Looking at Lambs

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Lambs in spring.

Of course, that is when they are supposed to arrive. Not in dead of winter.  To postpone the lambing season – which would naturally begin five months after the first cold nights—until the milder weather arrives, requires making sure all the ram lambs are neutered, and either separating the ram from the flock or not keeping a ram at all. Last year we had no lambs, and we had no ram, and in the fall we borrowed a ram (who was not easy to find) for two months, returning him after he had performed his “service.” He was a gentle giant with a roman nose and a bell hanging from his neck, which meant we always knew when he was near. His name was Obama. I was not sure how I felt about that name—though soon enough the name belonged to him. Obama did have a fringe of grey frost to his dark wool, and he had that certain presidential coolness about him. After the tragic events of November 8, I felt a pain something akin to grief whenever we spoke his name.

When he first arrived, the girls (as we call them) were afraid of him and took off running. Obama ran after them, his bell ringing, but since he had a sore ankle he had difficulty keeping up. This went on for a few days. In time, it was the ewes who were seducing him, rubbing up against him and batting their eyelashes, and he became well integrated into the family. He turned out to be the nicest ram we ever had here; he never bullied the ewes and never so much as suggested any aggression toward us. When we had to get him into the truck to take him home, I stood back and watched – having been spooked by the aggression I have seen from other rams – as two girls from next door helped Art to lift up his front legs, then the rear, to get him in the Uhaul. They were dressed in clogs and colorful scarves. Obama only shrugged as he took one last look at us, before Art closed the door and he was gone. Ci vediamo.

The lambs came five months later, in two sets of twos, at two-week intervals, starting in mid-March. The first lambs were born– both ewes, one black and one white– to Eweriah, a granddaughter of Ewelysses. They were both strong and healthy. The following day we had the biggest snowfall of the season: twenty-nine inches in Burlington­ – a record. The next day more pairs of twins were born. And then more. All the ewes, in the end, had twins, except for Eweripedes who produced one big black ram lamb with a white X mark across his face. Lambs in snow still sounds like winter, but the temperatures were in the twenties at the lowest, t-shirt weather for the sheep, who had no trouble with it at all. No frozen ears snapping off like tortilla chips, no cold blue tongues. We never had to bring any lambs inside to warm them by the fire. And no bottle lambs.

We dug out a trail to the barn through the knee-deep snow. I looked back at the barn from the house through a lacey curtain of snowfall to see the newborns, white and black, nudging at their mother’s underbellies, their heads disappearing and the little rumps sticking out, the tail shaking to say to the world that that all is well beneath its milky firmament. The white blanket of snow covered the bare paddock, the sheep tucked in as if in a freshly made bed. They will not try to make their way through the deep snow, and so they are confined to the barn, but this is a good time for them to stay home, absorbed as they are in their tender domesticity.

And when the sheep are out on pasture, we get to watch the lambs racing across the brilliant green velvet of new grass. They have long tracts of grass for their races, and we watch them tearing across the pastures in a zebra-striped blur. They will play their king-of-the-mountain game on the backs of ewes, who remain placid, chewing their cud, as the lambs jump on their backs and run across the ridgeline of their spines, then jump off and jump again. Art made them a jungle gym out of some pallets, an artificial mountain for their games, which we can watch from our kitchen window. How they kick their feet together in mid air when they jump, twisting their bodies like a high diver in her descent. They will run circles around their mountain, then take off in a race across the length of the paddock and back, more lambs joining into the throng until they are a full herd galloping across the prairies.

 

In his classic essay, “Why Look at Animals?” John Berger reflects on the disappearance of animals from our lives, who have been with us as partners in survival throughout our history. In Vermont, there are almost no cows or goats or sheep grazing on open pastures anymore, though that iconic image still persists in our minds as if it were still true. There are two large dairies in our town, though no cows anywhere in sight. On one farm, the cows sleep on waterbeds and are milked by robots. On the other, it is possible to catch a glimpse of their big-boned bodies through the barn door, and to see the calf hutches lined up behind it, though not the poor animals that must live their short lives in them. The animals are still here but we do not see them, and they can not return our gaze to look at us.

