From the Ashes

This morning has been like a surreal dream: as details come back in startling images. The barn engulfed in flames with Rj running towards it, desperate to see if anything can be saved. My near hysterical call to 911 as I watched the barn take a deep breath of air and the metal tin swell and expand before my eyes. Piglets trapped and screaming in terror. The three-story barn collapsing in on itself. Those split seconds of not knowing if RJ went inside… and if I’d be a widow.

There are so many questions this week: questions from our 5 children, questions from concerned family and neighbors, and questions of our own as we try to move forward.

Some questions are harder than others: “Mommy, are the baby goats and Penelope dead?” “What about the piggies?” “What happens if our house catches fire, will we burn up, too?” Others are easier to answer: “Is everyone ok?” “No one was hurt, right?” Then there is “What can we do to help?” “Did you have insurance?”

Those of you who have followed our story these last two years can understand how hard of a blow this has been for us. We’ve devoted our lives to this farm, taking a huge leap of faith to try and make it work. Our main barn is over a hundred years old, but that made us love it and its idiosyncrasies even more. We strive every day to show others that just because something is old, doesn’t mean you need to replace it. We’ve jacked the barn up and added more supports, improved the wiring, built numerous pens, restored the original wood siding on the inside wall, and other repairs. That barn was far from perfect, but it was ours, and we were going to use it to its maximum potential.

The rubble after most of the smoke cleared.

The answers to the questions this week are not very clear cut, as we try to explain to the kids that, yes, we lost over half of our farm animals, but we are thankful it was not all of them. It has been incredibly difficult to try to explain how we can be thankful in spite of such tragedy, without traumatizing them with “what if” statements, and their possible outcomes.

What if RJ had gone inside? What if we would have kept the goats in our kitchen one more day? What if it had been our house? We can play the “What If” game for the rest of our lives, but it doesn’t do to dwell. We must focus on what God has provided.

I never expected the amount of support we’ve gotten, not just from friends and family, but across the country people have donated to the Go Fund Me account RJ’s cousin set up immediately when she heard. We are eternally grateful and can never repay everyone’s kindness. More than one person has called, in tears, to express their condolences, even though they have nothing personally invested in our tragedy. We’ve had hundreds of comments on social media sending us prayers and good thoughts. To those of you who have specific questions, I hope to answer most of them below:

Insurance: Yes, we had about $10,000 worth of insurance on the barn, which is nowhere near enough. (We intended to insure it for a lot more once we replaced the tin, but that’s hindsight for you.) The barn was roughly 4775 sq ft, not including the square footage of the loft; to rebuild one just the same, it would cost over $100,000. There was no insurance on our animals that perished. There was no scenario in our minds where we imagined that we would ever lose so many animals at once, and to lose one or two hogs or goats due to something would not surpass our $500 deductible.

What now? This weather has been terrible, but I don’t have to tell any of you that. It’s been a horrible winter all over the world. What else can we do but clean up the destruction and move forward? There is no sense in dwelling on what has happened. Unfortunately, most of that insurance payment will have to go towards paying our current feed bills, some of which burned, some which we already consumed by the animals that had died, and purchasing more feeder pigs, as all of them were pre-sold for half and whole pork shares. We plan to rebuild someday, but until we can get our feet back under us, it’s hard to plan. (RJ, the eternal optimist, will heartedly disagree with that statement. He has been pouring over barn pictures and layouts since Wednesday.)

How can I help? Right now, we’re still waiting for the fire to completely burn out. (Yes, it’s still smoldering…) So there is not much to do. Once it warms up we will begin to start the cleanup process, and any extra hands are welcome. RJ and I have already discussed that when it comes time to rebuild we would like to have a large barn raising like they used to long ago. We can roast a hog to feed everyone and celebrate moving forward.

I do know a few things we are looking to purchase are about 25 feeder pigs to replace the ones we lost, and a couple boar goat kids. So if anyone has some for a good price, let us know! Our kids were especially devasted that their Boer goats that they were going to show for 4-H are gone, and our other goats will be kidding too late for them to be a showable age.

In the meantime, those of you who feel compelled or able can contribute to the GoFundMe account at All of the proceeds will go towards rebuilding. Though we personally feel uncomfortable asking for help, as we know God will provide for us, we are so thankful that Angela set up the account and the amount of support we have received in just 2 days. God works in so many ways. He can bring good from anything.

The first think I saw when I finally got the nerve to look around the barn was this rod iron angel. It reminded me that faith will get us through this time. God has a plan, and his plan is rarely our plan.

