Gravel Road Farm Greenhouse Kickstarter Fund

2014-12-21 16.00.34UPDATE! We were successfully funded on February 7th, 2015! We are thrilled with the outcome of our campaign, and thankful for all the support.

We’ve created a Kickstarter campaign to fund our greenhouse.  As you can see in the above photo, we’ve already pounded in the ground posts, and built the framing, but need your help in order to purchase the rest of the materials.  Here is the list of things we need in order to have a functioning greenhouse:

Plastic greenhouse film to cover the whole building 523

Endwalls made of polycarbonate $1510

Wooden Baseboards, from untreated wood, likely cedar, $400

Insulated Doors, Roll up and Person sized $1750

Heating System $1775

Ventilation Exhaust Fans $855

We are offering some fresh food incentives from our farm, and some great rewards for anyone who is farther away.  Go to This link and help fund us and you too, can be a part of the positive community that surrounds and resonates from this farm.

 

Gravel Road Farm Holiday Gift Guide

Looking to support local food networks and accomplish gift giving as well?  Our small farm offers a couple of green and healthy gifts for the local foodie on your list, or anyone who appreciates small family farms.

1. Gift Cards  Our paper punch cards are available in two denominations, $25, and $50.  They are good for the 2016 season at our market stand.  If you would like to purchase one of these cards for someone this holiday, we will have them available at the Waupaca Saturday Winter Farm Market on December 12 & 19th, located in the lobby of the library/city hall.  Or you may also make arrangements to pick them up at our farm, or have them mailed to you directly.   Just email us at brigid@gravelroadfarm.com, phone 715-281-0812, call or text.

2. CSA membership   If you are interested in buying a CSA membership for someone, please contact us directly about this option.  Our 2016 CSA information will be ready after the first of the new year.  Our CSA membership is a weekly or bi-weekly box of vegetables delivered to a local drop site, or for pick up at our farm.  Each week we fill our wooden crates with the best produce that is in season. Here is a long list of everything that we grow on our farm.

3. Wool   We have bundles of wool batting for spinning, or fiber fill, or needle felting, or other crafts.  We also have queen sized quilt battings.  All of our wool is from our small flock of California Red Sheep, it is a natural cream color, with red and grey hairs mixed in. All of our wool is $20/lb.

 

For the Love of Sheep

20140209_141603We have currently 13 sheep, 6 ewes, 2 ewe lambs, one ram and 4 ram lambs. The lambs are almost the same size as the ewes, at around 5 months old. They are a very unique breed of sheep, (likely not many other sheep of this breed in Wisconsin.) The breed is called California Red, and if you google that, you will come up with a variety of pages, all telling a similar tale about the origin of this breed.  Long story short, a shepherd in California wanted to try to build a medium sized, gentle sheep, that was resistant to parasites, with good mothering skills, and heat and cold tolerant. By combining some hair sheep (Barbados) and wool sheep (Tunis), a new breed was born, but the result was not exactly what was wanted, so the flock was sold to other shepherds, and they developed was is now the California Red sheep. They are a naturally polled breed, which means they are born without horns, with red hair on their faces and legs, and beautiful cream colored wool with flecks of red and grey. They are born dark red brown, and grow their cream colored wool as they get older.  They are good mothers with rich milk, and very docile, although their personalities vary. The wool is great for hand-spinning, of medium weight and softness. They are good for both meat and fiber, the small scale farmers dream come true.

So when a nearby farmer called us on a Wednesday in August of 2013 about selling her little flock of California Red Sheep, we were at a crossroads. We have always talked about sheep, and now we had a real live farm to keep them. But were we really ready? We had never heard of California Red Sheep. We decided to look at the them the following Friday. I fell in love with their beautiful doe-like faces and darling personalities, and we proceeded to bring them to our farm on Saturday using a borrowed trailer and truck. 20130818_133236

20130818_133701We had just moved to our farm in May of 2013, and were very busy with our vegetable operation, but the chance to welcome such a unique breed of sheep to our farm was hard to pass up. We have about 7 acres around our farmhouse that was horse pasture in the past and would be so great to keep a few sheep. These sheep are so very gentle.  We love having animals that our children can be with and pet, and know by name and personality.

