Apply to the Stonewall Farm School Today!

Stonewall Farm School 

Many rewards come out of farming. Some would like to change professions. Others do it out of love for the land or a commitment to linking farms and communities.

This is where the Stonewall Farm School can help. The Stonewall Farm School entails a year-long program in our organic dairy or garden, giving interested folks the practical farming skills and business background to explore a career in farming. We emphasize hard work, critical thinking, and  appropriate technology for small farms.

Students will operate our micro-pasteurizer, hydroponic fodder system, Cool-bot refrigeration, and maple sugaring equipment on our year-round farm.

Stonewall Farm School’s year-long program starts in the fall. Tuition includes housing, a food stipend, and the potential to be a paid intern in the summer season. Applications continue to be reviewed on a rolling basis.

To Apply: 

Feel free to download our Stonewall Farm School (SFS) Application Binder. If you prefer a hard copy or have other questions about the Farm School, you can e-mail Joshua Cline at jcline@stonewallfarm.org or call him at 603-357-7278 ext. 107.

2013 Stonewall Farm Hand Mali Jay!

2013 Stonewall Farm Hand Mali Jay!

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Maple Sugarin’

 

“In contemplating the present opening prospects in human affairs, I am led to expect that a material part of the general happiness which heaven seems to have prepared for mankind will be derived from the manufacture and general use of Maple Sugar.”

Letter to Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Rush, August 19, 1791

 Thanks to the discovery of maple sugar by Native Americans, the sweetness and flavor of maple sugar won over European settlers as early as the 1600s.

 “In this month (February, 1756) we began to make sugar … In the sugar tree they (Native Americans) cut a notch, sloping down, and at the end of the notch stuck in a tomahawk; in the place where they stuck (it) they drove a long chip. In order to carry the water out from the tree, and under this they set their vessels to receive it.”

James Smith, An Account of Remarkable Occurences

during Captivity with the Indians. 1755-1759

 It was an important part of on-farm sugar production in 18th century New England. It played a symbolic and economic role in the Civil War, as it was made by farmers in the north as opposed to cane sugar made by slaves in the south.

“The cane sugar is the result of the forced labor of the most wretched slaves, toiling under the cruel lash of a cutting whip. While the maple sugar is made by those who are happy and free.”

William Drown, Compendium of Agriculture, 1824

 Sugaring season, especially when the first batch of sugar was made, became a time when young men and women could meet each other at the sugar house. There would be sugar tasting, socializing, music and dancing.

 “It is pleasant to visit these sugar orchards, drink sap, lap maple molasses and make love. Let the Vermont ladies beware, for in such places they may fall in love … the delicious saccharine qualities of maple molasses, presented to the swelling lips of a beautiful lass by the hand of a smiling swain, has a wonderfully softening effect upon the head.”

Gleason’s Pictorial, 1852

 Eventually, maple sugar was replaced by cane and beet sugar. Maple sugar and syrup morphed into boutique items.

In 2013, 3.2 million gallons of maple syrup were produced – 124,000 of those gallons (about 4%) in New Hampshire. As it takes over 40 gallons of maple sap boiled down to create 1 gallon of syrup, it means moving and boiling 20,000 tons of sap a year, just in New Hampshire. In contrast, the US produced 8.9 million tons of cane and beet sugar in 2013.

In celebration of sugaring time, on Saturday March 22nd, we will be hosting the 15th Annual Horse-Drawn Sap Gathering Contest. The public is invited to watch teams of draft horses compete to gather sap on a timed race course. The sugar house will be open for tours. Children can try the two man saw, lifting the old-fashioned kettle off the fire pit, and see how a small-scale evaporator works. Food and maple sundaes will also be available.  Admission is $5/person, with children ages 6 and under free.

For school children, the farm offers maple sugaring programs during the sap season, generally in March. See our website for details at: www.stonewallfarm.org/Programs/School

To learn more about our programs call us at 603.357.7278 or visit our website at: www.stonewallfarm.org.