We are not the only ones looking at our animals, which can be seen from the road by passersby who often stop to admire the lambs. Berger says that the presence of animals gives us a sense of endurance.  The ewe that has died “had already lambed her permanence.” So it was that the animals who had been with us were still with us and will always be with us: with every season there will be new lambs, who will fill the air with their cries and will delight us with their pink-eared faces and their leaping. That is why we are grateful to see lambs out grazing, or resting together with the ewes beneath the shade trees, chewing their cud, in their blessed contentment. That is why we are so glad to see the VYCC’s cows on the hillside pasture behind us. This year they are Jerseys, those caramel colored cows with the long curly eyelashes and the dreamy eyes of young girls in love. The animals have not disappeared altogether, their presence says to us, the soils have not all been carried away by the winds and the rains in their absence. There are still animals to anchor us on this earth, its axis fastened in its reliable turning, four-leggeds speaking in their strange tongues of this day and forever.

 

 

­­­­­­­­­­­________________________

 

Why Look at Animals? John Berger. Penguin, 2009.

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Going Gently

Ewelysses (right) with her lamb Eweclid.

We buried our favorite ewe yesterday.

Ten years old, Ewelysses died the way the old ewes always do: she just lay down one day and never got up again. It was in the middle of lambing season, and during her last days, the new lambs were coming into the world, playing and crying and sometimes jumping onto her back. Such is the nature of farming: so much life, so much death.

Ewelysses was a favorite because she had personality. She had these crescent moons under her eyes and she had a sense of humor. She was also my first bottle lamb, born on the eve of the Valentine’s Day blizzard of 2007. I had to hold her in my arms to feed her during that first night, because she would not stand up to drink, but by the morning she was upright and bleating away, and by the second night she was already bounding out of her box.

On the day of the blizzard, another pair of twins arrived. We had to dig a trench through the snow to get to the barn, which quickly filled up with snow again. We asked our tenant to come out to help us with the stubborn ewe, and waited almost an hour for him to make it from the house to the barn through the chest-deep snow. Our woodpile, the car, the fence posts, were all completely buried, and later, when the snow hardened, the sheep could walk right over the top of the paddock fence, trailing their lambs behind them.

One of the new twins could not stand up; the ewe stood over him, pawing at the ground, as if to say, get up, get up. What else was she going to do? We decided to bring him inside to warm him up and soon he was up on his feet and ready to go. We brought him back out to the barn to his mother and hoped for the best.

That night I opened the back door and heard a lamb screaming as if to split the world in two. It was the loudest, most heart-rending cry I had ever heard. I went out and found the little black lamb curled up in the snow in front of the creep, screaming and facing the house, as if to say, “Come and get me!”

So we had two bottle lambs that winter and spring, Ewelysses and Rudy Valentino.

I remember it all so well because this was the winter I was traveling back and forth to Washington DC to help care for my brother in hospice. These were the two lambs who appear in my poem “Coming Home”:

 

Coming Home

When I got home from the airport

….

The first thing I’d do

would be to go out to the barn

to feed the two lambs, where I’d let

my body sink down to the ground,

my back against the wall,

as the lambs ––one black, one white –

climbed all over me, until they found

their bottles, which they’d suck

with a great ferocity, until

they were satiated, and calm,

the one resting across my lap,

sleeping, murmuring.

There I would sit for a while

in the dark, listening to the slow

heavy breath of the ewes,

the ground soaked, through the years,

with the blood of afterbirth, and where,

when the old ewes die, they just

lie down in the straw and never

get up again, wanting to remain

with the animals, as the old poet said.

We gave Ewelysses a forest burial. Art carried her through the rain in a garden cart across the muddy field to the edge of the woods, where he lay her down on the forest floor. The coyotes know the spot – it is our unwritten covenant with them. In a few days, there will be not a trace of her left. She will become a part of the forest, in the song of the coyote on the hill, in the black streak of a raven’s wing in its flight. Other than the snow and the hail and the rain, and her birth – a creature coming into existence from the watery, dark warmth of the womb, like a nimbus star– this will be the most wildness that she will ever know.

And now that I come to mark the tenth anniversary of by brother’s death, I measure it in the length of a ewe’s life, and it feels too long, too much, to have passed so quickly. This small grief is cast like a shadow from a much larger one. An animal’s death occurs inside a circle of living and dying; I do not rage against it. But for a brother’s death before his time, there is no circle, no poetry, only these small consolations – a lamb falling asleep in a lap – that tether us to this world us as we stumble through our grief.

 

 

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Niles Lathem , June 21, 1955 – April 12, 2007.

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The Monitor Elm

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We have some great old trees on our property, but the tall one-hundred-year-old elm tree is the grandest of them all.

It rises straight up from the roadside like a geyser, and then opens up like a fountain in the sky.

I have many fond memories of gathering with friends around a picnic table in the shade of its great canopy. Our sheep like to take their siesta in its ample shade, and in summer its crown is filled with songbirds. We have even seen the pendant nest of the Baltimore oriole suspended from its uppermost branches.

