Monday, February 15, 2010

Animal Love

The week leading up to Valentine's day was an eventful one!

On Wednesday we orchestrated the great pig move: Doodle said goodbye to her piglets and took a ride in the trailer up to the barn, where she traded spaces with Tic and Toe. The juggling act of moving Tic and Toe into their holding space inside the barn, distracting the goats with grain, moving Doodle past the goats and into her new space outside, distracting the goats again and herding Tic and Toe into the trailer went smoothly. Doodle seems to like her new found peace and has turned her shelter into a cozy home fit for a pig at a spa! Her piglets, still in the hoop house, are adjusting to life without Mama Doodle and have taken to sleeping in a big pile with Fife and Madison's piglets. Walking into the hoop house early in the morning brings an adorable sight of piglets nestled together under the heat lamp and surrounded by hay.

On Thursday morning we said goodbye to Tic and Toe, thanked them for being such lovable pigs, and brought them to Royal Butcher. It was a bittersweet day--the first piglets born on the farm left, and Gellert, our new boar, arrived. Laura, Mari, Liva and I all drove to Middlesex to pick Gellert up and bring him back to Northfield to his new home where he quickly settled in with Fife and Madison, and began flirting with Doodle through the fence. With a boar on the farm, there is sure to be many more piglets in the future!

With all this pig news, goat lovers don't despair, there is exciting news for you, too! Borris the buck moved out of the barn and down into the hoop house with the milkers a couple of weeks ago. He had been with the seven goats in the barn all winter, and we hoped at least some of them had become pregnant. Friday afternoon Alison, our vet, came to check and confirmed that all seven (Ingrid, Sophia, Grace, Marlene, Betsy, Molly, and Abigail) are indeed pregnant! They will begin to kid in the spring, by which time the current milkers (Jenga, Scrabble, and Martha) will have dried up and hopefully be pregnant again. Myst and Mahjong, our two oberhaslis, are still too young to breed, so they moved up to the barn when Borris went down to the hoop house, and they are enjoying their new space to jump around in.

On a smaller note, Hop and Scotch (the kittens) are growing into the best barn cats you can ask for! They are keen hunters, are incredibly cute, and love being held. Tiny Tim has been holding down the fort in the barn garage, where he and Uno have become great friends. Watching the two of them play together always brings about a laugh! Uno, of course, continues to give everyone love.

With so many changes, the animals are still happy and healthy, and the farmers (though perhaps a bit tired) are happy for it!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bill McKibben's Answer

On Wednesday night the Green Mountain Girls joined community members and students in Norwich University's Dole Auditorium to welcome Bill McKibben as the first speaker in this year's Todd Lecture Series. McKibben's talk, "Large and Small: Human Scale and Human Power in a Fast-Changing World," began with an examination of genetic engineering on the human scale, making the point that human nature is fragile, and segued into conscious versus inadvertent change, as McKibben stressed that climate change, which alters the fundamental makeup of the world, is the most radical thing humans have ever done.

As he spoke, McKibben outlined the science behind climate change and illustrated some of the steps that have been taken to counter it, such as the work of, an organization that orchestrated a global day of political action and awareness of climate change. He did a spectacular job of emphasizing the enormous scope of this problem, but when Q&A time came at the end of his speech, I had a question. (Before I go on, let me say that I graduated from university with a degree in Environmental Studies and English, and a minor in Outdoor Studies; I've spent countless class hours dissecting the science and social effects of global climate change and I am not a skeptic. That being said, the language to talk with people who are skeptics remains part of the big picture, and it can be challenging to show others how this will effect them directly; also, it is easy for a person to give money to an organization and then separate themselves from the problem and greater solution). So my question was this: how do you take a global problem, which can be very overwhelming, and make it a local issue?

McKibben responded that you can work on issues in your own community, like local agriculture, which is extremely important for a place like Vermont. As climate change worsens, land will either become more arid or will be prone to flooding, insect pest numbers may increase, and as a result food scarcity is likely to rise. Creating a strong local agriculture movement is essential to food security and the overall climate change solution, as food that is grown in one's own community is not shipped thousands of miles before it reaches the table and inherently has a smaller carbon footprint. You can support local agriculture by going to Farmers' Markets and buying food direct from the farmer. He concluded that you must not dismiss global action, but mix your efforts so that perhaps 80% is local and 20% is global in scope. As I listened to his answer, the words that leapt out at me were community, neighbors, and interconnected, and I realized that these are some of the same words Mari and Laura use when they discuss their business plan.

A couple of weeks ago, my family had dinner with the Green Mountain Girls, and they told us that their goal is not to be a main producer for Vermont, but to sustain 20-30 families in the Northfield region. They described how the two words at the core of their mission, happy and healthy, reach beyond animals and food to the farmers, the land, the farmshare members, and the larger community. McKibben said that we need to "understand how interconnected our actions are with every corner of the world," and by physically cultivating and employing organic methods, the Green Mountain Girls are able to do just that. Through this process, they are also cultivating relationships with people and finding a sustainable balance in the natural world.

This past summer, Mari and I went to a raw milk processing workshop at Earthwise Farm and Forest in Bethel. Lisa McCrory, while describing how she quickly switched over to an electric blender from a hand-crank butter maker, said, "I'm not doin' it for the romance. I'm doin' it because I like good food." This statement has stayed with me, and I see now that the vision of back-to-the-landers and small organic farms is not one of romance. It is much simpler than that. We do it for good living, for happiness and health, and the direct result is a lighter tread on the earth and a deeper, positive impact on ourselves and our communities.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Food, Inc

Any small farmer or food enthusiast could tell you that a food revolution is happening, but until a few days ago, its force was still an undertow--you could feel it but it seemed invisible compared to the world of conventional agriculture. The waters are quickly changing, however, and with the force of Oprah now behind it, this food revolution is gaining momentum and rising up to be a tidal wave (I hope)! Last week, Oprah showed clips of the documentary Food, Inc.,and told her audience "I believe you have a right to know where your food is coming from." In order to spread the word, Oprah made a deal with to sell Food, Inc. for the price of 9.99 for a limited time.

I also believe you have a right to know where your food comes from, and that is one reason why I work at the Green Mountain Girls Farm; I value the intimacy that comes with raising and growing my food, not only because it is delicious, but because it nurtures a strong community between the farmer, the consumer, and the land. What's more, I have never seen people so excited as the farm share members are when they come each Thursday to pick up the week's supplies, and their excitement and appreciation makes the work of cultivation and caring for the animals that much sweeter.

Even if you don't work on a farm, it is important to be close to your food for the simple reason that food sustains you, not only physically but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. If that sounds a little out there, just think of your state of being after eating a healthy, balanced meal made with whole foods versus one made predominately of processed, packaged foods. I know I feel lighter, more energized, and happier. As for Oprah, she says, "for me, it boils down to making more conscious food decisions."

Oprah talked with Michael Pollen about the movie, and about his new book Food Rules, which outlines simple rules to follow that will ensure you are eating good, real food. "Getting out of the supermarket when we can is a very important part of learning where your food comes from," Pollen said. "Ask the farmer."

It's okay if you don't go rushing out to find the nearest farmer after you read this. In fact, it's okay if you don't find a farmer at all, but you should know where your food comes from. Watch Food, Inc. and decide what kind of food you want to eat.