Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fable Farm

Fable Farm Vermont WWOOF usa
Neighboring church
Fable Farm Vermont WWOOF usa
The Poop Temple
Upon arriving at Fable Farm in Barnard, VT we were greeted by Jonny and Jessie who gave us a tour of the farmhouse, which, along with their satellite fields, makes up the farm they co-own with Christopher and Brooke, Jonny's brother and sister-in-law. As we passed through the farm house into the back field, it seemed that we entered a whimsical agrarian wonderland. A giant striped tent contributed a playful circus feel, while nearby paper lanterns hung expectantly over a home-made stage waiting to illuminate performers.  A large outdoor kitchen with plenty of provisions and a gas stove allayed our fears of having to start a cookfire before every meal. Next our eyes were drawn to the "mama" apple tree, a huge ancient apple tree that had been there for generations, decorated with prayer flags, chalk boards, swings, and a hammock. On our way to the yurt we would be staying in, we strolled through the extensive garden where innumerable five-foot-high reddish-purple amaranth stalks gave way to a vast array of herbs, beans, tomatoes, and tomatillos.

Games by candlelight included "AC/DC: An Electric Circuit Game"
     Our yurtic accomodations were quite spacious, able to sleep up to 8 interns. Since it was so late in the season we shared it with only one other person, Carlo, and he left shortly after we arrived. Though our late-season visit granted us more privacy, the uninsulated, screened-in yurt was ill-equipped for the chilly Vermont October. Two other interns, Nico and Ida, had been at Fable Farm for most of the season, and had their own tipi a short distance from the yurt, and Mattie, another long-term intern, had a tent nearby.
     The next morning we were greeted by Chris, Jonny's brother, who introduced us to the herb spilanthes. Spilanthes is a little-known medicinal herb that is also called the "toothache herb" because eating one flower head will numb the mouth for up to twenty minutes. It also has antibacterial, antifungal, and immune-supporting properties. For anyone who hasn't tried it, it is an intense experience. The unsettling amount of tingling and the increased saliva production had us exchanging worried glances, but we trusted Chris and rode it out. Soon we were popping spilanthes regularly.
Fable Farm Vermont WWOOF usa
     With our natural mouthwash still buzzing, we hopped in the truck with Chris and his dog Selena to go to one of their 3 leased fields to gather beans. There we met Ida and Nico, who had came with Jonny, Justin, a previous WWOOFer who now had his own farm but still worked with Fable, and other friends who came to help with the harvest. We had never seen beans grown on that scale before; they had enough dry beans for themselves and their interns to eat all year, with bushels and bushels leftover. They also had an astounding variety of types of beans, each one more beautiful than the next. They had huge fat black beans that looked like deep purple pearls, white and black Calypso beans that looked like yin-yangs, Tiger's Eye beans that looked like they should be on necklaces, and burgundy and white beans fit for a wedding centerpiece. Holly was continually amazed at their beauty, and decided that beans were one of her favorite crops. After 5 hours of 6-8 people picking, we had 3 pickup truck loads full of dried bean plants. We were blown away by the work schedule; after we returned to the farmhouse around 2 we were done for the day!
Vermont WWOOF usa
The Worthy Burger
      Wednesday dawned gray and drizzly, so Chris, Ida, Nico, Carlo and ourselves sat under the circus tent separating garlic for planting. Little did we know that this rain was just the beginning of what was to be a rainy two weeks at Fable Farm. After finishing the garlic around noon, we had the rest of the day off! We decided to take this opportunity to check out the nearby town of South Royalton, and on the way dropped Carlo off at his next farm. South Royalton was about 20 minutes away, and had everything we could ask for; a co-op with an extensive bulk section, a thrift store with a fill-a-bag-for-a-dollar deal, and a library with a friendly British librarian and a strong internet connection. We also checked out the Worthy Burger, an establishment recommended by everyone at Fable Farm (and not just because Fable is one of the Worthy's vegetable suppliers). Although we rarely eat out, we could not resist the grass-fed burger topped with kimchi, pesto mayonnaise, and spicy ketchup, with a side of french fries cooked in beef tallow.
Fable Farm Vermont WWOOF usa
Pickup cornucopia
     That night we were invited to a presidential debate-watching party hosted by friends of Fable Farm. We made a tomato pie to bring, and enjoyed a delicious pot luck spread. It's hard to top the food at a farmer shindig.
Fable Farm Vermont WWOOF usa
Chris and Selena picking chard
     Thursday was CSA pick-up day, so it was harvest, harvest, harvest. We were amazed at the sheer quantity of vegetables that Fable grows, it is by far the biggest produce operation we've seen, which is necessary for their 100 member CSA. We focused on picking the chard, kale, and Brussels sprouts, and then helped wash some of the other produce. While everyone else finished harvesting the last of the vegetables, we made lunch for the group. After lunch we got the space ready for the CSA pickup, by cleaning up the yard, putting flowers on the tables, and setting up tables and dishes for the potluck. Every Thursday Fable Farm has a now well-known community gathering centered around their CSA pickup, complete with live music, fires, and good food.
Fable Farm Vermont WWOOF usa
CSA pickup party
    By the time we arrived at Fable the season was winding down, so our days weren't as hectic as they had been earlier in the summer. On Friday we harvested most of the last field of onions with Chis, Ida, and Nico. We ended up getting about 150 lbs worth of good onions, despite the rain-induced rot.
     Though the work hours were minimal, our time off was mostly spent reading under blankets, as the yurt was uninsulated and lacked electricity. We got through The Hobbit (which we read together in anticipation of the new movie), and played a few of the board games Randy had picked up at the thrift store.

