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Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

by Kim Peavey of Westmoreland, NH

On the very last day of January we moved onto our new farm: fifty-three New Hampshire acres of hilly and rocky soil, a mix of pasture, hayfield, woods, small wetlands, a pond, a small house, a small barn, a beautiful view from the highest hill, and an enormous amount of snow. We were excited, and a bit daunted.

The place had not been farmed in thirty years; at least the drifts of snow made a restful cover over all the work ahead of us. Winter would also give us time to finish hauling horse equipment and perennial herbs and greenhouse parts and irrigation. It would give us time to unpack our bed sheets and our bowls and our nearly two-year-old daughter. And it would give us time to plan the Community Supported Agriculture Garden we would launch here in our new community.

Not long before, we had said an appreciative goodbye back in central New York State to our rented land, and a very reluctant goodbye, due to chronic lameness problems, to our first team of draft horses. Now we were figuring out our next step with horses; now we were investigating every nook and cranny of our farmhouse; now we were falling in love with our snowy new farm.

Though most of the fields on the new place were overgrown, with white pine and “popples” twenty-five feet or more high, we were fortunate that the previous owners kept a pony and a few goats, so that we had a ready-to-use fenced pasture and a corner of the barn clear for a run-in shed. We also had a steady (if distant) supply of hay from my parents’ dairy farm in New York State. We had all the horse machinery, harness, feed buckets, water trough, and the outdoor hay manger. So we felt perfectly ready, on our nice new farm, for our nice new team of horses.

Well, almost perfectly ready. There was one small detail that worried us.

One Small Detail

The horse dealer answered from his cell phone in Iowa. It was early in March, and he was at the big horse auction. “Hey, I just bought a horse for ya’,” he said, “about a half a minute ago!”

“Oh,” said my spouse, “We kind of changed our minds. We were kind of thinking of a team now. But that’s fine, a single horse is fine.” He didn’t say much else, except goodbye.

I was disappointed. “But we don’t want a single horse. We want a team. It’s too hard to match up two single horses.” I spoke from painful experience: we had gone through three potential and unsuccessful team mates the last summer, trying to match up our remaining horse, who was now herself debilitated. We had had hopes of getting her through one more season, but now realized it was wiser to start afresh.

I looked glumly at my spouse.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said, brightly, breezily, as is his wont, “I know this guy. He’ll get to thinking dollar signs. He’ll make more money selling a team to us than just one horse.”

Sure enough, ten minutes later, the phone rang. Bright and Breezy winked at me, picked up the phone. “I’ll tell you what I can do for you,” the horse dealer said. Breezy nodded knowingly, holding the phone out so I could hear too.

“Got a real nice team of Percheron mares back home in New York. Black Percherons, sisters or half sisters, from Amish country in Ohio. Been farmin’ all their lives.”

“Oh, yeah?” Bright and Breezy said, looking excitedly at me.

“Plus one’s due to foal in a week or so. That’ll give you two for the price of one! Heh-heh-heh,” The dealer laughed at his joke.

“Oh, brother,” I rolled my eyes, shaking my head. A foal was definitely not part of the Let’s-Start-a-New-CSA-Garden-on-a-New-Farm-in-a-New-State-Where-We-Know-No-One, Especially-No-One-Who-Knows-About-Foals plan.

“Shh,” whispered Bright and Breezy, “What do you think? Huh? Let’s!”

The dealer talked on and on about the single horse and the team of horses and how we’d have to decide right away, etc, etc. Auctiony sounds rumbled in the background.

“What do you think?” Bright and Breezy whispered urgently to me again, his face lit up with anticipation, no doubt already picturing himself behind this perfectly matched, highly experienced team, and with a third horse thrown in for the bargain, in case one or the other went lame at a crucial farming moment.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” I was whispering now too, and flapping nervously around the room, my daughter attached to my leg. I like a good century or so to make a decision, to agonize over every dreadful possibility, to plumb the depths of what might go terribly wrong. (‘You’re deep,’ my spouse has bolstered me on more than one occasion. ‘It’s good. You like to think deeply about things.’)

