Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bottling Stout and Cider Update

About a week ago, after racking my cider into another carboy for secondary fermentation, I decided to take the first real step in home brewing - actually BREWING beer. This is something that I have been trying to educate myself on for some time now, as I have been a beer fan since long before the law said I was allowed. My love of beer can even be attributed for where I am living now today in Missoula. I remember visiting here with my mother before I decided to make the move, and us sharing local craft brew at the Kettlehouse tap room over on Myrtle Street. With the music blaring, the grey early spring Missoula sky out the window, and a cold brew in hand she looked at me and said "You're going to live here". She was right.

For my first ever home-brewed beer I decided to go with a classic, the Irish Stout. I started again at my favorite local brew-shop, Summer Sun Garden & Brew. I used a British Dry Ale yeast, Munton's Hopped Malt (3 lbs), Munton's Amber Malt Extract (1 Can), and 1 lb of crushed roasted barley for steeping.

Fermentation was vigorous for the first few days, but quickly subsided. After a sample last night, I decided to move to bottling today. As the brew had not been carbonated yet, the sample was flat - but unmistakably a stout. Surprisingly, it lacked the bitterness that often drives people away from classic commercial stouts such as Guinness.

After bottling today, about 3.5 gallons, I will wait 2-3 weeks and crack one bottle to check the level of carbonation. Wish me luck!

-Cider Update-

After racking cider into secondary fermentation I decided to add more sugar (3 cups) and after two days of little activity I pitched a champagne yeast to increase alcohol content. After a tasting last night (about 1.5 weeks in secondary) I was pleasantly surprised. The cider has considerable alcohol content, seemingly comparable to that of wine, but still with the mouth-feel of apple cider. I am now trying to decide if I want to carbonate the cider or leave it flat like an apple wine. I may do some of each. I will move to bottling shortly after thanksgiving. Updates to come!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Experience Unlike any Other - P.E.A.S. 2012

    Wednesday was my last active day as a credit-receiving intern at the P.E.A.S. farm. It has been nine months since I began my work at the farm, starting in the cold month of February breaking ice and defrosting the green house. Much has changed, on the farm, in my life, and within my being. I feel as though my time spent on the farm has been a healing experience. My faith in people has been restored through the meaningful work that I have done, through the beautiful landscape we created.
Working the land is a lesson in both impermanence and cyclical nature. The onions that we labored so hard to keep weed free are now long-gone, being enjoyed by CSA members, students and shoppers at the Missoula Food bank. The unpacking of Remay, the countless hours of seeding, weeding, harvesting and moving pipes in the hot summer sun have been replaced by their opposing actions through the cold autumn days.
    Nine months I have devoted to this farm, this project. Food grown, people nourished with blood and sweat, our labor of love. I will remember my experience on this farm, in this beautiful place called Missoula, the Rattlesnake valley, for the rest of my existence. I know that it has left an impression on me, and I hope that I have in some small way left a lasting impression on it.

    Thank you to all who made my experience so amazing. Through the early July mornings pulling weeds for hours, to the 1830 pumpkins we hand picked, I had a truly remarkable time with each and every one of you. You know who you are.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cider - Take One

Fall is in full swing here in Western Montana. The trees are bursting with color, the nights have grown cool and crisp and the days are quickly growing shorter. Pumpkins are beginning to appear on neighbors' doorsteps, soon to become jack-o-lanterns. With all of this standard fall activity, I decided to try something new: home-brewing cider.

At the farm that I work on we have an old manual-style apple grinder and press. It is built of heavy oak and cast iron, staples of an industrious bygone era. Sunday I made my way up to the farm with a couple of friends and we fresh pressed about 130 ounces of cider from Montana-grown honeycrisp apples. Unfortunately, because apples are so expensive- I was forced to mix our fresh cider with three gallons of store bought cider (preservative free of course!). The combined cider was mixed with about a cup and a half of raw unbleached sugar in a 5 gallon carboy that I bought at Summer Sun Brew & Garden.
I opted for using a British Ale yeast instead of the champagne yeast that was originally recommended to me. My hope is that by doing this the cider will retain more of its' natural sweetness and apple flavor. From what I have read, using champagne yeast tends to result in a very dry end product. 