FarmHers: Hang in There, Mama.

A Poem For All the Farmhers

She is the glue that holds everyone together
In this crazy time of year
A single parent, for a month… or two
Yet she continues on in high gear

She has the usual responsibilities
That of mothers and wives, we expect
But she takes it all so much further
Not one thing she will neglect

Many Farmhers have “real jobs”
As if her role was not enough
She sacrifices her day to the man
Just in case that year went rough

Oh the things she’ll put up with
At that daily nine to five
Her Farmer needs the coverage
That only her “real job” will provide

Then at home there’s children
Who need all the little stuff
Homework, and baths, and dress up days
Which makes a bedtime really tough

She chauffeurs them all around
To places far and wide
Camps, and games, and conferences
When they’re sick, she’s at their bedside

Let’s add to those little errands
She’ll never get to recline
The shopping, washing, and endless snacks…
– They need a part for the combine!

Load up the kids, and run to the store
Out to the field she’ll go
Bringing meals, and parts, and grain carts
All her tasks, we’ll never know

The Farmer’s out their working
Don’t get me wrong at all
But the Farmher’s the glue in the family
Especially during harvest in the fall

It’s just for this month… or two
That she’ll put up with all of this,
But she does it with a grateful heart
Because she is one of His.

Share this poem to thank any local FarmHers you may know!

Nicole Zurcher

Quick Steps to Update Your Farm or Business Plan: Free Worksheet!

(If you want to hear more about what led us to this Farm Plan Reevaluation read this post: When Your Plans Don’t Work Out the Way You Intended)

Reevaluate Your Farm or Business: Simple Steps to get back on track! Free Printable!

There comes a point when you know you need to reevaluate and regroup, and we hit that point 3 months ago. Our stress levels were through the roof. We were angry and disappointed in ourselves. We thought this was God’s plan for us, why couldn’t we make our farm work? We had the customers, we have the tools, and the land, and the plants. Why would He lead us in this direction, just so we could fall flat on our face?

  So we did a 180. Cut our losses, we stopped trying to salvage the tomato field and other things that weren’t working. We figured at this point, any time we spent on that would take away from doing other things that could actually help pay the bills. Right? Then we sat down and had a heart-to-heart. What did we like most about our farm, what did we enjoy doing every day, which chores did we dread and avoid? How can we refocus around those things? Rj admitted that though he absolutely has found his calling as a farmer, when he started college, he really wanted to have a greenhouse operation. Now that was the last thing that got worked on lately. I, meanwhile, kept thinking back to my college major: Creative Writing, and my “favorite” chore of the day, working with the animals.

  How can we incorporate these things and refocus our farm plan, meanwhile still expect to pay the bills and eliminate some stress? We thought on it, for a LONG time. We hashed through scenarios, ran numbers, and stopped trying to force something that wasn’t working. It’s just too difficult at this point in our lives to maintain the amount of crops we planted, at least not with 5-6 kids on the side.

  We had to come to terms that it’s okay to change directions. We are our own bosses, if we couldn’t change our mind, what were we really doing here exactly? Flexibility is so important when you’re self employed. You need to make what works work better, and the stuff that doesn’t work: forget and learn from it. Or in our case, and this is so important to me, HELP OTHERS learn from it. Prevent others from making the same mistakes that we did, God provides enough for us all to be happy and successful, we don’t have to keep a “secret edge” and compete. God provides enough, He is enough. He will provide a path or a niche to make your farm or business set apart from others. We don’t have to do it all.


  • Build up our livestock production and provide access to quality locally raised meat
    • Meat Goats, Hogs, some cattle, and all types of poultry
  • Convert our fields into pasture and hay ground (goodbye weeding!) and grain crops to reduce our livestock feed costs
  • Set up our Aquaponics system and use the greenhouse to its maximum potential to grow fresh vegetables (also with minimum weeding!) and a small garden of a manageable size
  • Use our website and social media platforms to help others learn from our (numerous) mistakes, meanwhile get some seriously therapeutic writing in for Nicole
  • Focus on our family and farm, and build up opportunities for more agrotourism
  • You don’t have to do and be everything. You are enough.
  • We don’t have to compete with every other local direct produce farmer around. We can build our business around the things we love to do.
  • Stress is unnecessary and honestly makes everything harder in the end. Find ways to eliminate it where you can. If something is super stressful, is it REALLY necessary? Could you do something else instead to achieve the same goal? Delegate it to someone else?
  • If you are unhappy with your overall day at least three times a week. Something is wrong. Step back and reevaluate your life.
So, you may not be seeing us at the farmers markets lately, but know that we are still keeping busy. Look for us on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube as we begin sharing our journey so we can help others. I will also be creating regular blog posts, so even though you may not see us in person as much, it will be as if you’re right here building our homestead together!

