Tuesday, February 2, 2016

year in review




Try to recall a year chronologically and you may get caught up in the nostaligia of minute details and the proper sequencing of it all. It's taken me weeks and I've not enjoyed the process, and yet I feel it's important to recall certain things of 2015, to etch them into the internet and protect them from the distorting haze of time. Memories are unreliable. Studies show that the more we recall a memory the more we reshape it, adding bits, layering experiences. They call this memory reconsolidation. 


Think of when you've taken long trips away from home; say more than 2 weeks... when you return everything inside your house feels a bit different. It lasts only a few seconds usually; but the feeling is distinct as your brain re-recognizes it surroundings. The interior dimensions of rooms, the layout of all your things on tables and walls -- having not changed at all, having merely sat in the silence and dark of your absense, is mysteriously and minutely different.  


What follows are photos; a non-sequencial recap of what was a very full and productive year for us at Saipua. The photos are real, and I guarantee you that I took them all, was in that place in that moment behind the camera. What I cannot guarantee is the accuracy of all the stories I am about tell. Believe it or not, my chickens, I am an embellisher; and though I pride myself on honesty and describing this life the way it really is, remember that I come from an industry of dreamweavers...so here we go...


2015 started off with my discovery of whipped cream in a can. I used it as an easy snack in-between farm chores (true) but I also told people that I carried it in my jacket pocket and traveled with it, and that I could not leave home without it (false; I often did in fact leave home without a can of whipped cream). Recently, while moving out of our city apartment, I discovered a dozen (actually 3) cans of whipped cream in the refrigerator and was thankful that this trend was over (mostly) because whipped cream in a can is actually not cheap and not particularly good for you. 



It is true that we relinquished our apartment this year, after 8 years at 168 Coffey Street, arguably the most beautiful block in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The top floor of a row house built for sailors in the 1860's (true), it was a bit shabby with its decades-old cheap linoleum kitchen floor and peeling ceiling paint throughout. The plumbing never drained, and when you took a shower you were often standing in 4 inches of water by the time you finished (true). Raccoons often nested in the walls (true). Downstairs there were a handful of tenants (actually only one) who found ways to passive aggressively complain about the thin floors and my very early morning schedule.


I emptied it out a few days after christmas, amidst a whirlwind of Saipua events. With an event company, moving becomes just another task on a todo list. U-Hauls and hands were sent over to handle the load out of almost a decade worth of carefully collected junk. Junk that now sits in various boxes and garbage bags alongside tarps of compost in our new studio. I will miss those mixed up wall colors, and the privacy the apartment afforded me; a sanctuary in what is often a storm of saipua meetings and events when I am in the city. My evenings spent dancing alone or sitting in the window smoking. I was on the phone with my accountant discussing the reality of Saipua's first profitable year (true) when the boys came up for the last load and looked at me and then the bench I was sitting on. When I stood up they carried out the last things from under me. I stayed there two more nights with just a mattress, a coffee set up, my laptop, a burner phone,  and some files on the tremendous wedding we were in the midst of producing. It was two days after Christmas in NYC. I joked with staff that I was living like Peter Quinn, a lone assassin in an empty apartment, but no one got it because none of them watch TV.

I drove home for a quick christmas before the big event and managed to loose my grocery bag somewhere along the way. Down in the kitchen garden I pulled the last carrots and clipped some miraculously unfrozen arugula. We roasted some lamb and made an aioli from our hens eggs. (Let the record state that the picture of carrots is from Thanksgiving, but is generally representative of WorldsEnd-Christmas-Miracle-Carrots...)

2015 was a year where we really started eating off the farm. Where we could create whole meals with farm food - save for olive oil, lemons and wine. And coffee. I've always fantasized about a closed system farm - impossible to achieve but not impossible to strive for.  There is a distinct difference there. 


2015 saw the completion of half of our giant barn. The half on the left there; the half for teaching and events. This mammoth project took so much time and money to complete and I'm still in awe when I go inside and can flip a light switch that is powered by our solar rig. The next phase is to complete the second half; the ground floor will be a giant cheese and teaching kitchen (for our sheeps milk ricotta!) and the upstairs will be lofts for visitors. Currently I am doing everything in my power to raise the money we need for this project; including finishing my book proposal and planning more plant sales. 