Fermentation began late last night, and I expect it to continue for at least a couple of weeks. Already much of the suspended solids within the carboy have fallen and the cider has taken on a lighter yellow hue. In 2-3 weeks I will rack the cider into a second carboy for secondary fermentation, and from there, on to bottling. I only hope my first attempt is successful!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Food For Thought

I have come across several quotations in my studies recently that I found to be of particular importance. I jotted them all down in my pocket notebook, and thought I would share them here.

"The true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

      I find these statements by Roosevelt to be informative and inspiring. I agree that those who are "too needy" are inherently insecure. As the fictitious character Tyler Durden said in Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club - "The things you own, own you."

"In wildness is the salvation of the world" - Henry David Thoreau

     Many who have ventured into the wild for any amount of time can probably attest to the healing ability of the natural world. This is a profound statement from a historical authority on simple living and time spent in nature. I find that time spent in wild places has a centering effect on me, helping to put the worries of life into perspective. Nothing feels more 'real' than being away from the facade of civilization.

"Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

    One of the most powerful statements in A Sand County Almanac, I have seen this ring true through the destruction of popular recreation areas and the commodification of nature through 'game ranches' and the like. While not universally true, I believe that humans often lack the ability to truly leave something alone, resulting in more damage than good.

Any thoughts? Favorite quotes you have come across recently? Please share in the comments below.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weathering The Storm

This is a short essay I wrote in response to John Muir's 'Windstorm In The Forest'

    Having little experience with the pine and juniper forests of the Western United States, previous to my relocation to Montana – I found myself looking back fondly to my memories of growing up amongst the deciduous oak and hickory forests of the Midwest. I spent many an hour perched high above an open cornfield, tree-stand tied tightly to the trunk of an oversized White Oak, or Shagbark Hickory. I relate to the sensations that Muir felt during that wind storm, the cacophony of sounds the twisting and dancing trees make as the wind tickles and caresses every branch and twig “The sounds of the storm corresponded gloriously with this wild exuberance of light and motion.” The way that Muir describes the smell of the pine forest “The fragrance of the woods was less marked than that produced during warm rain, when so many balsamic buds and leaves are steeped like tea...the gale was spiced to a very tonic degree.” Is one of my favorite aspects of the western coniferous forests. There is nothing quite like a warm breeze through the pines after a violent spring downpour. The sharp, crisp mountain air percolating through the needles has the inherent ability to comfort the mind and soul simultaneously. Reminding one that there is more to life than the errant requirements of modern civilization.
    “Winds are advertisements of all they touch, however much or little we may be able to read them”. Muir reminds us that there is a story within each breeze, however ephemeral it may be. Through this non-direct anthropomorphism of nature, we are reminded of our own mortality. We drift through life, letting each metaphorical branch leave its' mark upon us, leaving our own mark upon it as well. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Delving Into Emersonian Thought

I wrote this short response after reading "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson as part of my writing-intensive class "The Environmental Vision"

The Outdoor Cathedral - Delving Into Emersonian Thought

    Having never read any of the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or even being exposed to his core ideals, I found myself thoroughly enjoying Nature. I was introduced to transcendentalism in high school through the works of Thoreau, and in college through the study of Kantian philosophy. I immediately connected with the sort of rejection of the current state that these authors all portrayed.
    Within Nature, one truly gets to see the extent that Emerson believes in the sacredness and beauty of nature “ is an abstract or epitome of the world. It is the result or expression of nature, in miniature...The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty.” Emerson viewed the world as the centerpiece of human existence in a time period where the natural world was often shifted to the peripheral.
    I personally strongly connect with Emerson on his value of small, everyday events “Not less excellent, except for our less susceptibility in the afternoon, was the charm, last evening, of a January sunset...the air had so much life and sweetness, that it was a pain to come within doors.” The simple joy of enjoying a sunset is oft not realized in a society so preoccupied with constantly producing and consuming. There is a zen-like essence in Emerson’s worldview that tells one it is not only alright to stop and enjoy nature, but it should be commonplace.
    I try to practice the mindfulness of the often overlooked within my daily life, and am inspired to find a work that was written nearly two hundred years ago to be still so relevant today.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Farm Journal - Entry 5