15th Annual Horse-Drawn Sap Gathering Contest, March 22nd 2014!

Horse-Drawn Sap Gathering at Stonewall Farm

Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Newcomer

Help Bootstrap the First Year of Our Milk CSA!

We are in the beginning stages of offering a year-round Milk CSA from our award-winning, certified organic dairy. Let us know if you are interested in local milk, right now, right here. When we reach our 150 member goal, we can make it happen. Please pass the word on to your family and  friends. We need your help to spread the word.

The simple link for referral is: http://www.stonewallfarm.org/csaform

Thanks you all for helping to make Stonewall Farm, Stonewall Strong!

Grazing

Calling All Future Farmers to Stonewall Farm School!

Whether it be out of passion for making a fresh professional move, out of love for the land to manage soils and waters in an environmentally conscious way, or out of commitment to bridging our “foodscapes” with surrounding communities, many rewards come out of farming.

Of course, you also face the inevitable +12-hour work days, constant manure and soil on your clothes, and the long-term process of realizing the fruits of your labors. Yet, as recent U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics have revealed, with the median age of the American farmer being 57 years old, we need young farmers and we need them soon!

This is where we at Stonewall Farm can step in to lead the education of future farmers. We own over 120 acres of land and over 30 Holstein and Brown Swiss cattle in a certified organic dairy. We manage three acres of produce which drives a year-round CSA, as well as a maple stand which produces Grade A and B maple syrup. We have been an active farm landscape for over 250 years in our corner of southwestern New Hampshire. If anyone is in a position to launch a school centered around holistic and practical education on community-based agriculture, then Stonewall Farm School proves to be in the best position possible.

The Stonewall Farm School will be a year-long program in our organic dairy or garden, giving interested folks the practical farming skills and business background to explore a career in farming. We emphasize hard work, critical thinking, and  appropriate technology for small farms. Students will operate our micro-pasteurizer, hydroponic fodder system, Cool-bot refrigeration, and maple sugaring equipment on our year-round farm.

Stonewall Farm School’s year-long program starts in the fall. Tuition includes housing, a food stipend, and the potential to be a paid intern in the summer season. We are accepting registrations on a rolling basis through November 15th.

If you’ve ever given serious thought to a farming lifestyle, or just want to learn skills to make a difference in how your community, family, and friends eat, consider signing up for the Stonewall Farm School. You’ll get dirty, but you’ll also get fulfilled.

For more information on Stonewall Farm School, you can e-mail Joshua Cline at jcline@stonewallfarm.org or call him at 603-357-7278 ext. 107.

Stonewall Farmscape Stonewall Farmscape

Bike for Bovines Race & Expanding Community Partnerships at the Farm

This past Sunday (July 14th), we at Stonewall Farm hosted what feels like an ever-growing annual tradition with the Bike for Bovines Race & Ice Cream Day. With over 100 racers participating and dozens more of spectators, supporters, and other curious community members, we’re realizing how much stronger we are with diversifying our offerings. Not only in food with our ice cream and yogurt being made at times on a weekly basis, but also in people coming to us for original recreational experiences.

Where else can you bike miles across rolling cobbles and marshlands, and then grab a farm-made serving (or two) of maple ice cream?!

However, another lesson we continue to learn and to put into daily practice would be the crucial role of community partnerships. Largely thanks to collaborating with Root 66 Race Series were we able to make the Bike for Bovines Race as much of a mutualistic, excitingly driven event. Then, there is the New England Mountain Bike Association which helped chart and craft our 2013 Trail Map and Brochure which encompasses all of our landmarks and trails, but also informs visitors on the dynamism of our farm as a wedding venue, as a sustainable source for local, heirloom vegetables, and much more. Furthermore, we could not carry out the work performed on our Volunteer Days at the Farm or the local vendors which highlight our foodstuffs and in turn attract more visitors(!) They include but are certainly not limited to Liberty Mutual, Keene State College-Upward Bound, Monadnock Food Co-op, Walpole Mountain View Winery, and many more.

