Us, at home, Here. And a search for land.

Us, at home, Here. Apologies for the repeat photos. It is a veritable white-out on the farm right now. The photos would be blurred and snowy outside, and inside, the living room is covered with laundry-to-be-folded.

Perhaps it is the 22 week baby (boy!) growing in my belly or maybe its the prospect of pasture and garden management for 2013 on a land that isn't ours or better yet it could just be runofthemill narcissism and greed, but I want my own land. We want our own land.

We haven't been in Vermont for even a year but, and I think I can speak for us both, we feel profoundly settled here. Nick and I have moved a grand total of eight times since we met each other back in the Mission district of San Francisco five years ago. They have each carried with them the bare-knuckled stress and naive fantasia that a moves seem to have. We loved living in France just as much as we loved the warm early springs of Carolina, which we loved as much as Golden Gate park. Yet we always felt a twinge of impermanence. There it was with each move. After these 5 past years we find ourselves in a state, in a county, in a particular tiny town in Vermont where we feel that we are emphatically home. We both grew up in Massachusetts, I on Martha's Vineyard and Nick in the heart of Boston. It isn't a shock that the home we find is so close to our families.

We fell in love with and felt settled in Vermont within months of being here, perhaps it was just weeks. It isn't hard to fall for the green rolling hills and long dirt roads and old wood houses and fertile soil and good protein rich grass. We were a bit wary of what winter would bring, and despite All Of My Complaining (and a 3 week getaway to the South) we are finding ourselves on the up side of winter headed to spring without feeling too worse for it all. With that said, it is purely miserable outside today. The snow was quite literally blowing sideways when we woke up for the walk down to chores. Curse it all.

Winter is perhaps one of the worst times however to look at land for sale. Everything is covered in the obvious white blanket. You can't take soil samples. All of the empty houses feel very very very cold. The trees are bare and the general starkness can make the entire endeavor feel rather bleak, rather hopeless. We don't have the labor capacity to spend days at a time looking at land in the summer, the farm demands too much for day-dreaming trips around a couple fallow fields.  BUT as I've taken to say, if you can fall in love with a place in winter, you will love it all the more in summer. And fall in love we have. With land after land. It is one of the more emotional of roller coasters I have ridden. And it isn't just because my body is teeming with extra hormones. Nick feels it too. We come home from looking at a place Sky High. Mentally we both move in to a place, to a pasture, to a stand of pines or a sugar bush as soon as we see it. We start to worry over ridiculous details like where would our pet pigs winter? Or, where would I plant my moonflowers? Would the yurt go up on the high pasture behind the house? Nick has a seemingly endless fascination and patience for working the numbers over for each place we love. How many head of beef we need to be raising in year 1? In year 5? With what money will we pay our taxes? Is there a good option for fuel (wood) on the property? How many years could that stoke our fires without depleting the forest?

Two farms this winter really roped us in. The first was a gorgeous lot of 300 + acres with decent pasture, and majestic woods. We walked it over several days, early in my pregnancy, when I was easily tired and out of breath after several minutes of rolling hilled paths. We found the perfect spot where we would build our home, our barn, put up the yurt for any visitors. We loved it so and they asked us to make an offer. We did and we were elated at the possibility. By the end of the week we were told that our offer had (happily for them) urged an older potential buyer to finally make their offer which was accepted over ours.

Several weeks later we fell for our second farm. An endlessly sprawling old wooden house (in need of much repair) and several hundred acres of pasture and forest creating a half bowl of hilled land that hugged around the house and barn. Again we fell. Again we (mentally) moved into the upstairs bedroom and put our favorite tea mugs on the kitchen's one shelf and opened our herd of cows to the lower pasture. And again we made an offer and again we were told that somebody of more importance had swooped in and made a better one. Again we lost a home when we thought we had moved in.

I am cognizant of how dramatic I am making this all seem. It has been so for us. I know in the grand scheme of Life this doesn't deserve its own pity party post.

Where we are renting the land is beautiful and the house is (small) tight and warm. Our landlords and our neighbors love us and we them. I will be so fortunate and happy if I am able to swim in the pond across our field until my last days of pregnancy and then birth our son in our wooden bedroom. We could and would stay here forever, if it weren't for the narcissistic --but perhaps human?-- desire to call something our own.

