Friday, April 27, 2012

Update 12

Hello again everybody!

We arrived back at NorthWoods on Thursday in the evening after a delightful farm tour. I left y’all on Tuesday evening after a jam packed day of Bonnieview Farms Sheep Dairy touring, visiting Bread And Puppet, and visiting Vermont Natural Coatings and their manufacturing facility. We got to Craftsbury Common with time to spare, so everyone bolted for the town library, which happened to be behind the church at which we would be staying. After doing some work and napping in the library, we ate dinner on the library’s lawn and went to bed in the church’s basement. It turned out to be a very cozy and convenient arrangement.

On Wednesday morning, after getting to sleep in a little bit, we set out for Sterling College, only a few blocks away, to help out at All-College Work Day. We separated ourselves into three groups and set about doing different tasks with specific groups of students. The student body of Sterling is made up of only about 100 students, so our group was the equivalent of almost 10% of the college. Conor, Dean, and Adam raked and cleaned windows, Everett, Michal, and Josia took part in the dismantling of a greenhouse, and Malcolm, Noah, and I went to Hardwick with some students to clean up flood damage in the community gardens and move some garden infrastructure to a new location. By 4:00, we were all done with our tasks and met back up at the Sterling campus. We regrouped and headed back to the church, where people were beginning to prepare the evening’s community dinner. The dinner at 6:30 was a happening occasion. The young and the old, families and friends, and probably mostly parishioners came, but other Craftsbury Common folk also showed. We began chatting with two girls there who happened to be fairly new Sterling students. Following a long conversation between them and our group, they offered us an informal tour of the Sterling farm. We were quite happy to take them up on that offer, so we set out, mostly barefoot, to go over to the farm. They showed us two little goats, Jorge and Julio, two sows and their piglets (full grown pigs are frightening and I would much rather come face to face with one in bacon form than in person), some calves, and the draft horses, which they, apparently, have a program devoted to. They proceeded to show us the “sunset tree” and some of the dorms. After the tour we headed back through the dark to the church for bed.

On Thursday, we piled in the van once more and left Craftsbury Common and headed for Fred Webster’s farm. Fred Webster is a 91-year-old farmer who is known for collecting old farm equipment, primarily from his own heritage and from other local farms. He was a funny guy with an awesome sense of humor and plenty of stories. Apparently, the band Phish used some of his antique farm equipment for a concert of theirs nearby a few years ago. He seemed to have a very high opinion of the band and their fans (to my combined surprise and delight) after seeing the works of art they made out of his equipment. He gave us a tour of his rickety long barns filled with interesting paraphernalia ranging from wooden horse treadmills to buggies that he let us race around. He had also built a stagecoach and was in the middle of constructing another. After putting off leaving for some time, we finally had to say goodbye. We set out once more for the horizon, bound for Butterworks, a 275-acre organic farm run by Jack and Anne Lazor. We met Jack, the owner, who gave us a tour of his barn and showed us his indoor winter pasture (an interesting idea). The vibe I got from Jack was that he was just a very down-to-earth, genuine, nice, easy-to-talk-to person with a calm demeanor. He had been a part of the “Back to the Land” movement in the 70s and found his place in grain and dairy farming. We helped him remove rocks from one of his fields and in return were given some kefir and cheese. Working with the rocks in Jack’s field was a trip back home on a certain level. We had not had much exposure to dry dust on winter trail, so I had been removed from that world. I began to think about the hot and dusty land that I’ve left behind for a time. Though there are significant differences between a dusty grain field in Vermont and a ranch in Northern Mexico, I made a bittersweet connection between my divided halves, which will eventually be reunited. To go along with the delicious dairy gifts we were given, we also bought some kefir, cheese, cream, and yogurt, some of which was consumed on the spot. I, personally, have decided that kefir is one of my favorite cultured dairy products. We returned to NorthWoods in the evening, dusty but satisfied. We began dismantling our camp upon arrival in preparation for the river, which we are all anticipating excitedly. Friday night, Lisl, Stefan, and Raina joined us to help with the coming river preparations. Pack out is Saturday and our journey will commence on Monday.

The next time you’ll here from us will probably be upon our arrival at Kroka in mid-May. I look forward to reporting on the exciting expedition to come. We hope all is well with everyone.

Until May,
-Willie C.

Here are some reflections on our farm tour and certain aspects of it.

