My name is Chrys Ostrander. I live at Heartsong, a former retreat center 40 minutes north of Spokane that now occasionally hosts permaculture educational events. I’m caretaker at Heartsong. I raise dairy goats, maintain an 8000 sq. ft. garden, assist in the implementation of the permaculture design for the property and do various other care-taking tasks. You can see photos of my adventures at Heartsong HERE.
A resident of Washington since 1990, I have been active in sustainable agriculture circles. I also make part of my income doing web design. I learned to do web design in the ’90’s working on Tilth Producers‘ first website (since rebuilt by others). I provide web services for clients and for WSU Extension as a part-time employee.
I earned my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2012 during the first ever permaculture design course held in Spokane that was instructed by Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski. I enjoy teaching organic gardening, cheese-making, goat husbandry and permaculture.
Formerly this blog was called Chrysalis Farm @ Tolstoy. Chrysalis Farm was a 4-acre micro-farm, homestead and Permaculture project located at the corner of an 80-acre parcel that is part of the 280-acre Tolstoy Farm intentional community in Mill Canyon, near Davenport, Washington. Now that my sojourn at Tolstoy Farm is part of my past history, I’ve renamed it Chrysalis Farms at Heartsong.
My name is Chrysalis. The name was given to me by a friend over 30 years ago. It makes more sense to me, being an atheist, than the name I was given at birth and I can still have people call me by the short form, Chrys, without being confused, as I might be if I had changed my name to ‘Rainbow Butterfly’, or some such (you talkin’ to me?). I like it because, as my mother had informed me many years before, having been quite interested in ancient symbolism, the chrysalis is a symbol of change and metamorphosis. It does a good job of reflecting my search for self and process of self-redefinition which has characterized my continuing journey.
I didn’t really start using the name Chrysalis until I found myself living at Tolstoy Farm (est. 1963), an old intentional community located about 40 miles west of Spokane, WA. I came to Tolstoy Farm in 1990 with my 3 year-old son, his Mom, her 7 year-old son, a dog named Sam and an assortment of cats and kittens.
We had left California in the fall of the previous year after working the growing season on a collective farm/intentional community famous for its dry-farmed tomatoes. It was there that we made up our minds to try and find an intentional community to join and pursue farming, since we enjoyed the work and it fit with our desire to have our work reflect our values of living lightly on the Earth and making a positive contribution. We embarked on a road trip during which we visited six or seven intentional communities in Northern California, Oregon and Washington; finally settling at Tolstoy Farm when we ran out of money for traveling any farther. Well, it wasn’t just that. It was because Tolstoy didn’t feel like an exclusive club that would be tedious and awkward to assimilate into or a place where everything was established. Tolstoy Farm at the time had just lost a large number of members for various reasons. There were several vacant dwellings. Some of the people who were living there seemed nice while some seemed odd. Some seemed odd and nice. Some just odd. One was definitely odd and mean (luckily he was a recluse who left after a while). There was some established form to the community and a general underlying philosophy (somewhat anarchistic, which I liked), but also it felt like there was plenty of room for us to engage with the people there in a creative process– to help construct the next era of the community, to chart the course of the river, not just hop into a canoe and float along. So, we stayed.
We first lived in the tiny travel trailer that we had made the trip in parked in the driveway of one of the long-time residents. It was the middle of winter. It was bitter cold. My toes still complain whenever I think about those first days. We asked around about the available dwellings. Since my relationship with my son’s mother had a tendency to be rocky, we had decided to live in separate houses if we could swing it. It turned out we could move into two dwellings that were next door to each other– one was a fairly intact, two-story, tiny farmhouse half-way up the canyon side with a spectacular view of the canyon.
It had been built by a couple of teen-age boys in the early ’70’s (out of all recycled lumber without any power tools) we bought it for $3000. The other, the one I would move into, was a tumbledown experimental ferro-cement Quonset hut with tear-drop shaped skylights that had been salvaged from WWII bombers (and were falling in). It came with an unfinished log addition that was open to the four winds. It wasn’t much, but it was the first time in my life that I owned my own home (dwellings and improvements can be individually owned at Tolstoy, but the land is held communally). Purchase price of my little shack: $500.But the corner of the 80-acre parcel, known as the North Eighty, where these houses are located, feature gentle, south-facing slopes, almost a shelf compared to the more commonly steep canyon sides, with nice, deep soil. There were a good-sized garden, a large open meadow, established apricot and cherry trees, a small attached greenhouse on the farmhouse and a little chicken coop. The only thing lacking was… water. This was something of a challenge as the climate here is characterized as “arid” (about 16″ of precipitation per year, practically none of it in the summer). There was a horizontal well drilled into a rock outcropping about 600 feet up the canyon side with 3/4″ plastic tubing bringing the trickle of water that the well produced to the farmhouse. It took two and a half days to fill a 300 gallon stock tank. It was a severe impediment to realizing much of our dream of starting a farmstead at our new home.
