Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
The Cool and Damp this week slows the growth of recently transplanted Eggplant and Tomatoes in the gardens and slows the pace, blessedly, for us Humans here at the Farm. And yet, the weather forecast delivered on the glowing screen tells of a coming sudden turn towards Summer conditions – many days in a row of Heat, Sun and South Wind. With such a forecast – unlikely for early June – haying season is upon us, and all of our efforts will gather towards big mowing days on Saturday and Sunday. The hay we make will feed the pregnant Ewes and Cows through the winter months and prepare them for calving and lambing in March and April. See the Story below for more context on why we plan to mow hay by hand, the connections we see between agricultural labor and cultural work. The folks who populate the first class of the Scythe School – the People of the Grass – are a remarkable bunch. On their second day with tools-in-hand they honed their movements, dropped their blades to the ground, and executed the clean mowing required for haymaking. After an hour and a half of this work together, it was difficult to convince them to stop, even as our departure arrived. Instructors Michaela, Marc and Paul each voiced amazement with the rapid improvement of the group. Fine teachers make a difference. This weekend, we will invite the Scythe School class as well as regional scythers – or ‘hand mowers’ – to join us for a Historic Haying Event. We’ve got five acres of Grass ready to mow. I can tell you with some certainty that it has been many decades since a field this large has been mowed by hand in Vermont. The anticipation here at the Farm is tangible. Preparations over the next days will reach a fevered pitch.
Might you be willing to contribute a dish for the Mower’s Dinner on Sunday? We will have quite a crew mowing long hours in the hot Sun, working up a fierce hunger. We have many farm ingredients available for inspired cooks. Reply to this email to let us know if you would be willing to cook a main dish or a dessert and we’ll let you know what we’ve got in the freezers and gardens as you consider recipes.
Here’s a list of upcoming events:
- The next Soup and Bread Gift Distribution will be a week from Friday, June 11th, from 4-6pm.
- We are asking for RSVP’s for the following event so that we can send out details on where to meet and what to bring for dinner:
Contemplating Elderhood in a time of Ecological Crisis
A Speaking and Listening Circle for folks over 40
Is it a Time now for Feasting or for Fasting?
What is being asked of us as we take off our masks?
Saturday June 5th – 4pm, followed by a potluck dinner
Please reply by email with your RSVP and we will reply with more details.
The Story below offer a window into the grief that animates this invitation to gather.
- There will be No Work Day this Sunday, as all efforts will go towards the Haying Push. However:
- Mower’s Dinner Sunday – We are offering a request for cooks to contribute a dish to feed the hungry crews after two long days in the Sun. Many Farm ingredients are available. Reply by email for more information.
- June Budget Request – Your generous financial gifts exceeded the May Budget Request by over $1300, and that overage appears on the June spreadsheet as a starting balance. Would you consider making a financial gift to support our work? You can find the detailed budget request below, and/or make a gift HERE.
Story: On Cows, Agriculture, Culture, and Elderhood
Find an axe and split down a piece of straight-grained firewood into sticks. Stack the sticks in the woodstove so that air can pass through. Crumple a piece of paper, strike a match and feel the bright flame push the late-May damp toward the corners of the house. You might remember an old rhyme: ‘Cool wet May, barn full of hay.’ Rain falls as a fine mist outside, blurring the line between Water and Air and Ground. Grasses grow to waist-high in the meadow where the Cows graze, just a few hundred feet from the house. They thrive in this weather, Grasses and Cows. And they grow together on these days, each feeding and being fed in turn. Just a few years ago, the specific patch of ground where the Cows graze this morning supported little life. A scattering of yellowed Grasses and Goldenrods and a good bit of bare ground marked the site. The soil is gravelly, excessively well-drained, droughty. All we’ve done is run the Cows across this ground during the warm season and feed them hay there in the winter. And now, coming in from moving them into a new paddock, I find that the rain-wet Grasses grow so thick and tall that they have soaked my pants up to the pockets, and the water runs down to fill my boots. The meadow cries out for the intermittent presence of grazing animals and the Humans that tend them. Absent thundering herds of Bison and the large predators that kept them on the move, this small herd of big-eyed Jersey and Dexter Cows and our electric fence lines seem more than willing to play the part – gleefully grazing and trampling and laying down life-giving manure and urine. The passing-through of a herd creates fertile conditions for a multitude of other lives to flourish – mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and birds. The Cows allow the Grasses to do their work in the world – to turn sunlight into topsoil by courting the attention and affection of ruminants. Have you ever noticed the aroma that fills the valley as hay dries in the fields? Or carried an armload of freshly cut or drying Grasses? If the fragrance is intoxicating to Humans, imagine what a Cow experiences as she spends her whole day smelling and tasting and ruminating – answering the siren song of the Grasses. Each time we turn the Cows into a fresh paddock – at this time of year three four times per day – they act as though a warm chocolate cake has just been pulled from the oven. The more they eat, the stronger they grow and the more the Ground is fed. Miraculous reciprocity. What’s more, this ancient, mutually sustaining relationship between Ground and Grasses and Cows produces enough surplus that Humans can draw sustenance from the arrangement as well. It is a remarkably generous sequence of interactions to observe close-up.
