Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 11-13, 2009 - City People´s Set of Mind

Jan 11, 2009
It’s impossible to try to live on a farm with city people’s set of mind. The first thing I have to give up is to be in a hurry. I was so anxious about having a bountiful vegetable garden that I ended up forgetting to raise the beds and sowed directly on hard soil without cutting away weeds that grow wildly. My father told me that seeds know when there are weeds and won’t germinate. I have to wait for my father to spray (!) the new chosen area. He told me that the herbicide would eliminate those unwanted plants, and then, I could have a nice garden. I am reluctant in theory, for I wanted to have an organic garden. On the other side, I don’t want to be fighting against weeds that grow uncontrolably. I also decided that I want someone to prepare the ground for me, and also, that I should use commercial compost (but natural worm worked earth) that my father has from old vineyard he used to have. I cannot wait months to make one. Besides, composting means handling fresh chicken manure and pushing it uphill on a wheelbarrow with wind blowing against my face. I don’t want to pile up earth, or kitchen scraps, and specially, having to wait. In a hurry, I also paid more for watercress seeds, just to learn that it cannot be sowed in Summer. The only thing I can harvest is the green onions my father always keep.
Farming means lots of obstacles rather than lots of achievements. I have to wait for the right season, right weather, right time of the day. If these were not enough, I get unexpected events, such as ants cutting away my jasmin and hibiscus which lay completely naked if not dead. My father suggested me to find their nest to pour some poison...That works! He guaranteed. Not only ants. Today I caught my puppy sitting on top of my tiny geranium planter twice as smaller than her. Geranium had already suffered from ant work (I thought that geraniums were natural repelent).
I feel defeated on my first attempt to farming: the obnoxious prickly weeds growing under the clothes hanging area I plucked by hand in a unforgiving midday sun are back strong and well, as if I have never been there. The vegetable garden patch is again covered with many kinds of weeds which have grown several inches, suffocating arugula and cucumber seedlings. Everything else (beans, cilantro, spinach, ginger, oregano) have not showed signs of courage to fight the outside world. Of flowers, most of them live, but some barely. Either attacked by ants or by my bad job in transplanting (or watering). Even the four chicks vanished. I found the cage dropped on the ground upside down and empty. I cannot handle animals too well. One of our dogs have some kind of worms on his behind and I already wanted to put him to sleep. He has urinary incontinence and smells terrible. His favorite place to hang out is by the kitchen door and at the outside laudry room. The cats make their bathroom all around the yard. I wanted to release them elsewhere far from here, but my father loves them. From five newborn kittens, two of them also disapear. It was not me! I get mad with dogs and cats come in and out of the house permissively. They are everywhere. But at night, I am thankful for the smelly dogs. They guard the house and my sleep. The cows? Oh, yeah, we got them. One of them has a kid. But my father told me it can’t be milked. She is not used to people. Just now that I learned to make farmer’s and mozzarela cheeses from an old book. In order not to feel too frustrated, I made some yogurt today, to find out that it didn’t turn out. My improved avocado tallow soap looked beautiful yellowish green to become dark and spongy like the other I have made before.
My father told me that a man sells bread made in a wood fired oven at the farmer’s market. He invited me to visit this man’s farm to see his oven. My mom’s nurse told me that there is a ranch that sells fresh milk that is not hand milked. For hygiene concerns, I don’t want to get milk from little farmers.
It rained last night. It’s cloudy and cool. It’s past sunset. I have some time left to pluck some weeds before I head to the kitchen to fix the dinner.
Jan. 12, 2009 – My adventures into an unknown territory continues. Carla Emery tells me to heat the raw milk up to 161⁰F for 20 seconds in order to pasteurize it. But I remember a Brazilian national campaign on TV about milk containing e.coli in pasteurized milk sold in supermarkets had to be sterilized by boiling it for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid pouring over. Just to be sure, I double boiled for a few minutes. I didn’t get it burned on the bottom of the pot and failed to kept at low temperature.
So, I didn’t milk our cows. I got it as a gift “to make me a customer” – said the woman. My father needed to pay a visit to a neighbor farmer, the Rossi family. The region I live is populated by small family run properties, just like ours. To my surprise, there are still people living in a rural area. That means that I have neighbors! I just can’t see them. I actually know of them since I was a teenager – Franza, Favarin, Chicoli, Hidalgo. I used to take the same school bus as their children.