There was, however, a small organic farm Eden Gardens, next door to the North Eighty that was operated by a guy named Tom who had spent many years at Tolstoy. He worked with a couple of older men who had been at Tolstoy almost since its inception. The farm had started out years before on part of a 120-acre parcel that was also part of the community’s holdings (about a mile down the road from the original 80 acres), but due to various forms of community dysfunction, including the community buying into someone’s absurd claim that it was inappropriate for anyone to “profit” from operating a market garden on community land, Tom went to work for the post office and bought the land next to the North Eighty for himself. I think it was about 35 acres in all, with about 10 level acres under cultivation. Tom was a very motivated, indeed a driven individual who through sheer force of will had created an oasis of verdant organic abundance on this arid canyon-side. He had tapped into two springs uphill from the farm that together were capable of filling, through thousands of feet of glass-lined, cast iron pipes, an enormous 20,000 gallon irrigation tank in 24 hours– all by gravity. The organic produce grown on that farm was fabulous. As Spokane, the nearest population center, had no farmers’ market, Tom had a weekly farm stand in the parking lot behind a chiropractor’s office. He routinely had $600 to $800 days selling his produce as well as organic fruit that he drove 160 miles round trip to purchase (and sometimes pick) from orchards in Northeast Washington along the banks of the Columbia.
Tom hired me to join his crew, so every day I would walk a quarter mile from one end of the North Eighty to the other to help tend the crops. Sometimes he would take me with him to market in Spokane since the two older men rarely left the confines of the canyon. At first, I considered this an ideal arrangement, but soon it became obvious that I could not abide Tom’s Type-A personality. I worked there for the first growing season (1990), but I told him I would not be returning the next. Instead, I worked out an arrangement with another long-time Tolstoy resident to lease about an acre of land that he owned privately at the bottom of the canyon and was fed by a 10 gallon per minute spring.
In the spring of 1991, I invited a very old gentleman named Rudolph and a friend of his from the old wheat farming community of Davenport, to plow up my field with his team of two draft horses. I put up a deer fence and formed about 20 four-foot-wide permanent beds. My father, who was 80 at the time, bought me a 15′ x 50′ hoophouse kit that I constructed in this field. Somewhere I have a photo of my father standing next to this hoophouse during the only visit my parents ever made to Tolstoy. Thus was born Chrysalis Farm at Tolstoy.
I managed to grow a fairly miniscule amount of produce and flowers that first season, although I was happy with the quality. I sold to a small natural foods store in Spokane (Cedar St. Market) and drove 75 miles to the nearest farmers’ market to Spokane in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.
There I met Ellen Scriven and Paul Smith who to this day operate Killarney Farm in Cataldo, Idaho. They had the “anchor” booth at the Coeur D’Alene Farmers’ Market and I was amazed at the quality and diversity of produce that they brought to this market. I learned a lot from them and am still grateful for the guidance and encouragement they offered me back then.
Also in 1991, a group of civic boosters in Spokane launched a public outdoor market called the Spokane MarketPlace using the buildings and grounds of an old railroad produce terminal at an ideal location at a busy intersection near central downtown Spokane. Tom took a chance and started selling his produce there, however, when I spoke to him that season, he didn’t sound very happy. He said the organizers allowed “high stallers” (folks who buy and sell produce but don’t grow it) to compete with the farmers at the market. I wondered about this, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was quite busy with my own endeavors.
In 1992, Tom abruptly abandoned his farm and left the area. This left the two older gentlemen who depended on Tom’s farm for their livelihood in a lurch. They could produce lots and lots of beautiful produce since they had, for that season at least, access to Tom’s land and equipment, but it wasn’t in the picture for either of them to pick up the marketing end that had been Tom’s exclusive domain. I approached them with a proposal whereby I would bring their produce to market along with my own, for a 30% cut. They agreed and for the next four years I sold the produce they grew and mine at a booth at the Spokane MarketPlace, heading into town twice a week to vend. I also partnered with Cedar St. Market and EarthCycle Farm (a sister community to Tolstoy) and sold a wide variety of produce, meat and baked goods (from EarthCycle Farm), raw milk and cheese from local dairies, locally-made Small Planet tofu, and even things like chips and natural sodas. We called this collective effort the Green Grocer.