We bought our chickens, and their coop and fencing and supplies from the same farm at the same time with our plan to follow behind the sheep doing rotational grazing. They work up the manure the sheep have left, and scratch up the top of the soil, and of course eat the greenery, and bugs. It is a good system, and has been helping to build the soil. We decided not to keep the sheep and chickens in the same fence together for a few reasons, but mostly because the sheep were eating the chicken feed, and the chickens were perching on the sheep, causing bare spots in the wool.20140703_152205_resized20140703_152949_resized

Sheep eat grass, very simply, we don’t have to feed them anything else.  We buy local grain that we tempt them with when we need to move them from place to place.  Grain is like candy to sheep, best kept at a minimum.  We also give them a small amount of minerals each day. The minerals are important, since the pastures have been neglected and are likely missing nutrients, and the sheep are always eager for them.  When the sheep are pregnant and lactating, they need more hay, more water, more minerals.

Our current goal is to continue growing our flock of sheep until we have around 10 breeding ewes and one ram. We raise our own hay, (a neighbor has been baling it for us in small bales) so we know that it is good quality mix of grass and alfalfa. Besides storing the hay there are a variety of jobs required by a small scale shepherd. We bring them fresh water every day. We move them around the pastures using portable electric fencing, and this requires us to have two sets of fencing, grazing the pasture one section at a time. We have had some crazy days in the past nine months where they sheep have pushed under the fencing, their wool insulating them from the zap. We’ve learned that they don’t like to be separated, don’t like to be hungry, and don’t like fireworks. The first few times they escaped, it was like a most exciting adventure in farming. The 50th time, surprisingly, not as fun. We are getting a new permanent fence later this summer that should really help keep our troubles to a minimum.20140117_150156

We also have to trim their hooves, which can be okay in the winter when the ground is snow covered, but not very pleasant in the spring when things are muddy. When the ewes are lambing, we patiently wait for the lambs to arrive, watching, waiting. When they do come, there is much celebration! Last winter was hard, very hard for us, every day, frozen water, and carrying hay through the deep snow. But we lost only one little lamb out of seven due to the cold, and all the ewes made it just fine.20140228_130533

20140504_145933We had the sheep sheared in April, and it went really well. We took the wool to a small woolen mill in Appleton, down on the river called Courtney Woolen Mills. I highly recommend taking your wool there to be cleaned and carded. As a new shepherd, I needed help figuring out what to do with the wool, and Tom Courtney, the owner, provided excellent customer service. He is a third generation owner operator, and uses the same machinery they’ve used for many many years.  If you are a shepherd, please consider supporting them. As with many small businesses, it is hard to find a way to meet your costs these days.

20140703_154620_resizedSo now we have cleaned, carded wool made into batts for spinning, or for quilts. Anyone could buy the batts for crafting too. It would be great for stuffing into small toys, or pillows. It is going to be used for some dyeing projects, and for needle felting here on the farm, and of course for our children’s school projects. Next week, at the Saturday Farmer’s market, we will be bringing our wool to sell, and we can’t wait to show everyone our ‘golden’ fleeces.

We also have cuts of lamb available, shoulder roasts, leg roasts, ground lamb and stew meat.  The boneless roasts are $12/lb, the bone in roasts are $10/lb.  The ground and stew meat are each $7.50/lb.  If you are ordering a whole or half lamb the cost per pound is much less, but you would pay the butchering fee.  We do have to pay license ($165) fees every year to sell our lamb at the farmers market, so we have to figure this into the cost.  As it is right now, we have only taken four lambs to the butcher, and we put one of those in our freezer so that we would be able to try the meat ourselves.  I would have to say that I really do like the taste of our lamb.  It is somewhat closer to the flavor of venison, but almost like grass fed beef. We have simplified our cut list to roasts, ground and stew because some of the other cuts are just not as practical for our uses (lamb chops), but if you order the whole animal, you can get whatever cuts you prefer.

So if you are interested in coming out to visit with the sheep, buying some wool, or ordering a whole lamb, please contact us 715-281-0812, or  brigid@gravelroadfarm.com

 

A Dog That Needed A Farm and A Farm That Needed a Dog

Sometimes you go to the market, not knowing what to expect. Sometimes you sell a lot of stuff, sometimes, you take a bunch of stuff home. But sometimes you are compelled to go just to mingle with the farmers and get a morale boost. All the farmers at the market are usually going through the same things. We talk about the weather, we talk about what we are planting, and what we are hoping for this season. About three weekends ago we set up our tent on the street to sell what little potatoes and onions we had left, and talk up our new CSA box.