If you have experienced the taste of our ice cream or yogurt after a long summer day; or if your child cannot stop telling stories about their summer camp week here at Stonewall; or if you attended a wedding ceremony and/or reception on our grounds during a crisp fall evening; or if you have snowshoed or even taken a sleigh ride across our wintry landscapes; or sampled late spring strawberries from our CSA, then you know the value of Stonewall Farm to Keene and to local food in general.

As a nonprofit, we are constantly seeking financial support to maintain (if not grow) on our active teaching farm model and experiences we offer. Some of the most meaningful support we can receive comes from our annual memberships, wherein you can become a “Steward” at different membership rates and know that you’re helping make Stonewall Farm, Stonewall Strong. While there are more than a few incentives and related discounts for our foodstuffs, our maple syrup, and more, we are grateful just to know that you care enough about Stonewall and enter into your own partnership with us. For more information, you can visit our Support Stonewall Farm page.

Help us to keep on course and thank you!

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Photo Courtesy of Our Events Intern, Katie Copeland, July 14th, 2013

You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream That Supports Farm Education!

“If you feel stressed, give yourself a break. Eat some ice cream and other sweets…Why? Because ‘stressed’  spelled backwards is ‘desserts.'”

-Anonymous

When asked on our Facebook page two weeks ago about favorite things about the summer people liked most,we had more than a few replies return answering, “Ice Cream!”

 Granted, we have only been making ice cream for the last year, and perhaps people felt like shouting out favorite memories of their past summers. Yet, for some serious reflection and to pay sincere homage to something that truly makes “summer” summer, we should talk about the delicacy that is ice cream. It also might help to put in context the sheer demand of ice cream in our imagination and on our taste buds.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 1.53 billion gallons of ice cream were produced nationally in 2011 and in turn generating over $10 billion in sales the year before, according to analytics group, MarketLine. Interestingly, the three most in-demand flavors of ice cream in 2012 were vanilla, mint chocolate chip,  and cookies and cream, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. Historically, there are multiple takes on how what we now know as ice cream came to be. While ancient Greek and Roman texts suggest a blending of snow and ice flavored with honey and myriad fruit juices favored by royal elite families, what we now know as a cold, cream-based dessert (i.e. ice cream) likely originated in Italy and England simultaneously by the 16th century. Contemporary texts mention a “cream ice” served at the table of King Charles I of England in the 17th century, as well as a Sicilian Italian recipe made at a Parisian cafe that involved blending butter, milk, eggs, and cream. It wouldn’t be until 1744 when we have historical proof of ice cream served in what is now the United States in Maryland. Even first President George Washington made time and money for spending over $200 in ice cream purchases (i.e. Thousands of dollars modern equivalent) during the summer of 1790 and owning “two pewter ice cream pots” for special occasions. Until the 19th century, ice cream like many other sweets were downright luxuries, due to the sheer price per volume of cane sugar and intense energy costs to keep ice cream cool. However, when insulated ice houses were devised and spread in construction, ice cream morphed from royal richness to popular eats with the additional innovations of mechanical refrigeration, homogenizing, and related technologies throughout the 1800’s and into the early 20th century. Only then could the still-strong impression of ice cream sodas and soda fountains proliferate on many American Main Streets by the 1920’s-1930’s. Even as early as 1946 after World War II finished and many service members returned Stateside, the level of ice cream consumption surged 20 quarts per person on average(!)

