Just when it feels like the heat wave will never end, you wake up one morning and there’s a faint chill in the air. You’re enveloped in a thick blanket of fog and everything feels still. There is a tree on the hill across from our fields who’s leaves are a brilliant flash of yellow among the green. She’s ready for winter even if the rest of us aren’t. There’s a moment of intense relief because with the cold of winter comes rest. And suddenly winter feels like it’s almost upon us and the farm isn’t ready.
The winter bedding hasn’t been ordered, and neither has the firewood. There’s no plan for when the water lines freeze and you haven’t started or finished building the sheep enclosure in the barn. There’s no plan for how to get water to the cows when you’re bale grazing this winter and you’re just generally nervous for your first Vermont winter.
In the beginning of August I got taken down hard by a mystery GI problem. A day in the emergency room yielded nothing but, “We’re not sure what it is so we’re discharging you.” I spent most of the month in bed with Ben holding down the farm, and taking care of me. Projects like fence building, yurt kitchen building, and airstream renovations came screeching to a halt. We were also in a drought and like our projects, the grass had stopped growing. While I spent my days miserable in bed, Ben fed the cows hay to prevent overgrazing our fields and damaging the root systems. Every day our winter hay supply was a teeny bit smaller.
We asked our neighbors if they might have extra hay for the year. They took inventory and can sell us enough to make up for what we’ve fed. What a relief. It’s not an expense we were planning on and it’s not a welcome one in our first year on our new farm. But that’s farming.
There are years when there’s too much grass, and years when there’s not enough grass. Both come with their own challenges. Rarely is there the perfect amount of grass. Sometimes I wonder if my health is directly tied to the land that I am tending. That as the soil dried up this year, so did my health.
Every morning I wake up and look to the weather forecast. On the days that might bring rain I obsessively watch the skies. And most days those chances of rain blow right past us into the ether. The few days that have brought rain showers, I’ve stood out under the drops, feeling them bring my wilted leaves back to life.
If there’s one thing a month in bed has taught me, it’s surrender. This is my first year farming with my love and business partner. The first week I was sick I was absolutely wracked with guilt I wasn’t working hard enough. Every time Ben would come back from a task I would ask him if he was mad at me. “You’re sick,” he would say. “I know, but..”
As the days went on and I didn’t get better I despaired about the farm. This was our first year and we needed to do so much. We will had 20 acres that needed to be fenced in weeks ago. The yurt kitchen was supposed to be finished in June so the yurt could be rented out. Something bad was surely going to happen if I was out of work for the business month of the year.
And yet, the world has not ended yet. The cows are still eating grass. The grass is still (slowly) growing. We got two puppies and two cats while I was sick. They’re still alive and thriving for that matter. Ben graduated solidly from intern to apprentice farmer as he gamely rose at 6AM each day to care for everything including me by himself.
And one day last week, I started feeling a little better every day. It turns out that spending a month in bed at 34 will take most of your fitness away. I tire easily and things that didn’t feel heavy before feel heavy now. I’m surrendering to that as well. When I feel tired, I stop working and I take a nap. Even when my to-do list isn’t done or I feel like I should keep going.
We’ve been on this farm for five months. August was swallowed by being sick in bed so we’ve gotten most of our work done in four. We managed to move our entire farm to Vermont (ok actually we’re still working on getting everything up here, sorry Karen!). We fenced in seventy acres. We planted over 300 trees. At our peak we were grazing three herds and 86 cows. We painted, furnished, readied our farm house, and welcomed guests through Airbnb. We became certified ORGANIC!
We built a yurt with the help of our community. We helped our neighbors with hay and made some dear friends. We found a beautiful swim spot and swam in it when it was too hot to work. We were welcomed warmly into this beautiful community we get to call home. I got my tractor stuck in the mud and had to get towed out by much bigger tractor.
We accidentally didn’t connect a fence correctly and had sixty cows walk through it in the night and found them napping in a completely unfenced in area in the morning. I’m not sure my heart has ever beat faster as I called the neighbor while we counted cows to see if they were all counted for. They were. I got to fulfill a lifelong dream of milking cows for our favorite young farmer Robert of Blue Goose Farm who supplies our raw milk.
I froze black raspberries and blueberries for muffins and pancakes this winter. I made dilly beans with gifted green beans. I froze rhubarb compote for rhubarb spoon cake and ice cream topping. This week we went to our LAST Rhode Island farmer’s market. And we’re getting ready to launch our beef box subscriptions with nationwide shipping.
At the end of it all, I’m just grateful. For another summer that’s slipping slowly and yet quickly into fall. For the miracle of even being alive and for how generous Mother Earth is and for everything she provides to us
I’ll leave it here. For the dogs need walking and the cows need moving. Love to you all.