Monday, December 31, 2018

Maid-N-Meadows: Winter 2018 Update

     We are making progress, folks! Slowly but surly, the cheese facility is rising out of the dust! We had a good year this year and have so much to be thankful for. But watching our family and friends come together to help us get this building up has been the most awesome experience yet.
     This past month has been a nail biting venture for me. I don't think Daniel had any doubts, but having poured the walls last month, we were ready for pouring the floor this month. But the weather just hadn't cooperated. It was always too rainy and/or too cold to pour concrete. The construction sight became slick and sticky with red, muddy clay.
      After the long slog of prep work was complete and the footers were carefully dug, we were ready for concrete. We pounced on the first warm day, calling in all the help we could muster. Boys and men were working right up to the trucks pulling in with concrete, trying to get the rebar in to reinforce the new floors. Many hands make like work and, after three concrete trucks, the floor was in!

     It did not take long for the boys to latch on to this new success and jump into getting the walls up! We found this interesting fella that buys up all the extra and misfit supplies from contractors who are working on big jobs and then resells those supplies to people like us. It was a nice discount from the lumber yard and we like putting our money back into the local community. Here is another look at the overall design.

         The cave walls will be 2x6's so that we can incorporate more insulation. The office will be small, but we sacrificed space there to have a larger packing room. Plus there will be a loft upstairs that we can use as office space as well. The make room can accommodate two vats and a small soup kettle that can also be used as a vat for small quantities of sheep milk!
         Walls are coming up fast! I wish all aspects of the process went this fast. We are excited to bring the operation back home and get the next season started! See ya next year!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Married To An Ex-Mennonite: Part 1

            I have always had an admiration for those who lived the "plain" lifestyle and devoted their lives to work, family, and God. My mother once remarked that I was born in the wrong century. As a child I couldn't get enough of sewing and canning with my grandmother. A house full of children was always a dream of mine.....and I am blessed to say that childhood dreams can come true!
        When I met Daniel, I met a man in suspenders and a straw hat. He was recently expelled from the Tennessee Churches, a conservative Mennonite group with members mostly in Kentucky and Tennessee. His six sisters had moved out of his house shortly after he was expelled and though he still attended his former community's church meetings, it was not a pleasant or worshipful experience. His isolation was palpable. But he was making his way, forming new friendships and alliances with the rest of our farming community.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Maid-N-Meadows: Fall 2018 Update!

      Life feels so crazy these days, but I am happy to report that it is a good kind of crazy. After a long summer of chaos and endless days, we have reached a time of busy punctuated with times of rest. Plus! We are seeing the people we love and nourish us from before Maid-N-Meadows. The only problem is, now, we miss our market friends!
       We have been doing a lot of craft markets this past month and Daniel has enjoyed meeting new people. We are always blessed by the warm welcome and kindness we receive from the folks in the Springfield/Clarksville, Tennessee area.
      It was at these markets that our newest project/product made its debut. We have been donating our whey to Daniel's brothers hogs. They live an outdoor life with plenty of range and lots of opportunity to root and wallow. They also only eat GMO free feed and what they find in their outdoor environment. So they are pretty clean eating, as pigs go! We feel charcuterie is a nice compliment to cheese and these pigs fit the sort of practices we wish to promote. So we combined forces with Webb's Butcher Shop to create this summer sausage and snack sticks.
     The summer sausage has been a spectacular hit and we plan to make more when we run out!
      Progress on the facility is moving slowly. I am very worried we will not be able to pour the concrete floor as it is cold now and only going to get colder! Not getting this done would be a major problem as it would hold up the rest of the building process. We are not going to return to the old facility, so our cheese inventory would definitely run out come spring. So we sit at the edge of our seat as we do what we can to keep things moving, watch the weather, and ultimately wait for the temperatures to be right. All things work together for good, so we will just have to accept God's timeline.
     But with some major help from family, the walls are poured and standing strong! It amazes me how Daniel has experience in so many areas of construction and practical living! He will be able to head up the entire project, except for the part that the state is requiring our commercial plumber to handle.
       Also, the editor of Edible Nashville blessed us with a great surprise this fall when she included us in the latest edition! What we love about this magazine is that it focuses on the local food chain. From local grocers to local producers and makers, this magazine promotes community through food. Food has been a connector for eons and here it is again, bringing us together for a purpose greater than any one of us......which is to promote a hopeful and bright future for the next generation.

