In July Gavin and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. I forgot as usual but Gavin remembered and booked a night away in a small hotel in the nearly Pyrennes. "How romantic ❤️" I hear you say. Wait... It was a pretext to purchase a van which led to administration on the ANTS website, the fully online vehicle registration service in France which makes my grey hair greyer.
Our summer was full with Emily and Koens wedding and visits with family from overseas whom we had not seen for years in some cases. We must have done something right during 20 years as we even had local friends who are still friends along for the celebrations who have known us since we first arrived.
The school year began weirdly as it was the first year in 25 years that there were no trips to the bus stop or school. Liberating! I have entered a new era of waiting to see if I will have grandchildren, and obsessive bending and stretching, so that if I do have grandchildren I will still be able to pick them up and play. Luckily life on a farm with a direct marketing division does not allow you to sit idly by whilst life whizzes past, one usually has to participate in the whizzing.
Farm life has ticked along around the celebratory summer. Many hands have been involved with new fences for pigs and sheep, more solar panels going on the butchery so that we produce all the electricity we need to run the house, workshop and butchery. The cooler months this year will be spent doing some house renovating to enable us to reduce expenditure for Patrick with his own accomodation. Alice is currently experiencing life from another angle, a Croatian angle for a couple of weeks so weirdness persists in my sort of empty house. Will Gavin and I have enough to talk about? That's the thing about family farming there is always something to talk about, the important thing is to remember to do the talking.
So to the end of year event which requires me to remind you about things like gammon ordering. Saturday 11th November will be the last day I can take orders for Christmas Gammon. Please, please, please as soon as you know let me know and please don't appeal to my weak nature with late orders, I get into a lot of trouble with my daughters for saying yes too often. and we all know how scary daughters can be.😨
See you all soon Helenxx
There are moments in your life when you wonder if having an internet presence is helpful to the life of your business. On the one hand, people stumble across you, place paying orders for large events and fill you with happines for providing a welcoming service. On the other hand people know where to find you, can self cater without paying for large events and temporarily make you feel quite ill and not at all welcoming. Our predators with 2 legs are out early this year. Makes you wonder why you get out of bed in the morning.
Small livestock farming is challenging. Somedays it is more difficult to find the joy than others, but last year we were inspired hosting a training course on high density grazing methods with Jaimie Elizondo from Mexico/United States. We learnt, we ate, we met new people. it was exhausting and fun.
I have been reminded this week of my age. It is just not wise to stop moving for too long, even if that is what your brain or body would like you to do. Running your own business does not make allowances for being out of action. I listen to The Joe Rogan Podcast and he regularly talks about keeping fit and building it into your routine, but making it fun and easy so that you actually do it. True words. I have a friend who has a Fitbit watch to tell her to get up and move. I also have a Fitbit watch it always needs charging.
There is a fly in the room. The first of the year, definitely not the last. It must be warmer. Tomorrow the sun is at 30 degrees in the sky so if you live near me it is time to get your kit off and run naked in the garden to absorb some vitamin D. I learnt this week that kiwi fruits have vitamin K, are helpful with the battle against osteoperosis and that the traditional green ones have more nutrient value than the new yellow varieties. Obviouly all as part of a balanced diet and fitness routine, cos if you only eat kiwi fruits and sit on your butt you will not be very well.
Our family is growing up. Our youngest will soon be off to stretch her wings, discover herself and find out that NO, the food that you buy in the supermarket when you are an impoverished student is not all delicious like here. Our 2 eldest have come home having discovered that for themselves.
It is difficult being a farmers child. Whilst you are young and living it, the long days, the physical work and overly busy home life seems like a trap. It is a pity that farming is not talked about in general eduction, other than in an historical context. Or even in general conversation by non farming people who might talk about the economy or politics, or more likely celebrities and what Reel they saw on Instagram yesterday, but will rarely contemplate the affect on their stomachs of a changing farming industry.