Oh-oh, I thought, Deep all right, in deep. We will be in deep.

Bright and Breezy, without sufficient time to bolster, or to let me stew for my century, was wiggling now too, holding the phone, nodding, nodding, waving his other hand frantically around in the air, raising his eyebrows up and down, up and down at me, Yes? No? Yes? No?

“Yes!” I squawked finally. “Yes!”

“All right,” said Bright and Breezy in to the phone. He hung up. We both collapsed on the floor. Our little daughter liked this game, and collapsed on top of us.

A Little Time

But we still have a little time, for me to plumb the depths, even if it is after the fact, and for Bright and Breezy to get another load of equipment from the old place, and to pick up some more hay from my parents on the way. The horse dealer has to get back from Iowa, it’ll be next week sometime before he can get the team to us, he’ll let us know.

But only a day or two later, the phone rings again.

“So,” the horse dealer says, “Where’d you say that turn was?”

Bright and Breezy makes big eyes at me over the phone. “You sound like you’re almost here. Are you almost here?”

“Sure am,” the horse dealer says cheerfully.

Eek! Ack! Where’s our week’s notice? Where’s our time to ponder and panic? We run out to the barn, our daughter bouncing along on Bright and Breezy’s shoulders and hollering happily with the general excitement, to make sure the barn is really ready, to bring a bale of hay out, to fill the water trough. Soon enough we hear a big roaring noise, a truck and trailer trying to make it up our steep and snowy hill.

The dealer arrives, chewing his ever present toothpick. More to the point, they have arrived, two short stocky almost identical black horses, with white stars and thick fuzzy winter coats and round winter bellies. We watch, thinking about getting some toothpicks to chew ourselves, nervously, hopefully, while the dealer backs the mares off the trailer, and ties them to the front of the barn. They both put their heads down immediately to the bale, such sensible good calm horses, occasionally looking around with mouthfuls of hay. One has a green halter, the other is in red.

“So you can tell ‘em apart,” the dealer says. They do look a lot alike; we are glad for the halters. After a minute, Bright and Breezy leads Red Betsey around, while I cautiously feel all around Green Belle’s head and ears and legs. She keeps eating, even as I am persuading her to lift up her feet. Our daughter looks on from just inside the barn, her eyes bright with excitement and longing. “Oooo,” she whispers to herself, “Oooo,” about these beautiful black horses.

I take a deep breath, feeling excited myself, “Oooo,” I think too: maybe this will work out, maybe these are good horses for us.

Belle is especially round. I pat her, smell her nice horsey neck; she chews her hay comfortably. Gosh, I think, she sure does have a big belly. Somehow the foal seemed a little more distant, a little more abstract, perhaps, during the horse buying negotiation stage, those three long days ago.

“I had to get her here quick so she didn’t pop on the road,” says the dealer conversationally.

“Right,” I reply, with confidence. “When will that be, do you think?”

“Oh, any day,” he shrugs.

“Oh, any day,” I repeat back, trying for his casual tone. “Any day,” I say again to Bright and Breezy, who is returning with Betsey, and he nods, oh so casually, oh so confidently too. He and I switch horses, going through the same routine with the other color.

We officially accept. The horse dealer drives off with his check, and our single horse in trade, and now Bright and Breezy and I make big eyes at each other and at our daughter, who giggles. We all giggle, looking at our two nice fuzzy new black round horses, knowing how very soon there will be three.

Birth of a Farm

Three

They are a good team, Betsey and Belle. At twelve and thirteen years old they are an ideal pair for us: experienced, with significant working years left. We spend the next ten days getting to know them, finding their sweet scratchy spots when we’re grooming, observing how they react to each other, to us, to the electric fence, to new noises and smells. We also harness, ground drive, and finally hitch to the forecart. Betsey is a snorter, a head lifter, a pawer, a get up and goer. Belle is the boss, calm, steady, smart.

“Belle’s acting kind of funny,” Bright and Breezy says on the tenth day, just back from an afternoon jaunt around the neighborhood with the team and fore- cart.

