Prior to our holiday/winter break from the store, I was once again asked about whether or not we ever went on a vacation or took time off when the store is closed? My response to this seemingly common question and apparently concern to many in the past has always been to blow it off with a joke about going to our second home in Hawaii for a few weeks every winter when it is so cold in Maine.
This time, I decided I would give a more realistic answer in hopes that he might share my response and concern; not for me and my family, but rather for others. I told him that I work for him and many others either directly by supplying products from our farm through our store and indirectly by providing an ingredient (organic milk that is utilized by thousands of companies that require it to make their products—mac and cheese, ice cream, etc…). With that said, if he still wanted to make sure I and all other farmers went on vacation, then the idea of local and knowing where your food comes from would simply be a lost thought and grandeur idea.
I decided also, that perhaps he too had no idea of what it takes to make a farm work on a day to day basis, so I thought I would share with him what a typical cold winter day looks like for me, my husband and children at our farm. My day starts at 6 a.m. when the store is closed rather than 4 a.m., when not. In order to stay warm, the pellet stove and furnace need to be checked on and filled first thing. Coffee and light breakfast, then off to the barns. This time of year at least 5 layers are required in order to stay warm when working in the elements.
I have 35 angora rabbits whose electric water bottles, on most days, function well in the winter. This past week, however, created a bit of an issue with the electrical portion of them. Without the electric waterers, all the dishes become frozen, thus creating more chores. Then it’s on to the other animals! We have 50 goats (dairy and fiber), cattle and 90 sheep to water, which is easy if the heaters work and the water doesn’t freeze. Then its hay down for bedding, a daily task to keep everyone warm, extra food to help them stay warm and insulated! Then we pick the eggs, both morning and afternoon so that they don’t freeze and crack. In which case they become food for the pigs; they are always happy to receive such protein-packed energy bites.
My husband Gregg spends 2 hours each morning feeding all of the cows (300+, which includes newborns on up to the milkers). On most days, this is a pleasurable experience for him, but in the winter time, not so much. He is on an open tractor, wind gusting through and around him and the barnyard while he makes numerous trips to the silo for another bucket load of corn silage and haylage. For the barn itself, the heat source is that which the animals produce themselves. Most winters it is pretty comfortable, however, the past few weeks have required a bit more feed and bedding for the animals just to maintain comfort.
We have two wonderful young men who show up to work each day to help milk the 110 cows that produce organic milk for our Coop Organic Valley. Their morning begins with stoking the fires in the barn as well as fueling up the space heaters and making sure there are no frozen water pipes before luring the cows down to the parlor for milking. My boys are sent over with warm breakfast sandwiches and beverages for the milkers and to complete their own chores. On their day off, my husband, boys, and daughters when home, all pitch in to help with milking and everything else that needs to be done.
Before school starts my two sons feed out warm milk to all of the younger calves, make sure their beds are dry and comfortable, water, grain and hay are adequate, pigs and chickens watered and fed and any frozen water tubs brought in to thaw so they can be exchanged again during afternoon chores.
By the time a.m chores are done, it is almost noon, refill the fires, get some lunch, relax for a bit before starting all over around 3 p.m. In by 5, dinner at 7 and bed by 9.
When I was done sharing a typical day with him, I noticed he seemed a bit exhausted, so I asked him if he and his family were going to go on a vacation soon to get rested up?
My new years resolution has stayed the same for several years now. That Nezinscot Farm can continue to do a better job educating the local community on the importance of not just knowing where your food comes from, but also whom. I’ve worked hard to help educate and give our customers and visitors a clearer understanding of what is involved in making sure that there is always food available for everyone. Just like the bees, without farmers and adequate farmland, there will be no such thing as local foods.
To show support, find a local CSA farm near you, shop at your local farmers markets, and become involved in your food the same way you are involved with your family; all hands on deck!