Farming is not shown to be the centre of of a community, innovative, international, socially and intellectually challenging. Knowledge is being lost at an alarming rate as more family run farms close every year, being gobbled up by corporate giants with little or no awareness of the local environment. The intimacy and empathy buried in the brains of the people that have lived somewhere for generations for the soil, the animals, the plants, the aspect, the air movement cannot be found in a book or a set of standard instructions delivered by a company to its manager. Be aware of progress and its steady march towards I want to say oblivion, but that might be too depressing and melodramatic for a Tuesday morning in Febuary, so I will say standardisation.
If anyone is remotely interested in statistics in farming here is a link in english to french and european information, they are in an attractive readable format;
Farming a profession that will keep you alive, unless of course everything gets nicked..... which doesn't leave anyone with much hope at all. I will try and find some jolly photos now to give you some joy.
See you at the markets, or Patrick will
The first time I cooked roast lamb was in my 20's, living in Mutare having just acquired a flock of sheep from some friends and farmers, It was a simple recipe from Jamie Oliver with the lamb shoulder slow roasted on a rack above the roasted potatoes. It was sublime. I was still learning about cooking and although I could prepare a resonable chicken, lamb seemed a little more frightening. With children and a busy farming life the skill became throwing things together at great speed hoping for something tasty that will most likely never be repeated as the fridge will never hold the same ingredients.
Today I have been spurred on to try another first after a lovely client delightfully assumed I had cooked practically every part of a pig, which is in fact not the case. Life is busy and taking the time to learn something new is constantly put to one side. The challenge is pork belly so I have returned to Jamie Oliver's for assistance with simple cooking.
4.5 hrs later..... wow that was delicious. The photos do not really do justice to the crackling nor the softness of the meat.
We are in full tidy up mode before winter arrives, if it ever does as I am sitting with the door wide open and the sun beating in to the living room. Apparently it is 23 degrees outside. The animals finally have a bit of green to eat and are looking much more content with life. Here are the main flock waiting for the second move of the day.
And here is Dyson waiting for some snacks from the table. Such big soulful eyes. How can you deny him. And of course we don't 😊
See you all soon
Its been a while since I last wrote anything. Since the last post there has been a massive hail storm annihilating much of the coutryside and homes around us. People have had to move house and farmers have had to find alternatives to feed and house their animals as sheds, crops and grassland has been destroyed. Accompanying this, a drought, which has effectively stopped the vegetation from regrowing. Not to mention the multitude of fires around us assisted by dry vegetation and some rather unsavory people who think it is fun to set alight to the countryside. A very difficult year for all. Today we have a meeting with our local Chambre d'Agriculture to discuss moving forward with planting hedges and trees that have a greater chance of survival in hotter drier conditions and are suitable as fodder for the livestock. When we left Zimbabwe nearly 19 years ago we had not imagined that we were coming to a region where there is little and erratic rainfall creating quite a challenging environment for grazing animals, equal to that of Zimbabwe.
Trying to keep the sheep behind an electric fence during a drought has been interesting. As much water has gone on the earth peg as into the sheep. Many early morning and late evening calls from kindly neighbours. It is one way of getting to know everyone I suppose. Patrick has wondered on several occassions why we farm animals. There is never a moment of peace. Gavin is coming to the end of his accident leave from work so there will be a break for Patrick in the near future. It has been a long 2 years with first one then the other knee. But as Cyril the physio man said to Gavin yesterday, be careful I don't want you back for the third knee.
After nearly 7 years of pig farming we are hand rearing a pig. Luckily it is a "she" pig so if well behaved will more than likely get to stay forever. Poor little mite ended up in a mêlée and had a unplanned nose job in the process. The rather large cut is healing nicely and she walks to heel better then the border collies at the tender age of 3 days. Obviously as trained professionals we know not to get too attached in case of an early demise 🙄, but I forsee tears and tissues if this turns into a death in the family.
Some people spring clean, I prefer to autumn stock up. We have a respectable cupboard nearly full of goodies, jams, chutneys, cordials and coulis for the winter. I made banana and grape jam for the first time, wasn't sure I would like it, but it is surprisingly good. Slow cooker chutney takes the effort out of standing over a saucepan stirring to stop it sticking and burning. I now have much more sensible sized pans for sterilising after the haggis cook up last January which has made life much easier as well. With our dried meat supplies also on the increase it looks like we will avoid starvation Chez Franklin this winter. A new wood burning stove is to follow I am very excited after being without one for 6 years.