Today I got to help Ethan begin work on the stage for the farm party. A flatbed trailer has been used traditionally for this purpose, but this year we are using materials we already have on the farm instead. Both the flatbed studebaker and the old GMC flatbed were backed up against one another on the cover crop nearest the equipment shed. We then started out building a pavilion that will cover the stage and provide shade for the musicians. The pavilion is supported by 2"x4" boards (reclaimed lumber that we had on hand) that we trimmed down to fit inside the slots on the edges of the flatbeds. This afternoon Ethan planned on beginning the crossbeams that would support the tarp we plan to use for the cover. Tomorrow we will build an awning on the front of the stage and hang lights across the front. I am excited about how the pavilion is going to look when we are done. The interesting part is that the flatbeds are at two different heights above the ground, so the stage has two separate levels. It looks a bit odd at first but I think it will make the stage presence better for both bands and create an interesting visual dynamic. Both the Kubota and the Cultivating Tractor will be parked along either side of the stage for added effect. It will be nice for young kids to be able to go sit on them and have pictures taken etc. 
I am somewhat excited about the farm party, but am weary as well. I find it very interesting how  Garden City Harvest has such a small role at the farm throughout most of the year and all of the sudden they swoop in and expect us to spend extra time working for them (for free) to put on a party so that THEY can make MORE money off of our free labor. When speaking of sustainable agriculture and sustainable businesses it seems often forgotten that your business plan must be financially sustainable as well. I look around at many of the small farms surrounding Missoula, and it seems that most of them barely scrape by, and that's with multiple interns providing virtually free labor. Society  claims they value the small sustainable farmer, but I am beginning to see things otherwise. I'm not sure what to make of it. I wish to have a farm of my own someday, but would prefer not to count on free labor to make it run smoothly. I think that there has to be a better way, or at least a more efficient way to make it work and to make a decent living without burning myself out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Farm Journal - Entry 4

It's farm party week! Today is the first day of preparations for the upcoming Farm party on Thursday. This is an annual party in which we invite members of the community to come up and observe the farm, have dinner, dance to live music and celebrate the harvest season. We will have two local bands playing and Josh and Ethan will be barbecuing burgers and zucchini for nearly seven hundred people. Part of my duties today included harvesting potatoes and onions that will be used for potato salad. We collected 150 pounds of potatoes and 75 walla-walla and ailsa craig onions and took them to "Two Sisters Catering" downtown. I also helped harvest for Mobile Market again today, although the numbers seemed unusually small. We brought in our first tomato harvest today as well for CSA, which is exciting. I am actually willing to try a farm fresh tomato this summer after Josh told me that they taste like sunshine. It wouldn't be the first time I've found myself pleasantly surprised this summer. I've never been a huge fan of raw onions, but somehow found myself eating a sweet onion as if it were an ice cream cone.
The mornings are slowly growing cooler, and I can feel the height of summer reluctantly slipping into the past. I feel as though the mood of the farm has changed. As people begin to prepare for the start of school, I can sense the anxiety in the air. The group seems more on edge, and I am not sure if that is due in part to the upcoming party, or the end of summer. Probably a combination of both. The air around the farm is hazy against the clear blue sky. Fires in the bitterroot spill their remains into the atmosphere. Our cabbage patch is alight with hundreds of white butterflies. They look beautiful to the lay man, but to the farmer their appearance is much less welcome. The flittering white creatures bury their eggs in the soil, which become grubs that will eat our cabbage, our labor of love. Such is the fight that every farmer must face I suppose. In the way that we choose to work the land, the challenge is ever greater, but the reward is definitely worth the struggle in my humble opinion. 