Click HERE for your Free Printable!

Wishing you much luck!

When Your Plans Don’t Work Out the Way You Intended…

Where In The World Are Those Zurchers?!
I know if feels like we’ve fallen off the planet some days, and believe me, we feel that way too. It’s as if we’ve been in a constant caged wrestling death match between familial obligations, farm obligations, and sleep. (And I wouldn’t put your money on sleep if I were you!)

I just wanted to let you know that we hear you, we too miss seeing your faces at the farmers markets we haven’t been able to attend, and yes, we absolutely need our pretzel fix as well, cause guess what? If I’m not making you pretzels for market, I definitely don’t have the time to make them for us to snack on at home!

So, with that being said, I thought I’d share a few things so you get a little broader picture of what’s going on in our little slice of heaven lately.

(SPOILER ALERT: It’s not all just adorable animal selfies every day…)

As many of you know, we have been blessed to be foster parents to four wonderfully unique children since December of 2016, in addition to our two biological daughters. This doubled our family of four, and we went from an infant and a 3 year old to six kids under 7 literally overnight.

We love and have loved these children as our own since they joined our family, but not everything works out as we imagine, and this July our oldest (foster) daughter was reunited with her biological father. Though it was heartbreaking to see her leave, it was also bittersweet, as we’ve come to know her father well these last few months, and so we are happy that they can work on building their relationship together, despite no longer getting to tuck her in at night. However, her three half-siblings are still with us, and (God willing) will stay with us forever.

As you can imagine, this loss, even though we still get to see her on occasion, has greatly affected our family, and our children especially are working through their grief and loss, in addition to transitioning into the school year. Throw in the week of County Fair, school shopping trips from hell, about three weeks where everyone in our house was ill at some point, a car wreck and subsequent hospital visit (I’m fine) plus a second non-related ER visit a few weeks later (still fine) and 2000 tomato plants out in the one acre labyrinth, and you can begin to imagine our daily life. There are not enough hours in the day. Aside from all of that we still have our regular obligations like cooking meals, and several hours of homework every night as we have 4 kids in school now.

“So Nicole, how are the tomatoes?”

At this point I shake my head and laugh. Not because it’s funny, but because sometimes you have to laugh to just get through your day.

(Yes. There are tomatoes in there somewhere…)

It’s embarrassing to actually post that photo, but I feel it’s important for others to see exactly how bad it is, if only to save others from the stress and financial losses we’ve experienced this year. (Obviously, our aspirations to be a decent sized produce grower are not working out like we had hoped.) Our crops suffered from neglect because we stretched ourselves too thin. In July we tried to catch back up and hired some guys to weed the labyrinth of rows… but they quit after 1 hour and 45 minutes, and demanded their whole contracted price, which we obviously didn’t pay. (I’m still curious if they are going to take us to court like they threatened they would.)

There comes a point when you know you need to reevaluate and regroup, and we hit that point 3 months ago. Our stress levels were through the roof. We were angry and disappointed in ourselves. We thought this was God’s plan for us, why couldn’t we make it work? We had the customers, we have the tools, and the land, and the plants. Why would He lead us in this direction, just so we could fall flat on our face?

But we haven’t given up! Read THIS POST if you want to find out what we’re doing now instead, and how if your farm or business isn’t working out the way you hoped, you can make a change like we did with our FREE PRINTABLE!



Wilber-Clatonia 2017 PTO Plant Sale

Zurcher Farms is very excited to partner with Wilber-Clatonia Elementary as a supplier for their PTO Plant Sale! We have a large selection of vegetables and flowers and nearly all of our plants will be sold in 3″ CowPots this year. To learn more about these neat, bio-degradable, and sustainable pots, click here.

Order forms are due Friday, April 7th to the school and can be printed here: PTO Order Form 2017.

For detailed descriptions of all of this year’s plants go to: Zurcher Farms PTO Catalog 2017.

If you have a suggestion for a type of vegetable or flower you’d like to see at any future sales, please fill out the form below or write it on the bottom of your order form! We appreciate it!

Limited quanities of other varieties of plants will be available directly from the farm, at the Crete, Wilber, and Dorchester Farmers Markets, or at Food Mesto in Wilber this year.

