How many greens can there be? The landscape changes every hour, fields and hedges and trees cloth themselves in more and more leaves. High spring springs forth everywhere. Daft baby rabbits tumble out of hedges, easy meat for hard pressed foxes, feeding an earth full of hungry cubs. Hen pheasants make nests too visibly in open hedges, and they and their eggs succumb too - the cock pheasants display to each other, with all the ladies gone, puffed up feathers and stiff legged stance.
Monday I had flashbacks to every moving day I have gone through in my adult life. Forklift-full by forklift-full our garage was emptied of all the cheese making equipment that had filled it from wall to wall and floor to ceiling for the last 4 months (the garage being the most accessible and securable location available). I spent the better part of the day in the creamery directing equipment unpacking and placement, answering “Yes, I do need this many cheese molds,” scouring discarded cardboard for missing bits of stainless steel, and racking my brains trying to recall where we intended this or that shelf to go. Of course it is during this process that forgotten items become apparent, so there was also lots of darting back to my computer and my ever faithful Nelson Jameson catalog to add to the growing list of “Still to Buy.”
Last week a dramatic development occurred in the creamery, the final wall coating was applied. The doors and windows were taped up, and for three days layers of fiberglass and polyurethane were sprayed onto the walls by a company called Ironclad. With the door jams in place and the new glossy white walls the creamery looks cleaner and brighter. During the application of the walls our crew began work on projects outside the creamery, like putting up the walk-in refrigerator and welding frames for cheese aging racks.
We had daffodils at New Year, grass growing, birds sounding spring-like. The winter has still got some bite, but every succeeding day has the sun higher, the day longer, driving winter down to the bottom of the year as we slowly and surely climb out. Tiny signs of growth peep out - snowdrops, so modest and quiet, little red female hazel flowers, and the lambs’ tails like male flowers that have been slowly developing and lengthening, suddenly bursting out. Oak flowers give a purple look to the woodland on the other side of the valley, darker and richer on the ends of the twigs. I saw a buzzard sit quietly on a post on a tree guard for some apple trees we planted. Suddenly he dropped heavily on a clump of grass only four feet below, then laboured away in his heavy flight with a little speck in his talons. One bird’s feast is one vole’s spring gone.
I always think of January as cold, wet and dark, the weary start of the hundred hungry days to Easter, when there is little keep for man or beast, and we all live off our reserves (or the shops, if you are human). Then you get one of those dazzling days of sunshine, low rays picking out every detail, bright yellow gorse with its coconut scent, bright red rosehips, a bright blue sky, warm in the sun out of the wind if you’ve enough layers on. Even on the coldest and wettest day, moths dance in torchlight in the woods. The little fallow hind I met in the road looked fat and prosperous after a kind autumn. I saw a raven delicately nibbling a crab apple, then flying off with it in its beak.
Despite early assurances that we had a shot at completing the creamery by the end of the year it was evident pretty early on that that wouldn’t be the case. Sadly, as 2011 comes to a close it looks like having the creamery ready to run by the time the goats start milking again at the beginning of March isn’t going to be attainable either. Thank you very much contractors.
While our construction crew has labored 6 days a week to complete the exterior siding, the electrical contractors were on site closer to 3 days a week (and have been completely off the job for the holidays for a solid 2 weeks), and they show up to work 2 hours later and leave 2 hours earlier. Mechanical contractors have passed on bidding on the project, most of them citing a lack of familiarity with the cold and humid aging facilities of a creamery. We finally have someone who put in a bid, but this late in the game we’re looking at several weeks before equipment is ordered and on site.
Operating off the grid is nothing new in the Anderson valley; it’s not unheard of for residents to illuminate their homes at night with candles or who get their drinking water from a spring. The three communities that make up the valley are rural and remote. Many of the roads into the flanking mountains are unpaved, and the nearest city is a 30 minute drive away, on a twisting two-lane mountain highway. Going off the grid with a commercial-scale dairy and creamery is a bit more challenging… as in 220 solar panels challenging.
I had a meeting with our architect, Steve, yesterday to discuss details of our raw milk cheese aging racks. At the end of the talk I asked where we were in terms of progress on the creamery. Our construction team, (members of Navarro’s vineyard crew), are very skilled in construction, concrete work, and welding, and have spent much of the last two years building the dairy rather than working in the vineyards. However they got pulled this week to aid with harvest as rains over the weekend made getting grapes off the vine the more immediate priority. The creamery site has been vacant all this week with Alvaro, Carlos, and Andres occupied with harvest and crush at Navarro. From what Steve told me, we would have been due for a lull anyway.
The last month has been a busy one at the creamery. While the guys completed closing in exterior walls and began installing roofing materials massive trenching was underway all around the creamery and dairy.
Below ground level lines were run for electrical cables from the PG&E power boxes at the edge of the property over to the site of the mechanical pad. Pipes for whey and process water were laid from the creamery across the length of the farm to the water treatment tanks that will allow us to recycle our water. The whey will be pumped to a storage tank adjacent to the pigs (which for obvious reasons we don’t want living anywhere within the vicinity of the creamery). A gas line was put in from the creamery to our propane tank which is adjacent to the milking parlor. As with the dairy, we will use propane on-demand water heaters to supply hot water to both the sinks and for the jacket of the pasteurizer.
On July 11th the cement trucks rolled in and the foundations were poured. The interior was back-filled with gravel and trench drains and floor sinks were secured into their respective positions. Thick sheets of foam insulation were laid down over the gravel and along the edges of the wall curbs. This insulation provides a thermal barrier between the cheese making environment and ambient heat in the ground and between rooms with different temperature requirements. This will help keep our energy costs down when outside temperatures are too high. It also minimizes temperature fluctuation in the aging rooms, reducing run time for air conditioning which dries out air and can negatively impact aging cheeses.