There are some new farmers at the market this year, and it is really starting to feel like a great regular crowd. One of the small organic farmers with a meat and egg operation mentioned that they had a puppy who was looking for a home. But not just any home, they really wanted this dog to go to a farm. Their border collie (with Australian shepherd) had eight puppies, a few more than they were planning on, and they found homes for most of them. The last little pup was just waiting for the right people to come along and meet her.

We thought it over for a week, then went to meet the puppy. She was the last of the little ones to find a home, which made me apprehensive and not able to decide until I saw her with my own eyes. This was not the case at all. She has a fabulous temperament, somewhat submissive, and good with little kids. She had been living outside at her home farm, with her brother and mother. We are not ready to have a 100% outside dog, so we were unsure about how a taste of indoor life would work.

It has been three days, and we are so happy to have been given this gift. She already knows how to sit, and has been great at house training. We are going to be teaching her down, stay, fetch, and crate this week. If you met this dog, you would understand how happy we are to have found her. She is very interested in the sheep, but hasn’t been aggressive at all. Her instincts are there, just waiting for the right time to use her skills. She does need some work with chickens, but I think we can master that in no time.

We have been waiting for a long time for this dog, for as long as we have been dreaming of a farm.  We know that every farm needs a dog, a special dog that knows how to greet new people, keep the livestock in line, protect the home, play with kids, learn commands (and not eat the cat.) We weren’t really ready last year, with the stress of moving and starting the farm business, to go through all of that with a new pet. But just about a month or two ago, we started talking about a dog, and opened our hearts and minds to the idea of a good working farm dog.

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I’m sure I am not the only one that these things happen too: the perfect dog, just the right time, the right season. I’m sure anyone who knows puppies might think we are crazy with all the work there is to do on the farm this month, but imagine the most well behaved puppy there ever was. She has arrived, and we hope she is here to stay for a very long time. Welcome home Sweet Pepper!

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Farmer by Day, Librarian by Night.

So the other day a little friend that I know came into the library with her mom for story time. She stood at the desk I was sitting behind, and paused for a moment. She looked up at her mom, then asked in a hushed voice, “What is she doing here?” It was just a day or two before that she had stopped by the farm with her mom to buy some eggs, carrots, potatoes and onions. Her mom and I both had a chuckle at her young brain trying to decipher the situation.

Of course I don’t blame the 4 year old for being confused. I myself have wondered how I came to be a farmer by day and librarian by night. On Tuesdays, I start work at 4pm, and close the children’s library at 8pm. I help kids find books, get them library cards, organize book displays, create bulletin boards, and smile a lot. During the day I take care of my littlest farmhand while the other farmer gets some work done. This time of year, he is starting seedlings, getting equipment fixed up, making spreadsheets, and seeding calendars. But oftentimes during the summer, I found myself down in the field around 3:15, putting away my farm tools, hiking back to the house, to do a quick change into my library clothes.

It was not quite a month after arriving in Waupaca that this job opened up at the library. We had gotten our library cards the day after we emptied the moving truck. It was the second thing we did in town after opening our bank accounts. The library was definitely a place of security, and solace for us, having left everyone we knew, and all our favorite places behind in Pittsburgh. We went to the library pretty often that first month, seeing as we didn’t have internet at our rural rental house and our cell phone service was pretty spotty. If you came to my library, you would understand why people use it so much. Our library has the most friendly helpful staff ready to serve every patron with whatever they need from books to technology.

I’ve talked about our library briefly in this past post, but it is anything but little. This library is located right on Main Street, exactly the same place where our farm market is held in the summer-time. (Sometimes, I get to help set up my farm stand before working my occasional Saturday shift in the basement.) The children’s library is absolutely on target with all that is good and modern. It has all different kinds of healthy toys, and games to play, as well as an expansive collection of picture books, kids magazines, non-fiction and chapter books. And you wouldn’t believe me if I told you about the teen room. It is a huge space for anyone age 13-19, run by teens, staffed by teens, decorated by teens.