“Funny how?” I say, jumping to my feet, ready to think deeply and worriedly, if nothing else.

“Cross, kind of. Not herself, come see,” he says.

Belle is still harnessed; she looks around at her side, lifts a hind foot uncomfortably towards herself. We’ve been checking her udder daily, it has gotten tighter and tighter, sooty black and cold to the touch, with lately tiny waxen white drops on the tips of the teats.

“I hope you didn’t work her too hard,” I say. “Did you work her too hard?” looking askance at my Occasionally-Enthusiasm-Overrides-Good-Sense spouse.

“No, no,” he answers. “Do you think…?”

“Yes,” I say firmly. “Today.”

Belle spends the evening restless and pacing, tossing her head, leaking milk.

At eight-thirty the mares have more hay; Bright and Breezy reports that he doesn’t think Belle will have the foal quite yet. This report might be slightly influenced by the fact that he is not looking forward to a night of foal checks.

“She’s just standing there eating hay now. She acts like normal.”

“It would be better to check her. Every hour,” I say, patting my nursing daughter significantly, and reminding my spouse of all those years I had growing up on a dairy farm, with cows freshening left and right.

“You could check her; you’re up anyway, nursing,” he-who-never-hears-the-baby-peep-at-night suggests. “Plus you’re so knowledgeable and all.”

“Hardy har har,” I answer. “Don’t wake us up when you go.”

But Bright and Breezy can’t resist nudging me at 1:30 a.m. “Hey, Deep?” he whispers.

“Yes?” I sit up immediately in bed.

“She had it.”

“You’re kidding. She had it?”

“Yes, She had it!”

I bundle in my coat and snow pants, check that our daughter is sound asleep, and we run out. She had it! A big black colt.

We iodine the naval and exclaim over him, rub him all over, brush him, tap tap tap on his feet with a hoof pick. We’re working already with this new horse that has come to us, imprinting him, getting him used to us and our human activities, at the same time we are marveling over him, and welcoming him. Belle stands calmly by, watching, a hoof cocked in rest, making little whickering noises to her colt.

“Shall we harness him too?” Bright and Breezy jokes.

“What a great idea! And if we were really good, we would buzz the clippers around his ears.”

“But we’ve never clipped our horses. We don’t even have clippers.”

“Still,” I say, pleased to be using my vast equestrian knowledge, this particular tidbit gleaned through an ag college course.

I am even more pleased about this successful birth, this healthy mare, and yes, this healthy foal. It seems such a good omen: a new being come into the world, born right here on our very own new farm, imprinting us too, and imprinting the farm itself, with all our new life here, all our hopes and plans, and all that we had never imagined as well.

Tricky

It turns out that the hourly checks were the easy part. Now everything gets tricky.

Our lovely daily grooming and working routine with the horses is thrown into a tumult. Belle is hostile to her beloved sister; Betsey is morose at the treatment. We try several variations of the routine: one results in Auntie Betsey galloping up and down in the barnyard screaming and periodically crashing into the barn doors, which gets Belle and the foal, inside the barn, in a tizzy. Another results in my spouse being knocked down in the field by the Frantic Morose Auntie.

He rolls right over and gets up again, giving me the bright and breezy I’m-perfectly-all-right-and-how-about-these-rascally-horses! wave, but it is not much fun to witness. We get mightily discouraged; geez, we never wanted a foal in the first place, he’s not all that cute anyway, is he, long eared and floppy and kind of dopey, and how are we ever going to plow our garden with two horses biting and kicking at each other?

As the snow gradually melts off the fields, giving a hopeful glimpse or two of ground underneath, we buck up, and find a method that works. I tie Betsey outside, distracting her from her misery with delicious oats, and giving her a thorough, really good feeling all over massage grooming. It gives her a chance to bond with someone else besides Belle, which is important, and every day our Head-Tossing Snorter relaxes a little more into my company.

Inside the barn Bright and Breezy grooms Belle and the foal, while our daughter looks on from her perch on the hay wagon. The foal likes the thorough, really good feeling all over massage grooming too. In a week or so Belle is less aggressive towards Betsey, and we reflect that we were probably trying to rush everybody too much.

