Living the Good Life now: Farming the way we want to live
We are refreshed. We are determined. We see and we set the way forward. We believe this, and we are joyful though we have considered all the facts. We are citizens, we are farmers and we are hopeful.
A member of my family and business- who remains nameless- said that 2016 was the year “Stella got his groove back”. This statement was utterly at odds with my own experience of the year, which was more of an anxious and disorganized firefighter. The complexity that the Cider House brought to the farm is just that- complicated. It brought Garrett home to the farm and cidery full-time, and knitted our family and staff together so that we offer year-round jobs with opportunity for advancement and creativity. It also created an administrative boondoggle and bound me personally to learning and employing a series of mysterious tools based on my tiny desk in my even smaller yurt. Yes, 10 years and multiple construction projects later, we still live in and work out of the yurt.
So, gratitude for the coming of 2017: while one partner in a two member team perceives extreme challenge, the other overflows optimism. In listing my top reasons for looking forward to 2017, Garrett’s bright eyes and forward vision easily make #1.
What does Good Life Farm look like in 2017? The week between Christmas and New Year’s (2016) was a delightful breath of fresh air in thinking about the farm. The more my job at the farm became that of supreme administrative ruler, the more confounded I became. In seeking balance, we return to the sort of farm enterprise planning we were so actively engaged in from 2008 up until we shifted focus to the Cider House in 2014. It feels great to hear Garrett rant about the next generation of trees on the farm, to plan for carbon sequestration, to see the health of our herd ever increasing and to play with the makeup of geese+duck+chickens vs turkeys for the orchard and asparagus polyculture. More challenging is the continued use of draft power vs the tractor that we finally kowtowed to in May. After a year of borrowing tractors to load and unload cidery-related stuff, we realized that this particular level of outsourcing was… ridiculous. Ridiculous not in a funny, zany way. And so arrived on the farm a front loader, easily harnessing the power of two well-sized horses. In denial and mulish stubbornness, I worked with Polly and to mow, plow and harrow the tiny amount of bare-field work we have left now that our farm is covered in grass and trees. And I pondered.
Here’s a hopeful answer, for now. Polly and Leo are a good team- calm, middle-aged, strong, healthy. Draft power is important to me on an emotional-historical-impactful-audial level. I love the swish-swing-clink of mowing, pulling, and harrowing with horses. I love it when Polly calms down and focuses. I love horse sweat and I deeply value horse manure. Leo, I just love. Animals are an incredible and compelling part of our farm. Some systems make complete and inherent sense. Poultry in the orchard: check. Cows in the between-times pastures, and clearing honeysuckle and brambles from the woods: all good. Dogs as friends, greeters and deer-chasers: certainly. Draft horses: how practical? How affordable? Do I have the time to keep them in training?
Why the constant reference back to horses? Isn't the farm all about apples and cider now? Draft horses are certainly only a part of Good Life Farm, and currently are not economic drivers. But they continue to embody core farm mission in terms of impact, pace, lifestyle, in-sourcing, energy. Recently, I read a sprightly article on demolition in a Vermont mountain wilderness- requiring the use of Percheron power to haul out rubble. (Hell Hollow Bridge Removal: The Green Mountain Club, Winter 2016). Draft animals fit and maneuver with less impact and greater elegance than tracked or wheeled machinery sent into similar situations. I grew up in an aura of Muir-inspired wilderness love. The appreciation of wildness tracks straight to my own love of nature-inspired agriculture and our farm management. Land stewardship is something I can wrap my head around, get up in the morning and work for. I can administrate the heck out of this idea if I know we are still on this track. Good Life Farm has a long way to go in proving anything about the combined yields and ecosystem benefits of polycultures, but on a day to day level, I think we can continue to offer an experience of the farm where all who come imbibe a feeling of peace, pace and empowerment. I believe that Polly and Leo can help us along this path, the human-horse relationship being as deep and old and sensitive as it is.
When folks visit the Cider House, they often wander down to the horses. I’d like to be bringing the horses out to the people, and taking the time to tour and chat about what such members of our system mean. Yes, let’s debate the anachronism of farming five times slower than one’s neighbor. Let’s acknowledge feed and vet bills and never getting to leave the farm. In the 2 years of the Cider House, I’ve come to realize that what might be lost in time and efficiency can possibly be gained back in education, imagination and inspiration.
Whether we can keep the horses as a part of the functioning farm is still in the air. So this Saturday we’re celebrating our years as teamsters and the love we have for working with Leo and Polly. We invite you and your families, friends, colleagues to join us to WASSAIL our orchard, ride along with the team, make some noise, sip some cider and invoke abundance for the 2017 harvest. Come on out! The rest… will be the stuff of more blogging.
SATURDAY, JAN 14TH, 3:30 - 5:30 PM
Garrett and I invite you to our Cider House and farm next Saturday for a Wassail! We'll tour the orchard on a sled, powered by our draft horses Leo and Polly, bang some pots and pans, enjoy a warming fire, sip some cider, sing (or not) a song to the trees, and share in the love of orchard-based cider. INVITE EVERYONE!