I recently was able to record ‘my library story’ in support of my library. I read a short three paragraph essay I wrote about why our library holds such importance to me and our community. My boss hopes she can use mine, and others’ stories to demonstrate how much the library means to everyone in Waupaca. Do you have a library story? Please share it with me, or your favorite librarian.

And by the way, this is National Library Week! And Gravel Road Farm is offering a special deal this week for signing up for our CSA. We will give you a free bottle of honey when you sign up for our full or half share vegetable box, and show us your library card. Check out our CSA sign up form here. And check out the other businesses that are offering specials this week in exchange for showing you have the most important card in your wallet.

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April 13, 2014Permalink 2 Comments

Our Community Supported Agriculture Journey

We’ve come a long way to start our farm here, we’ve risked almost everything we have to start this farm business. We left friends, family and a community of supporters to come and live here in the heart of Wisconsin. We saw an opportunity here however small, and decided it was worth it. After years of nurturing the seeds of our farm dream, we now are taking the opportunity  to nurture the local food system here in Waupaca.  So, on that note, I sat down to write something educational regarding eating seasonal vegetables and our subscription boxes, (aka CSA), but instead I was inspired to relay our evolution from ordinary citizens to local food enthusiasts.

Growing up, my parents both participated in growing a very large garden, keeping bees, and making food from scratch.  They drove to Waupaca every year from their suburban home in Chicago, to buy a side of beef from a farm we can see from our current home. So, it is no surprise that we have evolved into organic farmers, but often times I have forgotten what it was like before we embraced this farm life. I take for granted all the information I know about growing vegetables, keeping them, and preparing them, about raising animals, tapping trees, and gathering wild food.  I really can’t believe it is true, but there was a time when we didn’t even know what the CSA model of farming was.

We bought our house with one acre in the suburbs the year after we were married, and we learned to grow more than just tomatoes. Each year our garden grew in size to finally it was more than 50′ by 100′. We grew a fantastic variety of vegetables, blueberry bushes, a giant patch of strawberries, a plot of rhubarb, and asparagus plants that didn’t grow big enough to harvest before we sold our house and moved.  We eventually added chickens, and bees, and tapped our own maple trees.  But, we still weren’t storing much through the winter, and we were still going to the grocery store every week for a good portion of our food. It took the birth of our first child to really motivate the journey toward better food habits.

Like a ray of sunshine...
Like a ray of sunshine…

We began to search for local milk, then milk in returnable glass bottles, local affordable cheese, and locally grown and milled grains and flours. It was not always easy and instead of going to just one store to do all my shopping, I ended up with a list of places I went to get food. When eating seasonal food, you have to be ready for each fruit ripening, searching out ‘pick your own’ farms for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries. Sometimes the window is only two weeks, or less.

Amazingly, our suburban oasis just happened to have a winery two doors down, a butcher less than five minutes away, a wholesale natural food distributor and farm markets not more than 20 minutes drive, all with the local and sustainable food we needed. When Farmboy quit his office job and started his full time farm manager position at a local organic CSA vegetable farm, we were learning more than how to farm on a much bigger scale, we now gained access to unlimited vegetables! Shockingly, even some that we had never eaten before, despite considering ourselves local foodies.

Canning can seem daunting and scary at first, especially when learning from a book, but we wanted to be able to eat local food all year long, and so we simply just began with pickles and tomatoes, and apples. We graduated to jams and jellies, sauces and kraut soon after.  We bought a chest freezer for the basement, and filled it with frozen vegetables and sides of beef and pork. A good number of people we knew were amazed and inspired by our efforts towards self sufficiency, and they wanted to be part.  We started organizing bulk local food purchases with our friends and family. We invited people over to learn about our backyard maple syrup operation, and our backyard chickens. We could never have envisioned our backyard becoming a suburban farm and education center.

Still at the end of our busy days, we sat down to a meal of our own food, and it was priceless. The food I searched for was a treasure. It tasted better, and satisfied our souls. Every single dollar we’ve spent on local food showed how much we value the small farm. We believe emphatically that small scale agriculture deserves to be rewarded a fair wage, just like any other hard working person on the planet. We are now looking to our customers to show us that same appreciation for our hard work, and our dedication to rich soils, clean water, and healthy animals. This is what buying a CSA share from our new farm is about. It is more than just plopping down $500 in exchange for a box of vegetables every week. It is a choice you are making about what kind of community you want to be part of, and what kind of business you want to see flourish.