I felt compelled to write about this, to capture our desire for our own home, because some day we will find it, or rather the land will find us. Some day, be it in 2 months, 2 years, or 10 we will move into a home we can call our own. We will pay land taxes and not rent. We will carefully measure and document the height of our son by months and then by years on the doorjamb by the kitchen. We will slowly rehabilitate the aging sugar bush. We will drag black locust out of the forest to build fence that will last a lifetime. We will move cattle, and sheep, and chickens, and maybe one day goats, gently, and methodically across the land. And in winter we will hunker inside and serve out the hay we collected from the summer and try to keep every animal warm and dry. We will carefully tend for a bit of earth that will produce food and life for our children and their children and their children's children.

That is what we want. That is our vision for our farm and for our son.


Farm, woman! --- WWOOF

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Farm School in Central Massachusetts as an option for those who have the money and want to put it to a semi-traditional education in farming. I wanted to continue in this vain for several more posts about different options to get your feet, or your whole bod, wet in farming. I'm calling it Farm, woman! because I like directives, but you can ignore the title if you are a man or don't like being told what to do. I presume that many of you have an interest in farming or in growing a little vegetable garden, or simply love cute baby animals based on your coming here to read about it. So pardon the presumption if this isn't universally true. For those of you whom it is, I wanted to present to you these options because it is so much easier to get sucked into farming than many think. 

The farming intro I am presenting you today with is Wwoof-ing. WWOOF (or the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an organization that puts willing (but not necessarily experienced) farm hands in contact with farms that need and want extra labor. You use wwoof as a verb and a noun. You are a wwoofer. You wwoofed in Brazil last winter. You are wwoofing in the south of France this summer. You can wwoof nearly anywhere in the world, including right here in the United States. Generally how it works is that you pay for your transportation and then the host farm will give you room and board in exchange for x number of hours a day (usually around 4 or 5hrs). I have never wwoofed myself though we have often entertained the idea of setting up a wwoof program on our own farm. Nick wwoofed on a banana farm in Australia when he was a senior in high school. My sister Fiona wwoofed in Argentina. 

Because I don't have the first hand experience, I wrote my sister to ask if she would share a little bit about her own. She obliged as younger sister's ought. What she wrote back is as follows:

Wwoofing is a great opportunity to travel with intent. The first time I went to South America I traveled backpack style with two friends and we jam packed a route that took us from Buenos Aires through Chile and up to Lima, Peru in six weeks. When planning the trip the map was an open invitation to go any where in the world…well anywhere in between our points of arrival and departure. The trip was amazing, unforgettable, one of the first of its kind for me. But I remember multiple days where we would watch a movie in our hostel or make dinner and go to bed, or go to the same café for three days in a row before we switched cities because we were so tired or drained from 24 hour bus rides and operating outside of our comfort zone 24/7. At the end of the trip I realized I wanted my next travel to be a little different. I wanted to dig deeper into the place I was visiting. I wanted to connect with land and people and maybe feel a bit useful too.

I found that opportunity through wwoofing. There are a few things in this world that really make the basics count. Farming is one of them, you get dirty, you work till you are starving, and sweat in the sun, and by the end of the day you are truly exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that makes you melt onto horizontal surfaces. You look at bathing, eating and sleeping through a very simple lens. You need them. And that is refreshing.
To wwoof in a foreign country, or in our own, you need to get a wwoof membership for that country or region. Three years ago I paid 45 dollars for a year membership to Wwoof Argentina. The membership will give you a list of Wwoof affiliated farms, their contact information, and a basic write up of what a wwoofer should expect from that farm.  Some farms ask for a more lengthy commitment (a month or more is typical.) Others are okay with folks coming by for a week.
To get the most accurate idea of what to expect, be explicit in your emails and questions to the hosts. How many hours a day of work is there? What type of work can you expect to do? (I ended up working more on cob houses than I ever did on gardening or animal husbandry) Do you have to pay for food?  There is also a spectrum of community experience. Some farms will ask for just one wwoofer at a time. Others want 10.  Think about what you want out of the experience.  Do you want to gain hard farm skills; live communally; travel with intent and connection? Figuring out what type of experience you want most will help you narrow down your options.
Of course, there is a deal of variation between what you have planned for and what it will actually be like when you arrive. I have heard of many instances when the host farm is much different than what was expected. This was true for the farm I worked on as well. From my experience the most successful wwoofing is done when you go into it with an open mind and welcome the unexpected! You are walking into someone else’s life. It is dynamic and filled with details and components unknown to you! And you are filled with dynamic bits and pieces and working cogs that are as of yet unknown to your hosts. Getting to know your hosts and their community and becoming a person to them is, I think, one of the most rewarding aspects of traveling as a wwoofer.

As we are rounding out the winter and heading feet first into spring, I wanted to present to you this option of how you can immerse yourself in farming this year, whether it's for just 2 weeks or 2 months. If any of you have had experience with wwoof-ing please share with us about the good, the bad, and the advice. 