We cooked outside a lot. Or I should say Samin cooked outside a lot. We cooked our first lambs for a massive feast in October, and we cooked a small Thanksgiving dinner. Samin says that cooking at Worlds End is her favorite place to cook (true, Samin?) and one day we're going to build the best kitchen together here. When that happens it will be an equation with equal parts; something lost and something gained. I will miss cooking outside, even in the depths of winter. 


We had our first lambing season at Worlds End. Four weeks of checking the pens every four hours through the night sometimes in sleet with headlamps and a toolkit full of pseudo-medical supplies. No lube? You can use dish soap (true). As someone who is thoroughly appalled by anything having to do with birth, I did alright. Animals make it look easy and then you get baby lambs to play with.

I've written this before, but there is nothing in the world to me like snuggling with baby lambs. It is just beyond great. For someone like me who struggles with softness and gentleness it's probably the best therapy for me. I would, not often enough, spend extra time in the pen at morning or afternoon chores sitting against the fence becoming a human mountian for lambs to climb. 



And then some die. Every shepherd tells you this, right from the beginning: that you can expect to loose 10% of your lambs. It doesn't make it easier when it happens. A little black lamb named 'Vitamin B' was that lesson for us. She struggled for weeks and then succumbed to pnemonia and probably a weak heart or a genetic defect. I screamed out loud on this particular sunny May day - the sort of day that looks like baby lambs should not be able to die. Eric carried her little body out into the field and sat with her while I paced back and forth not knowing how to cope. But we did cope. We put her body away in the freezer, we'd harvest her pelt another day. We drank a beer together on the back porch - I think it was 11 in the morning; there were no rules that day. Then we went back to chores. Gwen came to shear the ewes in the afternoon, arriving just as it started to storm. When everything was done we drove to Germantown to a birthday party and danced till we sweat through our clothes. Life went for us, and all around us.


It was definitely a year of a lot of sheep selfies. I can't lie about this because I recently discovered that all the photos I take on my phone are somehow automatically uploaded to the Saipua corporate dropbox. It's a lot of sheep selfies. 


The flower field was in a lot of a ways a complete failure this year, except for the lessons we learned about the importance of a reliable irrigation system. Weather was weird and awful (I think I'm understanding now that farmers will say this about every year) and the pond we pumped water from dried up after a beaver dam that was holding it, broke, and for the first time we missed our beavers. Remember when we were cursing and trapping beaver? The karmic connection there was palpable. Without a water source to irrigate; the field became seriously stunted and between the intensity of our first year with lambs and all the wedding work in the city, the field was all but abandoned by June... left to its own devices. 



Bearded Iris, however, we did see -- it's the perennials that really kept on giving this year; their roots well enough established to handle the lack of drip irrigation and weeding. It was our first year with blooms on the iris and I hoarded nearly every stem for myself. Next year I hope for more stems to sell and we'll add another 200 foot bed of them if we can afford to in the fall. I believe in them like gods.



In 2015 we rebranded or, I should say, branded officially for the first time. Saipua has always been a mash up of hand-drawn logos or someone's (mine) mediocre photoshop skills. This year we went out on a limb and hired Vanessa and Lisa of Ensemble to give us a proper graphic representation. It was really such and exciting, indulgent, and at times painful process, but in the end we have gorgeous new packaging which does justice to my mothers soap-making process and the quality of the ingredients she uses. And we have a website which elegantly honors the hard work of our entire team and community. It still makes my stomach drop every time I open it.










We made a lot of weddings and events all around the world; big and small - from Detroit to France. Even after 10 years of making events, each one brings its own distinct set of lessons. The unusual May heat wave in Detroit reminded me that refrigeration can never be over-planned; the wedding in France continued my education in ordering flowers direct from Alsmeer.

We did lots swimming this year; in oceans, creeks, hot tubs and water parks. I have to remember to cool down all the Saipua fire signs...


We also composted a lot in 2015. Tarps and tarps and tarps of spent floral material and branches were hauled around, stashed in parking lots, storage units, moved to box trucks and eventually deposited at the farm at Worlds End. Collecting compost from our own events and from our colleagues events in the city can be a real exercise in logistics. There were, many times when I felt crazy. When we were storing compost in a storage unit in Brooklyn for a short period (Sadly, true); it felt a little like we were hoarding trash. Which people actually do, and that is a sickness. I don't want to be sick, and I don't want to be stupid; but I still really believe that our compost program is going to work and going to help revolutionize waste in our industry. 