I drove our old car down by a paved road for less than two miles and took a narrow dirt road when two men on each tractor was chatting in the middle of the coffee plantation. Halt! I stopped the car. I heard one of them giving an account on a bull who got choked by a mango pit. It soon got slaughtered and the meat shared amongst his family members. “It was soooo tender!”. After resolving the issue that had brought my father here, I asked about cow’s milk. The man told me they sold not only milk but fresh farmer’s cheese. I speeded up to reach the house. As usual around here, several buildings surround a cement patch were coffee beans are spread to dry. Some are homes, some others may be old homes used now to store tools or junk. A few of them are made of wood with some architectural interest. Newer homes are made of brick and lack style. But they got plenty of “greenhouse effect” – the roof is made of amiant and cement, turning the house an oven. A woman came to greet us. I didn’t know her, but they all knew my mother. I am not a complete stranger. Soon, she took me to a house to show me her wood fired oven. It was big. Different from all others that I have seen before that burns the wood first and all the charcoal is taken away before baking. This one was built using a metal barrel. The fire is lit under it. The first one is made of brick and mud; the second one has a metal addition. Inside the house, the traditional built-in wood fired stove. Erica got out 2 liters of raw milk and a farmer’s cheese still in the mold. They were both from today. Usually, the recycled coke container used to store 2 liters of milk costs US$1,00 and 1 lb. cheese US$1,80. She gave them to me. Then, she took me to see the pigs, goats, lambs. A striped pig is a javali mix. I didn’t know it. Others were plain or speckled like dalmatian puppies. On our way back home, I told my father that I don’t have to make or have everything. I can simply buy cheese from a neighbor.
I think my father is an enthusiast of wood fired stove as well. He suggested me to go to somebody else’s farm nearby we heard has a combined oven and stove. It was actually even larger than that one I had seen. The oven was made utilizing a Scania truck tank with the same heating method – underneath. The stove had plenty of space to lay hot pots on and a special cavity for coffee bean roasting. The owner made it himself, projecting, welding, constructing, and all. I just didn’t like the ceramic use on it. Red painted burned cement looks so much original than this touch of modernity. The lady, Cida, told me that she got so used to cook on this stove that she used it everyday. She was frying chicken when we showed up. I liked the idea, but I will think of something smaller that will use only one source of heat for all three uses, instead of three different firing holes.
Under my father’s guidance, I made yogurt with the milk. I left some out to make some custard tomorrow. The cheese tasted fresh, light, moist, almost neutral. I took a sip of the raw milk. It resembles cow’s smell. It’s so interesting how the poops smell like their milk, cheese and even meat (or other way around). I ordered some goat cheese whenever she makes them. It’s going to be a leap of faith. And also to call me if they had something else to sell. Food product, of course.

Jan.13, 2009
Incompatible are going to sleep late and farming. Summer days like these, we have to take a siesta between 1:00 pm until about 4:00 pm. If it hadn’t rained, it gets hot everywhere. No air conditioning. We can’t do anything to soon start pouring sweat and become soaked in a matter of minutes. We can’t wear clothes that were dried or ironed the same day. Even after long hours, they are still warm to touch. On the other hand, yogurt turned out great. It was thick, creamy, yet light and sweet. I got so enthusiastic that I went back today to buy 4 liters of milk and another cheese. With 3 liters, I made sweet milk paste. Nothing more than milk cooked over a high fire with sugar and a pinch of baking soda and salt for over an hour. This is as popular as jam and other fruit compotes me make with green papaya and also with squash. I saw a few green papayas near the chicken batteries were manure is plenty. I thought of collecting them, but I gave up. Too much of sweet things can make us a “real farm woman” with arms like free-form baked bread. I made a flan too. It is in the fridge. We all had our share and don’t feel like eating any more of it. I ordered cheese made out of goat milk. But I want it mixed with cow’s milk. Goat smells really strong and their milk is not different. Yesterday I heard from my uncle’s wife that her grandson has a herd of sheep on their little farm next to where I lived as a small child. I am planning to visit him. I thought, perhaps, to start to raise sheep as well, but I soon give up after I few “natural animal life” I have seen. Our dog gave birth but at least two of them are dead. I saw one probably squashed by her. Our kittens looks so cute, but their cardboard box has traces of feces. Two days ago, I found my black chick’s feathers on a dried body just by the varanda. As I say: “Animal and India (country) are pretty only on TV and pictures, where we don’t have to live all the five senses.” Even agriculture is not clean. All the compost, manure, worms, insects, toads!