See you all soon
If I was a bee living in Nouvelle Aquitaine I would get to the month of June and say "f**k where did all the food go". After a drive east of our home we passed through miles and miles of fields that had been cut, effectively ridding us of any wild flowers in the landscape.
Farmers make hay to feed the livestock during the winter etc etc and we are beneficiaries of that process..... But what about the bales cut by field owners, farmers and speculators who then pile it on the edge of their fields and do nothing with it year on year? What about the people who cut and bale just to make it look neat and tidy, or if they say it is a fire risk if you leave the grass long, or the local entrepreneur makes an error and cuts and bales the wrong field that was actually planned in to be part of a rotational grazing plan and is then not very apologetic because, hey it needed cutting anyway. Blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately mechanisation has meant that not only is cutting grass too easy, but also the grass is cut too short, or too much is cut so there are no escape zones for flora and fauna.
One of the functions of long grass is to protect the ground from the sun and keep it cool. I am sure all of you have seen the pictures on social media comparing the temperature of tarmac, bare ground and a field with grass in. And all of you can go outside with a thermometer and see if it is correct.... Todays experiment by Alice is below, taken at 12.47 the 86 is a number I was using for poaching something.... yes it is my meat thermometer. Don't worry it will be washed.
An experiment showed that between 17 degrees centigrade and 29 degrees centigrade there was no effect on soil insect egg mortality, at temperatures from 40 degrees up, less than 5 percent of soil insect eggs survived "The effect of soil moisture and temperature on eggs: by N.P Lepage, G.Bourgeois, J.brodeur, Bioone.org 1 feb 2012.
Another graph on an experiment on aphid eggs shows that above 40 degrees there is basically no survival of eggs.
I could go on but I sense you may be getting bored.
Garden mowing fanatics do not escape blame today either. Cut it long, do not cut it all and dont have a robot mower on constant. You are effectively heating the environment around your home and killing all the insect life. And please don't get me started on paving and bad town planning.
I think you sense I might be irritated, Fed up with taking the flak for farmers being the bad guys all the time. I sat in the garden yesterday evening, in 30 seconds 6 planes had flown overhead. How come flights are still so cheap when the price of fuel is going up all the time? And if everyone is moaning about prices why does everyone still have enough money to go away on holiday? What is the environmental impact really of planes? Would I even trust the answer someone gave me when we are essentially of the soil, and what happens in the higher atmosphere is not entirely understood I don't believe. How can it be when we don't even understand the soil properly yet and we can all touch and see that.
What is the obssession with covering fields with solar panels? Why are we not just covering every roof that doesn't have them yet? I do not know whether anyone is seriously thinking long term or if we are just leaping from one bad idea to the next.
At the moment I have to decide who to vote for today in the French elections it is very difficult, More difficult than I had thought it would be. The numbers don't seem to add up. And my heart does not lie with either candidate. I will have to chose the least bad choice....
See you all soon
For the first time in some time I have been scrolling down the facebook feed to catch up with the regenerative farming and soil sites that I follow, some posts jumped out at me during the newsfeed that were concerning about the state of the world after confinement.
The first was an asparagus farmer who has had to throw away some of his production this year as he had increased his crop to cope with the local demand during covid and confinement.
The second was a small, local material facemask factory that has closed after the demand for facemasks was switched to the more convenient disposable kind, often made and supplied subsequent to the start of the pandemic by large overseas factories.
The third was a story about the lack of local support for a campaign to change the new bin system making it more user and environmentally friendly. The leader of the campaign is tired with trying to encourage people to support their efforts that she is ready to give up.
Covid and confinement were a busy time on the farm, fundamentally it did not change much for us. I enjoyed the moments of peace provided by the lack of traffic both in the air and on the ground and I enjoyed the camaraderie online. I hoped that there would be a change in the way that people interacted with the close by and far away world, both sociologically and environmentally to enable society to take a leap forward in the movement to manage what we have left to the best of our ability. However the 3 stories I read this morning made me think that we have taken our eye off the ball.
