying warm and growing up in the basement, the chicks were moved to the barn to their new digs. And once this neverending winter finally says goodbye, the chicks will head out to pasture to eat all the delicious grass and bugs that help give their eggs that incredible orange yolk. We will supplement with certified organic grain from Lakeview Organic Grain. Although this will increase the price of our eggs, we think it's important to feed our animals grain that has no GMOs and is grown without synthetic pesticides or chemicals. The little ladies should start producing eggs by the end of May -- hopefully sooner!

The brand new chicks stay warm in the basement thanks an infrared lights.
The teenage chicks check out the new barn space.
Kaylee loves the chickens and  gives them daily "rides."
Stack of organic grain 



We have a whole lot to be grateful for during these past two months. We have had a variety to people come to our aid and help get this house up and running before the baby arrived. It's been incredible and this post is our opportunity to give them a major shout out as well as update everyone on the house.

But first, we have to introduce our little man. James Warren Lawler was born on February 19, 2014 at 4:08 p.m. at our midwives' home/office (which was planned). He weighed in at 8 lbs, 6 oz and 21 inches long. He is adorable and we are in love and his big sister absolutely adores him.

Ok, now the shout outs.

As I mentioned on Facebook several weeks ago, the South Buffalo-based Occhino Corp. heard about our story through a mutual farmer veteran. With the impending baby, they wanted to help get our bathroom up and running. They sent three guys out and in two days we had a working bathroom complete with a toilet, sink, bathtub and HOT WATER! Oh sweet hot water how we've missed you. I can't even tell you how many baths I took in our awesome Craigslist clawfoot tub. And one of these days we'll finish off the dry wall and paint the walls and add some storage...but that's all gravy. It's a little hard to photograph the bathroom, but you get the idea.

At the same time, another fellow farmer veteran (I'm telling you, farmer veterans rock) recommended that we contact the non-profit Work Vessels for Veterans to see if they could help us get a donated tractor. We crossed our fingers that they may have access to a used one, but didn't get our hopes up. After sending them our business plan and other documents, we chatted on the phone and these guys immediately went into action. They first were concerned about the lack of infrastructure in our house and how that could detract from our inaugural farming season. They wanted to help get us up and running and requested a priority list of the main tasks that still needed to be done. Say what?!

They hired Advanced Septic Service to finish up the septic system. The tank is connected to the house, but the absorption beds still need to be completed. They'll come out and finish the job once these ridiculous temps go away and the snow melts, which should theoretically be soon.

Then they hired Occhino Corp.(we wanted to give them the business since they helped us so much) to install a boiler and baseboard heating system. My dad provided the boiler, his former company, DBM Controls, supplied some parts, and Occhino gave us a great deal on the rest the parts and installation. After spending a week at our house, they completed the installation the Friday before James was born. It was so nice to bring a newborn home and not have to worry about building a fire in a freezing cold house.

In the meantime, Brett was able to focus on getting our kitchen sink and dishwasher up and running. Still a little rough, but it's functional! We need to add the freshly painted doors and drawers to the sink cabinet and do some sort of backsplash and open shelves above the sink. Oh and replace the current plywood countertop. But now all we care about is that we can easily wash dishes in our own house!

The majority of our systems are up and running, which honestly makes a huge difference in our day to day life. And man, do we appreciate each shower, peeing in a proper toilet, running the dishwasher, washing our hands with WARM water, and the sound of the boiler kicking in at 5:30 a.m. so the house isn't frigid when we wake up. When you live without these basic things for months, it's amazing how grateful you are to have them.

It's overwhelming and humbling when people come together to help you achieve your dream.

All we can do is say thank you. And we will pay it forward one day.


Four Month Update

It has been four months since we moved onto the farm. Four months and we still don't have hot water (or propane set up to heat that water), a working sink (we fill up our water from the basement), a bath/shower, or a proper kitchen.

BUT...we have a working toilet. And that, my friends, is the exciting news around here. And it was just in time for Christmas. I'll take that over any present under the tree.

The inaugural flush handled by Kaylee
Yes, we waaayyy underestimated how much time this all was going to take. Getting electricity, water lines, and septic installed was a huge undertaking. Weather delayed us a bunch and then there's the fact that Brett is teaching himself a lot of this stuff. Not to mention it's a lot more expensive then we planned, although we are still saving a ton of money doing it mostly ourselves, getting help from family, and being thrifty with our purchases.

Plus, with the winter weather in full force, we've (and by we I mean Brett) spent a lot of time chopping and loading wood, building wood fires every morning, plowing the driveway, weatherproofing...all this little stuff that takes time. And although we have plugs and lights, lighting is still limited making evening work on the difficult side.

It's cold, but it sure is pretty.
But with six weeks to go in this pregnancy, we are very close to having a fully functioning bathroom, which is the only thing I truly want by the time this baby comes. Bonuses would include a working kitchen sink, dishwasher (oh it's been so long sweet dishwasher), and a working laundry room.

On the farm front, we've actually had a lot of really great things this past month and a half.

Thanks to the Farmer Veteran Coalition, we attended the Empowering Women Veterans Conference in Louisville, KY. I was able to attend as the spouse of a veteran and Brett came along as a volunteer. It was an intense conference, but full of great sessions and we met so many awesome people who are now lifelong friends.
At the conference we had the opportunity to see the premiere of
Terra Firma, a documentary about three incredible female farmer veterans.
We had a super successful Teespring campaign! Thanks to everyone who supported our cause by purchasing our shirt. We needed to sell 200 shirts to be fully funded and we sold 220. We were particularly surprised at the variety of people that supported us -- former colleagues, old friends, and neighbors in Texas, friends and former customers in Pittsburgh, fellow farmer veterans, near and far family members, friends from high school for both of us, and various other people we've never even met! The proceeds will be used for farm purchases like our 100 laying hens that arrive at the end of this month, seeds, and other start-up supplies.

Our hilarious former neighbor in Texas posing in his new shirt.
We found out at the end of last week that we've been accepted into the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NY)'s Journeyperson Program. This is a two-year program geared toward beginner farmers that provides a paid farmer mentor, educational and business stipends, and a lot of general support and networking opportunities. We are honored to be chosen as one of five recipients in the state.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review did a story on veterans becoming entrepreneurs and featured Brett's story. Check out the full article here:

There's a couple other opportunities that I don't want to publicly mention just yet, but will be a huge help if/when they come to fruition. Here's to an exciting and successful 2014!



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