Farm Journal - Entry 3

Today is my first day back on the farm after being sick for the weekend. I spent the first part of the morning helping out Larry Nesky at the University Dining Services garden down at the Lommason center. We loaded up two pickup trucks with compost/manure for him to use and began some sheet composting down at the garden. Jesse from youth harvest came along and helped out. I am amazed at how fast the dining services garden has expanded, it really looks terrific. It is refreshing to know that there are faculty members within dining services that support our quest to supply students with fresh, locally grown foods. After we returned I set up some irrigation line and then proceeded to trellis tomatoes down in the "mediterranean rock field". Many of our plants were ravaged about a week and a half ago by an intense hale storm that hit the farm. It was a really random occurrence, as most of Missoula saw little to no hale, while the farm had nearly marble sized hale for about ten minutes. Many of our broad-leafed vegetables were damaged, especially the chard and cabbage. Surprisingly our pumpkins were dented pretty badly as well. Thankfully we should have enough remaining vegetables to  last the rest of our CSA season. We recently planted more salad mix to help make up for some that we lost, and we have another succession of peas in the lower field that is coming up. Tomatoes will be coming into ripeness soon, and our melons should be ready within a month or so if they are not too badly damaged.
It has been a somewhat stressful time at the farm due to these setbacks, but I view this as another learning experience for someone who is interested in farming.

Farm Journal - Entry 2

I spent most of the morning weeding our lower field, lovingly known as the "mediterranean rock field". It is dry and full of baseball sized rocks that make spading and tilling quite a chore. We have tomatoes and peppers planted there that are beginning to finally come to fruition, but they were nearly impossible to see beneath the towering pigweed, bindweed and napweed that fill the fertile ground. I find mornings such as this to be boring at times, because I am doing one repetitive activity for hours on end. I find that I enjoy my time much more when I can split it up between multiple groups of people and activities. I do feel however, that the sense of community within the interns has grown to the point that even repetitive mornings can be enjoyable. The conversation is often rich and colorful, which keeps things interesting and usually passes the time quickly. 
Yesterday I spent the first part of my morning harvesting multiple crops for the Youth Harvest's "mobile market". It was nice to get to hop around and harvest different crops relatively quickly. I think that the mobile market is a fascinating program, and would like to try and get involved with it for an afternoon or two. After the mobile market harvesting I harvested broccoli for the remainder of the morning. I had no idea that broccoli plants grew to be so large, and I find it funny that we grow such large plants to use such a small section of them. i see waste all over the farm in terms of parts of vegetables that we do not use - for whatever reason that may be. Although I am sure that the pigs appreciate all of our food scraps, I feel that there has to be a way to use more of the plants than we do. 
I know that I have learned a lot on the farm since I began working here in February, and I will continue to learn well into the Fall harvest season. I do, however, wish that there was more instruction on the inner-workings of the farm and why we do certain things when we do them. I often feel like a simple laborer, told to go do things without a reason, instead of the student that I am paying and working hard to be. This is nobody's fault in particular, I just wish that we could spend more time in the "classroom" mode that we usually have on Friday mornings. I learn a lot from the lectures and conversations that we have during those short periods of time. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Farm Journal - First Entry

It's hard to believe that I have been working on this farm since mid-February. The amount of growth and the change of seasons has been truly eye opening. Never before have I been so close to the intimate processes of the spring bloom and the summer harvest. It is now the beginning of July and we already have a few crops that we are finished harvesting for the summer. Radishes are now finished, as well as brazing mix (tat soi and other asian greens) and I believe that we are nearly done with arugula as well.
The upper field is awash in different shades of green as the brassicas spread their leaves towards the high afternoon sun. The onions and other alliums create the illusion of a field of light green grass from afar, and the clover cover crop planted between the rows looks nearly like moss in a Northwest rainforest. This afternoon I plan on mulching the onions to help keep the rest of the weeds down until they're ready to harvest. I had the pleasure last week of running the cultivating tractor through the onion patch to remove weeds and push the dirt up against the rows of onions. I really enjoy using the power equipment here on the farm, and the cultivating tractor is no exception. It is a much more delicate process than using the Kubota, as one small missed adjustment could rip out an entire row of the crop you're weeding, the spider wheels spinning mercilessly into the soft plant flesh. 
The sense of community within both the interns and the youth harvest has grown immensely. I feel as though I have made friendships that will last long after the summer is over. For the first time since I moved to Missoula, I feel as though I can truly call it my home. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Montana Summer