     Manuela from Ella P. Photography took our pictures for us! She handles big families like ourselves with ease and produced unique shots of our family on the farm. Little Beulah was just three days old in these pictures!

              Last, but not least, I want to share that we have been enjoying our little Beulah. We have taken some time to reconnect as a family and celebrate our blessings. She has many arms to hold her and everyone loves to dote over her. Even three year old Pilgrim likes to "pet" her. We look forward to a quieter winter with time spent with family and friends, Lord willing. We have a lot to be thankful for! Blessings to all our readers and thanks for coming along for the ride!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Baby Has Arrived!

           Just before all my sanity escaped me......Beulah Rose Showalter arrived. Jaden, the only girl of seven boys, had been hoping and praying this day would come! Finally, a sister to hold, dress up, and play with!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Maid-N-Meadows: Fall Has Arrived!

      Fall is finally here and with it comes a blessed cool down! Markets are coming to a close and the cows are beginning to wind down production. On the home front, school has started for the children and we are all counting down, waiting for baby Showalter to arrive.
      As an answered prayer, we have been awarded some help with our loan for a cheese facility at home from the Kentucky Office of Agricultural Development. They will guarantee half of our loan with an interest rate of 2.75% for ten years! What a relief! We are so ready to be home on our farm, full time! Get ready for the fall workbees!
                 It is a whirlwind of a time as we prepare to close on this loan, wait for the new baby, and try to get our hay up.....while still running markets, deliveries, and the cheese facility an hour and a half away! We are tired but committed to finishing strong and feel encouraged by all we have managed to do this summer.

        We splurged this year and took the children to the State Fair. Our first fair, ever, actually. We wanted the children to know how much we appreciated their hard work through the season in a way that celebrates our lives as farmers. Largest pumpkin contests, amid youth animal shows, spiked with ferris wheel rides, seemed like the perfect way to do that. The children have carried their weight during the hard times, as a family does for each other, and we have valued their insight and input in the operation.

        Fall is kind of like starting a new year! So many things shift in our daily lives! As the garden dies back and the leaves begin to fall, school feels fresh again and a whole host of hopes and plans come into focus! The weather is comfortable to work in as we catch up on the summer backlog. Tidying up the fences, or repairing feeders, there is no end to the work. Priorities decide what gets done and what waits.
        Winter preparations begin as we look forward to friends and family, gathered around hot meals and festivities. Bike riding as a family or picnicking with friends, has been something we have had to cut from the schedule due to lack of time. But we eagerly look forward to those leisurely times together, again!
Looking forward to a season of rejuvenation and rest as we cobble together a facility at home! Come say "HI!" at the last few markets of the season! We love seeing you and appreciate all your support and encouraging feedback!
Keely and Daniel and the rest of the crew!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

USDA Micro Loans, State Programs, Banks = Small Business Finance

       We have to build a facility, folks. The business looks viable, we have learned all we can from our mentor, and having accomplished these goals, we have to reduce our travel time and stress levels by bringing this business back home to the farm. But being a young business and this being the first year of working it full time and relying upon it for our financial needs, we just don't have the funds to throw up a facility.
          Before starting to look for financing, I combed the internet looking for the experiences of others. But I mostly came up empty handed. Weird! I know we are not the only farmers who have needed financing. We hate borrowing as much as the next person, but when it has to be done, it has to be here is a run-down of the options we found and some tips and mistakes we learned from along the way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Crash! Burn! Rise!

