In the Wet of Spring

Wednesday we had an idyllic Grand Cheese Tasting with twenty guests on a perfect evening and I left about 8:15 pm to go home. I had been watching the weather for a week and I knew we were right on the edge. Rain was forecast to return in the middle of the night. Rain again. When you have repeating rain cycles like this during bloom in a bramble, organic agriculture has to go into overtime to hold on. I grabbed a drink of water, looked mournfully at the cold beer in the fridge and headed out to spray.

Fungi need water droplets. They ride them from the parent fungal colony to the next potential infection site, and then use an enzyme stew made possible by the rain drop to drill into the host: our developing berries. Once they hook in, you cannot stop them from persisting. But before a rain comes you can fight.

The basic strategy is to cover the parent colonies with something that will suppress them, and at the same time coat the developing fruit with something hydrophobic or mechanically antagonistic to fungal stew. Enter our players: neem oil, elemental copper and Bacillus Subtilis. These three are used in rotation between rain events to keep covering the parent colonies, and they coat the small berries to prevent infection. On this particular Wednesday it was neem oil, since I used copper last Friday, and I used Bacillus Subtilis (a bacteria antagonistic to these fungal invaders) the Friday before that.

Driving a tractor sprayer through narrow rows at dusk while flipping triggers on a sprayer is like sailing a small boat in heavy wind. You hold on tight for a 30-minute ride of white knuckle attention-grabbing spectacle while you blast emulsified neem oil into the canopy behind you watching moths and dead leaves go flying as the air pressure rakes the canopy. I have to say that after eight years, I like the rush. I could live with a better schedule in which to get it, but part of agriculture that lures men in is dealing with highly variable environments at speed. Off to the south lightning was playing across the sky.

When I finished and washed up it was about 10:30, and after a shower I sat down to a cold beer and leftovers from dinner. The dull nutty smell of neem oil hanging heavy on the air filled my consciousness and gave me a peaceful night as rain gently moved into the area overnight.

This year if all holds, and there is no surety of that, we will have one of our better if not our best blackberry year to date. We are very excited to keep tending and keep holding on in order to produce a crop that adorns and makes lively the summer in Kansas. We hope to begin picking on June 22nd or June 29th. Reservations will open seven days before picking, so check in around the 15th to see where we are.

Out in the Creamery Keri Jacobs is doing fantastic and exciting work. We have Caprino Fresco and Feta in stock, wonderful cheeses from other vendors, as well as fresh boules and Linzer tarts from the kitchen. We cannot wait to share our first bloomy rind cheese with everyone starting 5/31.

Through the summer the Creamery is open and ready to sell cheese, gelato, and fine accompaniments, to prepare a picnic for you and your family, or prepare an aperitif spread you can take home for special occasions.

We look forward to sharing the summer with you at Elderslie.

A Creamery Door

Elderslie Creamery Door

A door is what stands between two worlds separating them and uniting them. Practically a great invention, symbolically also a rich one.

I learned long ago that my wife is much more talented than I am so I have her do my layouts, which take her 15 or 20 minutes. Then I get to carve.

Carving is another way to exercise an act of attention and consideration for something. It does not take that long, but the product is something lively, something exciting.

The right side shows alfalfa, our prized legume on the plains and the main feed of our herd. The left shows thistle from which some of the coagulants used in cheese are extracted. The middle is a goat, who is rather necessary to the endeavor of operating a goat creamery.

 

Mangle Board

My wife is more talented than I am. I have a plodding methodical creativity and work ethic that has served me well through periods of stress but has not always been productive of real creative output. My wife on the other hand is electric and fast-moving; difficult to contain in her velocity and volume of creative energy and output. It is part of what has shaped our marriage.

This board hangs outside her kitchen. Its called a mangle board. The tradition is for a suitor to carve it and hang on the door of the home where his beloved lives with her family. If she takes it inside, then she accepts. If she sees it and leaves it outside he has to destroy it and carve a new one before proposing to anyone else.