     The yurt had no electricity, and the whole farm had no internet so after making and eating our dinner in the outdoor kitchen (which did have electricity) we usually went to bed, getting on an 8-8:30 bedtime schedule. During the day the yurt and the kitchen were usually warm, but after the sun went down we were ready to be warm under our stack of blankets.
     With the whole weekend at our disposal we indulged in leisurely reading, game playing, and going back to South Royalton. On Sunday we had planned on attending the church next door to the farm, but found that the Universalist church was only active in July and August. Instead we decided to enjoy a cup of tea at the Barnard General Store. The Barnard General Store has been continuously operating for 180 years, but this spring the owners had to close the doors because of the economy. The town has rallied around the store (which, along with the post office, town hall, volunteer fire department, church, and library, make up the entire town), and is attempting to earn the $500,000 they need to buy the store, refurbish it, and keep it running. For now, volunteers staff the store every morning, selling donated coffee, tea, and baked goods as a long-term fundraiser.

Taking down tomatoes
     The next week we continued with our end-of-the season tasks, taking down the tomato trellises and plants. We saved more tomatoes than we could possibly use, a basket each of reddish and green ones. We also harvested two bushels of tomatillos, and took down the pea trellises. For a rainy day activity we processed a mountain of dried tulsi, or holy basil, which can be used for medicinal tea. After two hours of sifting the fragrant herb, our hands smelled delicious.

     With a blood drive taking place in the next town over, it was the perfect opportunity to add Vermont to the list of states we've bestowed our blood upon (this list is surprisingly similar to the list of states we've eaten free pizza in). Unfortunately Holly's iron count was .5 too low, so she just sat and read while Randy donated.
     Wednesday dawned chilly and drizzly, but the CSA needed potatoes and someone had to dig them. We both love digging potatoes, and on a warm, sunny day, the quantity would not make a difference. But, on this gray, wet day, the acre and a half spread out before us was a bit daunting. Fortunately we only needed to dig a fraction of the field to fulfill the CSA needs, but with only a pitchfork and our hands, gathering 160 lbs covered the 6 of us in mud and took us the rest of the day.  With temperatures dropping, the local animal population boosted its caloric intake with the food stores of our kitchen. We were surprised at what racoons are capable of opening, their ungraceful nocturnal visits often left the kitchen a mess, and we all lost a few chocolate bars to the midnight bandits.
Holly and Ida making a delicious bisqueous

     On Thursday we harvested the rest of the vegetables for the CSA, and also picked all of the peppers, eggplant, squash, and less hardy veggies because of an imminent frost threat. That night was a pizza night for the CSA pickup. Fable Farm constructed a pizza oven as a means to bring the community together, and  often offered their CSA members unique artisan pies along with the music and comradery found every week. This week's menu featured delicacies such as the Hot Potato Pie (hot sauce, potatoes, tomatillos, garlic), the Irish Pie (pesto, potato, leek, garlic), the Squash Pie (pesto, squash, leeks, kale, goat cheese), and the Nightshade Pie (red sauce, tomatillos, eggplant, peppers), which were all exceptionally delicious. Fable Farm had devised a finely tuned pizza-making process, and we hopped in on the assembly line. Our crash course in pizza production greatly improved our dough-rolling and sauce-applying skills. Randy also got a chance to try his hand at cooking pies the cobb oven. After all the orders were filled (over 40) the kitchen crew was able to create pizzas to their heart's content and we gladly supplemented our diet for the next several days with the surplus pies. The gathering continued well after dark, and was bolstered with Jessie's delicious kombucha, a few rounds of hard cider, and some spirited fiddle playing.
Jonny cooking pizzas
Holly ended up running the press
     On Friday, after quick clean-up from the night before, we left with Ida and Nico to help make cider. A late frost had decimated the area's apple crop, but a local orchard escaped and had plenty to spare. A neighbor took advantage of their cheap "drops", $90/truckload, to make his annual cider. We arrived there just as they were finishing up, so after gathering a few bags of apples we followed him back to his giant, 100 year old cider press. After a few sticky hours, a team of us turned a pickup bed full of apples into 150 gallons of apple cider. At first we didn't think there was anything more delicious than fresh apple cider, but a week later when our stash was running low and starting to turn, we learned that slightly fermented apple cider is even more delicious.

                                                                  An Apple's Journey

Nico trying the potato digger
     We awoke the next morning after a 22 degree night, our coldest one yet, and set out on a few pre-departure errands. With our food stores replenished and our library books returned, we headed over to the Potato ShinDig. To help bring in their potato harvest, Fable Farm organized a community work party with hot soup and hot cider. The main feature of the event was a fancy new potato digger, designed to be towed behind a tractor and fling spuds out of the ground and into the waiting arms of the awestruck volunteers. Needless to say, it broke during the first row. A plow was hooked up in its place, and worked quite well to turn over the earth and expose the potatoes. It was a long day, but in the end 2 pickup loads of potatoes were harvested. Unfortunately we had to say our goodbyes and leave early to get all packed up for our departure the next morning.
     Wherever we end up in the future we hope to find a community as healthy, happy, and supportive as as Fable Farm's.

Every farm needs a handy gestation tabulator

In case you had any doubts that we are indeed farmers