So, you still might be wondering, “How does Stonewall Farm craft their ice cream?” Well, as any well-researched ice cream manual or textbook, including the one we use here most frequently Robert T. Marshall’s and crew’s Ice Cream (6th Edition), there is a mind-boggling balance of chemistry, physics, and tech savvy which shapes the whole “make to scale” process. To be cost-effective we utilize ice cream mix from Massachusetts-based HP Hood. Their mix contains cream, milk, emulsifiers (ingredients which disperse milkfat in ice cream,) stabilizers (ingredients which prevent the texture of getting too crystalline, chunky, or icy), and sugar. The mixes we receive come homogenized and pasteurized. Homogenizing ensures that milkfat is pulsed and shaken with enough force to reduce the particle sizes of milkfat in the cream. Meanwhile, pasteurizing ensures that harmful bacteria strains and other contagions are treated out of the cream and milk we use.

Also, for those who are more nutritionally minded, our HP Hood mix we use contains 14 percent fat. Federal minimum standards for ice cream production lie at 10 percent fat, which often is employed for “light” and “soft-serve” ice cream. On the other end of the spectrum, super premium ice cream (such as Walpole Creamery) contains 16 percent fat. Never that ice cream was intended to be the most nutritious dairy product, but it arguably ranks as the tastiest and here at Stonewall, we like to think ice cream plays a crucial role in the summer dairy trifecta of aged cheddar cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.

Speaking of the role of ice cream, Stonewall Farm is hosting its Annual Bike for Bovines Bike Race & Ice Cream Day this Sunday July 14th, from 9 am-3 pm! Whether you choose to take part in the two race courses or cheer and watch on, we can guarantee a generous supply of ice cream flavors with our chocolate, maple, vanilla, and newly-renamed version of our vanilla chocolate chip flavors. The new name for the former vanilla chocolate chip will be announced on Sunday as well, so you don’t want to miss which name we picked from the many creative names submitted at our past June Ice Cream Social!

Also, just for the sake of curiosity and trivia, we thought you might like to know that we as Americans consume on average 48 pints of ice cream per person per year, the most of any country!

Much thanks to the International Dairy Foods Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the New Hampshire Agricultural Market Bulletin, New Hampshire (NH) Agriculture in the Classroom, and especially our Farm Staff here at Stonewall for revealing the art and science behind ice cream goodness.

We look forward to seeing your summer ice cream photos on Facebook and hopefully see you at the Farm on Sunday for our Bike for Bovines Race & Ice Cream Day!

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Stonewall Farm Ice Cream Profiles, Photo Courtesy of Matthew Young

2013 Stonewall Farm Trail Map

While we overhaul our current website at Stonewall Farm in favor of something more (daresay) modern and user-friendly, we wanted to give you a glimpse of a new feature on that website: our 2013 Stonewall Farm Trail Map.

Drafted earlier in May 2013, this chronicles mile after mile of our current trail system for hikers, bikers, horse riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and other trail users. We also include our physical contours of landscape, key farm landmarks, ecosystem types, and trail etiquette on our first page. On our second page, you can access a whole listing of community summer events here at Stonewall, from the Ice Cream Social this Saturday (June 29th) through to our August 17th Barnyard BBQ. There is also information on how to become a Stonewall Farm Member or Steward, our CSA and Farm Store offerings, and more!

Feel free to click the map link below to begin your Stonewall journey!

2013 Stonewall Farm Trail Map

Much thanks to the Brattleboro (VT)-Keene (NH) Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) for mapping and laying the final touches of this trail map!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Local Meets Seasonal

“Knowing where our food comes from helps us eat from as close to home as possible; choose exceptional freshness and flavor; support our local community/economy; increase revenues for farmers so that they, and future generations, continue producing food; and be more connected to seasonality, place, and varieties of foods that are grown in our region.”

–Temra Costa, author of “Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat”

Happy First Day of Summer!

Here at Stonewall Farm, we have a unique supply and demand situation this season. While we like many smaller-scale farms lose small amounts of our vegetables and other produce to myriad causes (e.g. animal eating, overly dry soils, overly wet soils), we have a relative abundance of beets, chard, dill, garlic chives, and later on in the season, sweet corn, tomatoes, and more fresh goodness. Even with two undaunted families of groundhogs and deer populations on the property, we count ourselves grateful to produce over 50 kinds of vegetables each year(!)