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And lastly, my one piece of advice for everyone regarding CSAs: DON’T BE AFRAID. Don’t be afraid to try new things!  Don’t be afraid to change the way things have always been. Don’t be afraid of Food. Fresh vegetables, raw, or cooked, can surprise us with great flavor and feed us in ways we least expect.

Information about our 2014 Vegetable box click here. Our registration form here.

Back to Work

December had been a bit of a break for us from our farm work.  We still have our animal chores a few times a day, and we attended two winter markets at the Waupaca Rec Center, and sold items from our farm.  But, in general we both just needed a break from all the incredibly hard work we are doing here.  Maybe it was all the stress of moving on top of starting our own business, but we just naturally fell into a slowdown, like resting in a fresh pile of snow after playing for hours.  I think our first year took much of our cheerful enthusiasm, and now we are digging deeper for energy to start the new season.

We took a much needed trip back to Pittsburgh to see our family there and some friends. We filled our cups with the pleasures of home, food, warmth (40 degrees even), and kindness.  We enjoyed visiting and resting, taking it easy, not trying to do too much.  The intense amount of driving involved with three young children makes for a stressful day, but other than that we had a great trip.

Our family and friends ‘financed’ our trip by purchasing an amazing amount of food from our farm. It was so nice to be able to ‘bring the farm’ to some great people who have supported us from the beginning. We wish we could balance our lives differently between Waupaca and Pittsburgh, but we honestly love our little piece of Wisconsin and the life we are living here.  Although, it is very hard to reconcile the feelings of longing for our old haunts, and the desire for our peaceful scenic farm.

Now it is back to work with fervor for us this month.  The next five days are going to be arctic-like below freezing temperatures (-20!) and we have been spending some time insulating a few of the animal structures with whatever we can work out from things around the farm.  The chickens got a thick layer of spoiled hay on top of the camper-coop like a fuzzy blanket.  We’ve put water and food inside the coop and moved the sheep water and feed close to their shelter.  We’ve upped the rations some to ignite their inner furnaces.  The sheep have put on some beautiful winter coats of thick creamy wool, and deep red fur around their faces.  The chickens are certainly performing better that I had expected, laying a couple dozen eggs a day, although there isn’t much hope for production during the upcoming deep freeze.  We just hope that none of them are hurt too badly by the frigid temperatures.  Reports are warning that bare skin is at risk of frostbite with just 5-10 minutes of exposure and each of the chickens have bare combs on their heads.

But besides the animals, we have a cooler full of great looking food still.  We have many crates of cabbage, carrots, beets, potatoes, and onions. If you are looking for any of these items we are looking to sell them and possibly at bulk prices -just ask.   We have our next winter market on Saturday the 11th at the Waupaca Rec Center, from 9am-1pm, and the warmer weather (30s?) hopefully will bring out the customers.  We are making more sauerkraut, and more pickled beets this week since we have nearly sold out of them.  Please take the time to come by and visit with us and talk to us about local food, our CSA program we are starting this year, and suggestions for what you want us to grow for you this year.   Thanks for reading every body, and I sincerely hope you are all staying as warm as you can this week.

The Money Pit.

Remember me talking about the nieghbor across the street from our farmland who wanted to sell us a house.  Well, we decided that we really just had to buy it.  We really don’t have that kind of money to pour into a century old farmhouse, but there was no denying the fact that we loved the place.  And how about the location?  If you stand on the second floor bedrooms and look East you can see our farm laid out before you.  Sorry I don’t have a photo, but the old drafty windows are all covered with opaque plastic to keep the cold weather out.

The kitchen needs work, and the bathroom.  They are really in very poor condition. Very livable by my standards, but if we are ever going to fix them at all, we feel very compelled to do it before we move in. Plus for a family that cooks and stores nearly all their food from scratch, this kitchen would be completely frustrating to work in.