*top photo credit to Nick


15 seconds of cat hair & makeup, and an ultrasound

This series of photos has nothing to do with the following. Just me amusing myself and the cats on a particularly chilled day on the farm.

This morning we are going to the hospital for the first and hopefully only and last time during this pregnancy for an ultrasound. We are planning for a homebirth and neither our midwife, nor my pregnancy, nor the state of Vermont require that I have an ultrasound. It isn't part of the standard of care and I admire that. A faith that if the mama is healthy so is the baby.

I suppose it's a vestige from all my hours spent watching good American television characters with their dramatic pregnancies and births but I cannot imagine missing this first glimpse of our child. I feel a bit sheepish about it, as the ultrasound and the experience of going to the hospital when everything is so far healthy and good contradicts what we believe in...don't fix what isn't broken. I know she tries to withhold judgement, but I think my midwife wonders why we need to go.

And, I too wonder why I need to go. It can't have just been the hours of influencing television.

It is more my inability to grasp the reality of my pregnancy.

I have a unique ability to not think about the consequences of my actions. I call it unique, Nick might call it frustratingly and willingly blind. I didn't think long or hard about quitting my job at Facebook and moving to France. I just did it. Nick thought and agonized for days and weeks about quitting the NRDC when I approached him with the idea. Likewise, I didn't think much about the modest and hard life that would ensue when I took a job farming in North Carolina. Nor when we moved to Vermont without jobs to farm on our own. I go on my gut and I pride myself in that. Nick runs furiously around picking up the visas and passports, and plane tickets, and animal feed, a trailer and a good truck. We're lucky and happy with the balance we give to the other, I with my impetuousness and Nick with his planning.

I digress...

It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise, though maybe to their polite disapproval that I didn't think long and hard about getting pregnant. I love our life and I would love to share a child with Nick. Our lives as self-employed farmers afford us the time to both be there to raise the child. We always have plenty of food. That is the extent of my planning for it. And I naively assume everything that follows will be smooth and easy.

One side-effect of my inability to grasp future realities is that I seem to constantly forget I'm pregnant. It truly worries me and I'm not attempting to be coy with this post. I certainly remember I'm pregnant when I wake up in the morning craving a cup of black tea but only pour myself a cuppa mint with honey. I know I'm pregnant when I saddle up into the shower and wash the basketball belly I have developed. When I go outside in the blistering wind 4 times in one hour to pee in the snow, its obvious my bladder is being pushed thin by my uterus.  But I don't think about the baby as often as I wish. The thought of this future child doesn't consume me. I hesitate to write that as it makes me sound like a monster.

Nick and a friend of ours were talking about my pregnancy earlier this winter and it dawned on me that they saw me and this pregnancy as two individuals; baby and mama. But I see it as me, and this process that is happening to me. A wholly singular being.

I wonder if it is any easier for other women to grasp the insane reality of a human growing inside their uterus. It utterly rocks my mind. To the same extent that the universe is ever expanding or that planes can fly through the sky. I cannot understand the magnitude of it, so I try not to think about it. And so I find myself thinking more about the sheep shearing schedule for this year than I do the babe that will be tied to my chest while I move fences and harvest tomatoes.

Don't read me wrong. I am so excited at the thought of being a mother and making Nick a father.  I just need some form of proof...of tangible comprehension. There are bits and jolts that send me sky high into the reality of impending motherhood. Lying on the sofa of my midwife's office listening to the baby's heart beat.  Or the couple of times we've both had our hands right below my belly button and felt the baby kick. I've taken to sleeping with one hand resting on my lower belly. Just in case the baby starts dancing.

So this morning we are going for an ultrasound. I need a visual of this baby. I need visual, tangible proof that the universe is ever-expanding and that I, Kate MacLean, have a human growing in my belly.


pictured, not pictured


1. Nick hasn't stopped playing and learning and teaching himself on the guitar since I was given one for Christmas.
2. Belly at 19 weeks, that is always smaller in the mornings.
3. It took us a few fruitless nights and eggless mornings but we've found the new hidden nests and are back to having a good dozen on the table.
4. Three layers of cake I made for my Valentine yesterday. We ate about 1/32 of it. Which is fortunate for it will feed us for a dinner with a neighbor tonight, dinner here with friends tomorrow, and a dinner at another neighbors' on Sunday.
5. We've been working on our tracking skills. Thus far we're not very good. But we can tell if its a BIG animal or a small one. Impressive.
6. Pink sky for evening chores.
7 and 8 night-time animals with the flash and faux black & white to ease the harshness of the flash. Must keep the animals looking their finest, especially in print.

