Permaculture

Sweet 2017 Send Off from Finger Lakes Cider House, Kite & String and Good Life Farm

The year draws to a close... 

We say thank you.

It’s a bit early for us to be drawing conclusions about 2017, but we have the honor of working with incredible people whose reflections are powerful insight.  Jeff Katris created this video comprising the lush seasons at the Cider House and the farm, and we offer it to you as our sweet goodbye to the year.

I recently heard a song in which the lyrics speak to the ever evolving farmer soul- “tell me how trees are planted and all the things I never studied, let me learn them now.”

My rewrite... “remind me to plant trees each year and to ask for help when I don’t know the way.”

Thank you to all of those who have worked to make the Cider House, Good Life Farm and Kite & String Cider what we are, and for all the help on the way.  

The Orchard Year Opens With A Bang!

This year can be said to be a watermark for Good Life Farm, home of Finger Lakes cider House. Each year since 2009 we've planted up to 300 semi-dwarf trees, but this year we're acknowledging several things, notably that we need higher production for GLC cider. So while we continue to grow out our 1,500+ large trees, this year we'll be popping in 800 dwarf trees and trellising them all with Good Life-grown, -horse logged and -hand hewn locust posts. Here's to calories! 

So while we continue to grow out our 1,500+ large trees, this year we'll be popping in 800 dwarf trees and trellising them all with Good Life-grown, -horse logged and -hand hewn locust posts. Here's to the calories that keep us all going!

LOOKING AT 2017 WITH BRIGHT EYES

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


Celebrate the orchard: Good Life WASSAIL

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!

Cider House Blog Share... Resting To Reignite A Sense Of Curiosity

Seasonal Interlude With A New Friend

For the past two days- Wednesday and Thursday- I've been swept away by what I've come to call a core-mission experience. Simran Sethi came to town to share her book "Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love", which we carry here at the Cider House with pride.  Simran's book focuses on agricultural biodiversity and how this affects flavor, sense of place and food stability.  Among other things.  There's a lot out there to read about both Simran and her wonderful book, and my aim is not to repeat that necessarily, but to continue to share with the Finger Lakes Cider House and Good Life Farm communities how this kind of reading, writing and discussion circles back to spark our passion for what we do here.

Please do check out Simran, "Bread, Wine, Chocolate..." and find her where you are!

Listening And Contemplating Amidst Much Doing

First stop- Simran's lecture on Wednesday night, brought to us courtesy of the Cornell Plantations Fall Lecture Series.  Sitting in the audience was the first time in 2 months I'd sat and sustained a quiet, listening pose.  September-November in the cider world is pants-on-fire, between the bookends of FLX Cider Week (Oct 1-9), NYC Cider Week (Oct 21-30), and all the harvest, pressing, fermenting, tasting room hosting, etc that goes on at our farm in a busy Finger Lakes fall.  These times are critical to our business and we do our best to keep up and provide our customers and employees with a truthful and rich experience to keep us all grounded.  It is a time to say "Yes" and take every opportunity to get out into the world with cider, with ginger, with beef, before we all hunker down for a northeast winter.  In the midst of all this comes Simran and her rejuvenating message, and so back to the Statler Auditorium. 

I find a direct and essential connection to Simran's work in the frequent decision making here at Good Life Farm, and continue to be reminded just how far we've come on the strength of our belief, our willingness to compromise and our youthful naivete. 

Walking The Right Livelihood Path: Every Decision A Compromise

When it came time for Eric (Redbyrd Orchard Cider) and me to talk, I realized that despite being there ostensibly to talk about cider and preserving apple varieties, I could easily discuss many farm conundrums, and chose to illustrate the painful decision around turkey breeds we faced each year.  Quoth one of our mentors regarding heritage breed turkeys "they will ruin your high tunnels, they will ruin your marriage, they will ruin your life".  And so, uncharacteristically, we chose NOT to take on the challenge of breeding and raising only heritage breed turkeys.  In actuality, the minute the broad breasted whites and bronzes hit our farm we found them to be active, curious animals who didn't at any point become catatonic on their way to processing weight.  When holding up the permaculture ideal and trying to carry this biodiverse torch, each compromise that involves a nod back to industrial breeding seemed like a huge burden to bear.  Except, it was really hard enough.  On the agricultural side organic, day-range turkeys moving throughout an orchard and asparagus polyculture is a beautiful, productive system.  On the financial end, the intense labor and high grain prices produce an endless series of question marks, so many that this year we took a turkey-raising break.

Luckily for me, I wasn't at Simran's talk to problem solve these issues as much as acknowledge and contemplate.  On Thursday, we followed up the Wednesday Plantations lecture with an intimate Community Writing Circle, Discussion and Happy Hour here at the Cider House.  This workshop was among a few we've held that are small, free, and content-rich without having a sales focus and they truly light my fire.  We sat in a circle, sipped hot toddies of sweet cider and Pommeau, and followed Simran through her process for writing about food (read, love) and were challenged to write our own food story.  Precious time spent in a more restful and thoughtful period that I could have wished for in this hurly burly season.  Again, I found myself writing about the food aspect of Good Life Farm and our challenges in growing food in such an idealized bio-extensive system.  I continue to realize how this farm is intended for the second generation of farmers here, who will enter into a land base of well established trees, a solid herd of cattle, and maybe some clarity around raising poultry. 

Til Next Time

At this moment, a lot seems unclear and in flux.  The Cider House has made it possible to run this as a full-time family operation but still entails 80-90 hr work weeks, which leads me to wonder where that second generation is going to come from.  Instead of just worrying, the past two days of reconnecting to my personal "why" for all of this provides me with a tool for analyzing and discussing it with myself, with Garrett and with our team.  And, in the midst of the exhaustive season of harvest and cider sales, I am awake!  Thank you for the visit, Simran.  Looking forward to sharing more on this topic.