     Life has been pretty intense! We have been doing all the milking, cheesemaking, packaging, marketing, and delivering cheese ourselves for the past two months. (Except for the fine work our distributors do....(I love you guys so much right now!!!)) With the cows and the facility a 3 hour round trip away and our markets and major buyers in cities that are a 4 hour round trip away, our weeks are maxed out. When we have part of a day off, we stare glassy-eyed into space, utterly fatigued and burnt out.
      Daniel continues to amaze me with his endurance and optimism. He goes without sleep and food in a race against time to keep up with everything. Meanwhile, I'm not faring so well. Be it pregnancy hormones, the 33 extra pounds, low iron levels, or all of the above, I can barely move and I am a blubbering mess.

      When I say blubbering mess I actually mean  a virtual meltdown where one is in a state of despair and questioning whether they can continue going in this direction. That's right! A year and a half in and countless hours, all our financial reserves and I am wondering if we should just quit.
  • I miss my family being together. I miss my husband! 
  • I miss sunsets and sunrises on the farm....quiet times and coffee time!
  • I miss doing fun things on Sunday with the I stare at the ceiling in exhaustion.
  • I miss friends, family, vacations....anything fun.
  • I miss real that I cooked and does not belong in the sandwich category!
     After a particularly depressing attempt to achieve funding for the new facility, I just fell apart.
     A-N-D.....not quietly, in a corner, like usual! Due to missing a commitment, my family caught wind of my disfunction. AND.....they sprung into action. Food, transportation to a baby well care visit, help with clothes, and basically just meeting our needs where we are... arrived through thousands of miles of travel and efforts. I am still not exactly sure how to go on, but I have a few ideas.
         It is humbling to have a family that loves me that much...but I am so grateful. Everyone needs that kind of support sometimes and to be reminded that someone values them. I never want to abuse such support and I hate the inconvienence  they have suffered for it, so I want it to mean something. I want it to support fruit in me that is successful and stable. Also, a full cup has something to give to others! I desperately want to pay some of that love and support forward.
      The take away here is that in the crucible of life, family can make the difference between burn-out and hope. So on we go....with renewed strength and hope.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Small Business Sacrifice

        We have entered a period of pure insanity for our family. With our beloved milkhand sick for almost 2 months, our family has been managing almost every single aspect of two farms.
          Farming is a tough business, maybe one of the hardest kinds of businesses. With animals it can be like parenting at times. One can't just leave critters to their own devices. They manage to get into all kinds of perilous adventures. Which is kind of a double whammy in the business world. On one hand there is the business and marketing aspect. On the other side there are the logistics of not just manufacturing, maintanence, and repair, but actually keeping animals comfortable and well cared for. Any farmer will tell you that that is a job all by itself. Maybe it is why many farmers prefer to stay specialized on the farm and leave the marketing and manufacturing aspect to others.
Making sure baby gets that colostrum. From then on, mama cow handles the feeding!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Small Business Helpers

      There have been a few tools that have helped us keep our costs down, even if they have not always been terribly efficient. Starting out, dreams are often bigger than the pocket book, so sometimes flexibility and low out of pocket costs are the way to go. As we get the hang of things, we will certainly streamline the operation. But here are a few things that gave us a leg up.

        One tool we use ALOT is our little Brother label machine. It makes the barcodes our stores want and when we are experimenting with cheese types, ingredients, or names we can easily make a custom label. This gives us a lot of flexibility and allows customer feedback before we invest in full on production and labeling!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Maid-N-Meadows Spring 2018 Update: Special Announcement!

        Though spring is sliding into summer, I wanted to just check in and share what has been going on in our little world! We are working with the bees, cleaning out the barn, prepping for hay, and of course, making cheese.
       Earlier this spring, Daniel and Jacob captured two bee swarms. Having lost 2 last year, we are now back up to full strength. We are still new to bees and have a lot to learn. Hopefully we can provide these girls with plenty of wildflower covered fields this summer.