It is odd that friends who have been to our place many times are surprised to learn that there is an elm tree here. That may be because its telltale tall straight trunk is disguised by the maple that grows with it like a conjoined twin.

A few years ago a botanist from the University of Vermont stopped by to study the tree; he told us it might be the healthiest American elm tree in the state. More recently, someone with the Nature Conservancy knocked on our door – he was passing by when he happened to notice our elm. The Nature Conservancy is searching the region for the largest and healthiest surviving elm trees for its floodplain forest restoration project, with the goal of planting seven thousand disease-resistant saplings over three years in Connecticut River Watershed. *

Only last year another large old elm tree in Richmond succumbed to the disease that has taken 77 million elms since the 1970s. The tree was removed by Vermont Tree Goods, which makes unique handcrafted furniture out of very old trees. The Tilden Street elm was made into a conference table that now dignifies our town offices, and can be admired and used by the people of Richmond for generations to come.

Before I learned about the Tilden Elm, I had been rather complacent about our own, believing that if it has survived this long then it is not in danger.

Then I learned about the death of another elm, this one the largest elm tree in Vermont – called the Vermont Elm – last November in Charlotte. Vermont Tree Goods took down the tree, milled and kiln dried the wood and turned it into furniture. The bottom 20-foot long section alone weighed 25,000 pounds.

The elm tree once dominated the floodplain forests in New England and was planted along city streets to form living arches, in city parks and town centers. They are fast-growing, robust trees that can tolerate urban environments and all kinds of storms. And they are beautiful.

We did love the elm tree to death, however. Planting rows of elms along city streets was, in effect, to create monocultures that made them susceptible to epidemic disease. When dutch elm disease arrived, it swept through these plantations, spreading from treetop to treetop, and then, infected elms in their natural habitats as well. Trees that remained isolated from affected trees, and those with genetic resistance, survived. Our elm is one of those.

American elms are still abundant in floodplain forests but they do not survive to maturity. No other tree has come to take the ecological place of the largest, longest- living tree in the floodplain forest. Elms with their deep strong roots kept soils from washing away and maintained water quality of rivers and streams, while providing habitat for osprey, eagle, barred own, songbirds, bats, and flying squirrels.

Trees have a trenchant psychological power over us that may be difficult to explain. But it makes sense, given the importance of trees to our survival, and given our origins as tree dwelling primates. In his beautiful essay, “The Brown Wasps,” Loren Eiseley writes that he passed his life the shade of a non-existent tree – a tree that took root and flourished in his memory as it failed to do in the patch of soil where he planted it, with his father, as a young boy. The house and the street where he lived had both rotted away, but not the memory of the tree, which, he learned many years later, had perished in its first season, just after his family moved away. “It was part of my orientation in the universe,” he wrote, “and I could not survive without it.”

I know what it is like to lose a big old tree. Before I moved to Richmond, I lived beside the New Haven River in an old house surrounded by large trees that were badly damaged in a late summer thunderstorm. One tall black locust tree lay sprawling across the road, others lost their tops. A neighbor broke a leg when a tree fell on him during that storm, which whipped around and twisted like a cyclone. For a long time I mourned the loss of those trees, and I felt that sense of disorientation– the kind that comes with grief, when we stumble about on our sea legs, stunned and unanchored in a world we dimly recognize.

It was a bit like that for us when the twin towers fell – we lost our physical orientation in the city, and in some ways, our orientation in the world as well.

Our farm is exposed to the most violent winds that are funnelled through the river valley, picking up strength as they barrel across open farmland. In the aftermath we find tree limbs and branches wrenched from their bodies, or whole trees felled and uprooted. In her poem, “Tornado at Talladega,” Gwendolyn Brooks describes the wreckage after a storm:

 

Certain trees

Stick across the road.

They are unimportant now.

They cannot sass anymore.

Not a one of these, the bewildered,

Can announce anymore “How fine I am!”

Here, roots, ire, origins exposed,

Across this twig-strewn, leaf-strewn road they lie,

Mute, ashamed, and through.

 

Though there is some danger, or sentimentality, in personifying trees, it is hard not to, as a tree’s life cycle so uncanningly parallels our own. Gachelon Bachelard writes, “the suffering tree is the epitome of pain.” But storm-ravaged trees recover, limbs grow back, a hole in a forest canopy lets in light for the growth of young saplings, and the rotted wood from downed trees is host to whole galaxies of life. This may be where the mimesis between the human and arboreal life cycle begins and ends.

