get in touch with the landSpring has finally arrived. At least the spring equinox has passed. I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. Looking forward to sharing the homestead life with you. Today it’s about “getting in touch with the land”.

Today’s Show

  • Homestead Life Updates
  • What Does It Mean To “Get in Touch with The Land?”
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Homestead Life Updates

Retraining cows

Now that spring is approaching, we are preparing to begin the milking cycle once again. I’m excited. I can’t wait. Milking the cows is one of the great pleasures of our homestead life. Every fall we stop milking the cows. That causes the cow’s milk to dry up. This step in husbanding our animals is important. We want to make sure that each cow has the energy reserves she needs to feed her developing calf. After she has her calf, she has lots and lots of milk – more than her calf needs, and milking begins.

Before that date, it’s important to get the cows back into the habit of walking to the milking shed every day. They need to be reacquainted with that process. To fulfill that need, we have started walking them up to the milking shed every day. It has gone pretty well so far. They get there just fine. It’s the part that comes next that we will be working on diligently for the next week or so. It has been a while since they’ve actually been inside the milking shed. There are some unfamiliar aspects to the milking shed. And then there are those that have never been in the milking shed. We’ll get them there with a little practice.

The Milking Shed

Last year we erected a newer version of our temporary milking shed. We used it the previous year in the only flat place nearby the corral. Scott even ran power out there. Unfortunately, the corral area is also a lowland area and a lot of rain water flows through there. Not a problem if you only use it occasionally. Twice a day for milking is a different story. We were trudging through mud. All. The. Time. The temporary floor of the milking shed was a few sheets of plywood. That was fine as long as you didn’t step off the plywood. Everything around the area was deep mud, made deeper by the weight of those cows.

Last year Scott moved the ShelterLogic Shed-in-a-box structure to higher ground and made a small animal loafing area to hold the cows while two were in the shed. It was level and he made sure the water would flow around it. We didn’t need the plywood floor. Or so we thought. There is always a lesson when using temporary structures. Afterall, we evolved our permanent structures based on each previous need.

The Concrete Pad in the Milking Shed

A few days ago, Scott poured a concrete pad under that shelter. It took him a day of very hard work. It’s beautiful and will serve us well this season. But why did we need it? Last year we milked one cow. This year we will be milking 5. Here are the basics of how that works.

Under the shed are two spaces for cows to be milked. They walk in and put their heads into a stanchion. We secure their heads which keeps us all safe during the milking process. The milk cows get two handfuls of a sweet treat during the milking season to keep their health at a maximum while they produce lots of milk. Once they finish that, they start working on the hay. Everybody stays calm and content. Once the milking is done, they return to the rest of the herd hanging out in a small pen just outside.

The Milking Process

So why did we need the concrete pad? One of the lovely things about having animals is their freedom to express themselves at any time and anywhere. The shear amount of feces and urine from 5 cows on that dirt floor would be overwhelming. The way it worked last year was that we might go days without one of the cows practicing the eliminating of waste with abandon. Then again, it may happen day after day, twice a day. We were putting down lime in large amounts.

So, the concrete pad, while taking way a day from Scott’s working on the creamery, was well worth the investment. I can’t imagine the mess 5 cows would have made had we done it the same way as last year. The concrete pad is slightly slanted. Scott being the genius that he is, also made sure of a path for washing away the mess. I feel blessed and can’t wait to give it a go. Last year I had to balance my stool on tree roots.

Calves and Other Animals

No news on when the birth of the first calf might be. We are watching and watching.

Other animal news, the two young goat kids spend a great deal of time outside of the fence. We don’t worry about that because they just go back in as needed. The flock of sheep, the herd of goats and two donkeys moved into the garden area to graze the grass down before the garden gets going and they are not allowed in there.

The Garden

We took the plastic covers off of the raised beds today. Yay, I can plant. Well, as soon as it warms up just a little bit more. We’re right on the edge. I’m ready. The plants I have started inside are ready. Come on weather. Get with it!

And that brings me to the topic of the day.

What Does it Mean to “Get in Touch with the Land”?

The first thing I want to talk about is the movement of the seasons. The extremes of the summer and winter solstice and the balance in the middle with the spring and fall equinox.

Winter

The force of nature is immense. The universe is immense. Everything about our world outside of the shelter of our homes is untamable and works on its own schedule. Let’s take a look at this past winter.

It has been a long and hard winter, not just for us, but for many throughout the country. Major snow, deep cold, and the flooding accompanying the interminable rains. Here in southwest Virginia we have been blessed with the first dry spell since August last year. It’s the first time since August that we haven’t had rain each and every week. Sometimes torrential rains for days on end. Heck, we had to alter the pathway we bring the cows to the barn. Their usual pathway went through the creek bed. Only the creek bed has been flooded countless times since late last summer. With seven 1,000-pound cows trudging through it day after day to get water, it became a quagmire of mud. Bringing them back and forth twice a day for milking looked like a nightmare in the making.