The board would be used in her daily work with the carved patterns facing her, so through her day she could remember her husband’s work on her behalf and his work would ornament her daily drudgery. A bit of a sexist notion in the modern world but like many old world traditions, I find a great deal of meaning in its complex acknowledgment of the beauty and the difficulty of romance.

This board took me 40 hours of whittling and I used it to propose to Katharine. She said yes. Now it adorns her creative work in a place I have helped build. Together, through drudgery and excitement we have a romance that I am so thankful for this Valentines Day.

Write your sweetheart a note, adorn her day with flowers, make sure that through the drudgery her work is adorned with the sincere ardor of a suitor waiting for her to say yes. It’s worth it.
-George

Not Done

Two weeks ago I was in a gas station in Lincoln County Kansas after two days walking in pursuit of birds along the vast expanse of the blue hills. A man got out of a truck next to me and walked inside. The clerk casually asked him, “have you got all your farming done?” I suppose that is like asking the parent of a 6 year old, “have you got that kid all raised?”

I am tired on a cold day, but I know that I am not done. I know that I wasn’t put on this world to get done. I was put here for the journey, through success and failures, through joys and trials, and at times through rest. We don’t rest because we are done, we rest because we will never be done.

I came across a sketch in my journal from about 30 months ago. I stared at it. I felt a little tired. 30 months ago the seminal idea for the creamery at Elderslie was on paper. Life goes by so fast. Today we are not done, but the story is going on, and soon, within weeks, milk will start running through the veins of our new creamery at Elderslie, as another chapter begins.

-George Elder

Dining Room With Snow, Please


This morning at 6:50 my children lost their minds. They went running out the door in their pajamas with no shoes screaming “snow, snow, snow, snow!” They ignored my pleas and my commands for some time until my son came to his senses and said “I am cold. Let me inside.”
 
But on the way to school a terrible thing happened at 77th Street. The snow became rain. My children were immediately bummed. “We wore our boots and brought mittens! Where is the snow?” Driving back two hours later in the rain a magical thing happened at 77th Street. The rain turned to snow, and even though I have to go to the office, I feel I am in a world small, unique and wonderful with the turn of seasons.
 

That excitement we have at small turns of weather, and the varied nature of the world around us is why we get excited about Farm to Table, and with each month’s menu guests get a moment to join in the simple excitement of children as the change in season is marked and celebrated.
 
Tonight Elderslie will open our November Menu with Petit Crepe, White Bean, Beet Raviolo, Roasted Butternut Squash, Romaine, Fennel Steak, Apple Chess Pie and and lovely wines. But, with all the culinary delights that await our guests, the thing I expect to be asked most, is “Can I sit in a dining room with snow?”
Elderslie Farm Farm to Table Dinner – November, 2018

-George Elder

Walling

I am a son of Adam Smith. I was taught that endeavor is motivated by self-interest and justified by profit. But as I have grown older I feel that is an oversimplification of the human being. Not that Smith was wrong, but that maybe he needed to be blended equal parts with Tolstoy or Wordsworth and taken in balance. 

After ten years as a small business I think one of the things that has impressed me most is how complex and personal it is. Many times you won’t really know if the decision is right or wrong. You can’t rely on profit alone to justify it, nor can your self-interest clearly guide a complex decision like “how important are the aesthetics of a wall?” Its just a wall, really, right? I don’t have an answer but reading James Rebanks “The Shepherd’s Life” I found another way to struggle with the topic.

In the Lake District of Northern England farmers still engage in a backwards relic of the medieval age called walling. They spend some allocated portion of their year stacking stones and repairing the walls which are so characteristic of the region and one of its great charms. These walls are impractical. They cost so much in labor, and God help you if you ever had to buy that stone. But this old habit, born partly of necessity since they did not have other materials, is continued because of affection. They love their walls. And if you ever go you will fall in love with the charm of this impractical, archaic, unprofitable way of life. 

The most efficient ways of doing things are often not the most lovely. We often seek to justify gruesome aesthetics by pointing at the money it made us or saved us and saying, “look what I have been able to do with that.” Thus we build a harsh and bitter world, which we separate from our lives by distance, by walls, and by habits, and then live in a world where all the aesthetic beauty is only aesthetic and has no function.