Another favorite poem, “B.C.” by William Stafford, imagines the millennial history to which a single sequoia has borne witness. (“Great sunflowers were lording the air that day; this was before Jesus, before Rome…”) I like to think about the history our elm has observed from its transcendent position in the sky—the disappearance, and recovery, of the forests; the meadows dotted with sheep, then cows, and now, a pox of subdivisions and their cul de sacs. This old farm. The raising of the seven-story-tall monitor barn, its slow decay, and its resurgence, lazarus-like, from its ruins.

Our elm tree does not have a name, but perhaps it deserves one. I would suggest: the Monitor Elm.

Our box alders have been split and wrenched and mutilated so many times they are by now shapeless malformed trees, with all their amputations and perversions. The birches do what they are supposed to do – they bend over backwards and never get up again. But the elm – the elm lords over all of this mortality and remains unscathed, with its canopy high in the stratosphere.

As the climate becomes more and more deranged, there will be more storms and more lost limbs. The elm – if it remains untouched by dutch elm disease – with its immense trunk and tenacious roots, may be poised to weather the storms to come. We will need these giants in our floodplains to hold back the waters of the deluge, and the forests to hold the world together through its pain.

 

 

[In memory of Larry Hamilton (1925-2016), whom I first knew as “the tree guy” in Charlotte, lifelong conservationist and peace activist.]

Notes:

* The cultivation of hybrids should not be confused with genetic engineering. To learn about the dangers of genetically engineered trees go to the Global Justice Ecology Project website (globaljusticeecology.org).

Nature Conservancy Connecticut River American Elm Restoration Project (nature.org/ctriver)

 

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Dried Flowers for Thanksgiving

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New colors and worsted weight yarns

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More Lambs in Winter

The barn where the sheep live in winter.

The barn where the sheep live in winter.

Ewela in her box.

Ewela in her box.

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Our new kittens had a new playmate.

Last year we vowed we would not do this again. No more lambs in dead of winter. Lambing season is traditionally in spring, mostly because it is easier on the farmers. Rams are kept apart from ewes to delay rutting; some farmers don’t keep a ram at all but borrow one once a year for “service,” to use the ewephemism of the trade.* Last winter we gave away our ram and neutered all the ram lambs. Or so we thought.

The first lambs arrived on February 5: twin white ewe lambs. When I discovered them, one ewe, Ewelysses, was cleaning them and acting like they were her own, but it was another ewe who had the telltale afterbirth hanging down between her hindlegs. Ewelysses showed no sign whatsoever of having just delivered. Meanwhile, the other ewe, Eweripedes, stood back and stared at them in wide-eyed disbelief. I recalled that Ewelysses had done this before – an over- eager mother appropriating another ewe’s lamb – but that time she quickly went into labor and thus had a lamb of her own to care for. Ewelysses could clean up those lambs, and call- and- respond in loving devotion, but she had no milk to feed them. Somehow I would have to separate her from those lambs so that their true mom could nurse them, and soon. **

Maybe it was because of their confused start that Eweripedes was undecided about one of her twins. She did not exactly reject her – I have seen ewes fling their lambs against the wall, or trample them underhoof – but neither did she let her nurse. She would simply step aside whenever the lamb tried to drink with a little shuffle. We watched this dance for about three days and finally decided that this little lamb would be a bottle lamb. We named her Ewela.

More lambs arrived over the next few days – all twins – with temperatures plunging below zero at night and rarely climbing above single digits in the daytime. We found one lamb – a twin – half frozen on the ground, with a hoar frost over its black coat, its mouth blue and its body stiff as a dinner plate. We warmed her by the fire and fed her formula, and two hours later she was up on her feet and sucking on a bottle with a hearty appetite. We brought her back to her mother, who to our surprise welcomed her lamb back into the fold. That was one myth we believed to be unsinkable: no ewe will ever accept her lamb after it’s been fed formula. We bottle fed two more lambs in those first few hours and successfully returned them both to their mothers – and by doing so, we saved their lives.

Meanwhile, we brought Ewela inside the house at night, because it was so cold and for our own convenience. She slept in a box by the stove for almost two weeks – a record – sleeping quietly through the night and keeping to herself inside her box. When at last she became too rambunctious – jumping out of her box and calumphing around the house in the middle of the night– we knew it was time to return her full time to her family.

As soon as we turned Ewela out, we had other newborns in need of a warm box by the stove – for three weeks, we had a lamb sleeping inside the house, and when we no longer did, I would miss the sounds of knees knocking on the sides of the box, the rustling in the straw when they stirred, and the lamb’s cry, which begins like a floorboard creaking before becoming a full blown wail, loud enough to be heard clear across an open pasture.