Yay It’s Dry!

We have been blessed with a week of dry weather. It’s not something we had any control over and we are grateful for the break. Many in the Plains states continue to suffer the ravages of the weather flooding their lands.

Why would anyone want to do this on purpose? Why would anyone do this knowing that nature was going to slap us hard from time to time. I can answer that in 5 words. It makes us feel alive. It’s all about life and death and the continuous cycle of the seasons. The continuous cycle of death and rebirth that gives us a deep appreciation for the life we have as well as the gifts of our family. We appreciate the gifts of our plants and animals.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The seasons move on a rhythm and winter flowed toward spring. I commonly experience seasonal affective disorder. For me it usually begins some time in January. For others, it can start as early as late fall before the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. The depths of darkness.

The season of winter is a time of everything shutting down. Outside the world becomes more immobile. The animals cluster together. The water freezes. The trees spend their time growing underground where the temperature is stable. Above the ground they look dead.

As the winter wears on I become more lethargic, less active, and quite dull. This is an inner experience I’m describing. Outwardly, life goes on. Tasks are completed if more slowly. Stuff gets gone. Because, after all, the globe is still spinning on its axis and time keeps going. But as it goes on and on, each day I would feel a heavier load pressing down on me.

This year my perspective was different. I’m here “in touch with the land” and I think it made a difference. Even though I could feel the pressure of hunkering down, I was not quite as profoundly affected by it. And the day it changed was profound.

Spring Has Sprung

I woke up on Thursday morning, the day after the vernal equinox, and I felt great. For no particular reason, I felt great. And I knew it was over. Winter is over. The winds are blowing very strongly today on a day cooler than normal for this time of year. It doesn’t matter. My heart and soul know that the time of hibernation is over. Spring is here.

I don’t really know what it’s like for others that live farther south where the trees and flowers have been blooming for a week or two or more. Did they feel it all the way up to the first day of spring? I don’t know what its like for those farther north still in the depths of frozen snow and ice. Do they feel it? Even though they may not see it for weeks, do they feel it?

In truth, we have a week or two before we can expect truly spring-like weather. We could easily get another snow. But it doesn’t matter. The globe has turned in its endless journey around the sun. The moment when the center of the sun is directly above the equator is past. The hours of daylight continue to lengthen. The daffodils are blooming. Our peach, plum, and cherry trees are blooming in the orchard. We have starting the journey toward summer.

Summer

At the peak of summer, our tolerance for the heat has likely begun to wane. The extreme of the solstice will now take its toll. Will we get enough rain? Even though we were flooded for months and months, we will need rain during the summer to keep our animals and crops hydrated. The cycle of life and death is there in every season.

This is what it means to be in touch with the land. We are close to life and we are close to death every day. We are reminded daily of the wonder of life and the fragility of life. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? That connection with the natural cycle of life and death and the wonder that is creation. I strive to be filled with awe in every waking moment. It’s pretty easy in spring, summer and fall.

Getting in Touch with Modern Technology

Sure, I get distracted by Twitter and Facebook and the latest cooking gadget. These are great things that have made our lives easier. Each invention throughout history came to fulfill a need. And each one brings with it the opportunity make life easier, safer, more uniform. Today, in the US, the lowliest person has a better chance of surviving to old age than the average person of 100 years ago. In the early 1900s disease was still rampant and modern medicine was in its infancy. The nationwide transportation system had yet to be built. People were closer to their food source by necessity. You just couldn’t get fresh food as far across the country before it was no longer fresh. All of that changed rapidly throughout the 1900s.

The more we got mechanized, the less we had to worry about the fickleness of mother nature and the cycles of the calendar. And the more distance we placed between ourselves and death.

Nature is Ruthless and We are Humbled

Nature is hard. Nature is ruthless. Being in touch with the land and living close to that knowledge gives me the sense of my place in the world. I am such a small speck in the larger planet and universe. Isn’t that what it means to “get in touch with nature”? Isn’t that what we seek? When the facts of death are thrown in our face daily, it gives us the deepest respect for life. We know that we are alive. We are grateful to be alive. Obsession with our creature comforts and personal issues becomes small and petty. We are focused on something much greater than ourselves.

It’s taking that thought into the activities of our daily lives that makes the difference. You know, we spend a lot of time creating food here. In that process, we experience a great deal of love for our animals and we put in a lot of work hours into supporting them. We care for their lives. These are domesticated animals. Their lives are in our hands. We work hard for them. The amount of effort we put into providing the best possible environment for them is worth the effort we put forth. Our investment of blood, sweat and tears is what makes us all more human.

Support Local Farmers

As we share our stories, the opportunity for you or anyone else to participate abounds. You don’t have to be the one putting in the effort required to make it all work. But you can be the one that supports the ideal of nurturing ourselves via nurtured plants and animals. It doesn’t have to be all factory farming and monocropping. Your support for the local farmers in your area brings a little bit of peace to the world.

