Note from Ellen (November 2010):
When I wrote this entry back in June, I did so after a walk around my “neighborhood” that surprised me with the variety of farms located in such a compact geography. I brought to this entry my own perspective on farming–sadly, that hurt some of my neighbors feelings. For this I am truly sorry, particularly because, as you can read in their comments below, they feel passion for the work they’re doing and love for the animals who sustain their family. I have invited members of the Corscadden family to write a new entry for this blog. I hope they take me up on it. I have also edited out of this entry some of the comments that contained inaccuracies or bias. I apologize, again, for any hurt I caused my neighbors.
There’s no single answer to this question. A hundred years ago, the answer might simply have been a place where food is grown. Today, how do we categorize, say, the biofuel operation in the midwest? Is that a farm? What about a wind “farm”?
But that’s splitting hairs. Here in the north country, we all know what happens–and how it happens–on a farm. Or do we?
I take long walks around my neck of the woods near Old DeKalb. A couple of days ago, I realized that within a couple of miles of my farm, there are examples of most of the different types of farms found on our contemporary landscape.
There’s the Corscadden farm, a large dairy (more than 500, less than a 1000 milking).
When I moved to my farm in 1971, there were a dozen dairy farms in the two or three mile radius around me, most of them milking 40-80 cows. There are still the same number of cows in my neighborhood, it’s just that most of them live at the Corscadden’s. Something under 100 are still being milked at the farm just down the road from Ken Corscadden, at Gil and Claire Peck’s farm. Gil grew up on the farm and his parents still live in the house next door to him.
The Peck farm borders my farm to the east. My western boundary is the Thompson-Berk farm. In recent years, there’s been a mini-boom in the emergence of “alternative” or “niche” or “CSA” (community supported agriculture) farms. Gary and Bryan’s farm falls into this category. They raise sheep, turkeys, maple syrup, eggs and enough extra hay to sell.
Among my more recent farm friends are the Amish families who have moved to our road, building houses and barns in a blink. No kidding. Following fairly standard designs and working with family and friends who have built many of these structures, one day nothing, the next day a barn or a house. The four families on our road are all related to each other–three siblings and their parents each have their own houses. At each place, there’s small farm activity–all kinds of gardening for home and for sale at their vegetable stand, eggs, a few dairy cows, some sheep, turkeys. There’s also usually another commercial activity–like woodworking or carpentry, quilt-making and jam production. As you know, the Amish do not like to have photos taken, but have no problem having pictures taken of their homes. (Abe and Lizzie Stutzman were thrilled to receive an aerial photo we took of their farm.)
And a quarter of a mile up the road:
The Amish and the Corscaddens are at opposite ends of the farming spectrum. But, they are all working farms. I’m told the Corscaddens have helped out their Amish neighbors from time to time. For anyone who lives in a farming community, this is at the heart of what keeps it going–having other farmers nearby. You can’t really exist in a vacuum. Yes, farming has a “lone operator” side to it, but it sure makes it difference if there are others in your neighborhood who understand–and can lend a hand when needed–what you’re doing.
I can’t end this “postcard” from the farms without a tip of the hat to what was the “typical” farm when I first moved here. Just past the Peck place, a family farm that once milked 40 cows. Now, a few heifers are raised each summer, and the barn is, sadly, in disrepair.