I realized it has been a long time since my last posting. Life has been a wild ride at the farm and it took me all the energy I got to hold on and not fall off. Lots has changed and we are now reaching new equilibrium so I want to reflect a little bit on the past year. The main change that affected everything at the farm is that Charles no longer lives here. We came to the realization that the paths we wanted to pursue were getting more and more distant and less parallel. Now Charles has an apartment in South Burlington. It was a difficult choice but I am very proud of how supportive and loving we have been able to remain throughout this transition. Eva, our little one that many of you have met - yes the one that goes around with a princess dress or a dragon costume with a pig nose :) - is doing well and has adapted well to the concept of one family with two houses. She enjoys having the undivided attention of mom during mom's days and dad during dad's days.
The other bump in the road is that Alex had a major car accident in December - yes, exactly the day before all the porchetta roasts were due for delivery - He broke 2 vertebrae in his neck and risked to be completely paralyzed. Fortunately after and emergency surgery that fused together his spinal column and few weeks of bed rest he started getting up and moving around and now I have not seen him in over a month because of sugaring season, so I am sure he is doing okay.
These changes have pretty much left me in charge of the farm on my own and fortunately I had Stefano and Tirragen to lean on or I do not think we could talk about Agricola any more, especially considering I have a full time day job at the University. It is now nice to reflect on all of this and see that we are getting at the end of the tunnel. Every day gets a bit easier. We are also hiring 1 (possibly 1 and 1/2) new farm assistants so that starting in June life will be even more manageable.
One things that keeps me grounded is that pigs, sheep and chickens do not seem to care about any of this - they still want their food, their water, a clean and safe shelter and they have their mating and family planning needs. So the farm has been continuing for its merry way and growing - and growing - and growing! And our community and supporters have been growing with the farm.
Life in the Barn:
Our barn is now hosting about 100 piggies of all ages and coming from three different breading mixes. They are so eager to go out and frolic in the sun on the fresh grass and we, evil farmers, not allow that (the tender new grass just growing would suffer too much). We have 13 new lambs and 3 more ewes that have yet to give birth. Lambs are at that special age when they are small enough to go through the holes in the fences but big enough to feel bold to explore the world, so, at any given time, if you walk inside the barn you may be greeted by a flock of baby lambs running full speed towards you and they may or may not be able to stop in time. Chickens have been growing too - we have selected the eggs for the new generation (something necessary to ensure chickens with larger breasts - more similar to what people are used to see in the store). One hen has been broody (sitting on eggs she wants to hatch) for over a month...we hope she will last few more weeks and wait for the eggs we are hatching in the incubator so that she can have her flock of baby chicks to train and protect (not only chicks raised by hens are better at foraging and hunting but they are also better at protecting themselves from predators). Soon we will have a number of hens parading thier chicks around the courtyard - that is when I feel spring is finally here.
Life in the fields:
The fields look empty without the animals grazing. However, this break gave us time to attend the pastures. We have cleaned up another field of the plastic left behind by the previous farmers. The plastic has been annoying and makes us feel we have a junk yard, not a farm, so removing it has been extremely satisfying, but I have to recognize the adaptability of different wild animals that have found refuge inside the crevices of this black and white mantel that is 2/3 under ground covered by years and years of abandonment in the fields. We have even found a family of weasel - a mom and 10 day old weasel babies...weasel are probably the most deadly predators for chickens but having to kill first mama and then the still blind, pink babies was quite traumatizing... life at the farm is not always easy and romantic... but as a farmer your priority is protecting the animals you are hosting and that includes eliminating families of young baby weasels. We have also been frost seeding the fields with legumes and grasses, especially those areas that were covered with plastic and weeds last year. On sunny days we walk up to the field to check the progress of the new grass and feel good about the fact that, acre by acre we are making a little progress in this 65 acres we have decided to look after. The experiemental paddock we grazed with sheep and pigs and then seeded at the end of the winter is also growing incredibly well - you can actually see the bright fresh green grass all the way from Panton rd and every time I pass by, I look at it and feel good about that entire week-end I spent removing rocks and planting seeds before the frost. I am also incredibly proud of the greenhouse Stefano and I have been building to host the thousands of vegetables we plan to grow in our 1/2 acre vegetable garden. We dream of lots of tomatoes for yummy tomato sauce, onions for savory preserves and lots and lots of fresh veggies to support the farm and to sell at our farm stand - so exciting! Right now we have over 300 onion, 100 peppers, and 250 tomato seeds under growing lamps and shortly we will move them to their new green house - so neat.
Life in the Farm House:
it is crazy busy! We have a large house but for some reason I always have all rooms full! There is Tirragen and Stefano; Eva on few days of the week, and then Alex (the other farm owner) now and again, and then guests from all walks of life. Right now we have Tirragen's sister visiting from California and getting a brutal awakening to winter in Vermont (poor thing... she choose the wrong week!). Plus we will have one or more farm assistants coming to help so ... we have so many people around all the times, and let's not forget we have Maurizio (the cat) and Giulia (the skunk) that keep us company. Giulia is quite friendly, really... even the propane guy commented on her friendly attitude. We have also forged supportive relationships with farmers around here and whenever in a pickle I can rely on 3 or 4 people that I know will do anything they can to help me out, and in exchange I butcher their pigs or have them over for a farm dinner - farming is never a solitary act and you can really see that in action here at our farm.
The to do list before May is long. We still have a lot of plastic to pull out from the fields, shelters to build or fix, structures to repair, farm signs to make and to post, new fences to make for the pastures, plus we have more butchering dates ahead of us, lots more agriturism activities (pretty much every week-end) to host. We have the beds of the vegetable garden to prepare, the wild flower garden to seed, the grill for the Farm 2 Grill events to prepare, a zillion new piglets that will arrive in the next 3 to 4 months. Then there are the new farm assistants to interview, the restaurants in New York and Boston to follow up with etc.... the days are full, but the sun stays up late and the energy at the farm keeps us buzzing with excitement. We are ready to wake up from the slow winter months.
See you at the farm!