We expanded our core staff in 2015; adding Dan as a full time Operations Manager. Dan is the sort of special, well-adjusted person that makes you believe that, in fact, there may be some people out there who do not have 'issues.' As I've gotten to know him better I'm often surprised by his thoughtfulness and sensitivity. (I can see him cringing now.) Dan is credited with running our new event breakdown/compost initiative - and equally importantly - inventing the peanut butter/blueberry sandwich combination while on assignment in Detroit this summer.



We also snagged this girl - Jessie May Booth - from the UK. First thing we had her do was record our answering machine message so we sound more sophisticated. Jessie has produced events around the world, and lived in Saudi Arabia working for Sheik Mohammed for a year. She led me on a hike in the hills of Scotland; I thought we'd never get back; I snapped that photo before things got weird. Her ruggedness and willingness to dig into any task is balanced with perfect manners and elegant poise. Crazy about her.



We drank a lot of LaCroix in 2015 and joked too frequently about possible sponsorship. (Other sponsors could have been: Ezekial Bread, The Peanut Butter Commission of America, Carhartt, Weleda Skin Food, American Spirits and Miguel [the singer.])

 We played a lot of spades.



The dogs and I took a lot of walks in the woods.
We lit a lot of fires.



We made a plan to pay off our Saipua credit card and travel to Scotland as a reward. We didn't pay off our credit card, but we went anyway.

We stayed in a remote 15th century castle on the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. One night we walked in the pouring rain down the beach to a deserted cabin where Paul and Linda McCartney once stayed. We lit a fire and sat in the haunted room. It occurred to me sitting there that we needed to do the trip regardless of finances... we need to take the time for ourselves to experience the most beautiful, haunting things. Because it is what our clients expect us to create for them, and you can't give it unless you get it first.


This year was about so much progression for us as a team and as a business. Painful at times, at least for me it has been. It's been a lot of letting go of the old habits of working, sometimes before I know what the new habits are. At many points this year I found myself in a limbo of indecision, and yet big things were happening around me...



Just a few days ago we cleared out our old studio at 147 Van Brunt Street. Our new studio is 4 blocks away in Red Hook. It's five times as big. It's going to allow us to push further in the realm of making the most gorgeous weddings; it will allow us to educate more people about flowers, plants and the occult... It has a proper kitchen and a fireplace. 




We're building a ceramic studio which be home to a rotating artist residency program where ceramists can work for free in exchange for making all the vessels Saipua needs for events and deliveries. Because I'm tired of buying shit made overseas, and we don't have to.

We're building a walk in cooler at which will allow us to store product from our farm and from neighboring Hudson Valley Farms. We have plans to partner with Nobel Tree Coffee (located here in Red Hook) and put in a top notch espresso situation, so when Taylor or Britney or Amy or Mikey come over to buy flowers out of our cooler I can convince them to stay a little while and have a coffee with me.

That's all I really ever want to do. Have coffee with friends and talk about nature. And as big and as crazy as Saipua gets, I have to remember that at its core is a very simple desire to connect and make something beautiful.




In August of 2006 we opened the first saipua shop.
There is a lot to do to finish our new space and realize all the above; but come hell or high water we'll be throwing a giant party in August of 2016 ... though it may be in a construction zone.
That would be very saipua.
Whatever it looks like, I hope you'll join us then.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Expanding our team...



I've alluded to all the momentum and growth we're experiencing here at Saipua ... as we head into our 10th year of making flowers and soap we find ourselves on the precipice of a business which has the power to affect real change in our industry. 

That change is through direct environmental practices - growing more of our own 'clean' flowers and composting all of our green waste and the waste of our flower colleagues in NYC - but that change is also beginning to take place through our new education initiative which aims to broaden our sphere of influence through classes and apprenticeship programs held both at our Brooklyn headquarters and at our farm at Worlds End.

It's my hope that these programs; workshops in fiber arts, flowers, gardening, wellness, canning tomatoes (duh!) will expand our community and inspire people to take up their own small piece of environmental stewardship. Knowing how something is really made or grown motivates better, more thoughtful marketplace decisions. By sharing the process of how we go from sheep to sweater we could potentially motivate a person's dollars towards better garments. The difference between a $20 H&M acrylic sweater and a $250 handmade sweater is a powerful one! 

