Photo by Ben Sklar
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
It is Sunday morning. Sky has cleared during the night and so first light bleeds across the sky early and with great strength. Liquid, golden Sun pours over the high Eastern Ridge and begins to fill the bowl made by the lower Western Wall of the narrow Valley. Without wind, late-winter-morning air soon becomes saturated by this golden light. Birdsong adds texture to the thickening air. Humans arrive to join in the day’s farm work and add their greeting calls to this rich, but invisible, medium. Jackets and mittens – no longer needed – build into a pile as the Soup Team wields their glinting knives. These knives – and the bare fingers that hold them – are soon stained with the magenta blood of Beet, the bright orange of Squash and the shocking purple of stored Cabbage. We’ve added a bit of Beef Heart to the Soup this week, in case anyone needed a reminder of the persistent and dazzling Life that pulses through this place and repeatedly calls us back from the many seductions of our time – forgetfulness, cynicism, scarcity, self-pity, and on and on. I was recently reminded that the proper grammatical opposite of remember is not actually ‘to forget,’ but rather the evocative word dismember. And I can admit that there have been moments this past week that have felt this way. Maybe you have gotten this feeling as well? That said, we are thrilled to invite you to join us this Saturday for Soup and Bread Gift Distribution, from 11am -1pm. We will have dark, beet-tinted Soup and many boxes of fresh Bread, all offered as a gift to anyone who is hungry for any reason.
With just 4 days lefts in the month, we are still $1700 short of our February Budget Request. If you are willing to support our work, you can make a gift HERE.
The work here is sustained by your gifts of monies, yes, but also by your gifts of labor and by many material gifts such as building materials, wood shavings, a jar of honey or a dozen eggs. If you are looking for ways to help out at the Farm, we send out occasional emails requesting help with outdoor projects to a smaller list of folks. If you’d like to be one of those folks, please reply to this letter with an email. Our larger public Work Days will resume as Snow recedes.
STORY: A Fork in the Road – To Consume or to Eat?
There are some repeated characters in these stories, and this week we once again travel west to Carpenter Road in Charlotte, where our friends Emily and Joe Donegan tend to five young ones – Patrick, Franklin, Dominick, Caroline, and baby Henry – and a barn full of big-eyed Jersey Cows. Two previous stories of our relationship with the Donegan Family Farm can be found here: Dominick and Dorothy and Emily’s Labor, The Gift as Family. Standing in the middle of the dirt road that runs between their farm house and dairy barn, the visible landscape extends out beyond the rolling farm fields and woods to the high peaks of the Adirondacks and back to the south-leaning summit of Camel’s Hump, the mountain that gathers the rain water that tumbles down the rocky slopes to the gravel flats here at our little farm – the waters we call Brush Brook. This particular morning the roads are slick from rain-turned-to-snow the evening before and so Collin and I drive the old rear-wheel-drive pickup with some caution. We have come to load a large steel ring feeder that Joe has offered to lend us. He asked the evening before if we would be willing to help him by bedding the solar barn. Despite a stiff North Wind, we warm up quickly pushing around the thousands of pounds of bedding hay that will provide a dry bed for the hardworking milking herd. With the hay spread and the feeder loaded, we stop in at the barn to say goodbye to Joe. The vacuum pump wheezes and the click-click-click of the pulsators keeps rhythm as Joe squats to wash cow teats.
A week prior, Joe and Emily asked me to help them to consider some huge changes to their farming operation. After selling their milk to a wholesale cooperative for nearly a decade and a half, a change in the local market conditions had suddenly nudged them to consider selling their milk directly to their neighbors. The only farm in the area selling raw milk had suddenly decided to close up shop. This meant that nearly two hundred devoted households suddenly had no farmer. I know one of these families intimately, and the word they used to share this news was, simply, ‘CRUSHED.’
Imagine you have just received this news – that the food you have come to depend on is no longer available. The fickle winds of the market and the private struggles of your local farmers have brought you to a fork in the road. To the left you see that the way is freshly paved. The sign with the arrow reads ‘Consumer.’ The grocery store is that way, and it will not let you down. The doors are always open and the shelves fully stocked. If you have enough money to pay at the checkout, your desire will not go unsated. Whether your neighbor has enough money when they get to the checkout is, luckily, not your responsibility. But there is another path veering off to the right, into the woods. It is not much more than a deer trail, really. The sign there is grown-over by brambles and vines. You can just barely make out the handwritten letters – ‘Eater.’ Standing at this fork in the road, you start to feel hungry. You are an eater after all, and it has been some hours now since your last meal. As you step off the pavement onto the soft ground of the trail you can see, as if for the first time, that the continued availability of food is not an inevitable thing. It is not assured. In fact, it will depend on your willingness to provide for the ongoing sustenance of those who sustain you – not just the human farmers but also the animals, plants, soils and weather patterns with whom they plead and pray and give thanks for continued provision. Sustainability starts to look a lot more intimate, complicated, relational. It looks like a lot of work. As the responsibility of being an ‘eater’ comes flooding into view, you can still see the smooth pavement of the ‘consumer’ road out of the corner of your eye. And it looks very appealing.