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As you can see in these pictures the kitchen looks okay, but in reality it is dirty, and there is dog scratches, and chewing damage and pet smell. There is no door on the bathroom, and the toilet looks like it might fall off the wall with the next flush.  There is no shower, unless you count the one in the basement that isn’t hooked up to any drains as far as we can tell.  The fridge is clean and new, but the stove looks like it had seen better days, and the 3/4 sized dishwasher doesn’t look like it closes all the way.

bird wall paperThe four bedrooms upstairs are all nice sized, some with some ancient wall paper on them, and some of the ceilings are very old cracking plaster, not ever painted.  Some of the rooms have some unique color choices for bedroom walls, bright purple and bright blue.  Luckily, they might be the colors of walls that children would appreciate.  Two of the rooms don’t have any closets.  Oh well, who needs closets.  We are modern pioneers, right?

Let’s not forget the 24 windows that are all in need of replacing and the roof that will need to be replaced this fall as well.  And the floors that need some refinishing, and the 7.8 acres of land that is part of the property that will all need to be mowed, and cared for.  Oh, did I forget to mention that?  Not that we need 7 more acres in addition to the 40 across the street that we own, but it will be great for keeping our small flock of laying hens up near the house. And pigs. And sheep.

We aren’t really going to have time to work on this house, but somehow we are going to make time stretch or stand still or something, because in reality, this is a dream come true for us.  Better than we could have possibly imagined.  Time to pull up the bootstraps, and roll up the shirt sleeves, and get to work.

P.S.  Anyone have an antique armoire or two they want to part with?

 

 

 

Everything Falling into Place

How could it be?  How could it be that everything is falling into place?  How could we have a great buyer for our house in Pittsburgh, the 40 acres waiting quietly for us, a farmhouse across the street, a temporary rental less than a mile away, local farmers and families that are eager to help, a new, free, Waldorf school opening next fall, a local beekeeping business, neighbors that are overflowing with kindness and advice.

I am not the kind of person who believes in the super natural, but honestly, I am starting to think there might be something to this idea of guardian angels.  My friends will tell you that if anyone deserves these things in life, it would be our little family.  I am not as inclined to believe it, having a healthy dose of humility.  But the way things look, it is hard to think it was just a series of good decisions on our part.

We close on our dream farmhouse on February 1st.  We start working on the interior work as soon as we can on that day.  Then in the early Spring after we are done with our fixing up, we move in to our forever home.  The money is going to run out pretty quickly, but I am on the verge of getting a job this week.  The taxpayers and the state of Wisconsin are going to give us a little help (in the form of health insurance for the whole family) for a few months until we get going, and I am incredibly thankful for this.  It is like a soft pillow for our crash landing.

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January 6, 2013Permalink 1 Comment

Now we feel smart.

We are not really tech people.   We’ve never owned any smart phones, or tablets.  But we are living in 2013 and feel like we need to bring our new farm into this realm with the best technology we can afford.  We have easily learned how to make this little blog, (we mostly figured it out on our own. ) And anyways, I, more than anyone, love to  exercise the brain working on the ins and outs of technology.

And so, Merry Christmas to us, we have smartphones and they are going to probably be able to do everything we want them too.  Although, we have yet to see how well our phones will work out in the field.  I’m kinda sort of thinking being away from the internet sometimes will be just the kind of thing we want.  Plus, now we can text each other from across the 40 acres about where to dump the manure.

All my city friends are wondering what I mean when I say that we don’t have internet at our house.  We do have access to the internet, but usually it is a very weak signal on our smart phones and if you are familiar with them, it is hard to do much work on them, with those tiny screens.  We can hit up lots of WiFi in town, especially at the library, but as soon as we get a mile away, we are back to roaming data, one to two bars on our phones and a signal that isn’t 3G or 4G, but called 1X.  We have been using the new phones in all different spots in the rental house though, and sometimes you can find a good signal to work in, and get 4G and two bars, then you are really cookin’.

Of course right now the phones are being monopolized by the 8 and under part of the family, with all kinds of new games and learning apps, these kids will be smarter than me in no time.  But for business, on my list in the near future is to figure out our preferred method for taking payments.  Of course cash is our first choice, but wouldn’t it be great to get a little machine to print out fancy receipts and everything?  We are already lined up to get Square, so that we can take credit cards, and we don’t even have anything to sell yet.  Something tells me we might be able to get by without all this fancy stuff. We will see.

So if you want our new digits, you need to send me an email at brigid@gravelroadfarm.com and I will send you our numbers.  Thanks for reading everyone.