Farm Tour

What are we doing? Sleeping in a basement, breaking our routine and sitting for hours? Learning. Learning and experiencing other people’s small lives. Experiencing what they did thirty, forty, fifty years ago and where they have come to now. Every one rode around in buggies once and still thought about their impact on the Earth. We met some people like that. We harvested stones fro ma great field of them. It was dusty and dry, and windy. The wind blew around the tower that looked out in all four directions on the small empire of yogurt two people had created. Isn’t it a beautiful sight? Fields and great turning belts and gears and motors and creaking wooden constructs that were brought there with excitement for their potential. That is what the Farm Tour is about, seeing the people who have made something from something and built what they need to create, what they love. A passion for the land was in all of them, and they were excited about the sea of opportunities.

Fred Webster

There have been a lot of changes in the world since 1921, the year Fred Webster was born. All he hoped to do in life was farm and teach, farming being a “primary occupation”, while teaching was just a “secondary occupation”. He worked at both careers, despite how he sees both as belittled by the society they underpin. Now at age 65, he does not want to go for morning walks and sit idly in the house. His hobby, his obsession, and his passion for years has been collecting the everyday relics of a bygone rural past, from buggies to sap buckets to farm machines. He is a particular sort of curator; if a sleigh’s front was bent from having lumber stored on top of it in some barn, or a handbag forgotten on a buggy seat, he has left them as they were, and neatly tagged them for his museum’s catalogue. He is unwilling to renovate or refurbish the past, or alter any of the battered rural treasures has amassed. His collections attempts to “show the evolution of things”, whether they be shovels, threshers, axles, or vehicles. Mr. Webster has sacrificed dearly for this end, hoping to show young people the recent history he fears they have little connection to. But if you think, “the Old Days were simpler?” he’ll answer definitively, “Oh no, there was a science back then.” He has sold cows to afford antiques, and all while putting 8 kids through school as a single father. No wonder he was known for falling asleep while teaching Drivers Ed, considering he got up at 2:30 most mornings to milk 40 cows before getting his kids ready. Accordingly, he will be the first to remind he has paid for his whole collections, and is free of debt. To those who “want to do their own thing”, he’ll shout, “Fiddlesticks! You’re ‘trying to find your way?’ Get moving buddy!” This fits with a man brought up on a family farm, where there was always work to do, and someone to tell you how to do it. Even when the price of milk plummeted and credit dried up you could shovel gravel for 15 cents an hour, as part of Roosevelt’s “socialist” programs. And if anybody ever asks you why you should get the job at an interview, respond that you can work, and then prove it when you get the job.  Mr. Webster has worked every year of his life, and is proud of doings so.
He is not an environmentalist, but he is a liberal; and he won’t apologize for anything. During our visit to his property, he taught us how to “pull tits” (milk a cow), how to use a shovel properly, educated us on the decorum of peeing on a farm, and encouraged us to race 200 year old buggies around his farm-yard. When we asked him about his legacy, he said his greatest fear is that his collection will be scattered someday, and the oral history he recorded go unpublished. Standing amidst the dozens of machines, sleighs, and boilers you may see a mass of broken junk rusting in a dilapidated barn, or you may see a man’s life’s work, and the history he seeks to carry forward to all those willing to learn from it. 

Butterworks Farm
“I bet you’re all from the suburbs?” he asked in a peaceful almost whisper. Yes, I am, and I remembered just how lucky I felt to be in that place where I stood, in a field covered in rocks to be moved, in the amazing little room at the top of he grain tower, the magical indoor pasture.  I remembered the suburbs; It hasn’t been long.  You don’t walk on green grass that is not your own.   I drove once for 45 minutes to find local organic milk.  Horses are against the law, but here the children were walking one around their yard, playing.  There was something in the way they treated that place, and it treated them back in kind.  Jack told us that he was part of the back to the land movement, coming from elsewhere to put everything that he had into the creation and management of this farm, and yet he belonged so happily and completely that you could hear his voice echoing the airy whistle of the wind blowing past the grain tower room, calling back to it, but quietly, because it was not far away.  I cannot know exactly what work and care went into this place, but in the dust that flew in my face as I bent down to pick up rocks whispered a sort of reassurance.  I’ve never seen more wonderfully how a person can belong to a piece of land, and it will take care of them.

Bonnieview Farm
I walked into the barn.  I heard them before I saw them. And then they were there, a swarm of sheep big and small, all different colours.  The cuteness was overwhelming. In the back of the room there was a young sheep who didn’t run from me, he ran towards me and began to suck my thumb.  And then it happened.  Its newly grown teeth sank into my flesh.  I yanked my hand away and saw the crimson blood flowing out.  But I couldn’t stay mad at something so cute.