Consequently, we also have more than enough produce to sell throughout Keene and nearby towns, but then comes the question of, “Who will want loads of Bright Lights chard for meal after meal of salads and stir fries?”

This week, working alongside our Garden Manager, Austin, we launched a campaign to reach out to houses of worship and other larger community institutions to highlight just how much fresh farm offerings we still have. You might be asking yourself, “So, beyond that  10′ x 15′ Farm Store,” how do you sell hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of produce each season?!” This is where a somewhat curious sounding acronym enters the picture. This acronym and what it stands for, though, performs outreach for our Farm emphasizing how we teach people about food, one season at a time. In particular, just how being local and seasonal continues to define economically supportive and nutritious food, especially in an age of multinational food corporations trying to work beyond the natural bounds of locality and seasonality.

This acronym is CSA: Community-Supported Agriculture.

CSA’s, as locally rooted as they have become in New Hampshire, New England, and the rest of the United States, actually have international origins. According to most food history scholars, what we now know as CSA’s started in Japan in the mid-1960’s by an altogether different name: Teikei. Translated from Japanese, “Teikei” can mean “cooperation” or “link-up.” Cooperation and linking up took shape in 1960’s Japan when a group of Japanese women in southern Japan came together to purchase fresher milk beyond the conventionally made and imported dairies then arriving to the island nation. “Teikei” eventually became immersed in a cultural mainstream so that by 1971, the Japan Organic Agriculture Association offered a means for:

 “producer(s) and consumer(s) to have talks and contact to deepen their mutual understanding: both of them provide labor and capital to support their own delivery system.”

Individual subscribers pay to a farm one amount per season for a guarantee of a weekly/biweekly box or “share” of foodstuffs from the farm throughout a given season. No intermediaries, no retailers; just the farmer (producer) and the subscriber (consumer). Such an alternative distribution and economic model eventually spread to Europe and by the 1980’s, the United States. As of 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Systems division estimates there are upwards of 6,500 registered CSA’s nationally. “Teikei” became renamed for English-speaking consumers and producers as “Community-Supported Agriculture.” Still, the implicit connection to “cooperation” remains, even after thousands of miles of travel and almost fifty years of history. There have also evolved four types of CSA’s:

  •     Farmer-managed: A farmer creates and maintains a CSA, recruits subscribers, and controls operations;
  •     Shareholder/subscriber-managed: Local residents create a CSA, hire a farmer to grow desired crops, and collectively manage the CSA;
  •     Farmer cooperative: Multiple farmers come together to create and manage a CSA, and;
  •     Farmer-shareholder cooperative: Farmers and local residents create and collectively manage a CSA.

Stonewall Farm’s CSA  goes back to the founding of our non-profit organization in 1994, starting as a farmer-managed CSA operation. Yet, throughout our almost 20-year history to date, we collect and review shareholder feedback on preferences for crops to plant in upcoming growing seasons. After an especially steady strawberry harvest earlier in June, our Garden Team of Austin Mandryk and Mali Jay are looking forward to seeing how warm-season crops take shape through September and in some cases, even October.

To paraphrase what Temra Costa wrote in her groundbeaking yet refreshing book on female farmers, Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat, there are not only so many benefits to knowing where our food comes from, but also many outlets in getting to know our food. CSA’s might not replace supermarkets or other traditional means of producing, distributing, and selling foodstuffs, but they provide yet another means alongside farmers’ markets, growing clubs, and farm education to teach us about food. Only when we become knowledgeable about our relationship(s) with food can we then become less opinionated and more informed on prioritizing food’s nourishment in our daily individual and community lives. We can find that balance between protecting environmental integrity and economic equity of our “farmscapes,” so that we can keep local and regional farms healthy with enough bottom line in soil, water, and monetary resources.