Get involved, don't sit on the fence do any little thing can you can to keep local communities strong. That strength, with any luck, will create contentment and peace and a deeper understanding of those people around you.
Please don't forget what the ultimate goal is..... "take only memories, leave only footprints" a quote from Chief Seattle a native amercian. Obviously a very wise man.
It is 10 years since we started the market at Ribérac. I have moved around the food area a little, made some new friends, met a whole pile of new people, some of whom are still around some of whom have moved on to new chapters in their lives. I am proud to say I still see my very first customers every week. You know who you are C and A. Though I doubt they will read this. The butchery has been working for nearly 11 years this summer and there are some of you out there who are still with me from my very first delivery runs around the area. It has been a delight to get to know everyone and their families. And I cannot thank you all enough for sticking with us, allowing the business to grow and improve and being willing to try all the products we make. It warms my heart that we are trusted by so many people.
We learnt the butchery basics with an butcher friend of ours who has since returned to the UK. Subsequently I have learnt through practice, practice, practice and processing products that people have asked me if I can make. Through trial and error we have come up with some goodies. By this time my apprenticeship is complete I imagine, in at least lamb and pork. Who knows what the future may bring with business developments that arrive with children becoming involved in the family business.
On Friday we had a lovely evening with some of our close neighbours for the "fete des voisines" and today we had a picnic with our village neighbours to celebrate the same occassion. A chance to catch up with the local gossip and to reacquaint ourselves with normal life. Three years have passed since the last event due to circumstances everyone is well aware of. It was very warm both in temperature and in welcome. Thank goodness for the trees around the village church or I think we may have melted. I am currently sitting watching all the clouds disappear having received about 6 drops of rain. It is going to be a long, hot night.
The sheep are consuming vast quantities of water, and for those of you who remember from last year, we still offer them salt and fresh water and they always finish the salt water before the fresh. Unfortunately the fields we graze around here are very short on trees and hedges so we have a plan of action for planting shade. We lost our rental property this month that we had developed over the last 18 years to have traditional pastures and trees, so this time we start again with a field that is actually ours. Gavin and Patricks imagination and creative skills are being tested to build a mobile shade unit so that we can continue to rotate the flock over the pasture and move the mobile shade structure with them. Farming life, always a challenge.
See you all soon
It was a busy and strikingly normal weekend at the markets last weekend. I saw people whom I have not seen for some years mainly for covid related reasons. They are getting used to coming out every week or so to have a cup of coffee and a chat with friends and then do a little bit of shopping for the week. The panic buying to avoid going out too much seems to have gone and there is more of a familiar rhythm to the mornings. It has been a challenge remembering peoples faces and also learning the new faces of people I have only ever met masked. Identification by mask covering has become second nature during the last 2 years and I have forgotten what some people look like. So if I look slightly confused next time I see you at the market then that is probably the reason why.
During my absence from blogging and social media in general we have been very busy lambing amongst all the general running of a farm and butchery. Patrick took up most of the work that Gavin had been unable to do whilst recovering from his knee ligament replacement. Happily we have had assistance from Emily and her partner and Alice to ensure all the wheels did not fall off in the last 2 months. It has been long, with a great deal of clothes washing and drying. and mountains of food has been cooked and consumed to keep the gang going.
I think Patrick has been happy with lambing. We have had many more twins than usual which we have put down to the health of the flock being so much better with the new system of once or twice a day moving to fresh grass. The fields that we graze are starting to show signs of improvement, more varieties of plant in the sward and Patrick has noticed a considerable increase in beetle life this year. The humble beetle is an important first processor of manure in the field, moving the manure around and breaking it down after the sheep have pooped, improving organic matter content in the soil and the soil structure, thus reducing affects of erosion by water and wind. In the photo to the left you can see the patchwork effect in the sward of daily moves in the background. In the foreground there are some twins following the ewe around the field happily grazing the fresh grass.
