Friday, December 10, 2010

Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, MA

Daniel Botkin is the definition of a "natural-born" teacher.

Remember in school when there was a "cool" teacher the other kids had, but you always had the boring ones?  When you meet Daniel, you realize right away that he is an educator and you wish he had been there when you were growing up.  He assesses your level of understanding about any given subject, and works from there.  He will literally die before he let's you get away without learning something!

Before he became a farmer, Daniel did, in fact, teach school for over 25 years.  His subjects included English, Spanish, Physical Education and more at public schools, a family planning agency and a school for "at risk" youths.  (He was also a professional foot-bagger (the correct name for hacky-sacker), traveling far and wide to major competitions, but that's another story and another reason why you wish he had been your teacher!)

Ten years ago, Daniel and his wife, Divya, purchased a home on 3 acres of land atop a small mountain in western Massachusetts.  They grow vegetables year-round in their hoop houses and they raise 8 goats (for the meat, milk and entertainment!).

Now, from his micro-farm, Daniel teaches workshops about growing food, raising goats and  permaculture (integrating the land with it's inhabitants).  His website is absolutely loaded with educational material about micro-farming.  In fact, there are 17 short eHow videos about How to Build Hoop Houses.  Another interesting section of his website includes his article, "Gleaning, Dumpster Diving and a Philosophy of Farming."  

He grows vegetables year round by utilizing hoop houses and cold frames, simple wood structures covered with greenhouse plastic.  As he points out, they aren't pretty but the vegetables sure taste good in February!  (Actually, many of the greens do taste sweeter when they are grown in the cold months.)

There are 6 hoop houses, altogether, and we started our tour with the largest one.  Sure enough, although it was late November, the plants were thriving:
The smaller hoop houses are low to the ground, but it's easy to pick the harvest.

In the summer, Daniel usually takes on young interns and mentors them in his farming methods.  Unfortunately, this doesn't really work when it comes to milking the goats.  The interns typically stay for a month or so and that isn't enough time to teach them to milk properly.  (As you know, goats can be difficult to milk.)  Daniel also needs every drop of the milk he gets and he can't risk losing a bucket or two.

That's Daniel and Divya's daughter, Leylee at right.
The resident buck (black and white) has mated with almost all of the does, so in 5 months, there will be kids.

Daniel gave me a glass of fresh goat's milk and I pronounced it the best I have tasted.  Then, he showed me his method for making Queso Blanco.  It turned out to be almost exactly the recipe in our book, "Home Cheese Making" which uses only vinegar to acidify the milk.  However, Daniel "never ever ever ever" measures anything when cooking or making cheese, including temperatures, so it may not be "exactly" the same.


Daniel Botkin's Queso Blanco

1.  He takes 2 1/2 - 3 gallons of goat's milk and heats it "directly" (on the stove) to near boiling.

2.  He lets it sit for 3 minutes or so.

3.  He pours white vinegar into it until he sees it curdle, stopping when the whey is yellow:
4.  Then he lets it cool down for an hour or so (just because he doesn't like to deal with it when it's still hot).

5.  Then, he drains the whey into a bucket (for the goats):
6.   He puts the colander in the sink and lines it with cheesecloth.
7.  Then he pours the curds into it and salts them.
8.  Then he hangs it above the sink to drain.
9.  After a couple of hours, he cuts it up and wraps it in waxed paper.  Daniel says he uses it in almost everything.  It doesn't melt, so it's handy in stir-frys or used as a substitute for tofu.   I can confirm that it's absolutely delicious!
One last note about Daniel- he designed the stained glass window below.   It tells the story of his life.  That's him on the right playing hacky-sack:

1 comment:

thefisherlady said...

fun to see someone else who loves goats!