Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ode to a Tomato (And a Way of Life)

On impulse the other day, I pulled over to a roadside farm stand not very far from my new home.  Handpainted signs proclaimed "Farm Fresh Produce" and "HEIRLOOM Tomatoes."  As I approached the small open barn, a young man got up from his folding beach chair where he was reading in the sun to greet me.  Inspecting his meager offerings -- the promised heirlooms, some regular garden tomatoes, and a few squashes (it is the end of the season, after all, so the pickings are naturally slim) -- we got to chatting, and I learned about the farm and received a local history lesson in the process.

It turns out that this whole area used to be pear orchards.  The farmer's grandfather purchased hundreds of acres years ago, where he raised cattle.  But long before that, the property was a Pony Express outpost.  Still there are the Pony Express' hand-dug well and forge.  I don't know why I find this so extraordinarily cool (The Pony Express!  For real!  They were right down the road!), but I do.  The forge building is now used by the farmer's brother for auto repair, and except for the anvil which still remains, the original forge tools now grace the living room walls of various of the farmer's relatives.

There's only 25 acres of the family parcel left now.  The young farmer has long wanted to be an organic farmer, and recently he decided to try to make a go of it.  He says the locals have been supportive, and he plans on expanding his vegetable offerings and wants to plant a fruit orchard.  I sure hope he's successful.  Preserving farm land (especially small-scale and organic), agricultural communities, and access to quality food is something that's dear to my heart. 

Arriving home, I sliced up one of those tomatoes and took a bite.  They were nothing like the tomato imposters found at the grocery store; these were imperfect, knobby and blemished, like many a home-grown tomato.  But they tasted like a tomato should:  of the fading summer, the rich earth, and a young man's dreams.  Actually, they were perfect.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Day at the Fair (Or, Fleeces Happen)

I should be packing, but I'd much rather cop to the little falling down I had at the county fair a few weeks back. 

Each year, our local spinners' and weavers' guild puts on a sheep-to-shawl demonstration outside of the livestock building at the fair.  Guild members turn out in force to card, spin, and ply wool (which was washed and hand-dyed in advance by a guild member) into yarn and then weave it into a beautiful shawl, which is later auctioned off by the farmers to raise funds for various causes.  My job is typically to card -- a task I enjoy, with the added bonus that it frees me up early to go see the sights, such as this:

I really want one of these.

My favorite part of the fair is the animals. 

There are beautiful sheep.

Nothing beats a chin scratch.
And charming goats.

The only thing cuter than a goat is a baby goat.

A tour of the livestock pens provides a great opportunity to meet the shepherds and talk wool.  Which may result in this. 

A trunk full of fleeces.  There may be a few six in there.
There are some exceptional Cotswold lamb fleeces in those bags.  And some beautiful Shetlands.
Hey, they're for professional purposes!  New blends in the works!  It's justified!!

So, back to the spinning demo.  A big gathering of spinners means a big gathering of spinning wheels.  It's fun to check out all the different kinds of wheels, and this year Down Under was well represented. 

A Wendy wheel from New Zealand.

An Ettrick Windwheel from Australia. 
This is an older wheel with an iron pulley (they're now made out of wood). 

One clever spinner put socks on her wheel's treadles.  Isn't this cute?

There were lots of spinners this year, and they provided plenty of yarn to keep our weaver, Chris, busy at the loom.  The shawl took shape quickly, and by the afternoon, it was ready.

The shawl in process.  I love the gorgeous fall colors -- Susie worked some magic in the dye pots.

The completed shawl, modeled by the lovely Annie.

Don't you think this would look perfect in my new front yard?

It was a great day at the fair.  Next year, I'll be in a new county and will have a new fair to explore.  I hope they have sheep-to-shawl demos also.  Until then, I have some fleece to attend to.