Farm Journal: winter plans and sore Wednesdays

Drilling rye. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton.

Drilling rye. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton.

This is part of a series of farmers writing about life on the farm , week to week, through the season. Courtney Grimes-Sutton is co-owner of Mace Chasm Farm in Keeseville. Read all of Courtney’s journal entries here. And you should check out her really fun Facebook page.

October 2

There’s some rain coming this weekend, so we’ll push to get all the winter rye seeded down to tilled fields. Whether we just graze the crop next season, or let it head up and combine the grain will depend on next year’s weather.

We’re looking at those fields right now as though they’re on their way back to pasture – as though we’re done with tilled crops, and will focus on grazing livestock & on perennial crops that we’d like to establish. I’d been mentioning this idea for a while – since before this year, before all the beans & onions – unsure how much work those crops would be for us, or how lucrative they’d be for the farm. It’s not always about those things though, and Asa loves growing veggies, and wanted to grow veggies here, so we did.

Right in the thick of a big bean harvest in September I asked him again. “Yeah, forget it,” he said. We talked it over. The sudden labor demands of open soil & veggie crops was hard on our small team this year, because we have a processing schedule in the butcher shop, followed by a markets & CSA schedule, leaving us with just a couple of days early in the week for everyone to be on the farm doing projects or office work. If we were taken away from those farm project days, the farm didn’t improve, things on our list didn’t happen. A farmer does what’s pressing, but we can make those things fewer.

It feels like we’d be better off growing & strengthening the roots and trunk of our operation before we branch out.  If this had been an amazing growing season for the crops we planted, we probably would not be making these moves, and I’ve been wondering for the last week if we’re being hasty. In dropping tilled cropping, we’ll irreversibly sell the bean picker we fixed up, and make other changes to our small line of equipment – so I’m still weighing pros & cons in quiet time when my mind meanders. It was painful to watch the soil wash out in the constant may & june rains, and that echoes still.

Milling flour at Butterworks Farms. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton.

Milling flour at Butterworks Farms. Photo: Courtney Grimes-Sutton.

The decision is about the allocation of labor and of funds. The decision is about not having the capital to drain our fields, or what else we might do with that capital. It’s hard to give something up that is exciting & has potential – not to mention our love of working soil- but it’s so good to think of finishing the butcher shop, getting our systems on the farm to where we want ‘em, building up the farm store & our events there, expanding our product line, fixing our barns, working in the forest, and planting the sugar bush, asparagus, and fruit trees that we’d like to have. When the Badger brothers (of AuSable Brewing Co.) are ready for it, we can put our heads, hands and equipment together and work the soil across the street to grow some grains. Maybe someday we’ll drain our fields and plow again.

I’m seeing a lot of grain every Tuesday nowadays, as I’m filling in for whatever lucky duck takes Brian’s old job in the granary at Butterworks Farm in Westfield, VT. The Lazors have been at this farm since the 70’s. Their hard & detail oriented work is obvious. Standing in the barnyard, traffic flows comfortably and constantly – cows, visitors, trucks, tractors – and the place is strikingly tidy & beautiful.  A busy creamery, a beautiful granary, the solar barn for the milking ladies, and awesome looking pastures. This is one of my very favorite farms. Jack & Anne are still farming, and now the next generation is farming there too, and the next generation after that is running around as well, making trouble & fun.

When I show up there, I head to the granary. The equipment in the granary is a pleasure to behold – old & well crafted & still at work. I mill & weigh flour all day – corn meal, bread flour, pastry flour, flint meal – and stack the bags of fresh flour on pallets. Inevitably, Jack shows up with a project to begin just as I’m finishing up around 5, and we’ll work ‘til dark, beyond dark, and I like it. It may not make obvious sense for my farm – but again, that’s not how decisions are always made. I’ve always wanted to work up there, in Jack’s grain enterprise.

When we started our farm, I was sad to let go of the education a farmer gets from moving around, working for farms one admires – so it’s a real pleasure for me to find that I can make that happen, even now. It’s also nice to let go of my list for a day and focus on one that someone else gives me – a much simpler one that demands mostly just my muscles. I like that part too – lifting who knows how many pounds of grain all day. I’m sore on Wednesdays.

It sure feels nice to see our fields disced, empty of crops, being sown to rye. The cool air and change of season is welcome for me. I’m happy with & grateful for how our first season has gone thus far, and I’m happy to begin to switch some gears, to think about winter housing for the animals & form the list for before snow flies.

We have to pull power down our phone pole to the greenhouse for the layers winter lights, and we have to build a house for the sows – I’m thinking of a coverall structure. We’re not slowing down, but we’re addressing different things, and that feels good. In six weeks or so, we’ll begin to harvest from our gang of thirty or so pigs, who we’re aiming to finish at 8 or so months.  These pigs will give me my winter’s work , as I’ll continue to make fresh sausages, and will begin to cure meats. They’re out there clearing hedge rows for us now.

This coming weekend, I’ll be part of giving a ‘Hog Harvest Seminar’ in Jay, showing or reminding folks how to get their pigs into their freezers. I like this sort of event, as it’s aimed at homesteaders – mostly it’s folks who raise a couple pigs for themselves, and I love to see people do that.

Many thanks to the totally awesome trail crew boys who were here last week & gave our farm the boost we needed in cleaning & delivering 1000 lbs. of beans on Monday, pulling onions on Tuesday, slaughtering chickens & fixing chicken tractors on Wednesday, clearing brush on Thursday, and burning brush piles nightly.  With utter enthusiasm, they built forts of hay in the barn to sleep in, and brought their stellar motivation & ideas to the breakfast table. We loved every bit of it.

Now for a new day – this day is for cutting meat & seeking health insurance & sowing rye & setting up feed stations for animals. This will be my first Wednesday in a long while without one of our farmers – Marina – a superhero who rocked the details on the farm & in the butcher shop this summer, and who will be greatly missed. She headed out to become a midwife. Hopefully she’ll return. She’s a good farmer, with the golden qualities of drive & patience for tying up loose ends.

I’ll be alone in the butcher shop today until Jesse shows up to begin to learn the choreography of our processing, and bring his own piece to it. Here goes!

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One Comment

  1. What a great descriptive piece. Your passion for the work and the camaraderie of your fellow farmers is so evident.