“We were trying to blame all the trouble on one of the horses, Betsey or Belle or the foal, but it wasn’t them being bad at all. They were just being horses,” I say to Bright and Breezy.

“Yeah,” he nods. “Blame it on us, on our ignorance.”

“We could blame it on the horse dealer instead,” I suggest, and the foal pricks his ears at our goofy guffaws.

Now he and Belle are thoroughly bonded, and Betsey has gotten more used to being separated, and look, the foal is cute after all! Wiggling his lip and arching his neck to the brush. We like him so much we even give him a name. We consider Peter and Dell and Liberty, thinking of the bell, and Belle, and then we settle on Ben, Big Ben.

Doting Parents

One day, after haltering Belle in the pasture, and haltering Cute Big Ben, on his teeny tiny new halter, Bright and Breezy heads back to the barn, with Ben docilely following. I come a bit after, leading Betsey on one side, and holding our daughter’s hand on the other. Our just-turned-two girl, working hard, puffing, hefts an extra halter and lead rope, just in case she needs to catch a horse. She is a Strong and Clever Daughter, I am thinking, and I am also enjoying Cute Ben walking nicely ahead in the sunshine, and the red winged blackbirds calling.

But suddenly Ben, who is almost a month old now, and certainly Cute but also a little Dopey, and who has hardly left his mother’s side, turns around. He turns around purposefully, leaving Belle, and heads straight back towards Betsey. And towards me, and towards our little girl.

Both mothers get into an immediate flap, Belle nickering in distress and me outright hollering in distress. “Help! Help!” I plumb the depths in mere seconds, imagining all sorts of kicking, biting, rearing, stampeding and the like in the immediate vicinity of my Strong, Clever, and Very Little Daughter.

“Take your horse back out!” Bright and Breezy calls from ahead, and we turn around, quickly, back to the pasture.

Then we all watch dumbfounded as Ben, Ben the Slow, Ben the Dopey, Ben the Not Quite Here in This World, abruptly stops short, kicks, bucks, and proceeds to gallop gleefully in enormous circles, around Betsey and company, under the electric fence, among the apple trees. We are all openmouthed, astonished, including Betsey and Belle, their heads high and alert. Who is this lively and vigorous being? Where had he come from? Where will he go?

Ben keeps running and running and kicking and bucking in sheer foal joy until he finally tangles himself up in the fortunately un-electrified electric fence. We let both mares go; the show over, Betsey moves immediately to the hay feeder, and Belle goes to Ben, nuzzling him, while Bright and Breezy untangles the sheer foal joy from the fence. I nuzzle my little daughter, and all we parents relax again, back into a blissful doting.

Birth of a Farm

Need Hop?

Early in May, several things happen that bump us down from our doting parent, new foal haze. First, Bright and Breezy brings home the very last load of stuff from our old place, arriving at three in the morning. I drag out of bed, after a restless night with a congested baby, and we unload from three to five a.m., tossing the stuff willy-nilly into the barn. Not-So-Bright-and-Breezy gets an hour’s rest, then returns the very last rental truck before the very last rental time is up. We heave a sleepy sigh of relief. We are really and truly all here.

Second, we start fencing additional pastures, as our three black horses gaze longingly from their chewed over field to the green grass peeking through in other places. Fencing begins by hacking a path through the woods, along the stone walls, and also by hacking a path through the swarms of black flies. We are scratched by briars, we itch from fly bites; our heads hurt from banging into low-hanging branches, our feet hurt from stumbling over stones fallen from the wall. Our girl throws herself on the ground and kicks and cries. Yes, we are really and truly all here: and right now, looking at the long long line of new fencing we still have ahead of us, we really and truly wish we were all Somewhere Else. In a swimming pool, perhaps, or a fancy resort lounge. We could read novels; we could eat bon-bons. We could sleep.