Our stand was on the long, wide, concrete loading dock of the produce terminal along with many other vendors (the interior of the building was in dire need of renovation). We had a produce stand and a twelve-foot-long antique refrigerated deli case to display our goods. We covered the deli case with a plywood box at night to keep from being vandalized. And we had a loyal and growing clientele.The Spokane MarketPlace Board had told all of us vendors that they had secured a ten year lease from the City on the cavernous old produce warehouse and that the plan was to renovate to have shops inside and vendors outside during the warm season. Many of the vendors invested lots of their savings in establishing their MarketPlace businesses with the hopes of growing into the renovated building sometime in the near future. I had a wonderful vision of a unique indoor/outdoor natural foods collective selling produce from Tolstoy Farm and EarthCycle Farm and other local growers as well as natural groceries year-round, providing employment and being a resource for the local and organic food movement that had not quite yet taken off in backward Spokane. I even joined the Board of Directors of the Spokane MarketPlace; the first time I had ever stuck my neck out into civic involvement of this kind.
Alas, my beautiful vision was not to be realized as we soon learned that the MarketPlace Board had lied to the vendors. They did not have a ten-year lease. They had a month-to-month verbal agreement which blew up in their faces when the City decided to sell the location to Washington State University to be part of its urban campus complex. The MarketPlace was thrown out on its ear and struggled for the next several years moving from one out-of-the-way location to the next– a shadow of its former vibrancy. All through its history the farmer vendors at the MarketPlace struggled with the Board (with me representing them on the Board) to try and reign in the high stallers who seemed to revel in their ability to undercut the farmers selling the same varieties of produce the farmers had at lower prices. The farmers proposed simple rules to prevent this, but the high stallers always threatened to leave the market if any rules were imposed. Since the majority of the Board saw the high stallers, who could bring produce to the market year-round, as their key to having a year-round public market, these proposals always failed.
Finally, in 1998, almost all of the MarketPlace’s farmer vendors, including me, walked away from the struggling and dysfunctional organization to form our own, farmer-owned, farmer-managed farmers’ market, the Spokane Farmers’ Market, that has thrived and grown steadily over the years and just celebrated its15th season.
During the time period roughly between 1991 and 2004), many changes took place. My son and his mother, as I said, moved away, first to Spokane and then to Tonasket. I stayed here and made various failed attempts at finding domestic companionship. I kept working my micro-farm. I kept marketing. I got involved in Tilth Producers, Washington’s organic farming organization, also the Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network.
I was able to access the World-wide Web through a local dial-up connection provided by an eccentric entrepreneur in Davenport whose basement HQ seemed to serve the same function as a gathering place as the general store had 100 years earlier. I learned how to do web design. I collected the email addresses of hundreds of folks in the Inland Northwest who were interested in sustainable ag issues and tried my best to collect, analyze, and distribute pertinent information which many folks told me was very helpful during this time of rapid change in the small farm, local food community. I also maintained, for about 10 years, a website called “The Future is Organic” which has gone away but was a fairly well trafficked website where I tried to assemble a wealth of information about organic and sustainable agriculture, local and regional food system projects, information about raw dairy and the like. Now, in 2014, I’m setting up a new email list to help sow the seeds of change in our food system and I invite you to sign up for it (see sidebar to the right).
In the mid-nineties, I started a seven-year relationship with a woman who was to become the mother of my daughter and who already had five children. After one very crowded winter in the Quonset hut, we moved into the small farmhouse that had sat empty for a number of years and was only a little less crowded. With the help of my parents, we drilled a well. While not producing as much water as we had hoped for, it still changed the game fundamentally. Finally, with close attention to managing it, we had enough water to think about growing more crops on our little hillside. Joel Jahn, a third-generation wheat farmer from Davenport who was experimenting with growing organic wheat at the time, loaned me his big backhoe and we dug water lines and finally, after ten years, I had year-round running water in the house. I rolled, unassisted, a 1500 gallon polyethylene water tank up the steep canyon side behind the house to be our irrigation tank and moved Chrysalis Farm, hoophouse and all, from where it had been a mile away at the canyon bottom to right outside my door. With the biggest Troy-Bilt rototiller made and a shovel, I terraced an acre of hillside, installed drip irrigation and experimented to see how much food could be grown here given our limited water.
