I took last Friday off to go to Maine and visit my old friend Karl Schatz, his wife Margaret Hathaway, and their daughter, Charlotte, who turned a year
old in June and whom I still hadn't met.
Karl was one of my trio of friends (along with Jonathan Ray and Markus Müller) with whom I spent most of my senior year of college.
Karl was the photo editor of The Tufts Daily that year, and I still have a vision of him at a rally on the day we boycotted classes over financial aid. He was standing on the base of a pillar at Ballou Hall, wearing one of those safari vests, surveying the crowd with that intense, humorless look he gets when searching for a good shot. He looked great!
He has the perfect jaw line for that sort of thing.
Now Karl works at Aurora Photos and also is working, with Margaret, on being a professional farmer. They have 10 acres in the town of Gray, about a half-hour drive from Portland, where they have two sets of chickens (one set for meat, one for eggs), half a dozen ducks and four goats, along with Godfrey the dog and Snuppy the mousing cat.
The laying hens and Larry the rooster have names (although their newest brood, all black and white, are each named Priscilla), and so do the goats (Joshua, Percival, Chansonetta and Flyrod). The meat chickens are nameless, as are the ducks, which will be eaten once it becomes too cold to schlep down the slope to close the door of their coop at night.
The goats are really what got this whole farming thing started, and if that makes you curious at all you might want to look at their book.
These days most of the farm time is spent in their organic garden, from which I enjoyed potatoes at breakfast, zucchini sauce for their homemade pasta one night at dinner, and snap peas and string beans in stuffed zucchini on another night, along with sautéed kale and mustard greens. I also sampled Margaret's delicious pickled radishes, and syrup from their maple trees. Best of all, though, was the soft-boiled egg fresh from the chickens.
I helped a little with the chores. Badly.
Karl [as I knelt to collect the eggs]: "You realize you're kneeling in chicken shit."
I should have squatted.
Karl [good-naturedly as I scattered feed to the meat chickens]: "Try to get most of it in the pen next time."
I almost helped him paint something, but I took a nap instead.
Mostly they gave me things to do that a four-year-old could handle. I got to feed a stalk of corn that had been knocked over in the wind to the penned in goats. They liked that. I brought them kale stalks too, which they liked less.
Chickens, I learned, are better omnivores than goats. They'll really eat anything. Goats are vegetarian.
Karl and Margaret hope to have dairy goats, but Chansonetta and Flyrod failed to breed last year. Joshua and Percival are wethers (i.e. no more testicles) because bucks are a hassle. But Chansonetta and Flyrod, fertile does, were taken to breeders last year. I guess the dates didn't go over very well. Maybe they were introduced to dorky bucks.
Better luck this year.
Three of the goats are Alpines, a dairy breed, although Chansonetta is half Alpine, half Boer, a meat breed.
Karl and Margaret weigh everything they harvest, because if you grow a certain amount of food, you qualify as a farmer for tax purposes, which is desirable.
They've gotten kind of arch in their eating practices, as behooves founding members of the Portland Slow Foods convivium. Now that they slaughter their own chickens, they don't eat meat that comes from out of state or from origins that they don't know. I have no reason to argue with them about that.
On Saturday night we had plans to go to Fore Street, but given the bounty they'd harvested that afternoon, we opted for stuffed zucchini on the homestead.
I left with three large zucchinis, four cucumbers, a small sack of potatoes and a Ziploc bag each of snap peas and arugula.