A Day on the Farm

Yesterday we had the pleasure of visiting the source of one of our Farmers’ Market staples. When we learned that REAP Food Group was having a “Day on the Farm” event at Dreamfarm, just outside of Cross Plains, we signed up right away. Dreamfarm, which is operated by Diana and Jim Murphy and their family produces several delicious goat cheeses we buy all through the season. They also sell eggs from the hens they raise on their twenty-five acre organic farm.

All of their chickens are kept outside on pasture. At night they move into white hoop houses that have laying boxes in them. They’re allowed to scratch and feed and cluck contentedly until the area starts to show some wear and then the hoop house and fence are moved to the next area to allow the previous one to regenerate before being grazed again.

The Murphys have several breeds of chickens, one of which is the Bovan which they get from an Amish supplier in my home town. They’re a reddish brown color and are reportedly good egg producers. I think they’re just beautiful. When it comes time for us to get some chickens, it’s going to be hard to choose among the various breeds available.

A little farther down the valley from the chicken pastures is a group of beehives. These aren’t the Murphy’s. They belong to someone else who is keeping them on their land. Jim said he might get bees of his own some day, but only to produce honey for himself and not for the market.

Back up the hill we met, to me, the real stars of the farm livestock. Right now they are milking twenty-four goats to produce their cheeses. The herd is a mix of breeds–Jim mentioned Nubians and Alpines but I missed the rest. They’re bred yearly and the kids are mostly sold, although it sounds like they may try to increase their pasture space to keep more of them in the future.

Right next door is a small flock of Jacob’s sheep. This is an ancient breed they keep to preserve the genetic stock. The spotted fleeces are used to produce a range of colors. A spinner/knitter demonstrating on the farm told me she sorts the colors to produce different colored yarns. Look at all those horns!

After viewing all this livestock, it was time for lunch! The meal was prepared by several Madison restaurants. It included a fresh green salad with summer squash, a beet salad with peas, green beans and dill, chicken shawarma, lamb kofta, hummus, tabouleh, and kind of a “heap o’ gyro” with goat meat from the farm. I washed it down with a cold glass of rhubarb lemonade, something I’ve got to try making myself.

Just as I was saying it would be nice to have something sweet to follow up that hearty, spicy lunch we happened on the tent where they were serving goat milk gelato! We each got a scoop of plain and one of cajeta which is a cooked, carmelized goat milk essentially like dulce de leche. Fresh local berries, a sprinkle of granola and a drizzle of honey topped it all off. It. Was. Fantastic!

Sweet tooth satisfied we then joined the first of the formal tours of the farm. The tour started with a visit to the cheesery. Diana ran us through the process of how she makes her different cheeses. It’s a painstaking process that requires a lot of skill and knowledge. She told us how the pasteurizer works and the differences in how the fresh and aged cheeses are made. It’s all hand work and lots of it. Several years ago we attended the premier of a documentary film called “Living on the Wedge.” It’s about artisan cheesemakers in Wisconsin. I remember Diana making an appearance in the film just when she was working on the intern stage, I believe, of her cheesemaking education. It’s so awesome now to see her producing and marketing such superior products on her own farm.

Visiting Dreamfarm reminded me how easy it is to get caught up in romantic fantasies about what country living is. The bucolic scenery and serene livestock can lull you into believing just shucking off the city life and retreating to “a place in the country,” as the Co-Conspirator and I now refer to our hypothetical destination, will lead only to restful satisfaction. But we really do know better. I only had to get a whiff of the air in one of those chicken houses to be transported back to my younger days hauling water and feed to a flock of chickens. Farming is hard, endless work. My hope is that in the easygoing events of the day the message still gets through and that the guests to the farm appreciated what goes into what the farm produces. Bon appetit and thank a farmer.

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