In several long phone conversations with Joe last week, I clearly saw the emotional strain this decision brought to their family, especially with a newborn baby in the house. Selling milk to a wholesale cooperative was a fairly straightforward and certain proposition, but the labor-hours required to maintain the farm seemed increasingly untenable. Marketing their milk themselves offered the enticing, but uncertain, promise of a work-week under 70 hours. In these phone calls, I asked Joe some questions and a bit more came to the surface. One of the major benefits of selling wholesale had actually been the distance from the marketing and sales. The organic, grass-fed milk they produce sells for a premium price at the store. For example, If their family of seven were to purchase the milk they drank from the grocery store the monthly bill would approach five hundred dollars. Creating a community farm would mean getting to know the families who drink the milk they produced, and would force Joe and Emily to face the uncomfortable realities of wealth disparity head-on. Would it be too painful for them to charge their neighbors the real-cost of a production system that ensured adequate care for the land, the animals and the farmers? And to charge everyone the same price without consideration of their financial condition?
Joe hears us enter the barn and looks up from his teat-washing with a smile. After our recent conversations, I am surprised to see this lightness on his face. He tells me that he has a new-found clarity. They will begin by offering their milk as a gift, without a set price. They will begin a conversation with those hungry – or thirsty – for fresh milk to see what might be possible for them and their land and their cows. They will extend an invitation to local milk-drinkers to join them in creating a community farm. How will their neighbors respond – as consumers or as eaters? As I turn to leave I hear Joe’s final words, “I know it looks crazy on paper. But I am learning that I can’t live life on paper.” Here at Brush Brook Community Farm, we applaud our friends’ courage and tremble with excitement as we imagine the many acts of courage that will surely emerge from such a bold invitation. If you would like to be part of their unfolding conversation, you can reach Emily and Joe at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is what you will find in this Letter:
- GIFT DISTRIBUTION DETAILS and FULL MENU
- FINANCIAL GIFT REQUEST – February 2021 Budget
With Great Care,
Ava, Erika, Kristen, Erik, Collin, Evan and Adam – The Brush Brook Community Farm Team
SOUP and BREAD GIFT DISTRIBUTION: Saturday 2/27, 11am - 1 pm
- Brush Brook Soup – Purple Cabbage Noodles, Kale, Squash, Sweet Potato, Beets, Tomato, Beef, Herbs, Bone Broth.
- Vegetarian Soup – Pureed Sweet Potato and Turnip, Tomato, Garlic, Herbs.
Please bring a mask with you and wear warm clothes. We will have Soup and Bread to take home, and encourage you to bring quart containers from home for us to fill for you.
BUDGET UPDATE: Thank you for considering the February Budget
Many heartfelt thanks to all who have responded to these invitations by sending in Financial Gifts. If you would like to support our work, you can mail checks made out to Brush Brook Community Farm to PO Box 202, Huntington, VT, 05462, bring gifts to the Gift Stand, or donate through the website. We are 100% financially supported by these personal financial gifts.
Brush Brook Community Farm – Feb. 2021 Budget
|As of 2/24|
|Gifts Received in Feb – Thank you!||$ 3522.00|
|Estimated Expenses for February|
|Bread Ingredients & Packaging||$ 1,115.50|
|Bakery Overhead (Insur., Electric, etc.)||$ 555.86|
|Bakery Rent||$ 300.00|
|Farm Expenses||$ 1,550.00|
|Farm/Bakery Team Requested Gifts|
|Adam Wilson Personal Living (full time)||$ 648.08|
|Adam Wilson Rent||$ 200.00|
|Erik Weil (part time) Rent/Housing||$ 500.00|
|Collin McCarthy (part time) Utilities||$ 100.00|
|Estimated Federal/State Taxes||$ 351.22|
|Paypal Fees||$ 150.00|
|Overage from January||$237.00|
|Total Remaining for February||$ 1711.66|
Support the Farm & Bakery
The operations of Brush Brook Community Farm & Bakery are maintained by neighborly working hands and financial gifts. Your generous monetary support propels the gift of food forward to those open to receiving it.