While I am trying to adapt myself to a farm living, I went to visit Silvia who lives with her 5-year old son on a small ranch. It’s a mix of amusement and disgust every time I visit a farm. I love seen animals roaming around, and I think I want to have that kind of property. But I am slowly changing my mind, as I can’t stomach much of what animals do and what we got to do such as treating and vetting them. Silvia’s house has a Swiss style adapted to our tropical weather. It is strangely long and dark. A varanda surrounds front part of the house with several vases of plants that may lack nourishment. I was mostly interested in the wood fired stove and oven combination. The oven placed right under where the wood burns, heating the oven as the stove has been used. She uses it everyday.
I was so curious about her managing her farm. She told me that she has cattle and she watches over her brother’s coffee farm nearby with a help of a laborer. It seemed so simple to me. Her life doesn’t seem as complicated as my father’s. He is all the time caring for his coffee, cows, and other farm matters. I guess I could do what she does.
Today I wore my father’s sturdy black rubber boots as I used to when I was a child. I carried a bag in search for young squash. I didn’t find any. The tenant told me I could find near her house not only squash but also taro roots. I am heading there later this afternoon with a cup of sweet milk paste for them.

Jan 16, 2009
So much work! Projects get started and they seem never to get concluded. Starting from seedlings I have to sow, partially hoed weeds in a new land parcel, manure or compost that hasn’t been gathered and piled up, organizing my stuff that are scattered along the bedroom corridor, curtains to hang back, routine things such as cooking, cleaning and organizing, going shopping, and urgent matters such as transplanting plants that are uprooted. Today hoed an area covered with tall cosmos flowers I had sowed a few months ago. They are now tall, woody and unwelcoming. It’s by the old water tank but still has lots of piping underground that runs water. I was careful not to cut down any pipe and planted taro potatoes I got from my tenants yesterday. The starchy lightly slimy roots were young, green and melted in the mouth when cooked. I had not seen taros such as these in a long long time. It takes me back to my childhood when my mom used to stew taro wtih strips of beef, sugar, and soy sauce. I loved the long kind opposed to the rounded ones sold in stores. The acerola tree had exceptionally big fruits that I made into juice as soon as I got home. Between the chicken buildings, the ground is covered with weeds and squash that grows wildly. I found only one squash for dinner. It was so tender and juicy that the stew turned out a mash instead. The bananas and durian are still green. Another week. In my veggie patch, I found cilantro sprouts and beans. It’s so surprising to watch nature. I thought that beans had not sprouted to find it 5 inches tall; the flower blossom on jabuticaba tree already bear almost ready to pick fruits; all orange trees are carrying oranges and flowers; Japanese yellow plum tree (biwa) exhales sweet scent of its non-attractive flowers; starfruit which has fruit is all year round it is also blossoming little pink clusters. As I turned on the water for irrigation, I smell a mix of sweet flowers, fresh cilantro leaves and earth. Coming back home soaked, I take a shower without chlorine in the water. Little by little I start to forget these small treats I have living here.
At the sound of blowing leaves, we all run around like birds before the rain. As we hang our clothes outside on a wire, they become at the mercy of the weather. We rush to collect drying clothes, shut the windows and doors which usually remain open until late at night, bring inside anything that can’t get wet. The wind hitting the rags washed with my homemade soap smell something that I can’t recall. Brazilians specially use it to wash very dirty clothes or to polish pots. Bar soap, steel wool and aluminum. Bar soap, jeans, and a brush. That’s the combination. I haven’t gotten used to wash my clothes with my soap. I miss the “fresh smell” of store bought laundry soap and the softner. It may be the tallow smell that annoys me. I will make all-vegetable oil soap someday. One of the most popular recipe for homemade soap is made of tallow and used kitchen oil, alcohol, water, and commercial lye. I have made a few batches successfully. I have tried mixed with herb juice, bleach, lemon juice, and even aloe vera pulp. The one that I cannot get right is the lard soap. I don’t see too well when it traces. I am never sure when to pour. I have made at two different times, with good hard lathering bar, but the top looks like it still holds some fat. I may need to add more lye next time.
The wind blew, thin drops of cool rain reached the soil for a few minutes. The weather became cooler and nice. It’s still stuffy inside the house though. Outside, I noticed our acerola tree bearing fruit. It was just yesterday that I saw it blossoming. Walking through the orchard, I found a few pineapple crowns planted. It’s a sunny parcel. I may plant my herbs over there.

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