Monday, October 15, 2012

Vermont Grand View Farm

The Grand View
Fiber studio
     The fall foliage was just starting to wake up and shake off its green when we headed up to Chelsea, VT to help out at Vermont Grand View Farm, a farm bed and breakfast with a focus on fiber-producing livestock. We arrived around 5pm and were given a brief farm tour by Kim, before setting up our tent. Their farm consists of a spacious hoophouse, a vegetable and herb garden, a barn from the early 1800s, several pastures, and a fiber studio. They hold retreats, classes, workshops, and children's camps in their studio, and offer a fiber CSA. Their fiber comes from about a dozen Romney sheep, two llamas, and one German angora rabbit. Other critters on the farm include chickens, pigs, Tess, the border collie, and  two glitch-in-the-matrix-esque identical barn kittens whose purrs resemble a jug-band washboard cadence.
     We ended our first day with Kim's scrumptious tomato pie (see the recipe here), and enjoyed getting to know her and Luke, her son. As we settled into our tent-nest that night, the two barn kittens curiously pounced on us through the tent fabric, startling Randy with a well executed swat to the head. After our feline friends turned in for the night, we learned that camping in Vermont in September can be a chilly affair, and woke up to a crisp frost validating our chattering teeth.
Vermont Grand View farm WWOOF usa
Tara and her charge

      With some hot cereal and tea in our bellies, we set out to feed and water all the animals for our first chores of the morning. First came the chickens, about 12 hens and a new rooster who had who had successfully completed his first crow that morning. They were all housed in a very impressive mobile chicken coop that was constructed by Chuck, Kim's husband and co-farmer, and the two previous WWOOFers. Next up were the dozen or so sheep and their two llama guardians. Llamas possess a wonderful natural instinct to herd and protect flocks of sheep. Kim had told us the story of when all the lambs were a few weeks old and Tara the llama would entertain herself by gathering them all up and moving the miniature flock around the pasture, dispersing and re-collecting them for hours. Then we checked on the two male sheep, Bob the wether and the ram. We found an unpleasant surprise waiting for us in the males' water bucket. Chuck and Kim had been trying various methods to catch a troublesome rodent; and apparently have-a-heart and poison are not as effective a as a good ol' fashioned bucket of water, as we found the culprit suspended in the males' water. It was obvious why the two barn kittens had not dispatched the rat, seeing as it was half their size. After the undulants were taken care of, we fed the angora rabbit. The German angora is the only type of angora rabbit that does not shed, so they have to clip her once a year, a process the rabbit does not mind. Last on our list was the four pigs, Luke's annual moneymaking endeavor.
Luke's hogs
     After chores we did some minor landscaping and mulching. The changing of the seasons really hit home as we readied the herb and flower gardens for winter. We "put the gardens to bed" by cutting back the summer's growth and mulching. After work we were able to enjoy a lazy afternoon of reading and relaxing in the sun. That night we enjoyed a delicious hearty pea soup, and our first real interaction with Chuck. Dinner with Kim, Luke and Chuck was always fun with plenty of good stories and laughter. To top off a great day, the night was not nearly as cold as the night before, and we slept comfortably in only two layers of clothing.
WWOOF usa     After finishing chores the following day we began the task of clearing some brush and trees to enlarge a roadside pasture. Randy enjoys taming new spaces for farming, while Holly finds value in the wildness. Using a chainsaw we felled quite a few trees, some up to 25 feet tall that will be good firewood. When the chainsaw finally ran out of gas, we switched gears and worked on scraping paint in preparation for repainting their south-facing wall. Chuck said that in Vermont it works best to repaint one wall a year and take the fifth year off. The scraping was uninterrupted except for Tess' frequent solicitation for a game of fetch. As a border collie her definition of "fetch" is bringing you a stick, and running and hiding until you throw it. She would sometimes deposit sticks as small as a piece of bark mulch at our feet, expecting a quick game. After work, Holly lounged in the sun reading while Randy went for one of his meandering jogs. While going around "the block" (a 5 mile loop), he came across a rafter of turkeys, and was surprised by a wild pheasant. He was back just in time to enjoy a delicious dinner of homemade pizza.
Relocated sheep shed, all 1000 lbs of it
WWOOF usa     Saturday's main focus was transporting a shed from one pasture to another. They had decided to move an unused shed into the male sheep enclosure because it was doubtful whether the wethers would weather the winter weather in their existing structure. The shed was on skids, so to move it Chuck hooked it up to his trailer hitch and dragged as close as he could get it. Then we pulled and pushed it over flat boards into position. Despite the hillside origins of their ancestors, sheep often come to bad ends when they fall over and cannot get up, so it was important that the future floor of the shed was level and not slippery. To this end we dug the holes for four supporting posts. In the late afternoon four B&Bers arrived, and they took advantage of the Goodling's dinner option, enjoying the same delicious lasagna that we also had the pleasure of eating.
    Holly started feeling under the weather, probably from sharing a harmonica during a jam session with a sniffly Atreya a few weeks ago, so on Sunday, our day off, she mostly drank tea and read. That afternoon two new Romney sheep arrived from Massachusetts that Chuck and Luke had driven down to pick up.
Josie inspects the workings of a cow
     After the excitement of introducing the two newest members of their flock, Chuck took us aside and explained that Tess was facing an insurmountable illness. Her esophageal muscles were unable to convey food to her stomach, and she was slowly starving. Chuck and Kim realized that it was better for her to be put to sleep than continue to suffer. Quite understandably, they wanted to gather as a family to support each other in this difficult time, so we thanked them for their generosity, took our leave, and kept them in our thoughts and prayers.
Blacksmithin' a ferrule
     It all worked out, because Holly was still a little sick and grateful for a few days of recuperation. We headed back to Barre just in time for our 3 year anniversary. Since everyday is a exciting trip spent together, we decided to indulge in some rather quotidian activities, and were able to catch a lousy second-run movie, play some goofy mini golf, and check out an auction in Sterling. Saturday was jam-packed with downhome country living as we sped through the Barre town-wide yardsale picking up some comfy socks and a nice backpack, then headed over to the Rutland Lost Arts festival where we met Phil and Liz. Although Randy was disappointed at the lack of a cooper, we still got to see a blacksmith in action, and watched Randy's niece enjoy milking a fake cow. Then it was back to Barre for the local grocery store's Customer Appreciation Day where we missed the giant Whoopie pie eating contest, but still scarfed down some free hotdogs, chips, and ice cream.
     And so after our third time returning to Barre in 2 months, we set out to continue our Vermont leg, hoping to regain the flow of our journey.