Farm Blog

Bonnie’s Last Calf

Bonnie’s Last Calf

On March 31, about 12:30 p.m., with the sun shining bright and a cold north wind blowing, our beloved Jersey milk cow Bonnie gave birth to a bull calf.  We knew she was close by the way she had removed herself from the rest of 

Praise the Lard

Praise the Lard

Lard is just one of the healthy fats we use in our farm kitchen.  We need multiple choices because different cooking methods and heat levels require different fats.   It’s well known that scorching, smoking fat is not a healthy cooking method.  Choose the right fat 

A Very Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

A Very Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

This recipe was used for a recent supper and the leftovers were perfect for a hot lunch the next day. The recipe makes a generous 9″ x 13″ pan of pure comfort food. The dish comes together quickly and makes a warming dish for a cold winter evening.

This is traditionally a meat and potatoes dish but we love our vegetables so the recipe includes plenty.   Feel free to blur the lines on the amounts for each veggie.   We use a full glass quart Pyrex of diced raw roots, onion and celery to saute with the meat.

We’ve made Shepherd’s Pie with any combination of ground beef, lamb and pork.  We like using two different kinds of meat for best flavor.

For the meat mixture:

1 lb. BBF ground beef

1 lb. BBF ground pork

1 ½ tsp. salt

Fresh ground pepper

2 tsp granulated garlic

1 cup diced organic carrot

1 cup diced organic celery

1/4 cup diced Laura’s Flat Leaf Parsley

1 cup diced organic onion

1 cup diced organic rutabaga (sub diced turnip, kohlrabi or celeriac)

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

2 tsp minced Laura’s fresh Rosemary

1 – 7 oz jar organic tomato paste

1/2 – 3/4 cup beef or chicken stock to deglaze

1 bag frozen organic peas

For the topping:

10 med organic potatoes, washed, peeled, and cut in half

3 Tbs. organic Butter

1 cup grated McCluskey Sharp or Mild Cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet and add ground meat, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  Brown meat, chopping up into small pieces.  When meat is no longer pink, use a slotted spoon and transfer meat to a bowl leaving leftover fat still in the skillet.  Add vegetables to the skillet, season with salt, and cook on medium/low heat until tender.  Add water or stock, cover and steam vegetables, if needed, to tenderize veggies without browning too much.

When veggies are tender, add the meat back to the skillet along with the tomato paste.  Combine well and cook mixture a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Add stock and frozen peas, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn off.

Add potatoes to a big pot and cover with water.  Bring potatoes to a boil and simmer gently until tender.  Drain all but 1/2 – 3/4 cup water.  Mash potatoes with remaining cooking water, butter, cheese, and lots of salt and pepper.

Transfer meat mixture to a glass 9×13 baking dish, set on a rimmed baking sheet.  Add mashed potatoes on top and smooth with a spatula.  Bake the dish in a 400 degree oven for about 40 min or until it’s bubbly around the edges and potatoes are lightly browned.  Cool at least 10 mins before serving.

Tip for rewarming:  Cut Shepherd’s Pie into individual pieces and place in 325 oven for 20 minutes.

Beet Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs and Mustard Parsley Dressing

Beet Salad with Hard-Boiled Eggs and Mustard Parsley Dressing

This recipe has become a favorite in our house.  It is inspired by the Beet Salad with Poppy Seed + Chive Dressing from the cookbook Now and Again by Julia Turshen.  She is amazing! 2 ½ lbs beets, washed, greens removed and set aside 2 

Jam Thumbprints – A Cookie Classic

Jam Thumbprints – A Cookie Classic

Even though we’re addicted to our wholesome organic food, we can always make exception for an excellent, homemade organic cookie.   This is a classic cookie recipe, tried and true.   Make your cookies with the best ingredients and you will taste the difference – organic ingredients 

Gypsy Soup

Gypsy Soup

From a well worn copy of the Moosewood Cookbook, Lucy found this delicious and very easy soup recipe.  It’s a perfect soup for fall when gardeners are harvesting the last of this and that.  We enjoyed this recipe so much, we made it twice in one week!   Great way to use fall red and green tomatoes that aren’t as sweet but sure taste good stewed in a soup.


We kept it vegetarian, but if you want to use meat in the recipe, it would be excellent with ground pork dumplings.  Take well seasoned raw ground pork and drop in by the spoonful into hot broth.  The raw pork will slip off the spoon into the hot broth.   The dumplings cook quickly – 2 -3 minutes but be sure to keep soup at a very low simmer so meat doesn’t break apart.


3-4 T Olive Oil
2 c chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 c chopped sweet potato, winter squash and/or carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery or chard stems
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1 T fresh parsley, basil or oregano
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1 T tamari or good quality soy sauce
1 – 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, green, red or some combination
3/4 c chopped peppers
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock


In soup pot, saute onions, garlic, celery and sweet potato, squash or carrots in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Add seasonings and stock and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and chickpeas. Simmer another 30 minutes – until all the vegetables are tender. Serve hot with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.
Chicken Vegetable Soup

Chicken Vegetable Soup

No sooner does the weather cool down and we’re making soup.   It may seem daunting at first, but if you make homemade, broth based soup a few times, you will get quite good at pulling together something pretty wonderful in a reasonable amount of time.  

