A new year at Madroño Ranch: bison harvests, chicken tractors, hog schools, and more

Happy new year! The beginning of the year is always a good time to take stock, so we thought it might be appropriate to look back at what we accomplished—and, erm, failed to accomplish—during the last twelve months. Much remains to be done before our hopes for Madroño Ranch are completely realized, though we took what felt like some significant strides in 2010. With apologies for any perceived self-indulgence, here are some of them.

First, thanks to the wonderful and talented Shawn and Susanne Harrington of Austin’s Asterisk Group, Madroño Ranch now has a vibrant, striking, beautiful visual identity—logo (above), wordmark, etc.—which we hope eventually to splash all over actual and virtual reality. (Madroño Ranch T-shirts! Madroño Ranch gimme caps! Madroño Ranch bumper stickers and koozies and belt buckles and….)

Second, we’ve begun to rethink our initial determination to offer residencies only for environmental writers, however broadly defined (poets, philosophers, essayists, whatever). We had initially thought we would restrict our offerings to writers because, well, as a couple of recovering English majors, we felt like we knew writing better than we knew art, and (perhaps more important) we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on infrastructure (kilns, darkroom facilities, printing presses, whatever). Most writers, after all, are highly mobile these days, requiring little in the way of equipment beyond a laptop computer. But it has become increasingly obvious, even to us, that virtually the same is true of many visual artists as well—digital photographers and collagists, to name just a couple. Painters can travel with paints, portable easels, and suchlike. And then there are environmental artists, like Andy Goldsworthy, who use materials found on-site—rocks, leaves, branches, etc. Why should we exclude such creative thinkers from our pool of potential residents?

Third, while we are still a long way from officially opening our residential program for environmental writers (and artists)—we have yet to construct the small casitas we envision as individual workspaces, and we have yet to hire the necessary personnel to cook and care for our residents—we have managed to find a couple of brave souls willing to serve as “guinea pigs.” Melissa Gaskill and E. Dan Klepper will each spend several days at Madroño Ranch in the next couple of months, working, resting, and experiencing some if not all of what our actual residents will experience once we’re fully up and running. We look forward to hearing their feedback, suggestions, etc.

Fourth, our friend Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due came up with a new and exciting way to open the ranch to a wider public through a variety of sustainable hunting, fishing, and cooking “schools” throughout the year. The first, Deer School, brought six guests to the ranch in November, and was a thoroughgoing success; now we’re looking forward to Hog School in early March and Freshwater Flyfishing School in mid-May, both of which have already sold out. If they go well, we’re hoping to make these (and perhaps other such schools) an annual tradition at Madroño Ranch.

Fifth, we finally gained state approval of the label that will appear on the packages of bison meat we sell, which means we can finally go ahead with our first “harvest” (as it’s euphemistically called) this month. (We had hoped, naively, to harvest our first bison in October, but the approval process turned out to be considerably longer and more complicated than we had imagined.)

Sixth, Heather made significant progress in her quest to become a true chickenista, following the example of local legend Carol Ann Sayle of Austin’s Boggy Creek Farm. Our original flock of fifty or so laying hens took up residence in their bombproof (and, we trust, owl- and hawkproof) new coop, which we call the Chicken Palace (pictured below). A few months later Robert’s brilliant creation the Chicken Tractor (actually a mobile coop on wheels) became the home of a new flock of about twenty younger hens. (As of last week, the two groups were just beginning to commingle.)

Seventh, while we still don’t have an actual Madroño Ranch website (though we’re working on it!), we do have an official Madroño Ranch Facebook page. We invite those of you on that ubiquitous social network to check it out, and click the “Like” button if you’re so inclined; until our website is up and running, that will be the easiest way to keep track of what’s happening at the ranch in what we hope will be an exciting twelve months to come.

Perhaps none of these accomplishments sounds terribly important in and of itself, but each brought us just a little closer to our goal. Our hope for 2011 is that we—and you too, Gentle Reader—keep striding throughout the new year, whether the steps be large ones or small.

What we’re reading
Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (still—it’s hard!)
Martin: Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

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3 Responses to A new year at Madroño Ranch: bison harvests, chicken tractors, hog schools, and more

  1. Brad Kik says:

    I like! We sort of think of you guys as a sister organization, so it's exciting to see the year in review. It seems that, like us, you guys are slowly evolving the original plan into something that will be quite different but probably cooler than what you had once envisioned.

    It may be a help to you to look at our brand new residency category: non-studio artists. It was motivated exactly how you say. We realized we can support an incredibly wide range of artistic disciplines; just not painters and scupltors and ceramicists. Our first non-studio artists will arrive this summer; we'll let you know how it goes!

    I really hope to make it down someday soon to see the ranch. Thanks for keeping us all updated!

  2. Heather and Martin says:

    Many thanks, Brother Brad. We'd love to think of ISLAND as a sister organization! We did in fact see your non-studio artist category, which merely reinforced what we'd already been thinking. We're just trying to stay flexible and open to possibilities, even (or perhaps especially) if they don't fit our preconceptions. And we'd definitely love to have all of y'all come down some time!

  3. Joel says:

    You're following a good plan, and you're justified in your sense of accomplishment. I was reading the other day about how people successfully reduce their debts. Conventional wisdom says to pay off your high interest debts first. In practice, more people are successful paying off the easiest ones first. They get immediate gratification and accomplishment, and they're more motivated to meet the next milestone.

    You've paid off (or invested in) some modest, but significant milestones, and you will not squander that progress by failing to complete the next steps.

    I'm looking forward to trying some of your bison. I'll watch this space for more progress.

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