Another thing that happened about 1997 was that I got into dairy goats and I’ve had goats ever since.
My first introduction to fresh, raw goat milk happened in 1978 in Maine. I was involved with a communal, whole foods organic bakery in Bar Harbor and we all went to the Maine Country Fair to have fun and sell our goods. Our biggest-selling product was the Sunflower Oatmeal Cookie which was about the size of a hockey puck. It was made with organic rolled oats, organic sunflower seeds, organic whole wheat flour, honey, organic soy flour and some other stuff. We sold them, along with our breads and pastries all over New England. We made a lot of them. When they got just a bit too old to sell, we’d crumble them up and make them into granola that us bakers ate. So, there I was one brisk early morning at the Maine Country fair with a bowl of crumbled up Sunflower Oatmeal Cookies in a bowl, but no milk. So I went off in search of some. In a little while, I spied a hardy soul bent over milking his goat right there by his camper. I asked him if he had any milk to spare and he told me to hold my bowl of granola under the goat’s udder and he milked right into my bowl. From that moment on I was in love with raw milk. It was sweet. It was warm. It hit the spot. It would take me a few years to get around to being a dairy farmer but eventually I did.
My first time was when I first moved to Tolstoy Farm in 1990. The community had often had a cow or two during its long history and I was lucky to have joined in time to be involved with the last community dairy cow, Josie. This was the Cow Co-Op. Rico and Stash had kept it going despite not having more help from others in the community, so they were happy that I was interested in joining them. It was a lot of work. The amazing part was that, except for the grain the cow had to eat when it was in the milking stantion twice a day, all the feed was grown at Tolstoy. There were two alfalfa hay fields and also giant Mangel beets were grown. These beets were piled in a hole in the ground and covered with a thick blanket of straw so they wouldn’t freeze during the winter and every day we would chop one up and feed it to Josie. The hay fields were fertilized with the cow manure that we assiduously collected in piles each day and the hay was cut and baled using ancient machinery. I remember working with Rico to bale hay and just about every run around the field he would have to stop the baler and adjust something in the mechanical fingers that tied the baling twine around the hay bale. I never figured out what he was doing, but we managed to bale up all the hay and fill an old barn with enough to keep Joise alive and producing.
We took turns milking. It was hard hand milking. She produced about 2 1/2 gallons every morning and another 2 1/2 gallons in the evening and it took a long time to empty her out. We’d divide the milk up among the co-op members and share it with community members. After it was bottled up in gallon jars, we set it in the creek that ran by the cow barn to cool it down. When it was my turn to milk, I’d milk the cow and feed her grain, vitamins and beets, strain it into jars, weigh it, record the weight, give Josie some hay, shovel up cow pies and then move the irrigation lines that watered pasture and hay fields.
The milk was sweet and rich with thick cream that would rise in the jars. It’s too bad, but Rico and Stash were tired of all the work after years of keeping the cow co-op going. There weren’t enough folks in the community to take all the milk. So, it was decided to discontinue the co-op around 1992, I think.
But I missed the fresh milk, so about 1997 we started looking at the ads for goats in the local advertiser (goats being the “poor man’s cow” and a lot easier to take care of than cows, and needing less space). We saw a promising ad, called the folks up and headed off one day to buy our starter goats. We drove to a farm near Cheney, WA called the Pine Meadow Farm (little did I know at the time that over ten years later I would spend four years of my life living, farming and raising my goats at this very farm when I worked with a group of folks trying to organize it to be a non-profit, educational farm– but that’s another story).
We came home that day with two Nubian does and an older Alpine (who was thrown in for free). The Nubians were named Misha and Miriam and the Alpine’s name was Ribbon. We had access to an old log barn just down the hill from the farmhouse that had a fenced corral and a covered area for storing hay. I rigged up a simple stantion and spent the next five years learning how to raise and care for goats by making just about every mistake there is to make. But I was back into fresh, raw milk and loving it. I definately feel healthier plus I now had my own supply of compost for the gardens without having to truck it in.
