I have found myself with the rare opportunity to blog during the middle of the day. Andy is watching the kids so I can spend time at the office (farm office) and get some accounting/customer relations taken care of.
In the meantime, I am sitting in a warm, wood-paneled office with a window view of Dawn’s fall garden and the fog slowly misting by. It’s just above freezing today and a leather office chair, soft lighting and free time is making for a pleasant combination.
After posting about a week ago about our renewed interest in blogging, I have gotten an amazing response from folks I never even knew were reading about our family. It’s been heartening, edifying and a direct confirmation that this is what I need to be doing. If you haven’t noticed, I am already starting to blog with more intention and the more I write, the less I have to catch up on. You know, like when you haven’t talked to a friend in a few months, you are often left with little to say because the small details in life are lost and the major ones don’t take up that much space. So it is with you all, my friends from all over. I haven’t written in so long, I don’t know how to catch up with you all! But if I do this blogging intentionally, and give you daily/weekly updates and thoughts…well, the whole idea of writing isn’t nearly as intimidating as it was.
So today, with my precious afternoon “off,” I will catch you up on what’s happened to us since we parted ways with Foxwood Farm.
When we drove out of that gravel driveway for the last time, it was a moment I’ll never forget. Next to our hand-built patio, we left a small crowd of friends/farm patrons who had helped us pack up the moving truck or just came over to say goodbye. I looked out the rear view mirror, even after Andy told me not to. I saw them all waving, melancholy yet strong, and I found myself welling up in tears. I was driving our mini-van, packed to the gills with breakable items, our friends Kat and Cortnie (who helped us immensely on our farm), and Elly. Andy was driving the moving truck with Ethan and our friend Ben. My parents followed, Dad in his pickup with outdoor items and Bret (Cortnie’s older brother) and Mom drove separate with yet more items in her SUV.
I accelerated passed the the maple trees that mark our front yard. Two Norman Maples and one Sugar Maple, planted when my dad was a kid to give shade to the south side of the house in summer. I found myself thinking of my childhood under those trees.
They were the perfect climbing tree for a kid; low branches and thick sturdy wood. I had many “secret” spots in which to perch and watch the summer days pass by. The shade was so effective that for years only patchy grass could grow underneath. In the fall, countless leaves would rain golden onto the earth, covering the lawn so completely that we would make several ten foot tall leaf piles to jump into.
My mom taught me how to make leave “houses” out of the golden carpet. You take the rake and uncover square areas of lawn, connect them with lawn “hallways” and make rooms with them. Below, 6 month old Elly sits in a leaf hallway dedicated to the Packers.
My brothers showed me how to play “camping” with various GI Joe action figures at the base of the tree. A Norman maple has a thick trunk that often has exposed roots making for amazing miniature worlds of canyons, caves and hills. In recent years, Andy hung our hammock in between the two trees, making for perfect summer snoozes and cute candids of the kids. And sometimes, they were just magnificent trees, pushing back against hard winds, sheltering us from southern storms and standing grandly with their foliage bright and glimmering in the setting sun.
I was snapped out of my dreamy thoughts by Elly asking if we were going to “catch up the truck” in reference to the lumbering moving truck a thousand feet ahead of us. “Yeah, honey, we’re going to follow Daddy and Ethan all the way to the Blue House.”
The Blue House. That is our home here in Coon Valley. It’s been referred to as the Blue House since we first met with Vince at the top of a beautiful ridge back in August. He was cutting hay for second crop and the late afternoon sun gleamed off the hood of his well-kept tractor. Andy and I had just driven 3 hours one way to find a man who might be the key to our future as farmers. It had not been but 36 hours before that we first learned about the opportunity to be market gardeners in La Crosse from a mutual friend. Of course, we didn’t know the friend was mutual until that day. On a whim and several prayers, we headed west…toward our new destiny. We didn’t even know where we were exactly going until about an hour in, when Vince called us back. “By the way, we’re heading to your farm now. How do we get there?”