        Both swarms were in trees and took some finagling to get. In the last one, we had to put a ladder in the tree trunk so we could reach the branch. Thankfully, swarming bees are pretty docile...
       The boys have been cleaning out the goat barn for the last month. They are nearly done and I think relieved. It has been a lot of forking! The upside has been that they get to drive the tractor! What teenage boy would turn that opportunity down?! They are looking forward to clipping the weeds off the fields and cutting hay. Actually, we are probably all looking forward to cutting hay!               Calving season is in full swing with six bulls and five little heifers! You may have seen some of them on Maid-N-Meadow Mondays on our Facebook page. My favorite is Copper's daughter, of course! Copper has such pretty coloring and the calf's sire was a French bull of the Montbelairde breed. (This is a breed which works well for cheese making.)
         Victoria just had her calf a couple of days ago, but true to the unique nature of each cow, Victoria left her little bull to fend for himself. After 4 hours of searching, the boys found him. It is a good thing because he was starving! He is super little but super cute.
           Molly also had her calf! We rescued Molly out of the slaughter pen last year. On grain her milk production was so high that her udder was swollen and hanging just inches off the ground. Due to her weight, the auctioneer figured she was worth more as meat than as a milker. On grass she has done so well! She is a real milker and has birthed a fine bull!

        We may have 17-18 cows on the line, milking this year. That is great for cheese production! But we are struggling to manage everything. Energy levels are pretty low as we struggle to make cheese at a facility that is a 3 hour round trip from home. We must somehow build a facility this summer and feel exhausted just contemplating it. Small businesses are a lot of work, but combine small business and farming and it will just about lay a body to waste. A person can only function on 22 hour days for so long. We are not sure how to restructure to make life more fun and less exhausting. But rest assured we are exploring our options! Which brings us to our SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!
         The Showalter family is expecting a new member, Lord willing! Arrival is expected sometime in October. We are weary and worn, but excited about this new child. May he or she bring something special to this world and may we be worthy of shepherding this next generation.

       That is all for now! See everyone on Facebook or at our farmers market, Hip Donelson, in Nashville! 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Buying Cattle At A Livestock Auction: Good Deals & Sad Deals

        Having recently been back to the stock pen for a few more cows, I felt some attention needed to be spent discussing the finer points of dairy cattle auctions. So many cows are going as hamburger, not because they are not valuable milkers, but because their weight make them more valuable dead than alive.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Small Business: Marketing Cottage Food

       Starting a business is like a maze of possibilities with twists and turns galore. The wrong path can cost the business its future, so careful choices are a must! We have made our share of mistakes in running Maid-N-Meadows. We have made the wrong product at the wrong time. We have taste tested product with stuffy noses, before shipping it out. (Please, don't make THAT mistake!) We have been inefficient and ill equipped for the task at hand....causing us to work around the clock. We have been wrong in our cost of product forecasts and labor forecasts....The list goes on and on!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Your Story Hour is here!

       Looking for clean and edifying entertainment for the whole family? Check out the audio stories on Your Story Hour! When the children are sick or nursing a injury and are bed bound, these stories pass the time. When we are in the car on long trips, these make the time fly by. When cooking dinner and the children are hungry and antsy, listening to a story calms all of our nerves.
       They have stories with a lesson, historical nonfiction stories, and Bible stories too! They are so engrossing, my husband has been known to sit in the car in the driveway until the story is over, when he would normally be jumping on to the next project.
        Currently, we listen to the free stories and one day we hope to contribute to this ministry which has blessed so many. So check it out and tell us what you think!

         While you are there, check out Adventures in the Holy Bible. We have used this course to help the children practice navigating the Bible as they have to hunt through it to find the answers to questions. Parents will want to preview it though to ensure it lines up with family theology.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Maid-N-Meadows Spring 2018 Update!

