Makenna Goodman  @  ChelseaGreen

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Farm Update: Chicks, Piglets, Morels, and More…

Posted on Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 at 10:18 am by Makenna Goodman

It's been nearly five months since I moved to rural Vermont from New York City–and my life has changed exponentially. Radically. Ridiculously. Healthily. Happily…so far. And I'm not trying to jinx anything. But I just celebrated my 24th birthday and I can't believe the gift I got, the very thing I wanted, and the very thing I thought it took a lifetime to find: an environment where I feel comfortable.

Everyone has their needs, and place is infinitely important to me–where you live, how you get to work, what landscape you pass through daily, the air you breathe, and what's in that air. I know a lot of people who love the city and thrive off 24-hour delis and cabs at 4am, but for me, it's Vermont. Maybe it's because I spent my childhood in a log cabin in southwestern Colorado, and playing outside. Maybe I can't handle the city, because I'm just not tough enough. Maybe I'm secretly a plug working for the Vermont state tourism unit. Move here! Buy a big house! Take over the farmland and push the locals out! Now that I've officially become part of the green blogging world (if you didn't know it existed, which most people probably don't, now you do…it's a party…) all of a sudden I've been called a Monsanto plug, and a proponent of high fructose corn syrup and diabetic babies, because I talked about the debate between organic and conventional farmers (is organic always better? Is diet the deciding factor in animal health…etc.) Also, I bite. And I go around and pull up crops of certified organic farmers and burn them behind my house while chanting, GMO, GMO, GMO. Fear me.

All jokes aside, this month has been a steady and rapid incline towards summer. When I arrived in central Vermont, the house was covered in snow and nothing around me was anything close to appearing alive. Life consisted of cross-country skiing, ice skating (once) and people telling me fairy tales of "farming" and "the garden," none of which seemed possible in the desolate winter land that is the upper valley. But aside from that, I read my books and I learned how to bake bread, and I straight up chilled. But not no more. No way. We put up a hammock this weekend by the pond, knowing full well no one's going to be relaxing in that thing for a long time…or at least not until it gets dark. Farming has come.

I've been staring at an empty garden bed for about a month now….so to see the peas come up and inch their way up the trellis is magical–I'm still amazed you put things in the ground and they grow. The onions have raced up! And the shallots look like sea creatures prickling out of the ground. We interplanted mesclun mix underneath the broccoli transplants, in the hopes the salad will spread as a ground cover and decrease weeds. Over memorial day weekend, we planted most of our seedlings, saving the tomatoes, squash, and some brassica plants until after the danger of frost. I'm pretty sure my basil is dead, however. Should have waited on that. We also hilled some potatoes…but most exciting are the morels in the area! Some from nearby foraged by family who came up to visit, and a couple from right outside the house. They're delicious cooked up in butter with ramps (also from around the house), and spread on toast or crackers.

And….the animals! We picked up the four piglets at Raycine Farm outside of Norwich, from a sweet farmer couple and their three Australian cattle dogs. We put them in dog crates filled with hay in the back of the pickup and took them home; they're so cute, and so curious. It's hard to believe we're raising them for food, but at the same time, feels totally natural. I can't believe how far I've come from the 25th floor of a midtown hi-rise building in midtown Manhattan. I'd be spending money in yuppy/hippy restaurants and wondering where my food was coming from as I shopped the urban co-ops. Now I'm growing my own, and feeding the animals who will one day feed me. The sense of community–between who lives in our house, the animals, and all the people who filter in and out, eating, helping weed, helping dig rows in the garden, holding the chicks–is huge in my life these days, for which I feel really grateful. And for the past two years, I've been wondering why community felt so fractured to me in the city. I think it's different when you're working with your hands, and then sitting down to eat together, and when the landscape is calming and beautiful, and materialism is less enticing (except Muck Boots, duh). I feel a sense of stability and control in my life, for the first time. I like letting the hens out before I feed myself. It sets a good pattern for the day.

And one morning last week, we got a call from the post office. The baby chicks arrived!!

Now they're living in a wooden incubator in the sugarhouse-in-progress, lined with sawdust and heated with lamps. They're so tiny and cute. Soon they will grow up to be rebellious pullets and meat birds (our laying hens, incidentally, now drink out of the dog's water dish).

So animal-wise we have three cows, four pigs, and 100 or so chickens (and a dog and cat). I'm going to be selling about 20 dozen eggs come fall to the co-op that shares a parking lot with Chelsea Green. Hopefully by then I'll have figured out how to keep the hens from escaping and terrorizing our neighbors.

I also helped with Sam's construction of an earth-sheltered tractor shed. We figured it out, and the whole thing is only costing like, 250 bucks! All the beams/logs for the roof he cut from the woods around the house, the cross beams are salvaged telephone poles (both from the power lines near the house, and donated form an old-time farmer neighbor). For the walls, he got old railroad ties from a guy in Hardwick (which are pressure-treated and massive) which we started stacking braced into the earth, filling dirt in for stability and to adhere it with the ground.

So from here on out, it's chores chores chores, fencing for the cows (and they're being pretty well rotated from pasture to pasture, which makes them less inclined to escape), watering the pigs and chickens, planting the rest of the garden, recovering from rich foraged foods, trying to get enough sleep, trying to keep perspective, keep informed of the farming world….and whatever comes next. I'll keep you posted!

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