A deep guffaw from the other end was reassuring and we made arrangements to meet around 5pm. When we arrived, we could not find Vince at either farm and made some calls to his cellphone. After awhile, we got a return call to meet him in the field of The Short Ridge. We had no idea what that meant, but driving up and down the winding single lane road from one farm to the other revealed an opening to the east that happened to have a hay field and a farmer cutting it. This had to be The Short Ridge, and the man named Vince.
It was on that sweet scented hilltop that we all revealed our stories of life and consequence, farming and family, journeys and new beginnings. It was starting to feel like destiny.
“Have you seen The Blue House?” Vince asked amidst a myriad of tours and questions. “It’s right across from the dairy farm.”
And that’s where we first glimpsed what was to be our new home, though at the time we were looking at each other as if this were some colossal joke, hoping against hope that it was true, but feeling that everything was just too good.
On our late night drive home that day, we could barely speak to each other. Everything we had ever wanted or dreamed of at Foxwood Farm was happening here at this farm 100 miles away. We stopped at a rest stop on I-90 and took a bathroom break. We read a historical marker that told about the ancient goelogy of the Driftless Region of the Upper Mississippi. And we just stood in awe of the place we were at.
It wasn’t more than a week later that we hosted a visit from Vince and Kristin (the feminine half of the couple who run St. Brigid’s dairy farm). And it wasn’t but a few days after that, we learned that we had been hired.
So there it was. On the edge of despair and hopelessness, we cried out for help. And help came. It came in a form we could never have put together ourselves. A mere 8 days that changed the course of our lives forever. The position we came to fill was not just gardening anymore. Once Vince learned of our specific talents and interests, he found a niche for us here. Web, email, marketing, blogging, photography, graphic design, sales, cooking, promotions, event planning…all for a farm that does exactly what we always wanted.
Andy says it’s easy to sell a product that you believe in. Well, we believe in this. Organic practices, grass-based dairy, pastured poultry and free-ranging hens. Hogs to clean up the waste and thrive off milk products, beef animals allowed to graze and maintain the beautiful coulees and ridges. Direct customer interaction, community relationships, open minds and open hearts. A full dedication to the land and the people around us. And a patron base that is loyal til the end.
Not even a month after we arrived, we were rushing around putting the finishing touches on our
first event at St. Brigid’s Meadows: The Cider Festival.
Above, Andy prepares to smoke some veggies. This was about 8am. The festival started at 4pm with dinner at 6. Just so you know, we started the night before. We attempted to harvest three of our farm ducks for one of the dishes. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! Unfortunately, all we know about butchering chickens has nothing to do with butchering and de-feathering ducks. I’ll spare you the details on the actual killing of the ducks, but when the birds were brought back to our kitchen it was about 7pm. We began boiling water to pluck them. What we didn’t know was that most people use paraffin wax to dunk the duck in and get most of the down off the body. We also didn’t think about the fact that a duck is built to NOT get wet in water, so dunking them in scalding H2O rolled right off their back. So we were stuck hand pulling and picking fuzz after fuzz off the bodies. Before we knew it, it was pushing 9pm and we STILL had not cleaned a single duck. Andy began skinning one, which proved amazingly difficult as well. By the time we skinned the other two and pulled the meat off, it was 10:30pm and we were exhausted. Our friend Kat had come to visit and was helping us with this task. We all knew the next day would prove just as exhausting, and earlier than before, so we threw in the towels and went to bed.
After cooking all morning at The Blue House, we moved shop to Vince and Dawn’s home, where the festival was taking place. Above you see Andy directing his worker bees in the finishing of the various meal pieces.