Third, the frost is mostly out of the ground, as we must start putting up our hoophouse. Despite the fact that we have both constructed and deconstructed this greenhouse once before, the re-construction does not go quite as quickly, quite as effortlessly, as two bleary eyed, bug-bitten farmers would wish. Part of the trouble is that we can’t seem to locate a ladder in the jumble of stuff that we heaved into the barn in the wee hours of the morning from that very last rental truck.

“Do we even have a ladder?” mumbles Bright and Breezy, poking a foot at the monstrous pile. “What is all this junk anyway?”

“It’s Important Farm Junk. Remember? You said so when I asked you why we were bringing it all here.”

“It is,” he rallies briefly, “It’s Really Important, Really Useful Farm Junk.”

Finally we find a single rickety sawhorse, not in our pile of Really Important, Really Useful Farm Junk, but in the previous owners’ pile of Really Important, Really Useful Farm Junk, left here for us Junk Farm farmers. We haul the sawhorse to our greenhouse site, a feat requiring two sleepy farmers and one Strong and Clever Daughter.

At the site, Bright and Breezy wobbles on one end of the sawhorse, clutching a drill and a mouthful of screws, while I stay on the other, clutching the purlin. Somehow, and we’re not quite sure how this happens, so quickly, so effortlessly does it transpire, our Strong and Clever little daughter manages to clamber up onto the middle of the sawhorse, and then teeters between us, clutching our pants with both hands.

We look down, astonished. She looks up, teetering, clutching. “Need hop?” she says earnestly. We don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

Yes, we need hop. We needs lots of hop.

Need Your Head Examined?

May days are flying by, and the snow is completely off the ground, revealing the breadth, width, and depth of what is ahead of us. Bright and Breezy, primed by the fencing and the greenhouse difficulties, abruptly becomes Dim and Discouraged.

“This is crazy. There’s no way we can do all the work this farm needs,” he says gloomily. “This place is in worse shape than we thought. It’ll take five years just to clear the fields, much less do anything else.” This remark comes after several days of chain-sawing in the upper “pasture,” used thirty years ago for dairy heifers, and grown up now to white pines.

D and D goes on. “It’s going to take me whole lifetimes to clear that by hand. I’ve only got four trees down. Plus I’ve got to get plowing. Plus the greenhouse. And we have to get seeds started.”

“Yeah,” I say, beginning to sag too, thinking farming is crazy, in general and farming here, on this rocky hilly half-wild chunk of New Hampshire, is crazy, in particular. “And I don’t know how we’re going to get CSA membership going this late in the year either.”

“Me neither. I guess one of us has to find a job.”

There is a glum little silence as the discouragement spreads.

“Fooey,” says he.

“Fooey,” says I.

The next day Dim and Discouraged fills out an application for part-time work at a local food co-op.

“What do you think would best utilize my skills?” he says. “Dish washing? Or stocking shelves?”

“I think you’re really strong on both counts,” I am the bolsterer now. “What does it say they pay, anyway?”

He reads on in the application. “Hey, it starts at seven dollars an hour!”

“Wow,” I am impressed. “That’s more than we’ve ever made farming.”

“Stocking shelves,” Bright and Breezy writes firmly.

Then, while it snows lightly, on May 18th, we transplant our perennial herbs, which have been languishing on a pallet ever since we uprooted them from their last bed in New York State. It is a satisfying, cheering, reasonable project, tucking those little root balls into their new home.

Only ten days later we have our first delicious new farm New Hampshire garden produce: mint! We have it on fruit salad, for lunch. It is a triumph, we proclaim, of taste, of tenacity! Not our taste and tenacity, necessarily, but the mint sure is sturdy.

The Resistance

Also in May, the foal’s new vigor becomes the foal’s new resistance: He kicks. He bites. He gallops away in the pasture. He gets into the freshly plowed-composted-disced-harrowed-planted garden all on his naughty own, tearing the row cover with his hooves, chewing on the newly sprouted spring turnips. None too soon, he discovers the properties of an electrified electric fence, nosing around in the barnyard. “Ouch,” we wince, watching him and “Good thing,” we say, as he steers clear of fences from then on.