I believe there is a deep lesson in walling. There are parts of the world of production which are unavoidably gruesome and unlovely. But we as human beings, moved by affection, can choose to build a world not unprofitable, but less profitable and more lovely. We still need to make a profit, but what if the poets and philosophers are right that humanity exists more in contentedness with simple things than in the accruement of wealth.

In the end we have to make profit. In the end we have to take care of our families and our homes. But in the end I think the question of “how beautiful is the world we are building?” should haunt us each time we build a structure or create a lasting mark on the physical world.

-George Elder

Creamery Barn Doors

(Craftsmanship and photos courtesy of Taylor Johnson Furniture Company)

Creamery Entrance Door

(Craftsmanship and photos courtesy of Taylor Johnson Furniture Company)

Creamery Brickwork

Creating Local

Some days I wonder if creativity is worth the bother. The creation of a thing unique and planned from idea and brought out of the murky realms of our mind into the light is painful, expensive, and tedious.

Local food and local products are not virtuous in themselves; rather they are an opportunity for the expression of a unique sentiment grounded in affection for a place and worked out in the hurly burly of physical creation as a work is built, a product crafted, or paint laid on the canvas. Local products and experiences have to actually convey that affection to the viewer, the customer or the guest and inspire in them a sense of delight.

Thus the idea that Kansas is a place worth living can in the crucible of creativity really give us better beer, better food and unique and wonderful experiences. The value and nobility of these is the responsibility of both the person creating and the person buying. Thought by thought and small purchase by small purchase we are creating the world around us.

Through the fall we offer a menu each month that is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It offers five courses that give voice to the season and the soil of Central Kansas. By mid-winter our Creamery will open offering artisan cheeses, cured meats and accompaniments. We believe creativity is worth the bother. We believe unique local establishments can inspire a sense of delight. We believe each of us can make the world around us more lovely and more wonderful.

Reserve a table here

George Elder

Creamery Scribbles
Elderslie Farm Creamery
Creamery Construction
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A Place Worth Staying

 

A record-breaking early snow dusted the blackberries on October 14, 2018

I have seen these bushes in searing heat, in driving rain, and a thousand times as I drive past and walk to and fro. This morning I stopped and looked at the rye grass and radishes carpeting the ground, and at the tresses of berries dusted with snow, and I just stared.

We as Americans, and I am very much an American, have a burning, driving, pushing desire to go, to get there, to complete and move to the next. I think it is tied to the encounter our ancestors had with a land so big that it defied calculation, we got excited, I think we are still a little bit excited. Its why we could build the highway system, and I appreciate that I can drive 75MPH across our nation, but I am mostly thankful that I can go fast so that I get somewhere and get out of the car. 

One of the great challenges for us as Americans is to stop going and assume that the places we live are where we will be for most if not all our lives. The world we create should be one of interest, one of joy, one of peace, one of excitement, and one that stops us even after a thousand times seeing it and causes us to just stare at the simple beauty of it all and remember that we need to do a lot of going in our lives, but we may never leave where we are, so tend and dress the land, create spaces and products that are lovely, enduring, and noble, and stop long enough to soak it all in.

George Elder

All Things New

In June when I walked the brambles, I measured and I counted and I weighed. I estimated that we would harvest about 30% of what we did in 2017 for total poundage. In early July we had about seven days that felt timeless… where pails were streaming into the field and smiles and laughing children were coming out with overfull pails in droves. During those days I allowed myself to think, “maybe it will be better than I thought, maybe they will find berries I could not count, maybe it will go on like this for weeks.” On Saturday, July 22, we picked our last berries with some old friends, and some new, two small groups glad to scatter out and search the last berries in the bramble. Then it was quiet.