At this moment, we're expanding our business to accommodate these new programs and grow our farm and influence. Below is a list of positions we are aiming to fill by February. Obviously I'm biased, but I consider SAIPUA to be an incredible place to work. In many ways we operate like a family - nurturing and encouraging our employees to find ways to bring in and pursue their own unique interests within our business. That said, we have incredibly high standards for quality of work and require a unique sense of dedication.  

Interested applicants will send their CV and a brief letter of intent to jobs@saipua.com 
Please include the desired job title in the subject line.


Onward to the next 10 years!!!






______________________



DEPUTY DIRECTOR


This person will work closely with the Founding Directors to provide the central nervous system for all studio and farm programing. As Saipua grows, this person keeps their finger on the pulse of all our various projects, helping to prioritize and manage the entire teams efforts... Full Time. 


HUMAN RESOURCES
Oversees and schedules all hiring, training and termination of employees of Saipua.
Maintains all employee files and paperwork
Works with Director to create all Saipua job descriptions, handbooks, employee reviews, and progressive guidance forms (if you want to do this)
Oversees all scheduling of staff
Oversees all Saipua insurance including COI’s for events, automobile insurance and claims and staff health insurance.


FINANCIAL PLANNING
Sets the financial projections for the year, quarter, and month
Works with team to ensure that income goals and expense margins are met each month
Works with bookkeeper to ensure all records are accurate and up to date
Maintains the Saipua cashflow worksheet
Works with production manager to approve event budgets
Reviews credit card statement and all spenditures


PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Maintains the Saipua event calendar
Maintains the schedule and timeline for all events
Maintains Saipua project management software (trello, etc.)
Guarantees that the creative director, studio director, operations and project managers are clear on project timelines and adhering to the schedules
Leads weekly Saipua team planning meaning


BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
Works with Founders to plan for new revenue models
Tracks all SAIPUA ideas and dreams and helps the team to prioritize; formulates plans to actualize prioritized ideas


MARKETING
Helps plan and facilitate marketing calendar
Implements marketing tactics across many platforms (Pinterest, Instagram, Mailchimp, etc)


REQUIREMENTS:
This person must have 3+ years of experience in an office/studio setting. Excellent management and writing skills. Excellent computer/internet skills. Graphic Design skills major plus.


COMPENSATION:
Salary commensurate with experience
Full health benefits 
3 weeks paid vacation





______________________



STUDIO ASSISTANT



This person will report to the Studio Director and Operations Manager, providing general floral studio support with occasional farm work. Full Time.


TASKS
Flower market runs, processing and designing florals for retail.
Studio upkeep including bucket washing, organizing, etc
Event assistance
Wrapping soaps
Managing soap inventory
Manage SAIPUA online retail shop
Driving SAIPUA van on deliveries
General errand running
Working retail shop 

REQUIREMENTS:
Drivers license and clean driving record
Exceptional organizational and multi-tasking skills
Exceptional attention to detail
Exceptional grasp of color
Working knowledge of Microsoft Office

NO FLORAL EXPERIENCE NEEDED, HOWEVER YOU MUST HAVE A DEEP APPRECIATION OF FLOWERS

COMPENSATION:
Salary commensurate with experience
Full health benefits 
3 weeks paid vacation




_____________________



FARMER



This person will work with the Directors to continue to build our flower growing program. This person will need to live onsite part time at Worlds End, a 107 acre farm located 30 miles west of Albany. Full Time/Seasonal


FARM TASKS
Create field map, create and implement planting schedule
Oversee all seed/bulb/tuber orders
Continue to expand our perennial collection
Oversee farm apprentices
Organize work days, inviting volunteers to come and complete targeted seasonal projects
Assist the Directors with general farm chores including but not limited to; sheep flock management, cutting grass, upkeep of the henhouse, etc.


EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMING
Work together with the Directors to brainstorm, plan and actualize various educational programs and workshops at Worlds End
Help to oversee the completion of various infrastructure projects including; several decorative gardens located on property, maintaining tipi village, deep woods logging and building of log cabin, bee forage field, buckwheat crop.


REQUIREMENTS:
Minimum of 3 years farming experience. Horticulture background preferred. Extensive knowledge of perennials a must. Cooking skills and experience with bee hive management a plus. 


COMPENSATION:
Salary commensurate with experience
Full health benefits
Room and Board at Worlds End 





______________________



APPRENTICE



Apprentices will be fully immersed in all aspects of SAIPUA in the city and on the farm, receiving invaluable hands-on experience in floristry, event design and production, flower farming, and running a small business. Full Time.