Ben also doesn’t follow his mother nicely along in the garden anymore, while she works with Betsey, but runs round causing trouble. Despite the many full-time jobs happening simultaneously that constitute farming, we realize we can no longer put off the Lesson of the Lead Rope. We check our handy horse books for advice, since we have not yet discovered a friendly neighbor that happens to also be an experienced foal-trainer with a lot of conveniently free time ready to donate to our cause.

Armed with a good idea, we march out to the barn, groom and harness the big horses, get Ben into position, and then tie him confidently to his mother Belle’s harness.

“Get up,” Frank says to Belle and Betsey. They get up. Ben gets up too, everything is cheerful and lovely, until Ahhh! Awwk! Aggh! Ben realizes he is tied! It is terrible! He puts on the brakes, but his brakes do not match his Mama’s go ahead, and he is hauled bodily along. We stop before he actually falls down, and he tugs and flops around in great distress, Belle nickering unhappily to him. We watch miserably; finally he eases up slightly on the lead rope and I quickly release him. He shakes, nurses.

“Well, that was pretty awful,” says Bright and Breezy, my dependable optimist stepping momentarily out of character.

“I don’t think I can stand that any more,” I stay firmly in character, almost in tears; our little daughter is in tears, her arms wrapped around my neck.

“Let’s try once more, tomorrow. If it’s worse we won’t ever do it again.”

It isn’t worse, it is slightly better, and by the third day Ben walks along as if he’s done it all his life. And he stands tied in the barn too, which make barn chores much easier.

“This is great,” says Bright and Breezy, “Now I can work the big horses, and Ben will stay where he ought to.”

I nod encouragingly. That could happen.

Great

It does seem to work to have Ben tied to the harness. He gets practice being led, he gets to hear all the noises of the farm machinery, and Belle feels calm with him by her side. Bright and Breezy, excited by all this, and by the spring breeze that wafts in the air between occasional flakes of snow, works longer and longer hours.

Things go along swimmingly until the next week, when Ben, feeling exceptionally peppy, or exceptionally tired of being tied to the harness, jumps up at and on Belle, tangling himself in the lines and getting both big horses in a panic. Luckily I am nearby and run to head Betsey and Belle. Bright and Breezy rolls his eyes and clutches his head; he works impatiently at untangling everybody.

Through the sounds of grunts and gnashing teeth – the other farmer’s teeth, I believe, and not the foal’s – I hear some mutterings: “How am I ever supposed to get any work done, you darned colt, you? Tell me that, huh? How am I ever going to get any work done?”

I stop myself from mentioning how nice it might be after all to stock shelves at the co-op, from which we still have yet to hear; instead I talk everybody down.

“You’re good horses; you’re trying,” I say. And “You’re a good farmer, you’re trying.”

Ben is so rattled we let him go untied. Perhaps because of his unsettling experience, this time he sticks close to Belle, and doesn’t trample on anything we’ve planted. Everybody is happy, including the farmers, as we successfully spread some compost.

Birth of a Farm

On a trip back to the barn, while the big horses are taking a slight breather, Ben decides it is a good time for him to rest too. He lies down and falls asleep, right on the driveway, disregarding pebbles and ruts. The big horses close their eyes in the sun. The Bright and Breezy Farmer, looking at the three sleeping horses, has a seat on the pole between the horses and the forecart.

I can’t resist running into the house for the camera. I take a photo. Then I say, in my Deep and Thoughtful Farmer way, “Is that really a good place for you to rest? On the pole? What if the horses startle?”

“Why don’t you head’ em then, just in case,” Bright and Breezy says in a lazy voice. So I do, sitting with our girl on a stump just off to the side and in front of the whole gang. The girl rocks her head slightly back and forth, her eyes half closed, imitating the big horses. “Sleepy, sleepy,” she says.

For once Ben has a good idea; he snores in the dirt, and we all rest in the sleepy sunshine in the middle of the drive.