I was not wrong in June, but neither was I wrong in those few days of plenty. It was good, and it was enough. We are too tempted to measure all success by profit – certainly it is a necessary part of endeavor, and must be there else the endeavor fails, but there is more there also. Human endeavor, like a good book, offers us a chance to see the world a bit more clearly, to nurture our nobler sentiments, and see our greatest foibles. Low years in agriculture challenge one’s ability to hope, but as the saints and poets have oft reminded, the greatest loss would be never to have risked, never to have loved, never to have hoped.

Now steel and sweat are at play in the brambles as a team of six people is cutting and tearing and pulling out the canes now empty of fruit. Later in the week they will begin to tress and primp, tease and tuck all the delicate bright new canes into their trellis positions as we prepare for next year. Here in the office I am in discussion with consultants, about the level of boron in our plant tissue, and the % release of nitrogen from chicken manure. They in the field and I in the office are all working towards a goal – a goal of seeing all things made new in the timeless realm of the future that we may or may never see with our mortal eyes, but we believe is there, and we hope is possible to reach.

I have seen the fields thick with blossoms, I have seen fruit so thick the leaves were obscure, I have seen lines of pails trickling out of the gate as if they would never end, and for now that memory will haunt and drive and fill my mind through days of sweat and reeking manure, through nights spraying strange oils to ward off mythical pests, and through winter storms, and sleepless spring nights when the frost settles atop the covered plants and a thin fluttering nylon blanket stands between life and death for the little buds underneath.

Ever has hope triumphed against bitter odds. Ever has mankind needed to risk in order to understand his world, and ever have farmers needed hope to sow after a small harvest. So as I settle into the rhythms of the late summer, I am thankful for the few days of timeless beauty this year, thankful for each person who joined in the harvest, sorry for each who could not join, and I am hopeful that after long toils and many trials you and I will again see all things made new.

George Elder

On the Edge

Last weekend I was trying to get work done in my office. With the blackberry season about to start, creamery construction at full pace, and serving as a formal dining Maître D’ or server on alternating nights, life has been full.

To my consternation I was informed that Westar Energy had called and said we were delinquent on our energy bill by $998.50 and would have to rush in to Wichita and make a cash payment through their payment portal within 45 minutes or our power would be disconnected. Naturally this came as a shock and I grabbed my wallet and headed into Dillon’s, where I was told there are pre-paid portal cards that can be used to pay an electric delinquency.

With a little checking I realized this was a scam and I called the fake agent back and informed him that if he would like to come out, I would like for him to try to turn my lights off. I might have said some other words that are not publishable as well. He threatened and challenged and bullied, but of course no one came. I was saddened by the moment realizing that so many forces or nature, time and chance are already against us without human beings working deliberately to steal, cheat, or otherwise cause more sadness than this mortal life must hold already.

On a search for ripe blackberries in the home bramble

After that exercise I needed a walk. I took my measuring tape and my note pad and headed to the berry field. I performed berry counts, trying to count how many berries were on a bush four times, then weighing individual berries to try to understand how many pails we will pick this year.

I love walking in the field right now. It can be hot and humid but it is unbearably exciting. Thick clusters of red and green fruit are everywhere now and getting bigger by the day. A few berries have been picked for the café to use for garnish, berries have been picked for purchase at the Cafe and we picked 12 pails today in a very limited You-Pick, but the general mass is still a week away.

The blackberries are looking beautiful this year despite the freeze damage.

Harvest counts show that our year will be less than what it was last year for sure. Expected poundage is likely to be about 50% of what we did last year. Many buds that initiated in early April perished on April 13 when temperatures dropped to 19 degrees. Acknowledging these sorts of losses brings me to Tennyson’s Ulysses, who said it best: “Though much is taken, much abides.”

This year we are thrilled to look forward to an exciting berry crop. The quality is fantastic, better than last year, and as my son says looking at the ripening berries “I like to eat all ub dem dad.” That sort of a moment with a child is so precious when they look at the world and for a moment desire something good, something lovely and something so exciting that child and parent, cousin and nephew, friend and caretaker all will make the trek just outside Wichita for a chance to share in the harvest of that which abides.

-George Elder

The harvest has begun