So, a question I pose to you now is, “Why not support your local CSA?” If you are interested to support our local CSA, feel free to check in with our Garden Manager Austin Mandryk at amandryk@stonewallfarm.org. You can also click the link to our CSA registration form, read up on our “Farm Notes” collection, and more at our CSA page.

Much thanks to the Japan Organic Agriculture Association, Steven McFadden and his blog series, “The Call of the Land,” Temra Costa and her book, Farmer Jane, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Community Development, and especially to our Stonewall Farm CSA & Garden Team, Austin & Mali, and all of our current and future CSA subscribers. You all help make Stonewall Farm, Stonewall Strong.

Stonewall Farm CSA In Action

Stonewall Farm CSA In Action

Yogurt: How & Why It Works

“How could this not have any fat? It’s too good!”

-George Costanza (actor Jason Alexander), Seinfeld 

          Well, George Costanza almost got it right about yogurt. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Standards, traditional and Greek yogurt have 0 grams of trans fats in a 6 ounce-serving. However, when one factors in other types of fats, beneficial and not so beneficial to human nutrition, there is 0.7 gram total fat to traditional and Greek yogurt.

              As I work now on an active farm, I’ve come to realize that there is so much more to yogurt and our food than grams of fat, calories per serving, or any other metric of nutrition.  Food becomes food sometimes beautifully, sometimes grossly as the end product of a process of transformation. Quarts of plain and vanilla yogurt at our Farm Store now started out as pasture grass, most likely a blend of timothy (Phelum pratense), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) among other species. From those green, lush leaves and stems, our herd of +40 Holstein and Jersey dairy cattle (Bos primigenius) eat steadily. When I mean steadily, I mean upwards to a range of 130 pounds (59 kilograms) of grass per day!

Once ingested, those grasses and their parts break down through steady grinding wiith flat teeth in a process called rumination, which shapes stiffer grass fibers into softer grass mushAs the mush remains softer thanks to enzymes in the cows’ saliva, the mush begins a digestive trip through the four-chambered cow stomach. Yes, you heard right. A cow does not have four stomachs, but does have four highly specialized components that change the grass mush into what we recognize as milk.

In the first chamber, the rumen, stomach juices and hundreds of species of internal bacteria further break down the cud into a softer texture. From there in the second chamber, the reticulum, more digestive juices and bacteria break down the mush into finer material called cud. This cud moves temporarily up to the mouth for further chewing (about 1 minute), before moving quickly down into the third chamber, the omasum. In the omasum, any remaining water from the grass moves into the bloodstream and urinary system of the cow. Eventually, by the fourth, final chamber, the abomasum, complete digestion takes place. Remaining nutrients for the cow move onward to the small intestine, From here, some nutrients become transported to a cow’s mammary glands and undergo internal reactions to yield milk which can be gathered from a cow’s teats.

Note, for even some digested cud to even yield milk, a cow must have given birth to a calf, as all female mammals can only produce milk after their young are born. Thus, all cows are females and why farmers call their prized cattle “girls” or “ladies.”

Now, once milk is pumped from cows’ teats, it circulates in Stonewall’s Dairy Barn, undergoing what would be expensive pasteurization but thanks to generous farm donors, we can process our milk into raw material for cheese, ice cream, and yogurt! While our cheese is made off-site at Grafton Village Cheese Company in Vermont and our ice cream is supplemented by milk from other New Hampshire farms but made on-site, our yogurt comes from milk and processing entirely here on-site.

Now comes the yogurt. After the milk becomes pasteurized, 3-4 of our hard-working staff come together to mix the milk with 100% vanilla extract, organic cane sugar, and dried milk powder to make our yogurt in a cooling vessel. For the plain yogurt, only dried milk powder is added for texture. From there, we pipe it through plastic tubing into 6-ounce and 1-quart containers with the support of a generally helpful but sometimes stubborn, steel lazy susan to rotate up to 12 containers at a time. With a sealant that gets up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, we can then seal and cap off the containers.