Summer

Summer comes even in New Hampshire. We enjoy our first salads from our kitchen garden, pick wild strawberries, plant two beds of civilized strawberries. Without the pressure of having to produce vegetables for a CSA garden this year, we all relax a bit. Our rhythm is a little different now that Bright and Breezy is officially stocking shelves, but we keep plugging away at all our farm projects, including working with the big horses and Ben.

Now Ben must be tied to Belle as she works in the garden, since we don’t want to lose any of the summer vegetables or our winter supplies for canning and root cellaring. Ben never gets tangled in the lines again, but he is entering a challenging new phase; the nibble and then nip and then out right bite at his hard-working mother’s side. Belle, in turn, lays back her ears, snaps at him – not quite able to reach him – and finally halts altogether and kicks repeatedly.

Clearly this method isn’t going to suffice much longer. I decide to lead Ben next to Belle, which works just fine, except that after two trips up and down the field trying to match the big horses’ stride while carrying an eager, bouncing two-year-old in a backpack and leading an eager, bouncing colt in a hurry to keep up, I am red faced and panting.

“How’s it going?” my spouse, riding easily along on the disc, grins.

“I’m tying him to a tree,” I gasp. “I don’t care what happens.”

“That’s a great idea,” Bright and Breezy wisely answers.

I tie Ben at the near end of the garden.

“Wahhhh,” he wails, as the horses go away from him to the other end of the field.

“Hooray,” he hollers, as they turn around and come back. Neither Betsey nor Belle, apparently relieved by Ben’s lack of proximity, choose to answer. “Wahhh…Hooray…Wahhh…Hooray,” it goes all morning.

My girl and I keep Ben company, grooming him, giving him handfuls of grass, yet somehow he doesn’t think we are quite as captivating as his own mama and auntie. But he stays tied, and gradually, over some weeks, we wean him from the tree to standing tied in the barn, with a little oats and a little hay to chew on. He has certainly made great progress on all fronts, but he doesn’t know quite everything yet.

Not Quite Everything

For example, our Ben seems rather appalled when, on the way to a newly fenced pasture, we come to a stream. Bright and Breezy, with the daughter in the backpack on his back this time, is leading Ben first; I follow with Betsey and Belle.

Ben stops short at the stream, wide-eyed.

“Come on, Benny,” Bright and Breezy encourages.

“ ‘Mon, Benny,” repeats the backpack girl persuasively.

“Come on, it won’t hurt you, Benny,” Bright and Breezy tugs at the lead rope.

Benny does not believe this; he backs up.

“Let’s see,” says Bright and Breezy.

“Now wait a minute,” I say from behind, recognizing my spouse’s tone, “What are you going to do exactly?”

“We can’t stand here all day. I’m just going to give him a little pop in the behind, to get him over the water.”

“No no no,” I talk fast, before Bright and Breezy does it. “Then he will think the stream had bitten him! I’ll go first with the mares and he’ll follow.”

“I think it will be fine,” Bright and Breezy grumbles a bit, but we switch around in the narrow briary lane. I lead Betsey and Belle across, and then we stop a little ways past the stream to see what will happen.

Ben has his head high. He snorts. He approaches the water, dancing nervously, then he make a tremendous courageous stupendous leap over the tiny stream. We can’t help laughing.

“You’re a funny Benny,” Bright and Breezy says affectionately, petting his neck.

“Funny Benny,” the backpack girl says in the same loving tones, petting her father’s neck, since she can’t reach the colt.

Across the stream is our day time pasture, and late in the evening, after a hard rain storm, and another big brave leap from Ben over the stream, we bring the horses back to the former lawn, by far the lushest part of this old farm. We leave them there, grazing right outside our kitchen window.

“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment.

Our little daughter nods eagerly about anything nice with the horses. I look expectantly at Bright and Breezy.

“Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

We all giggle, a little tired, a little slaphappy. Cheesy bed and breakfast or fine horse farm? Crazy in general or crazy in particular? But we have had a day of good work, and there is good food on our table, and there is a gorgeous light after the storm, with the three lovely shining wet black horses on the green green lawn, and, just at that moment, a blue heron flies to us, beautiful, leggy, both awkward and graceful, flying to light on our new pond; right there on our new, awkward, graceful, beautiful farm.