In the very clean workshop, Vince and Jason had set up the dual apple presses and tables for the meal. Everything was ready to welcome the guests. I had been in charge of taking RSVPs and so sat at the entrance and welcomed all the patrons to the festival. It was a fun job because I gave everyone name tags and since I was the most visible person representing the farm, many people came back to me throughout the afternoon to ask questions about the farm or our products. Andy held down the food court with much help from Dawn, Kristin and various relatives. As the event went on, Andy set up shop behind the smokers and grill and commanded his own audience of interested onlookers who watched as he prepared meat and veggies.
Here you see Elly and Ethan enjoying some bread on the hay wagon. Ethan got into the rain barrel early on and had to borrow big Sister’s jacket and boots. With a flowery top and pink puffy snow boots, it wasn’t surprising for me to overhear another parent asking his child to nicely share a ball with the little girl. That little girl was, of course, our long eye-lashed Ethan.
Below, a shot of the people in line to grab the great spread of food. In the center, you can see a bunch of 8-10 year olds continuing to grind apples for cider all on their own! In the bottom right corner you can see Andy telling folks about the dishes as he helps serve.
Here a team of UW-La Crosse professors work hard to grind a few buckets full of apples.At the end of the night, we still had several flats of apples left, so farm employees and family relatives took turns making the last of the cider. Below, Vince (in maroon) and Andy (behind, in the checked shirt) had a dual to see who could grind and press a whole load the fastest. You can see Ethan “helping” Daddy by throwing some apples into the hopper. In the end, it was pretty much a tie, but a great way to make another gallon of cider in about 5 minutes.
We cleaned up and divided the leftover food amongst the late helpers and families and headed home to bed. I had a couple of cold and tired babes to get into bed and Kat had a long drive to MN right away, so we left earlier than the rest. All in all, everything got wrapped up by about 10pm, with most of the patrons gone by 7pm.
The event was a great opportunity for us to meet a lot of the people we would be serving. It also taught us a lot about the new community we are becoming a part of.
There are so many like-minded individuals in the Viroqua/La Crosse region. The difference we began to see was that neighbors supported neighbors in more than just lip service. We noticed how everyone seemed to know each other and how they fit into the area. Families live within driving distance of one another. Names go back generations, with streets, roads and even coulees named for folks whose ancestors still live and work in the same place. There is a sense of permanence here that we never got in the Fox Valley. The feel of community is vast and deep.
We took our time exploring the region between work and errands. Andy and Ethan at the top of Granddad Bluff, look over the city of La Crosse. The bluffs on the other side are Minnesota.
The kids and I look out over the Mississippi River on Hwy 35, the Great River Road.
We are due near the end of January, early February. To be honest, I don’t really know if it will be even then. We don’t have a clear conception date and we opted out of an ultrasound. According to the best date we had, I am still measuring small. We have another appointment just before Thanksgiving, so maybe I’ll have “caught up” then. In the meantime, we are taking it one day at a time. I am now roughly into the 7th month and very much showing. Baby is active, kicking and generally doing a tap dance on my ribs every few hours. Just this week, I have begun experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions on a very regular basis. It’s a little uncomfortable at times, but I know they are just necessary practice for the big day … whenever that may be.
It’s ok that we aren’t on a due date deadline. You see, we are going to have a home birth this time around and are working with a well-known area midwife to achieve that goal. More on that in the future, I’m sure!
We’ve also taken the time to get to know our new farm animals here at St. Brigid’s Meadows.
Above, our friendly Jersey cows check out the kids and our double stroller. We love the old girls. They are so gentle and curious. There’s something peaceful about momma cows, and Jerseys are so much smaller than most dairy cattle. They are very approachable. As are the calves! Elly demonstrates below with some blown kisses to one of the heifers.
As the days grew shorter and our lives fell into a routine, we had more time to think about those we left behind. We had basically cut off communication about the happenings on the farm. We just weren’t emotionally ready to hear it. That brought in another set of dynamics which I will talk about in my next post.
For now this blog has taken me into the late evening in several writing sessions and I must now close. But I will bring you up to speed on our emotional and spiritual journey since leaving Foxwood in the next week.
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.