So, when you and hundreds of our Farm lovers and supporters drop by the Farm Store here this weekend or see our yogurt in shelves at the Monadnock Food Co-Op in Keene, you now know of the relationships that made that Stonewall Farm Yogurt possible.

Here’s a nutritional snapshot of what happens when yogurt made with solid relationships in mind between the pasture grasses, the cows, and the farmers and staff here. On average, a single serving of traditional plain yogurt will meet 18 percent of daily calcium needs; 21 percent of Vitamin B12 needs; and 34 percent of daily protein needs, all with a 6 oz. serving(!)

 As long as you can sit back, reflect, and even thank the pasture grasses, the cows, the farmers, and the relationships that made such yogurt goodness possible, that would be more than likely thanks enough for all of us. Plus, unlike George Costanza, you’d be right on knowing what truly is in that yogurt.

Much thanks to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Oregon State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Dairy Australia websites for helping enlighten me on yogurt relationships and making sense of one of the oldest, tastiest processed foods known to humankind (Homo sapiens). Feel free to write back on our Facebook page at “Stonewall Farm” with other questions, recipes, or thoughts on yogurt that come to mind for you.

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Your Farmer, a note

Austin Mandryk is the new Farmer here at Stonewall Farm. If you are interested in signing up for a garden share, please visit: http://www.stonewallfarm.org/Products/CSA. For more information, please review the sign-up brochure , contact Austin at amandryk@stonewallfarm.org, (603) 357-7278 x112, or stop by the farm at 242 Chesterfield Road.

Austin

I am a very slow reader of French. It was so long ago that they tried to teach us. But there, on the first page of Terre des hommes, Saint-Exupéry writes, “Le paysan, dans son labour …” The peasant, in his, not labor, but ploughing. And so I learned, to labour is to plough. The word is too old to be sure of its provenance, but probably, labere, to slip, to totter, to stumble under a burden. And this is what we choose for ourselves? The heavy weight we slip beneath? The labour? The plough?

On questions. What is the thing you do with your body? What are the colors of your life? What is the big thing all your days are moving around? Where is your water? And, as a question itself, what are the questions you live your life by? Sometimes it takes a question to know we have an answer inside us. And so this one: Just what is it that you are bringing into the world?

I have thought for a long time about our creative power, about what we as humans have: an existence that our very touching changes–for better, for worse, the world and the hearts of others. We cannot know what we do does, but maybe it is in tenderness that we can move, and with a kind of faith. And so this labour, this plough, this answered question. This farming.

When I lived in the Catskills, every night I walked a mile home along a dark road that was in memory unpaved. I walked the same way John Burroughs did, that once famous author who went fishing for trout on Biscuit, Highfalls, the Neversink, the very streams and holes I swam in after runs, or in the middle of them. He died long ago, but the miracle of words is not to still hear him, but to know that what he felt, we feel: “[H]e who goes in a right spirit will not be disappointed, and will find the taste of this kind of life better, though bitterer, than the writers have described.”

Better, though bitterer. For some it was not lost, but there is happening now the reclamation of an old feeling. I mean, work and rest, and where it happens; how the earth is woven all through it. It may be more bitter, this weighted slip that made us first call out, “laber.” But for some of us, aren’t we born for what is hard? And the way rest feels when the body needs it? Isn’t this spot the confluence of so many rivers we had been following? I love growing your vegetables. It is good for my heart; and, in the end, I hope, for yours. There is much said of “Good to Great,” but, look, on the other side of greatness is goodness, and that is something else altogether.

Though as for me and all this talk of work, I’m with Rabbi Heschel: “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder.” But I have had my fortune, and it has been the good kind, the good kind.

For the health of all of you and all of your parts,
See you at the farm,
Austin