There is a lot of chatter these days in the newsfeed about the unsustainability of industrial meat. I can tell you that the meadows are alive with chatter of their own – Grasses and Birds and Winds and Others – pleading for the presence of these ruminants as well as the Humans who have, for millennia, lived alongside them. These pastoralists have spent long hours attending to the many-voiced doings of the living world from which they have drawn their lives, offering their sweat and songs and many spoken thanks as a way of feeding the Ground. Rotational grazing will never be industrialized. It requires Humans – not machines – in the fields noticing and responding, calling and walking the Cows or Sheep from field to field. And so, rotational grazing has steadily fallen from favor. In a time when labor limits profitability, this careful work is hopelessly inefficient. Add in making hay by hand, and you’ve gone way off the deep end. Implicit in the critiques of animal agriculture that pepper the newsfeed is the underlying assumption that human-labor-intensive ways of farming have been abandoned and will not be recovered. Take a look at the next article about diet and sustainability and you will soon realize that the choice being described is between one industrial food category and another. Supermarkets and machines seem to be non-negotiable. But Humans have not always lived chained to the engine and the wheel and the profit margin as we do now. Humans have not, until very recently, believed that one could expect to live and not be involved in the gathering and growing of food.
In many ways, our work at Brush Brook Community Farm functions as a plea for a return to a participant agriculture. We invite you to join us in our attempts to farm in ways that are only possible with many neighborly hands. If our work is ecological and agricultural, it is because it is also cultural. Shortly before she died, I received the following reminder from elder and long-time farm advocate Enid Wonacott, “Adam, don’t forget that agriculture has the word culture in it. Tend to the culture work with as much care as you would the soil under your feet.” Two decades earlier I first read the work of Wendell Berry, who faithfully describes our ecological crisis as a symptom of a crisis of culture. In his recent essay “The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age”(The Art of Loading Brush, 2017), Wendell describes a letter he received from a man who, despite growing up under the guidance of family and elders in a neighborhood of thriving small farms, fell into a cycle of addiction as that agricultural community disintegrated. Wendell, clearly moved by the letter, writes:
As long as the diverse economy of our small farms lasted, our communities were filled with people who needed one another and knew that they did. They needed one another’s help in their work, and from that they needed one another’s companionship. Most essentially, the grownups and the elders needed the help of the children, who thus learned the family’s and the community’s work and the entailed duties, pleasures, and loyalties. When that work disappears, when parents leave farm and household for town jobs, when the upbringing of the young is left largely to the schools, then the children, like their parents, live as individuals, particles, loved perhaps but not needed for any usefulness they may have or any help they may give. As the local influence weakens, the outside influences grow stronger.
And so the drugs and the screens are with us. The day is long past when most school-age children benefitted from work and instruction that gave them in turn a practical assurance of their worth. They have now mostly disappeared from the countryside and from the streets and houseyards of the towns. In this new absence and silence of the children, parents, teachers, church people, and public officials hold meetings to wonder about the drug problem. The screen problem receives less attention, but it may be the worst of the two because it wears the aura of technological progress and social approval.
The old complex life, at once economic and social, was fairly coherent and self-sustaining because each community was focused upon its own local countryside and upon its own people, their needs, and their work. That life is almost entirely gone now. It has been replaced by the dispersed lives of dispersed individuals, commuting and consuming, scattering in every direction every morning, returning at night only to their screens and carryout meals.
Wendell, old enough now to have seen this unravelling run its course in his home place of rural Kentucky, testifies to a sorrowful state of affairs – a nearly complete break in cultural/agricultural continuities that ensured at least some base level of care and concern for what we now call ‘the environment.’ As Wendell eloquently articulates, the fallout for the Human life of these rural communities has also been severe, a form of malaise that might be properly called culture loss. Author Stephen Jenkinson describes culture loss thusly:
Societies are brough to the tempered achievement of “culture” by seeing and learning the end of what they hold dear, and then by entering into a self-governance of restraint and obedience to limit…Being willing to live with less, to be less – not all – of what you can be, that is how cultures serve their world. Without the tutelage of limits and endings, you have no elders to practice and incarnate the wisdom of “enough,” no culture recognizable to cultured peoples…”(Come of Age, 2018)
It is in the presence of this grief and loss that a group of us over 40 – even some who may have known life before the screens – will gather this Saturday to try to remember how it came to be this way, and how we might still proceed otherwise. The social/ecological landscape that these authors describe is run-through with loneliness and the abandonment of culture work. Might we gather as a way of stepping out of the silence that ensures only more loneliness and more abandonment. If you are interested in joining the circle, please RSVP by responding to this email. Thank you very much for reading.
Here is what you will find in this Letter:
- FINANCIAL GIFT REQUEST – Detailed June 2021 Budget
With Great Care,
Ava, Erika, Kristen, Erik, Collin, Evan and Adam – The Brush Brook Community Farm Team
BUDGET UPDATE: Thank you for considering the June 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.
|BBCF - June 2021 Budget|
|As of June 2|
|Overage from May||$1,358.00|
|Tractor, Freezers and Milkroom Rents||$200.00|
|Bakery Overhead (firewood, insur., utilites)||$250.00|
|Website, Tech, and Office Supplies||$20.00|
|Bread Ingredients & Packaging||$937.50|
|Misc Ingredients (spices, etc)||$30.00|
|Hosting and Educational||$200.00|
|Vehicles (gas, maintn., insur. etc)||$150.00|
|Predicted Human Expenses|
|Collin McCarthy Rent & Utilities||$580.00|
|Adam Wilson Rent||$200.00|
|Erik Weil Rent||$500.00|
|Adam Wilson personal stipend||$448.08|
|Infrastructure Maintenance and Project Fund||$500.00|
|Total Estimated Expenses||$5,065.58|
|Total Remaining for May||$3,820.08|
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.