Sometimes we feel like we don’t make a difference. It’s easy to change that. It’s easy to teach your kids to know they make a difference in the world. Connect with your local farmers. Visit their farms when they offer tours. Make sure your kids can play in the dirt of a farm garden. Let them pet the smaller animals and watch with awe from a safe distance the larger animals grazing peacefully. Let your children know that these are not just beautiful plants and animals, but the sustenance that keeps us all alive. What an awesome responsibility we have in caring for our plants and animals so they may feed and take care of us.

Keep your ears peeled for when we offer farm tours. It’s coming.

We are all just small specks in the enormity of the universe. And we are all integral specks in the creation and maintenance of it all.  Well, I just went on waxing poetically there. Let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about today’s recipe. How about an ooey gooey grilled cheese sandwich.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe

If you’re going to enjoy cheese, I can think of no better way than melted on some toasted bread slathered with butter. A grilled cheese sandwich is simple to make but improvements can always be made. This recipe will give you the confidence to make your grilled cheese sandwich spectacular. Here are some tips for making that perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

4 Tips for the Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Tip #1: Use a really great bread. I have some great bread recipes that will be coming along shortly. For now, you might want to visit your local farmer’s market. I don’t think I’ve seen one in a long time that didn’t have some local lady making some awesome bread. You can experiment with whole grain varieties, sourdough, or pumpernickel. Experiment to your hearts content. Just make sure its not sliced too thick and doesn’t have a lot of holes. Otherwise you either don’t have enough cheese to bread ratio or the cheese leaks out. Yikes.

Tip #2: Using butter is great but have you tried mayo? Usually we use butter on the outsides for sure. Sometimes we butter the insides as well. But what if we used mayo on the outside and butter on the inside – or vise versa? Mayo is basically oil, eggs, and a splash of vinegar. The oil browns the bread really nicely when used on the outside and the vinegar adds a bit of tang.

Tip #3: Use the right cheese. American cheese melts really well, but man o man is it boring compared to other choices. You definitely want a cheese that melts well. Just about any aged cheese will work well, with the exception of really hard cheeses like parmesan. So, gouda, cheddar, gruyere, fontina, and so on. Look for availability of our Clau d’ ville Aged Cheddar, Ararat Legend washed-curd cheese and Pinnacle alpine-style cheeses this summer at the Farmer’s market in Wytheville.

Tip #4: Cook it slow. Keep the heat in the medium to medium-low range. You want the bread to toast at the same rate the cheese melts. You definitely don’t want to burn the bread before the cheese is fully melted. Press is firmly with a spatula. You can even put a heavy pan on top of it while it cooks. That pressure is going to give you that super crispy crust.

What You Need

1/3 cup (3 oz) of cheese per sandwich, sliced or grated

2 slices of bread per sandwich

1 Tbs Butter per sandwich

1 Tbs Mayonnaise per sandwich

What to do

  1. Apply butter or mayo to one side of the bread. Flip it over and apply butter or mayo to the other side. Lay it on a plate. Lay the cheese on top of the bread. Lay the cheese on top of the bread. Apply butter and mayo in the same way on the second slice of bread. Lay it on top to complete the sandwich. Repeat to assemble all sandwiches.
  2. Heat your grill or frying pan to medium-low. You can raise the temperature to medium if your cheese is melting rapidly enough.
  3. Place the sandwiches in the pan. Grill until lightly browned and flip over. Continue grilling until cheese is melted and bread is browned on the second side. Press down with a spatula to get a crispy panini bread crust.

Final Thoughts

No matter the size of your household, you can get in touch with the land. From container gardens of herbs on your balcony to a full-blown backyard garden, from a great relationship with your family and pets to a backyard chicken coop and goat pen, there are opportunities to view nature in all her glory. Take the time to just gaze with awe and remember how small we are in the larger scheme of things. Use that awe to inspire you to do something for someone else. Use random acts of kindness to show appreciation for the wonder of life that exists all around us, every day. All we have to do is look.

I hope you’ll take time to enjoy that grilled cheese sandwich with close friends and family. You’ll find the recipe on our website. www.peacefulheartfarm.com Sign up for our email list. I send out a newsletter each week with easy links to the recipes. Included will be the link to the latest podcast. You’ll also find links to articles about cheese in the news.

Remember, getting in touch with the land by making a huge investment in a homestead is not required. Simply get in touch with someone who is in touch with the land. Listen to their story. Embrace their story. Live vicariously through them. Make their story your own via your friendship and custom. Understand what it takes to be close to the land. Understand the immensity of nature. Your farmer will share that with you. In that sharing lies your connection to the land.

As always, I’m here to help you “taste the traditional touch.”

Thank you so much for listening and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

Recipe Link

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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