So I'm spending this summer here in Missoula, working an internship on a small organic farm. There are nearly twenty of us interns here, earning college credit to run this farm and CSA. I've truly been enjoying my time on the farm. Doing work that is tangible and that you can quantify and physically see is immensely satisfying. Not to mention the great people that I have met so far. I finally feel as though I am surrounded by like-minded individuals, although they call come from very different backgrounds which keeps things very interesting. It has taken almost a year, but I feel that I can finally say that I've made Missoula my new home.
As a requirement for my summer internship I am obligated to write 10 "journal entries" about my time on the farm. In the following weeks I will be posting them here for all to see, in hopes of sparking some conversation or feedback.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When you can't push any more.

Where do you go when you have no motivation? Where does one find the will to keep pushing onward towards a goal that they don't find worthwhile? I feel that many college students (as well as others in the general population) today are asking these questions. I feel often like I'm stuck on a treadmill. Jumping through hoops for seemingly no ultimate purpose and with no real value. At what point do we force change? If you only have one shot at life, and you spend most of your prime working on projects that you find meaningless, only to prove your worth to someone else...what kind of life are you living?
We're told not to question. Not to deviate from the norm. We do things because that's "what we're supposed to do". Obedience is what is expected from you. Life as a slave to others.
Any one else feel like this? I know I can't be the only one.

/rant over

Monday, February 27, 2012

Climbing the Mountain

Procrastination is a problem that I feel many students (at every level of education) have to deal with on a fairly regular basis. This problem is exacerbated when you are forced to do work in a subject area that you really don't care about. Last night I had a five page paper to tackle, that was an analysis of an advertisement. Needless to say, not my cup of tea. 
I was recently inspired by one of my Youtube Subscriptions - a man who goes by VagabondSteve. He recently came out with a video on self discipline that included a strategy for becoming more productive. The method is very simple, but worked incredibly well for me last night. You set a timer for half hour intervals, and alternate work with free time. Work for half an hour, and have the next half an hour to do whatever you like; read, take a walk, surf the web... whatever. I found that I could easily focus for half an hour at a time, and was much less distracted during the periods I designated for work. I think the biggest problem many of us face when beginning a long arduous task, like writing a paper or beginning a school project is the 'mental mountain' we envision in front of us. Breaking it down into blocks of time can help you conquer that mountain bit by bit. 
Obviously the time periods can be adjusted for your personal needs, and would depend on the nature of the project you're undertaking.

 Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Also, take a look at Steve's channel. He's an interesting guy. 
His twitter is here as well.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stuck in Sea-Tac!

Today is Friday January 20th, 2012 and I am sitting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Renton, Washington. About an hour ago I should have been in Missoula, sipping a cold one at Red's Bar with my Father. Unfortunately, Seattle accumulated 8" of snow in the last two days and apparently they don't know how to deal with snow around here.  My flight last night from Saint Louis to Seattle was delayed by about an hour, which would have made making my connection flight to Missoula difficult, if I was given the option. But when we landed in Seattle we were told all of our connecting flights had been cancelled. The polite young lady behind the Alaska Airlines service desk shook her head as she informed me that the soonest she could get me into Missoula would be late Saturday night or Sunday morning. Time for some strategic planning, because this weekend is to be my Father's first time visiting Missoula.
So, next stop - Kalispell International Airport, a two and a half hour drive north of Missoula. I should be there by midnight tonight. I hope.

Such is the adventure of Winter travel in the Northwest. Although an inconvenience, I don't think anyone would have it any other way.