3 Question Survey

Fowl Play & a Lesson in Preparedness

Now that I’m home more I’m going to be doing more back-posts on the latest progress on the farm.

Friday, December 2, 2016

It was crunch time. We either needed to get the pad poured or risk not having our greenhouse up in time. Nebraska weather is incredibly unpredictable and the fact that it was still relatively decent and December at the same time was short of a miracle. Rj spent the week prepping and working on other things on the farm while I was at work. The concrete was scheduled to come that Saturday morning at 9:00.

By 4:30pm on Friday, our area looked like this: 20161202_171143Not much but a frame and some drains.

(It didn’t look like much, but I know it took Rj hours to get this far. The grading was terrible to get level, and he had to move a lot of dirt in raise the east side up to match the west.)

I helped them finish leveling the area before my father had to leave as it got dark- and much colder. After a trip to Lincoln to get needed supplies, Rj and I continued to lay a vapor barrier, foil-lined styrofoam, and mesh for the new heated floor.

Prepping for pouring a heated concrete pad - vapor barrier
Rj putting a vapor barrier down

Prepping for heated concrete - styrofoam
Chucky Ducky and Boo helping hold the styrofoam down

By 11:45pm it was below freezing and we still had to lay all the pipe that would run the hot water to warm the pad. We were afraid we might crack the pex pipes by bending them at that temperature, and so we decided to go in and rest, then wake up in the early morning to finish before the concrete truck came and the rolls of pipe could warm up in the house.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen as planned.

Rj’s alarm didn’t go off, and the cement truck was coming at 9:00am… the pipe wasn’t done, and it started snowing, a lot. (By noon we had a couple of inches!)

Our plan had to change…

The guys ended up pouring the center slab of concrete in what we refer to as our “Tractor Shed” – which Rj calls my “Pinterest Barn” now. (Where I’ll be hosting crafting get aways soon!) It wasn’t quite what we needed at the moment, but it was better than nothing with a full concrete truck waiting impatiently in our driveway.

chuckyduckyThey got the pad poured with little issue… and then Chucky Ducky happened.

Chucky Ducky is currently the only web-footed member of the farm, and quite possibly thinks he is a cat.

Within minutes of screeding the concrete. He decided to go jaywalking – no running, across the pad.

If it was up to my father, Chucky would have become supper that night… I won’t repeat exactly what he said.

Luckily, the concrete was still very fresh, so they were able to screed out the footprints, but after they fixed it and locked our little fowl away, we woke up the next morning to see that our dog, Boo, went for a little stroll that night as well. There are also little tiny kitten prints along one wall. Sigh. This pad is obviously meant to have a little bit of character, so we’re going to make the most of those. Look forward to a post on exactly what we decide to do this summer!


Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t order concrete until you’re completely ready.
  2. Securely fence off your pad or lock up your animals when you pour.
  3. Don’t count on the forecast. Ever. Mother Nature enjoys making a liar out of the weather man, especially in Nebraska.
  4. We are way too old for all-nighters.

Have a great week!

— Nicole

Apple Pie Filling

*Article includes affiliate links for your convenience.

Tuesday was (technically) my first official day off from my previous job, and the first day for me working on the Farm! Yes, I’ll be back and forth for a while as we’re transitioning, but the day was exciting none the less!

Rj and I celebrated by making and canning Apple Pie Filling from the still 3/4 full lug of Golden Delicious apples we had from the last FFA fundraiser.

Canning Apple Pie Filling with Zurcher Farms: Tips & Tricks -Recipe included!

Our recipe was pretty easy. We modified it from the one found here. Though I admit a different type of apple would have probably been better, we used what we had. I reduced the amount of sugar because of the super sweetness of these apples. This filling was (in my opinion) not too sweet with the perfect amount of cinnamon. We will definitely use it again, perhaps with pears next time, and blows the store-bought apple pie filling out of the water. The recipe can also be frozen, but the texture of the apples suffers.

Step 1. Clean your kitchen. Seriously. Don’t follow my example, we dove in head first with no real planning, or more accurately I came home to Rj peeling apples with a recipe pulled up on the tablet. Don’t let the photos fool you, I had to creatively position my camera so you didn’t see all the dishes, mail, and folded laundry on my counters. (We currently have six kids under 7 (2 bio, 4 fosters) in our home. Don’t judge.)

Step 2. Get your canning stuff out. (See list below for must haves.) Start water boiling for processing and wash your jars and lids. We boiled our jars for 15 minutes, then moved them to a preheated oven at 215 degrees to sterilize and keep warm, but some people simply put their clean jars in the oven and skip the boiling step. You MUST have your jars warmed before you fill them and put them in your canner, otherwise your jars might explode – and who wants to clean that up?