Birth of a Farm

Spotlight On: People

Typical Range Ride

Typical Range Ride

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I head up the steep trail through the rocks and sagebrush behind our house. The smell of dewy sage fills my nostrils as my horse brushes the shrubs along the trail, and a horned lark flits up from her nest on the ground as we go by. A mother grouse bursts into the air and does her broken-wing act (her strategy to lead a predator away from her babies, who are scattering out through the grass).

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Rope Tricks

a short piece on rope tricks from the 20th anniversary Small Farmer’s Journal.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Kombit: The Cooperative

Kombit: The Cooperative

We received word of a new environmental film, Kombit: The Cooperative, about deforestation in Haiti — and an international effort to combat it by supporting small farmers on the island.

LittleField Notes A Trip to the Auld Country

LittleField Notes: A Trip to the Auld Country

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I’ve come to the north of Scotland this October almost by accident. And I find myself standing on the windy, rocky point of land that is northernmost on the isle of Great Britain. The sea lies before me: the flooding tide from the Atlantic pours in on my left where it collides with the North Sea pouring in from the right, the opposing currents whipping up a frenzy of white capped, tidal confusion: for sailors past and present, treacherous waters indeed. Straight ahead, across the seething waters of Pentland Firth lie the Orkney Islands, my ultimate destination.

A Small Good Thing

A Small Good Thing

We shared this video a while back, and now it has been released on Netflix. Check it out! — “A Small Good Thing” explores how the American Dream has reached its end and how for most of us, greater material wealth and upward mobility are no longer possible. To find out what is taking its place, this feature documentary follows six people in one community who have recast their lives so they can live with a sense of meaning.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

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The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.

Rainshadow Organics

Rainshadow Organics

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Saralee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are Rainshadow Organics, a burgeoning, certified organic operation which fully embraces the tenets of mixed crop and livestock farming. At its core is a full-force market garden. The entire farm comprises one hundred and eighty acres situated in the magnificent, high desert region of central Oregon and subject to a painfully short growing season (some years just slightly over 2 months).

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Today I Prepare

Today I Prepare by Lynn Miller Summering towards seated moments found without splinter found with or without care. No audience save the critical unbecoming self. Were it a long race to now, surprised to be amongst the last running with a chance to go to the target beyond end, tanks full with cupped felt. So […]

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up

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I went to the Great Oregon Steam-Up over in Brooks, Oregon, near Salem. Lynn has been invited and has wanted to attend for years, but this time of year might very well be the busiest time of year for him. He’s always farming or writing or editing or painting or forecasting or businessing or just generally fightin’ the power, yo. It’s nuts, I don’t know how he does it all. So, when I told him I was going to go, he was very interested and wanted a good report.

Farmrun A Reverence for Excellence

A Reverence for Excellence

A portrait of Maple Rock Farm and Hogstone’s Wood Oven, a unique farm and restaurant on Orcas Island where the farmers are the chefs, A Reverence for Excellence strives to be an honest portrayal of the patience, toil, conviction and faith required of an agrarian livelihood.

Jacko

Jacko

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By the time he was 3 years old, Jacko had grown into a big size jack, 13 hands tall and 900 pounds, and was still growing. That summer he ran the singlerow corn planter and raked the hay, proved himself handier with a single row cultivator than a single ox, getting closer to the plants without stepping on them. Gradually he had paced himself to his three educated gaits to fill whatever job Lafe required of him: fast walk for the planter and rake, slow walk for the cultivator and plant-setter, and brisk trot for the buggy.

Twain Under the Farm Spell

Twain Under the Farm Spell

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In his greatest works — Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and Huckleberry Finn — Twain offered a contrast and tension between town and countryside, between the web of deals and cons and bustle of activity that the modern world would call decidedly urban, and the hard-scrabble but quiet and ultimately nourishing living on farms. There were four farms that touched Sam Clemens, rural locales that sustained and helped mold him, that reached from his beginnings through the decades of his greatest creative efforts.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
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