        Goodness! It has been a long climb to get to this point! (Literally and figuratively) Here is the hill poor one-eyed Bertha slid/tumbled down in a roaming adventure gone wrong! Landing upside down and ready to bloat, another hour and we would have lost her.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Walk In The Light!

There's a Light that was shining
when the world began,
And a Light that is shining in the heart of man:
There's a Light that is shining
in the Turk and the Jew,
And a Light that is shining, friend,
in me and in you.
Walk in the Light, wherever you may be,
Walk in the Light, wherever you may be!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Maid-N-Meadows: Springing Into Action

       Spring is right around the corner and the family is preparing to return to milking and cheese making. We have had a few set backs and challenges though. So as we work to overcome obstacles we hope you will wish us some heavenly encouragement!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Favorite Books For Family Reading!

      We love books but we also want to spend our time on things of a noble nature. (Phil 4:8) This can be a challenge when time is limited and it feels as though we are stretching ourselves beyond our limits to try and pre-read every book we want to offer our children....and yet we want to guard their hearts at this tender time.
      Over the years I have been blessed by the book lists of others and tonight I offer a list of our own. Though we are Christian and our understanding of theology falls under the label of Quaker, you will find some secular books and some from non-Christian parts of the world. We are not afraid of other cultures or peoples because God is the light that lights EVERY man. We feel called to answer or speak to that of God in everyone and we ourselves have much to learn in response.
        We read as family in the morning during breakfast and sometimes in the evening after supper. It is a time many of the children look forward to. For me, it is an opportunity to squeeze in one more noble thing in the day.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dairy Sheep Diary

  Welcome little lamb, to the farm! He is the newest addition to the little flock of East Friesians already here on the farm. They are Jacob's project and we have enjoyed watching him flourish in this season of initiative and responsibility. 

        Jacob has long wanted sheep alongside the family project of raising goats. Understandably he was originally drawn to Jacob sheep. What teenager wouldn't be attracted to unusual spots and four to six erratically pointy horns?
       But then we were developing this cheese making idea and we thought, "Hey, with a cheese making facility, there would be room for developing more areas of specialization with cheese making." I was fascinated by the idea of all the different ways sheep can be marketed....from wool and meat, to milk and cheese, even soap!
        So we were looking around in a basic way, just kind of pricing things out and seeing how functional of a business option this was. At 30$ a pound, sheep cheese is a pricey product and there are few in the states meeting the market. The milk has high solids and remarkably, can be frozen for later cheese making. But the down side is that there are no tariffs on foreign sheep cheeses coming into the U.S. and cheese from countries where the farmers are government subsidized with strong breeding programs is impossible to beat price wise. Sheep give relatively small amounts of milk and only milk seasonably, so maintenance costs are high when one considers their limited output. 
      Case in point, this award winning cheese making family shut their doors last year when they could not maintain profitability....even with their cheese retailing at 30$ a pound and a demand that they never could meet!
      But we are still intrigued by the idea and are inspired by Glendale Shepherd.  With the help of interns and volunteers, they manage to keep up and running. Introduction to Dairy Sheep has some good points and numbers to start with.
     Bonnieview Farm is another sheep dairy...with a twist! They milk cows and sheep! I love their artwork and CSA ideas. Their farm reminds me so much of ours.
     Watching these videos of Northland initially interested us in sheep dairying. Notice the small cheese facility and the storage of milk in buckets and the creative cheese making vat, which is actually an old commercial soup kettle! These videos were produced by Cornell with the farmer in mind. They really covered so many different aspects of how this farm runs. But notice that there is still an off farm income!
         Maid-N-Meadows began as a way for our family to live the life we love, care for our animals the way they deserve, and make a quality product everyone could enjoy. We would love to open up our cheese facility and support other local families doing what they love! Which is farming of course! Currently there is no outlet for selling goat or sheep milk in our area. Wouldn't it be great if we could do that? 
      So dairy sheep started as a way to allow our children to experiment with their own niche in the farming business, but perhaps it can grow to encompass more families looking to do what they love in a financially stable way.