Curried Red Lentils with Coconut Milk and Vegetables

Curried Red Lentils with Coconut Milk and Vegetables

Curried Red Lentils with Coconut Milk From Small Victories by Julia Turshen This recipe has become a favorite dish in our house and there are rarely leftovers. It’s simple, the flavors are delicious and a bowl of this warm curry is perfect for cooler fall nights.  Plus, it’s a 

Molasses Barbecue Sauce

Molasses Barbecue Sauce

Easy recipe that delivers excellent flavor for your next barbecue.  There is no need to buy BBQ sauce with undesirable ingredients when you can so easily make this delicious sauce in 10 minutes.

From the most excellent cookbook, Small Victories by Julia Turshen.

1/2 cup molasses

4 garlic cloves, finely minced or crushed in mortar and pestle (our preference)

4 T Dijon Mustard ( we use our own homemade Grainy Mustard)

4 T Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tsp smoked paprika (do not substitute, this is a must for the recipe)

2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.   That’s it!  Store in glass jar in refrigerator.  Keeps for a very long time – delicious on BBF Grilled Chicken and Pork Chops.

Chioggia Beet Salad with Lime and Mint

Chioggia Beet Salad with Lime and Mint

This raw beet salad really shows off the striking colors of these gorgeous roots.  Chioggias are a mild beet that love the flavors used in this salad.  Thank our Lucy for another original winning recipe – a perfect light summer salad. Chioggia Beet roots  Green 

I Can Bake, Roast, Grate, Pickle, Ferment – What Am I?

I Can Bake, Roast, Grate, Pickle, Ferment – What Am I?

The answer to the question is one of our favorite root vegetables – BEETS! If you aren’t a fan of beets, I’m here to tell you a recipe exists for this humble root that will change your mind.   Sure, you may not enjoy a homemade 

Building, Bonding & The Beatles

Building, Bonding & The Beatles

Building a chicken hoophouse has been just an idea for years.   We had intended to build something similar to expand our smaller, traditional chicken house at the Wyoming farm but it was always put off.

During 2019, our first full year living here at the Chillicothe farm, we cobbled together what we needed to raise our meat chickens from baby chicks to 9 week old full size broilers.  We no longer had the sturdy, but small, chicken house left behind at the Wyoming farm.  We made it work but it was quite clear this spring was the right time to finally build the hoophouse.

The idea was a 20′ x 40′ hoophouse, covered in white plastic (blocks out 50% sunlight to keep it cooler) split inside between a brooder for baby chicks needing extra heat and TLC and the teenagers – chickens past the tender stage – about 3-4 weeks old.   The chicks would start on the brooder side, move to the teenage side and then out the door to the pastures to finish until they are 9 weeks old.   The design will keep the chicks safe from predators, give them plenty of room to grow and make our work easier and more enjoyable.

On April 22, after a month of on and off work, the chicken house was finally completed.   Not a moment too soon!!  Less than 24 hours later on April 23, the house was populated with 400 2-day old chicks and 400 three week old chicks that arrived on the farm April 2.

The work began March 22 just about the time the COVID-19 situation got serious here in Illinois.   We’ll remember building this hoophouse with Lucy, Susannah and Laura as we sheltered in place.  It was the 5 of us who tackled every step of this project and the girls were champion throughout the whole thing.   Yes, of course, we’re biased but you just couldn’t ask for a better team.

And, the soundtrack to this project?   The Beatles.   In early March, we watched the Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week.  It’s been Beatlemania in our house ever since.   Not too many moments went by during the building of this hoophouse when someone wasn’t singing a Beatles song or talking Beatles trivia to anyone who would listen.

Here’s a look back at how it came together.

March 22

Looking at the first photo, our building site for the hoophouse looks rather rough after the laying hens overwintered in the area.    Deep straw bedding lies on the ground and the hens are still allowed in the area.  Late March and it’s still cold and wet. But, we break ground with Anita digging 4 holes for the corner posts that will be set in concrete.   It’s snowing but the work is enjoyable, the ground is soft, the digging easy, and we’re excited to finally move forward.



April 5

Sunnier skies and warmer weather to pound the ground posts in to hold the hoops.  All the pipe used for the hoophouse is 10′ top rail sold for chain link fence.   It works well for hoophouses, too.    Brian cuts ground posts with a diagonal cut on the end and Susannah and Laura pound in all the posts but one.   Brian had to put in at least one.   The corner posts are set in concrete and allowed to cure.   Then, on to the hoops.   Each hoop is made of 3 pieces of 10′ top rail.  We use a hoop bender to bend each piece of top rail and then screw the 3 pieces together to form a complete hoop.  Susannah and Laura easily move each hoop into place sliding each end onto the ground posts.  It’s starting to look like a hoophouse.


