Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm
email@example.com , mercifulheartsfarm.blogspot.com
We have the most wonderful arrangement with our friends, Jeff and Kim, of Iszy’s Heirlooms. They are our next-tent-over neighbors at Saturday Market and also live barely 15 minutes away from our farm. Our arrangement is that I bring a few 5 gallon cull buckets on Saturday morning and Jeff fills them up as he goes through his produce at market. The not-quite-perfect goodies go home with me at the end of market to treat our animals.
When we first started doing this the oxen caught on right away. They live in the pasture at the front of the property so are the first recipients of Jeff’s goodies as I pull in the driveway. I realized long ago that they seem to know when it is market day and get excited when I come home in the early afternoon. They stand at the gate and begin to bawl as I open the back of the car. If I should put a cull bucket down on the driveway they stomp and become anxious, knowing that there is a very good chance a sheep will race around the corner and begin to sample “their” goodies. The sheep really are bad about going through a bucket of culls, taking a bite out of each one and chucking it to the side. They will go back and eat up the pieces later but a good bucket of tomatoes can quickly turn into a sloppy red mess with much of it ending up on lips, faces and even up to the tips of ears. So Zeb and Gates, the oxen, know I’d better lug that bucket to them right away or have another bucket for them in the car.
It took me a while to figure out why the oxen got excited on Saturday afternoon but did not pay much attention to me on my normal trips in and out. One day it dawned on me that I think I am tipping them off that it is market day when I am outside at 5:30 in the morning loading the coolers of eggs into the car. Market day is the only day I do that before sunrise and the oxen seem to have paired this with a nice treat later in the day.
Well, this past Saturday no one had to worry about how many lovely culls I had to share. When Jeff arrived at market I’d already put my two cull buckets under his tent as usual. After about half an hour he asked me if I had any more buckets. He said he’d intentionally brought along squash, tomatoes and cucumbers that were suffering from the heat so that I could take them home. I called my sweet husband, knowing he had to come into Greenville later that morning. Within the hour he’d dropped off a large clean garbage can. Jeff filled that and it went home with Al. At the end of market I filled my car with about another hundred pounds of culls packed in my buckets, my empty egg coolers and a few of Jeff’s baskets. All the creatures had a Saturday feast for which we were all very grateful. After it was all said and done I found only a handful of hot peppers sitting in a puddle of tomato juice and seeds. And I knew that by the end of the day a few chickens would carefully peck up every one of those seeds.
On Tuesday Kim called to say that Jeff had lots of overgrown squash if I’d like it for the animals. Because of the tremendous heat the animals had not been terribly interested in eating but I knew this would appeal to them so I agreed to pick it up the next morning. When I got there Jeff started filling my car with cull tomatoes. The squash was already picked off the plants and piled in the field for me but I knew there was too much to put in the car so decided to come back in the evening with Al and his truck.
When I got home the sheep greeted me. I did not want them to have all this food as they needed to share with the chickens in the back. I did toss a few tomatoes out to distract them but then went to the barnyard and brought Ravi, one of the Anatolian Shepherds, up to the front yard with me. He has no desire to eat tomatoes so it was safe to let him guard them for me. He plopped himself down next to the buckets and growled as the sheep approached. He only had to stand up once to make it clear that there would be no further snacking.
After a quick dinner we loaded the wheelbarrow in the back of the truck and ran over to Jeff’s. We walked the rows making a game of tossing very large squash into the wheelbarrow. There were even more large squash on the plants. They had ballooned during the hot day so we culled those also. Jeff is fine with us culling in his field as he knows we are tender with his plants, pull a few weeds as we work and even carry an odd rock or two out of his field when we come across them. In under an hour we’d gathered three wheelbarrow loads of squash and cucumbers. It was almost nine o’clock as we headed home. When we pulled in Al went about his evening chores while I began to unload the truck. We’d just tossed the goodies in the bed of the truck which was now filled a third of the way to the top. I lined a few garbage cans up on the ground at the side of the truck, climbed in and began tossing. I drew a crowd of a few sheep and the smallest donkey. The oxen realized that something was going on and began to bawl and the standard donkeys in the other pasture began to pace at the fence. I flung squash to all the complainers, carried two bucket loads to the oxen and still managed to fill two garbage cans and the wheelbarrow to feed out the next day. I especially wanted to save plenty for the small herd of Dexter cattle at the back of the property.
The trip to Jeff and Kim’s was beneficial even beyond all the vegetables that they shared. As we were driving over we noticed a fellow baling hay. We turned around and pulled into his field just as another truck was pulling in. We asked the fellow in the other truck if the hay was already sold. He said that the field belonged to his friend and it was spoken for but that he would be baling on Sunday and expected nearly a thousand bales. He and Al talked a bit more and Al agreed to take about five hundred bales straight out of the field. The fellow only wants $2.50 a bale if we pick them up and that is a wonderful price right now. We have been concerned about the dry weather and our potential to get hay for the fall and winter so need to take advantage of this even if it means a lot of good hard work. Our goal is to get three hundred bales out of his first cutting and the remainder when he bales a little later. We did check with both of our grown sons to see if they can give us a hand. We load a hundred bales at a time, drive back home, unload them into the barn and return. Once the second hundred bales are in the barn the task looks pretty intimidating so it will be good to have the help. And I may not be walking upright until about Tuesday but I’ll sleep well, not only from the physical exhaustion but knowing that we are doing the best we can to keep all of the creatures here healthy, safe and very well fed.