Step 3. While the jars are cooking and water is getting hot, peel your apples. Rj started out with a potato peeler, but I thought just using a knife was quickest- to each their own. (Or if you have an apple peeler/corer like this Johnny Apple Peeler by VICTORIO VKP1010, Cast Iron, Suction Base” target=”_blank”>one, you will fly through these steps a lot faster than me!)

After your apple is peeled, either slice up the apple manually like I did, or check out this awesome multi-purpose Easy Grip Apple Slicer/corer Mango and Potato Slicer for Home Made French Fries Complete Bundle with Garlic Crusher Much Easier Than a Press” target=”_blank”>apple slicer. If you are going the manual route, I recommend looking at this how-to article, it has revolutionized how I slice! (who knows –  you could be doing it wrong your whole life!) We sliced the apples about 1/2in thick.

Peeling Apples and Sterilizing Jars

Step 4. Fill a pot with your water (we doubled this recipe), sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cornstarch. Mix well and start to heat. After it gets a little warm, stir constantly. It WILL burn as it thickens. Once its at a roiling boil, cook for one minute, then remove from heat. At this time you can add your lemon juice, or Fruit Fresh (citric acid).

Step 5. Put your lids is a small pan of water and put on high heat to bring to a boil.

Step 6. Pull your jars out of the oven (it helps to have them on a baking sheet) and stuff with the raw apple slices. DO NOT fill too full. They need to be below the lip. Not at. BELOW. Our first batch expanded too much and didn’t seal. I’m kind of worried my first batch of apples may be a little mushy because I had to process them twice now.

Step 7. Ladle the hot mixture into your jars with a funnel. Use a spoon handle or knife to get rid of any air pockets and get the sauce all the way to the bottom of the jar. Do not fill too full. This seriously is worth repeating.

Step 8. Once full, wipe the rim of your jars with a damp clean cloth, then dip your finger in some water and wipe it along the rim to double-check for any particles that may prevent a good seal. Take a lid out of the boiling water, place on the jar, and screw on the ring, finger tight.

Step 9. Put the jars in your water bath and add more water until the whole jar is covered. Turn up the heat until the whole thing comes to a roiling boil. Then set your timer for 20 minutes. (If you start your timer from when you place your jars in the canner, the food will not reach the right temperature and could spoil.)

Step 10. Take your jars out of the bath and set out to cool. Resist moving them around a lot or even wiping them down if your hard water left a foggy film on the glass at first, this will wash off later. Moving them at this point can jeopardize the seal. Also, don’t set your hot jars directly on your countertops if you have formica. It can make your countertops bubble.

Apple Pie Filling
Finished Apple Pie Filling

Apple Pie Filling Recipe:

  • 6lbs Apples (peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 thick pieces)
  • 4 1/2 cups Sugar (we used closer to 4 and it was plenty sweet)
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1 cup Cornstarch
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1o cups water
  • 3 tbls Lemon juice OR 10 tsp of Ball Fruit Fresh Produce Protector 5oz (Pack of 1)” target=”_blank”>Fruit Fresh (we used the fruit fresh)
  • 3 Drops yellow food coloring (We did NOT add this. I happen to be incredibly allergic to red and yellow dyes – which is a subject for a whole other post… adult onset allergies, who knew?)

Recipe states that it makes 6 quarts, however we doubled this recipe for a 3/4 full canner. Our apples to sauce ratio was a little higher, which was fine with us. We ended up with about 14 quarts worth in the end. Don’t feel you have to triple the recipe if you’re on the border between 1 to 2 batches or 2 to 3. You can stretch the sauce for probably another half batch worth of jars if you pack them tightly full of apples.

If you’re just starting out canning, I would recommend the following items:

  • Quart or Pint Ball Mason Regular Mouth Quart Jars with Lids and Bands, Set of 12” target=”_blank”>Jars (any brand is fine – can usually find at most stores)
  • Lids and Bands to fit (either wide mouth or regular, bands are reusable)
  • This Tool Set really makes the job easier!
  • Canner(s)
  • Or just get it all at once in this kit
  • And this thing is definitely not required, but awesome. Once you’ve canned awhile you’ll understand why. It’s such a pain to get the lids apart when they’re boiling.

Happy Canning!

Our goats really enjoyed all the apple peelings and cores! It was a nice winter treat!


20170110_111312.jpg20170110_111240.jpg 20170110_111249.jpg

– Nicole

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