Not pictured:

1. My jealousy of Nick's guitar skills. It is quite ugly, so I'm rather glad nobody has snapped a photo of me, glowering from the corner of the living room while Nick picks along yet another song he's taught himself. I have made no progress. It has something to do with no practice.
2. Nick spoke to the baby yesterday. Something I haven't yet done. I can no longer seem to bend in half and I feel silly shouting into mid air at the baby. I need a handsfree head-set to talk to the baby. Or better a Whisper-ma-Phone.
3. The mildness of 41ºF this morning. Not to last. But it gives us the day to de-poopify the barn. To bring four months worth of trash --mostly bailing twine-- to the dump (we have to pay for our trash and we bring it 40 minutes away!). If I let myself think about it, it makes me a little wary that I get this excited about a "warm" day all for barn poop/mud cleanup. So, I don't let myself think about it.
4. The warp I have nearly completed and am nearly reading to start weaving upon.
5. The dilemma of a need for another hay pick-up and my growing inability to carry heavy things.
6. Talking to my sister by phone about the beauty of the coming summer.
7. The seed catalogs that lay obvious and untouched on the coffee table.
8. The maple sugaring book I am studying in hopes of tapping my first few trees this year.
9. My wondering how I will  navigate being a very pregnant farmer in the height of the summer.



We are home. After three weeks on the road we are home and so happy to be here. We had a wonderful trip visiting old friends and animals and homes. It was invigorating and exhausting.  And it was all I needed.  A little distancemakestheheart exercise in loving and appreciating home. 

Home is as white with snow and as cold as bones. Chores this morning were as disorganized as a circus and as filled with poop as a farm and as familiar as the good friends we just visited. We ate our own eggs last night and slept in our loyal bed. 

Today is for reintroducing our vacationed-selves to the responsibilities of the farm. 

Thanks to all of you very kind folks for your even kinder words about the baby we are expecting this coming July. It means the world to read such sweet and encouraging notes. 

This is a photo of Molly's house-pig, Lil' Honey, who we quite nearly took home with us. She had a killer mohawk and if we had driven a larger vehicle she would be prancing around our house as I write. Though, truthfully, with the amount of snow we have she is counting her lucky stars we left her in North Carolina. 


good tidings

I thought it was about time to tell you of the growing belly I can no longer seem to keep under control. I am 18 weeks pregnant. According to the books the baby has graduated from several stages of fruit. Bigger now than a strawberry, a lemon, a kiwi, and a pear the baby has reached bell pepper proportions! We can hardly wrap our heads around it all. But needless to say we are bewilderedly thrilled. We heard the heart beat before we left on this road trip and when we get back we get to see our baby on ultrasound.

Most of our experience with pregnancy and birth stems from the farm. As I grow and as we talk about the birth we draw from what we've seen.  Meaning, I am often likened to a sow, a first-calf heifer, a ewe and most flatteringly a mama hen. While it never does the pregnant lady well to be likened to a pregnant pig, it is truly incredible for us to witness the phenomena of new life created here in my belly in our own home. As we joke, I am the most valuable animal on the farm right now.

The baby is due to come right smack in the middle of July. Which will make me very pregnant and then a new mother for most of the growing season. It's intimidating for the farm as a whole to deal with a 'man down'. This would leave Nick alone, on many days, to move cows, sheep and pigs, to milk, make yogurt, butter and cheese, to plant, cultivate, harvest and process the garden. My sister is planning to come stay with us for a good portion of this summer to be his second hand. The coming season won't be without its challenges but we really and truly cannot wait for it. 


Cane Creek Farm

Last night Nick and I slept in the old school bus we lived in our first summer farming. After coffee and cereal this morning we trudged out with the new farm hands to check the animals after a cold (to Carolina standards) night. We looked at a couple of mama pigs that are about to farrow. I collected duck eggs. Nick hopped on the tractor to fill a big feeder. We moved one of the boars, Twizzler,  to a new pen and watched for several minutes as he and his pen's presiding boar duked it out. We chased piglets for an hour so that Nick could castrated the five little boys.

We've just finished lunch and are headed to the feed store to pick up feed and bedding supplies for the rest of the week.

It knocks me over to be here. To be in a place I so closely consider as home. It felt as though we had barely missed a moment this morning. As though we'd just been away for a long weekend. Of course we have changed. This farm has changed. The animals have, for the most part, changed.

I can't wait to be back in Vermont to see the animals and the farm and the land that I now know as home, but I am lapping up every hour I have re-visiting our old home here.
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