Apprentices will enjoy a creative and interactive work environment, and will be involved in an exciting array of projects to (i.e. wedding work, editorial photoshoots, developing product design for retail, preparing design decks for events, devising schemes to further Saipua's mission to create and promote more sustainable practices in the floral industry, fiber projects utilizing the Saipua flock of Icelandic sheep at Worlds End Farm, etc...)

The goal in this new full-time apprenticeship program is to FULLY train candidates in all areas of floristry so they are poised to either join our team, start their own floral business or attain a full time position at the studio of one of our colleagues.

The right candidates are tough, smart, and passionate about flowers, floriculture and farming. No floral experience necessary. 

Since our apprentice program began in 2008, Saipua has turned out some of NYC’s most sought after floral designers. Collectively our apprentices have helped build Saipua into what it is today. They become like family. Potential opportunities for long-term employment for the right person. 

REQUIREMENTS:
Proficient in MS Office. Knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite.
Drivers license a plus.


COMPENSATION
This is an unpaid apprenticeship. 


Monday, November 30, 2015

Autumn marches on



Something about the last week has made it apparent that we are now on the verge of winter. It's easy to stay rooted in fall, easy to fake it with stuff like butternut squash recipes or chrysanthamums. The weather in the north east has been exceptionally mild (here I am, talking about the weather - as if there were not other looming topics at hand) and it's caused me a sort of seasonal disorientation. What month are we in? I'm constantly checking the date.


Walking in Brooklyn hot wind blows leaves and dust particles in my face. It feels like a dystopian future which I sort of love you know. We've rented a new space for Saipua, 5 blocks from our old studio and we are in the process of trying to figure out how to make it look and also how we can accomodate the rent which is four times the amount we pay now. This big move will also require an expansion of our staff; we're imagining adding five more full time people to our staff in 2016. It's easily the biggest moment of risk we've had in the almost 10 years of Saipua.
We start by getting organized...


I've spent considerable time looking at numbers. This is a shift for me since I usually shrink away from numbers. I have a hard time paying my own bills. My credit card is regularly declined because I forget to pay the bill. Recognizing your weaknesses is the first step to addressing them.

We look at projections. Can we grow our event business to double our sales in 2016 which is what will be required for all this growth? Confident, sometime cocky - I'm all YES. DONE. But I question whether it is physically possible for our team to make double the weddings, double the events? Can it scale? Can we give the same level of service, the same attention to detail?



And then sometimes I don't want it to be bigger because I'm relatively comfortable with Saipua as it is. But the reality is that I've got a lot of big things in the works that are at a stand still (the FARM; my castles of the world RETREATS for creative women; my textile and ceramics STUDIO; my floriculture RADIO station, my astrophysics + floral PERIODICAL) because I don't have the captial to invest in them. And also, more importantly - we're not going to effect real change in the industry unless we control more of the dollars in that industry. It is our clearly defined mission at Saipua to make a positive environmental shift in the floral industry: to convince more people to compost, to have more people pay attention to where their flowers come from... so we push on.
We consider loans and investors...


All of which I veto in the first meeting. The loans we look at require collateral, we have none. When we talk to our business advisor about investors she tells me to start with my family and friends. I laugh. We opened Saipua with $2500. Theres a lot of spirit and hard working people in that circle, but no real juice if you know what I'm saying.


But before I get seriously discouraged or spend too much time spinning wool (literally) and thinking about how much I can charge for the resulting yarn I remember our most valuable asset at Saipua -- our community and network of creative, hardworking people. And I'm thinking -- what is it we can't do with these people? Build a barn? There is way to figure out how to build a barn if we have enough hands. Buy equipment for a ceramics studio or radio station? There's enough creativity and spirit at Saipua to organize a hundred plant sales. Print my occult floral astrology magazine? How many of you would pre-pay for a subscription, raise your hands...



So, we march on towards that vision one step at a time, thinking creatively and outside the box. Making the best flowers we can, reworking plans, rewriting the rules constantly. Because I am such a goal oriented person so it is frustrating sometimes to not move faster. When I was a little girl, I wanted to always be 30 years old. Then I could buy whatever breakfast cereal I wanted, among other tantalizing adult privileges. I remember once getting excited about a class picnic in the park. I was making a mixtape (!) and choreographing a dance routine. I intricately planned and acted out many of the anticipated social interactions...


Then at some point prior to the picnic I began to realize that said picnic was going to actually happen and be over. That the anticipation of it was in some ways most of it. This made me very frustrated. 