April 10

Susannah and Laura continue working with Brian to install 2 x 6 baseboards screwed into the ground posts and 2 x 4 hip boards to stabilize the hoops.   The girls are handy with the cordless drill and install all the u-channel along the base boards.  The u-channel is a piece of aluminum that will hold the future plastic covering in place with a stiff zig zag wire called wiggle wire.   The wire embeds the plastic in the u-channel and makes an incredibly strong connection.

Using the tractor bucket as a lift, Anita and Brian work together installing the purlins – more top rail pieces running the length of the hoophouse for strength and stabilizing the hoops.   Three sets of purlins are installed.   We want this hoophouse sturdy and strong!

Amid all the work, Rascal stays close by but is obviously completely bored with the project.


April 11

Hoophouse work and Beatlemania continues.  There will always be some downtime as Brian cuts pipe, wood or just collects tools and materials.  Susannah and Laura keep busy by penning Beatles lyrics down the side of the hip board.   There were several feet of lyrics.  Can you name these two songs?


April 20

With all the pieces in place, we wait for perfectly calm weather to cover the house in plastic.

And, that comes on Monday, April 20.   It’s crystal clear blue skies and our pond is a sheet of glass.  No wind.  Perfect conditions.

The 5 of us convene early at the hoophouse along with Look-a-Like kitty who claims top step on the ladder for the exciting show.  He’s been supervising us for the whole project. We roll out the 36 x 48 piece of 6 mil white plastic, tie lines in a few places on the leading edge and then gently ease the big sheet over the hoops.   It comes over easily and then the work begins securing the plastic in place with the u-channel and wiggle wire system.   We work carefully but quickly worried the expected wind will build at any moment.  There’s a lot of pulling tight this way and that way in order to get the piece as wrinkle free and tight as possible – it hurts the fingers and hands.    After a couple hours, the plastic is safely secured and we can have a bit of breakfast and fresh cup of joe.  Big relief!

Bella was also on hand to watch the show but is obviously completely bored with the project.



April 20

Getting the big piece of plastic on the house is a big step forward but there is still plenty to do.   And, we’ve got chicks coming in just a couple days.   Next step is to frame the end walls and install more u-channel so we can cover the end walls in plastic.   We also turn our attention to the inside and install half sheets of plywood along the baseboard along with chicken wire to prevent birds from getting stuck between baseboard and plastic.   One thing we have learned over the years – there are infinite ways a chicken can bring about it’s own death.   Ways we never thought were possible.   We have to think like a chicken!   Where can they get stuck?  Where are the pitfalls?   Using staple gun and cordless drill, the girls make the inside snug, tight and hopefully chicken proof.

It’s looking good!


April 22

Ready for more plastic!   We are so lucky to get another pristine morning to install the end wall plastic.  Again, we use the tractor as a lift and Anita puts Brian up in the bucket to begin securing plastic on the end hoop.   We tug and tighten over and over to get the plastic right.  Lucy gets the honor of cutting out the doorways on each end.  Plastic installation and removal DONE.

Lucy and Brian spend the rest of the day working inside the hoophouse dividing the area into 2 sides to accommodate the 3-week old birds and the babies due to arrive the next morning.


April 23

Again, we luck out and the morning is calm and temperatures very mild for moving the 3-week old birds from their temporary brooder area to their new home.    Any drastic change can cause stress so a calm, cloudy morning is perfect.   We move the birds in plastic crates and it goes better than we hoped.  The birds are calm during the whole move and they quickly adapt to their more spacious home running at top speed, flapping wings and being about as playful as a chicken can appear.

And, just a few hours later, the expected call from the post office came.  400 baby meat bird chicks were waiting for a ride to the farm.

The baby chick area had been prepared complete with the space ship brooder equipped with heat lamps.  Brian picked up two of these vintage chick brooders (heat providers) at the annual Annawan farm auction years ago for $3 each – a complete steal.   He bought two of them – no one else bid against him.    Other folks had no idea what they were!   Even the auctioneer’s assistant asked Brian, “Whaddya going to do with ’em?”  After Brian declared, “I’ve got a batch of chicks coming in just a few days!”, the fella replied with a sincere and enthusiastic, “God bless ya.”  Suppose he was happy to see them go to good use and they’ve sure been the best thing to keep baby chicks alive.

The reward for all the hard work came when the baby chicks arrived at the farm.   The girls wouldn’t miss this moment.  There’s nothing cuter than a 2-day old chick.  The girls lifted them gently from the boxes and set them free in their area with food, water and a warm comfy space ship…..except for the occasional chick that spent a few moments being held or sitting on girl’s shoulder.


This hoophouse is special because we built it from start to finish with just us 5 while sheltering in place from COVID-19.   No matter what happens, we’ll remember this project fondly because the girls were right there with us the whole way, the Beatles songs were being sung and we worked through the long process together.    As far as family farming goes, it’s about as good as it gets.