I have taken quite a while to get around to this– I wanted to feel the full effects of perspective and reflection sink in before writing. Looking back now, this experience was one of the most intense, joyful, frustrating, meaningful, and gratifying things I have done with my life. There were blood, sweat, and tears pouring out of me on a daily basis, but as my cross-country coach Philip Hadley says, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” He was right. Over the course of the season, my skin darkened, my hands toughened, my clothes had mud and blood and shit ground into them, and I grew considerably stronger. I made lots of mistakes. Tons. I was slow when I should have been fast and fast when I should have been more focused. I forgot things I should have remembered, didn’t pay close enough attention to items of great importance, and tired too easily. The truth is that farming requires a depth of human intensity and tenacity more vast than I could have imagined without seeing it in front of me. Adrienne and Ken run their farm with an unwavering clarity of purpose that shows daily in the love and commitment they pour into their land and the food that they provide to their community. Yes, it is their source of income, but it also their passion, hobby, free time. The visions that they have for the future of their farm are inspiring to Brian and I as we sketch out plans and dreams for ours. Ken and Adrienne are always balancing their current priorities and needs for this season and the next while also planning for future projects that will bring greater health, diversity, efficiency, revenue, and community to the farm. I think that above all else, the most important thing that I learned from them is to strive for that balance– focusing on the tasks at hand but not forgetting to make space for long term dreams.
In my last four weeks on the farm, we cleared out the fields and greenhouses, harvested and delivered 3 more weeks of CSA shares, moved the tomato house to its new location covering winter greens, hauled down about 8 cords of wood from the forest, separated the ewes from the rams, planted garlic, and celebrated Graham’s and Adrienne’s birthdays with a giant bonfire and many friends, the night before I departed by bike. Some highlights from that month were visiting Goranson Farm, where Adrienne apprenticed for two years, reassembling the hoophouse with greater ease (read: far fewer expletives) this time around, the saga of Rocky the zombie lamb, the sheep roundup day, making horse-sized party hats for Ken’s birthday only to find that they were terrified of them, planting garlic in the rain for 2 days, getting to look at Adrienne’s unbelievably detailed crop planning spreadsheets, and driving 3 abreast with a disk harrow.
When Adrienne and I went down to Portland for the third-to-last CSA share drop off, we took a longer route that strayed from the highways to meandering country roads most of the way. In Dresden, we stopped at Goranson Farm to pick up about 400 ears of sweet corn for the share (standard shares received 4 ear, family shares 8 ears). While we were there, I got to meet Jan Goranson and Rob Johanson, who together own and run the farm, their son Carl, who just graduated from Bennington College, and a few of their apprentices. Carl developed a love of livestock and workhorses in college and is now working with his very mechanically-minded father to incorporate workhorses onto their tractor-powered farm. Carl also has a milk cow and a steer (both Jersey/Brown Swiss cross). Their younger son is at Sterling College and is eager to return to the farm. Jan and Rob, who have been farming this land for over 25 years, have lots of impressive infrastructure in place that they built themselves from repurposed tools and equipment. Their propagation greenhouse, walk-in cooler, farm stand, washing and packing system, and general layout of Zone 0 (frequent use area) was brilliant. There were so many amazing ideas and workarounds that caught my eye– all things that come with years and years of fine-tuning. Adrienne walked around with me and pointed out aspects of the farm that she hoped to emulate one day, systems she wanted to incorporate, and things she learned from Jan and Rob that are already in motion at New Beat Farm. I could see from this visit how important it is that knowledge and tradition be passed down in this trade. Apprenticeships have become vital in this new age of college-educated farmers for how they contextualize the theoretical/scientific body of knowledge and facilitate the inheritance of a cultural body of knowledge.
During the reassembly of the hoophouse for winter greens, the sky graced us with clear, albeit windy, weather for the duration of the process. Over several days, we staked down boards with rebar, erected end walls, slid 24 bent pipes into place over rebar to form the hoops, draped plastic over the hoops, and then crisscrossed p-cord over top to hold down the plastic. The most difficult part was, as before, putting the pipes over the rebar. Matching the slightly varying angles of the pipes and rebar along with rust caked inside the pipes required, at times, jumping up onto the pole, hanging from it like a monkey, and bouncing up and down to force it to slide down the rebar to the board on the ground. This was met with frustration but also laughter. By the time I left, we had harvested a beautiful round of spinach from underneath the hoophouse.
Where I last left off the blog, Rocky the lamb was on the road to recovery…or so we thought. As it turned out, that road was longer and bumpier than anticipated. After the swelling went down nearly everywhere, he started getting yellow pus in his eyes. Once we cleared that up, the peeling started. We are still not completely sure how or why this happened, but nearly all of the skin on his face peeled off. (I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it). It started around his nose and the inside corners of his eyes and spread all over his face. Just as the hair was beginning to grow back around the nose, one of his ears fell off. Ken, Mica, and I were doing chores in the morning, which, at that point, involved giving Rocky a shot of antibiotics and rubbing a healing salve on his face. Ken noticed a huge infection in Rocky’s ear and climbed into the pen to get a closer look. I started feeling queasy and left Mica and Ken to handle it. As I searched for eggs on the second floor of the barn, I heard a “OH WOW! OH MY GOD! AGHHH!” from downstairs and I instantly knew that the ear was gone. A few days later, his other ear came off, and he was left with exposed pink nubs sticking out of his head and patches of wool growing back on his face in a strange pattern. At this point, he truly looked like the undead. We guessed that the traumatic physical shock from the swelling caused rupturing of major blood vessels near the surface of the skin, which then died. It was only a matter of time before his body sloughed off the dead cells. A few days later, we decided that staying in the barn would be dangerous for him because the exposed flesh needed good air circulation to avoid infection. When we took him back out to the other rams, there was a curious interaction wherein they all followed him around the paddock, but he seemed well-adjusted after a night of grazing.
Part 2 will be published next week…..