All this is to say that I am trying to enjoy the process of getting there. I get bored even writing that sentence. People who live in the moment don't get shit done, and I like to live in a constant state of shit-getting-done. But the other thing that is occurring to me is that if I continue to jump from one goal to the next without awareness and enjoyment in the journey then I'll be dead. Because life will speed by. 

Animals help with this because dogs and sheep are always just living right in the moment, and to watch them is to imagine that singularity. 

Chickens are living in the future, I can't tell you why I know this but I do.







Friday, October 30, 2015

Chapter 1: Ring of FIRE

Image by Holly Carlisle

If there's anyone would spend all their extra resources renovating a two hundred year old historic barn over the course of 3 long years, only to install a chandelier featuring 150 lit taper candles at it's christening -- it's us at saipua...

Our barn 2 years ago...the right half is the side we've restored and will be used for our new education initiative at Worlds End, the left half will be restored in the coming year to create a bunk house for visitors. 

At one point in the day, as we were directing apprentices to shove fall foliage into the ring of fire hanging in the barn, I paused and called over Amy, a woman who - whilst with child - rode the Mighty Anaconda with me at Zoom Flume water park. Amy reassured me (thats what friends are for, encouraging dangerous celebratory acts?) and the show went on.

[This reminded me of my favorite scene in ze film TOP GUN where Iceman and Maverick spat over the danger of a recent in-flight maneuver. It is relevant since all our ram lambs were named after fighter pilots from Top Gun. And is triply relevant since our ram lambs present homoerotic behaviors (as they arguably do in Top Gun) starting around the age of 6 weeks including but not limited to attempted mountings of each other around sunset.]

But let me back up and tell the whole story.

Photo by Heather Waraksa
We've always known that we were going to eat some of our lambs. This is part of flock maintenance (culling weak sheep or ram lambs that can't be bred back to their mothers or sisters) but it is also part of being a meat eater and having livestock. At some point months ago it occurred to me that we should use the first cull to celebrate all the things that have happened here on the farm in the four years since we've had it. And to celebrate the completion of one side of our massive barn; the side that will serve as the event space/activity center of the farm -- the hub for our education programming at Worlds End.

We would roast a whole lamb. And there was only one person I would entrust with this rather sensitive matter.



I met Samin in Oakland years ago on a coffee date with our now mutual friend Greta. It was Greta I was meeting and Samin tagged along and she was one of those people that hugs strangers, and I do not hug strangers. So there was that.

There's little and everything to be said for first impressions. In the years since, Samin has become one of my dearest friends. She has an acute sensitively that I rarely find in people. I treasure time I get to spend with her. She makes me feel like myself. Also, she is the best cook in the world. So there is that.

Samin came for a week and was here on the farm working on her book for most of the time. When Doug came to slaughter the rams a few days before the feast she was up in her room writing (she is working on a book called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat which, upon it's release in 2017, will become the cooking bible of our time).

When it was over I called her out to talk to Doug - and in a language I did not fully understand, she directed him on how to butcher the three lambs; some for the feast and some for my freezer for winter. The day was loaded. I recall details of it now, weeks later, with the sharpest, detailed focus. I will - I am - writing more about what it is like to know the animals you eat. To know them so intimately. To be there when they are born, and, to be there when they die. I am not able to summize it right yet. I know that I am in a sort of awe, and that I hold the whole experience with an abundance of gratitude. Samin eased this process for me; she leant solemn honor to the age old act of raising the food you eat.








It took the saipua army one week to prepare the farm. Mark and Jennell, apprentices visiting from Belfast and Detroit led the efforts by carrying 60 tipi poles out to our farthest field to erect 'Tipi Village' a place where many people would stay, get drunk, sing like Karen Dalton around a campfire and thankfully NOT DROP ACID. (note to staff: everything gets back to me)





Outhouses were built. Benches and tables were constructed to seat 80 in the barn for dinner. Glasses and plates were purchased, civil war era three tine forks (a nod to the time periods of our barn!) were sourced on ebay. Napkins were dyed, streamer poles were placed, indian corn was nailed to a tree at the entrance to the farm as if to announce to visitors; you might be in the right place...