Later on, when my life got difficult, I took a couple-year hiatus from raising goats, but I missed it terribly. Then my daughter, who was seven at the time, convinced me to buy her a horse. And the horse needed company. Since I couldn’t afford another horse, we went down to the livestock auction in Davenport and brought home an old Alpine nanny goat to be companion to the horse. On the way home from the auction I said to my daughter “If you want, you can name her, but remember, the name has to start with ‘M’.” It had become a tradition, starting with Misha and Miriam, to name all our goats with “M” names. I said it reminds us what we get from our goats: Milk, Manure and “MMaaaa!” To this day I haven’t gotten any meat from my goats, but it’s on the list for someday. Anyway, Lyra got a big smile on her face and blurted out “Emma!” So the nanny was called Emma and she got along marvelously with the Horse Cassie and Emma and Cassie gave birth to little ones at the same time the next spring and the baby goat and the foal also became best friends and I got back into milking when Emma freshened.
‘Bout this time I had to give up the old log barn where I had kept my goats because the barn really went with another dwelling that had sat empty for a good while and then was occupied by some folks who didn’t need the barn. But then someone moved in who wanted it. That forced me to build my own barn and up to this time in my life I had never built much of anything. And I didn’t have much money for building supplies, so, I got creative. The north slope of a ridge just south of the farmhouse on the North 80 was dense with Douglas Fir trees, so I took my new chainsaw that I had bought with money from the energy assistance program and went into the woods to cut poles for my pole barn. I limbed them and dragged them, one by one along the steep canyon slopes to a jig I had set up for de-barking the trees just outside the fence to the goat corral.
I used my fathers oll draw-knife to peel the bark off the ploes and I discovered that my goats ate those peelings like they were potato chips. I pu an ad in the Lincoln County Advertiser asking if anyone had any sheet metal roofing they were willing to give away and ended up with a pretty good-sized pile. My Dad helped pay for some nice long 2 x 4’s for the rafters and after a while the pole frame was up and the roof was on.
The idea I had was to make it a strawbale barn. The old log barn that I had been using had no chinking between the logs and one winter when it was bitter cold (below zero) my Nubian’s long, floppy ears got frostbite around the margins. I wanted a barn that would keep the goats a bit warmer than that and keep out the wind. My good friend Joel Jahn, the wheat farmer from Davenport, each year baled up his wheat straw. For a few years there his straw was certified organic and that’s what I ended up making the walls of the barn out of. Now, I knew I had to put something up to keep the gaots and horses from eating the barn. I settled on inexpensive welded wire fencing with a 2″ x 4″ mesh. I put it up on the inside and the outside of the strawbale walls. I had made the roof big enough to cover the bales and when it was finally done, it was pretty cozy inside that barn.
Well, it lasted for a couple of years, but that little baby billy goat, Magic, grew into a really big guy and he learned that if he got his mouth around a bit of that welded wire and pushed it back and forth, eventually the welds would give way. It didn’t take long that winter for the goats and the horses to eat the barn walls. I still ahve to figure out a better way to prevenmt that and put the walls back up. As it is today, it’s dry under the roof, but it’s pretty breezy. Come straw season this coming September, I’ll be putting the strawbale walls back up.
I have eight goats at the time of this writing, one new baby girl was born just at the beginning of the new year. I haveTwo billy goats and five does who were all in milk this past year, but I’m down to milking two of them and I’m getting just under half a gallon a day. If production drops any further than that, or if it gets to be about six to eight weeks to kidding time, I’ll quit milking. Between me and my cats and dog I go through almost a half gallon of goat milk a day, but now that kidding has commenced, production should go up..
Well, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that time, so long ago it seems now. There were the four years I spent living on a leased 30-acre farm in Cheney, WA trying to establish an educational, community farm (first called the PEACH Community Farm and later the Pine Meadow Farm Center). Sadly, that project did not take root for lack of steady funding. I returned to my place at Tolsoy in October, 2013.
The woman I had originally arrived at Tolstoy with in 1990 moved away after about three years, became a midwife and a therapist, raised our son and then more recently bought a dwelling at Tolstoy but spends most of her time in Tonasket (we’re not together, but we are friends). My son is now 29, living and working in Seattle and going to college studying computer science. My 17 year-old daughter who I spent many years raising, largely by myself, at Tolstoy and Pine Meadow Farm, with a brief period in Santa Barbara is pursuing her desire to make working with horses her life work and recently moved to Kellogg, ID to help her mother start a business there.
I plan on returning to this page and adding more, but I do want to get this website going, so that’s about all the “About” you’re going to get right now.
June 24, 2015
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