“Man does not live by bread alone”. 
Bread and Puppet Theatre was the second stop on our excursion, and it helped to shape my view of all the farms and farmers.  At Bread and Puppet they focused on the need for food and art.  For Farmers, food is their art.  Seeing Fred Webster’s Barns of old equipment showed clearly the lost medium that farming has become.  Visiting Butterworks, we could see the farmer’s love of the art.  Farmers like Jack, who farm for the land, may be slowly disappearing into the sunset.  But seeing the students at Sterling so excited about the land has sparked my hope.

Sterling College
We spent a day working alongside Sterling College students. I really enjoyed this social explosion. It was great to have so many new people to talk to, especially since most of them shared similar interests. Luckily, most of the students seemed to enjoy having us there and talking to us. Sterling only has around a hundred students, so our group was almost ten percent of their student body. We were all happy to see new faces.
The atmosphere at Sterling was great. All the students really got into All-School Work Day and were happy to clean up their campus. Everyone knew everybody. Only first names were needed for people to know whom you were talking about. This tight-knit community seemed so similar to ours and I felt very welcomed and at home.

Farm Tour
People like Jack Lazor are purely inspirational. How he went about everything was incredibly kind and honest.  I really wanted him to teach us more.  More about the process of making the farm, more about what he thinks of the world.
Farm tour, for me, was more about the people.  Even just the different ways we were shown around and spoken to about the places- from the shy farmer at Bonnieview to the really good-seeming, well-intentioned people who sell polywhey at Vermont Natural Coatings. Fred Webster in all his oddity, the women I ate dinner with and talked to at the church, the range of people at Sterling.  Jack and Anne Lazor and how much care and love they put into their work.  Even the librarian in Craftsbury who indulged my literary starvation.  They all brought unique perspectives, even different from Charlie Strickland or Chris or Misha or Tweeter or my parents.  And I’ve been listening.  And trying to really hear, not just nod or be complacent.  I actually have to think.

Vermont Natural Coatings
When you go to visit a farm, you expect to meet a farmer. You don’t know what kind of person the farmer will be, but you are certain that they will be a farmer.
When we visited VNC I did not know who we could expect to meet. What kind of person works with wood finishings? I didn’t know.

When we arrived we met a group of resourceful and motivated people excited to turn a waste product into a business product. They came together because they had a desire to work with what they had around them & to create something that fulfills more than just their basic needs. VNC creates wood finishings out of the waste product whey, which you find in dairy farms.
Although they are not at the point where they can use leftover whey from their neighboring farm, or from Bonnieview, they are burning to. It is so frustrating to them that while it is so close physically it is so far economically. There is a lot of expensive equipment needed to process the whey before they can use it, so they are required to buy from farther sources. They would need to grow bigger to afford to stay local. Which is their goal.
On our visits we have mostly met farmers who are living in a very close relationship to their land. I really enjoyed seeing how similar ideas of how to live close to and within your surroundings can coalesce into a business that does not directly work the land.

The Church Dinner.
The 6th Grade Spaghetti Supper.
Carlisle Old Home Day, with the frog jump contest & the aisle of local craftsmakers.
My frog never won that contest & every year I meet my friend at his mom’s booth in the aisle & I buy a few buttons and a dog toy. We go to the library book sale & there meet many more people. It’s sometimes more about the people than the books.
I am a part of Carlisle Old Home Day.
I met a family at the Church that we slept at when we visited Sterling College. They didn’t talk much to me about themselves. They asked me a lot of questions & leaned across the table, very very interested & proud of some kid they just met, who is not quite a kid anymore. But luckily, still just not quite a kid for a good while longer.
They took good care of their kids.
They stayed afterward to help clean up, & made sure to ask for more work before they found it was time for them to go home.
I wished them luck & I thanked them too.
They are a part of the Church & the 3rd or 2nd Wednesday Dinner every month.
Being a part of something feels good.
When all of our parents came here for Parent Weekend, that felt especially good.
It reminded me of the Mother’s Group that was a great part of my growing up.
I need to call Christian when I am back home. We talk sometimes but I haven’t seen him in a long time. I still call him Christian but I’m pretty sure the whole rest of the world calls him Chris now.
Being anonymous in a large place can be nice every now and then, but it doesn’t feel good forever.
I don’t think floating through everyone being your friend would make me happy for very long either.
A large small group of people.
A neighborhood.
A church dinner.
I like the way those place feel.


  1. Bon Voyage! What a great time you've all had around the farms in Vermont; it's so good to hear from you about your experiences. We're sure you'll learn from the river, too. Keep us posted :-) Aloha, all!

  2. Thanks for offering the useful information! Discussion was very useful.
    After school program sterling