The day before the feast, Phoebe arrives from Vermont. We are thrown right into the truck together, driving up to pick up the lamb from Doug the butcher, who I keep referencing, and who I should also mention has a really weird sense of humor. We arrive at Doug's house. He brings out the butchered lamb and it seems unreal. He tells us how nice they are, how well finished (meaning there is lots of nice fat on them - which instills a sense of pride in me. All on grass. Our grass! The grass Eric painstakingly managed all summer by moving the sheep every three days. The grass that has, year by year improved with various cover crops, sheep manure and mowing. 


Back at the farm with the meat (the pelts and the heads) we back the pickup truck up to the house and use the tailgate to further prepare the meat. Samin is a salt fanatic, which is to say she KNOWS how to salt - a skill that many people overlook, or fail to consider the importance of. We pick up the meat early in order to salt it and let it sit with salt overnight. Samin and Phoebe do this work by headlamp, the dogs braced with excitement, wild eyed under their feet. They give me some bones to take down to the maremmas. Someone asks if that's weird; to feed sheep to the sheep protecting dogs. It's not weird. I walk the bones out to Pucci first in the lower fields with the rams and then up to Blondie in the upper field with the ewes.  

[There is a point in the film Sweetgrass (a documentary about the last real American cowboys who drive sheep 150 miles up into the mountains of Montana for summer pasture) where a sheep is killed by a coyote. The maremma dogs - who live with the sheep to protect them - devour the dead sheep. The film explains that the dogs would never kill a sheep, but if something else kills it they'll eat it because they are starving, and because they are dogs. I find this so extraordinary.]

Photo by Holly Carlisle
The next morning the fires start around 7:30 am. We borrow an Asado from Kinderhook farm, a crucifix-like contraption used to roast a whole lamb. One lamb is not enough so Samin and Phoebe cook legs and shoulders in various ways. It is like a lamb divining. The fire circle contained three distinct fires for different purposes; and these women commanded the circle for 14 hours making magic. They become smoke sisters. 



Our kitchen garden, a few steps away, is pillaged for brussels sprout, kale, tomatoes, and carrots.
Samin and Phoebe are like magicians roasting pumpkins in the coals, cooking lamb three ways (why not?)… a green tomato chermoula results from the pit that could move heaven and earth. There comes into being a black tahini sauce that marries a pumpkin puree in a ceremony attended by christmas lima beans and homemade harrissa. Samin is a flavor oracle. 


We decorate. The ring of fire, as first mentioned in this post is constructed. Tables are set sparingly (what do the florists do for their own party flowers? ah ha, NONE!). A playlist is constructed with speed and maximum efficiency in the 11th hour up in my office over coffees, lacroix and chocolate by SoundsDisatrous (Deanna) herself.

Photo by Holly Carlisle.



Holly Carlisle arrives and lends her epic calm and even keel to what is starting to feel like a snowball rolling down a hill. We steel away to the bathroom where she does my makeup (certainly a first on the farm) and are greeted by a harem of saipua ladies and their secrets. Outside cooking continues and guests are arriving and people are heading to archery, Eric's usual solitary evening meditation now joined by a gaggle of novices. Arrows fly all over and he seems really happy.

Photo by Holly Carlisle
Photos by Heather Waraksa

Photos by Heather Waraksa
Photo by Holly Carlisle
 At a certain hour our little elves steel away to light the ring and the barn doors are swung open to reveal our new (old) barn...the first chapter in the Worlds End story book.




After dinner when people start meandering out to the fire the soundtrack Deanna and I built takes a turn towards disco, and the ring catches fire. The disco ball drops as if on on cue. I have a moment, pouring wine from an double magnum bottle brought by my friend Sarah who knows me too well, where I think; this is saipua. This is what we've worked so hard to attain in the last 10 years; the strongest community of people in one place celebrating what can be possible - the best parts of being human and the fullest expression of hard work. 

Thank you so much to everyone who traveled to share this really special night with us -- thank you to Samin, what would I do without you? and to Phoebe for her energy and butchering skills. To my parents for all their help along the way and for buying fire extinguishers at the last minute. Thank you to all our friends and family who came from farm away (it is called Worlds End..) and were put to work upon arrival. In the next chapter I won't have you all hustling so hard, I promise. 




There has been so much momentum for us this year at saipua and at the farm. We are on the verge of some really amazing things and it's thanks to all of you in your various orbits around us.
If I could have had all of you there, I would have.
Someday I will, in one way or another. 

Until then, I might encourage you to live a bit dangerously. Because it's in those fiery, runaway sort of moments where the really interesting stuff of life happens.