Other things we have done recently in efforts to reduce our own footprint on the planets resources is that solar panels are installed on our barn. They were turned on last September to attempt to produce enough electricity for our own use, which is substantial with 2 electric cars and a butchery not to mention the house, the lamb pens and the workshop. The predicted amount of panels we would need was 48 with a production capacity of 375 watts per panel. We are 1/6 under production for the house side and 40 percent under production for the butchery side coming out of winter. I envisage we will need more in the future to cover the yearly consumption, unless it catches up dramatically over the summer.
More projects coming in the year ahead including back to saucisson making.
See you all soon
It is already March and so much has happened both worldwide and at home. Bad and good. The bad, I know has everyone aware so lets try to avoid that line of chit chat.
Puppy Mike has grown in size and in cheekiness. Our little Mushu (teckel/daschund) has a lot of sparring to do every day with his considerably larger baby housemate, he is holding his own now that I have removed his collar so Mike does not get the upperhand by hanging on to it. After a good battle Mushu does like a long sleep by the fire. If you zoom in on the above photo you can see Mushu.
Gavin's operation on his knee has gone well and he has a lovely yellow bruise. I was grateful for the rain which made it less tempting for him to go outdoors. Some friends came over for supper last night to break up the incarceration. It was lovely. They were the last people we had a meal with inside the house since before confinement. Time has passed too quickly and we need to be careful not to forget how to be social creatures. The art of conversation has to be practiced and bigger children need to listen to other adults so they can expand their vocabulary and be exposed to different ideas. Or maybe that should just apply to all people, as communication does not seem to be practiced in the world at large very effectively at the moment.
I have been looking after the young stock whilst Gavin has been laid up and helping Patrick when he needs me with loading and moving sheep about. We are trying to get everything where it needs to be before lambing starts in April. Mostly though I have been cooking. Lots of roasts then stock making for stews, curries and soups. It is very rewarding to have the time to use everything up with little or no waste. Four big people eat alot. And six people eat even more when we have extra hands to help. The contents of the freezers are disappearing little by little.
The grass is growing like crazy and I have done some outside tidying in between rain showers. Not that it seems to look any different I think we just have too much stuff.
Patrick has decided to install as a young farmer with us and we are planning how to increase the income so that he can have a proper wage. It is impossible to remain static when you are running your own business. We have exciting and busy times ahead. Should be fun.
See you soon
So many distractions and so many things to explore, including a new puppy called Mike, preventing me from settling to actually write something that will interest you lovely people during this cold and bright winter that we are having. It is quite glorious today and I am resisting the urge to do go outside😎. I must crack on and tell you all what we have been up to.
We have been eating a cooked breakfast every morning recently including the usuals bacon egg etc, and also some black pudding that I made during January which is quite delicious. It was a real job to make and by the end the butchery really did look like the blood baths of Eygurande. My freezer is now satisfyingly stacked with little packs of rich, dark, sweet, loveliness. I will have to buy some new chickens, my geriatric hens are beyond the realms of laying, so the protein part of breakfast could be completely home produced. For the moment I will have to settle for local. I might have to start thinking about growing mushrooms 🤔
After much persuasion from some of my Scottish friends in Bordeaux I started down the path of haggis construction for Burns night and then one birdie told another birdie and it was 8 kilos to twenty kilos and then the birdies had friends, so 20 became 35kilos of haggis. What a hoot. My trusty cohort for cauldron stirring rolled up her sleeves and we went to work. They are an hillarious site when they are floating about being poached. The tying is an art I may never get the hang of but fortunately my husband is always game for a challenge. So my odd shaped pods were collected and about half have already been eaten. Happy tummies I am told. Phew 😮💨
I am returning to the markets this weekend the 28/29 January. It is a week earlier than anticipated. I will be taking time off in March. Gavin has to have his other knee fixed. He has broken a ligament in the knee that was not fixed 18 months ago. I suggest that you make the most of February, when I will be at the markets. I will also endeavour to get round all of my delivery points during February as I cannot be certain when exactly my schedule will be back to normal. I will also make sure that the freezer at the farm is stocked with the basics sausage, bacon and some joints at all times so if you want to come to the farm and collect something, then you can.
See you all soon
Helen :) x
I am farming sheep and goats on the Dordogne/Gironde border with my husband and our 3 children. We have an on farm butchery and sell our meat direct to the public via the markets and delivery points in our local area