The last ones arrived on a Sunday evening. Art came inside after feeding Ewela, and said, to my surprise, “There’s another lamb.” All the others had arrived in the morning.

“What color?”

“White, and she’s doing well. She’s on her feet and the ewe is being good.”

We decided to wait an hour before going out to check on them.

Later, I walked back to the barn in the moonlight, the snow creaking under my boots, and as I approached the barn I could hear the cry of a newborn. I shined a light toward the barn and could see a black lamb writhing on the ground. Another lamb. The ewe stood over it, licking it and grunting. The white one was standing beside them. I watched as the ewe moved back and forth between them, licking and nudging the new one, then turning away to attend to the other who needed to nurse.

It is a difficult life in the beginning. Especially when it is cold. A lamb has only so much time to get up on its feet and to figure it all out. Without milk, it cannot maintain its body heat and will soon go into decline. When it is very cold, that window is perilously short. A newborn will struggle to lift her head, and to manage those long gangly legs with their bulbous knees. She will attempt to swing herself over onto her knees, then to unfold her legs, hindlegs first. She will swivel and sway, toppling over a few times before she will get it right. Still sticky and wet, with the so-recent memory of her steamy hot bath inside the womb, she stands beside the ewe a bit dumbly, as some dim consciousness begins to stir deep inside of her that will tell her to turn toward her mother’s teat, hanging from its wooly firmament, as if to true north. The ewe will stand patiently as the lamb nudges in all the wrong places, turning her head around to smell her lamb’s little tail – and when the lamb at last discovers the secret of life, when she has mastered the gestures of nudging and pulling and sucking, and she drinks – then that little tail will tremble with happiness. And if there is a shepherd standing over them, she will know that all is well and as it should be.

The long cold spell did not end until all the ewes had delivered their lambs. Now we can see them all lounging around in the sunlight in front on the barn. They will play together, racing and jumping and climbing onto the backs of the monster ewes. The world is still an enormous snow bowl, that will so marvelously become – what the lambs have yet to discover – a miracle of grass and shade trees in the summer sun.

 

The world is still a snow bowl. View of Ewetopia Farm and the West Monitor Barn.

The world is still a snow bowl. View of Ewetopia Farm and the West Monitor Barn.

*Sorry, but I couldn’t resist that.

** I am grateful to our friend John Dodson who came to our aid at that moment (when Art was not around).

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The Farm at VYCC

Zuti (left) and Rosie

Zuti (left) and Rosie

 The Farm at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps

Fartun (left) and Sumeya

Fartun (left) and Sumeya

Sumista and Kamala

Susmita and Kamala

Bishnu and Musa

Bishnu and Musa

I waited with Nicole beside the greenhouse for the afternoon crew to arrive from Winooski. We had already selected the flats of red onion seedlings, dunked them in fish emulsion, and laid them out for the kids who would plant them in the fields. Nicole was a bit fidgety. Looking over towards the back of the Monitor Barn for the crew’s arrival, she said, “I hate waiting.”

In spring, every weekday afternoon for six weeks, a group of English Language Learners from the Winooski High School comes to work for a few hours at the VYCC farm. They are new immigrants from Africa, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, and the Middle East. From our house, which abuts the farm, I can see them walking along the edge of the gardens with their green VYCC shirts over their clothes. The girls are often dressed in colorful, flowing headscarves; some are dressed in long skirts. Their presence on the landscape has become as sure a sign of spring as the arrival of robins and red winged blackbirds after a long Vermont winter.

“Ah!” she says finally (after we have waited for a long three minutes). “They’re here!” We watch the group appear over a rise with the magnificent barn behind them. The students form a circle around Nicole who gives them their instructions for the afternoon. “Today is a perfect day,” she says. “The volunteers who were here today did an amazing job planting onions. I know you can work even faster than they did.”

One of the reasons I like to participate in the farm work at VYCC when I can is because I get to hang around some pretty amazing people. Nicole Mitchell – who studied anthropology and Chinese in college – is beginning her second summer in her food security VISTA position as a farm apprentice. Lucky for Nicole, who hates waiting, she doesn’t often have time on her hands with nothing to do, because the farm apprentices are up at daybreak and generally work until nightfall, six or seven days a week; they not only have to dig, weed, and plant, but also have to manage teams of fifteen-year-olds, lead them in reading and discussion sessions over lunch, teach cooking classes, and coordinate sometimes large groups of volunteers, who often can’t distinguish a potato plant from a parsnip.

We follow Nicole, letting the onion flats hang down by our sides as we walk toward the rows prepared for the onion seedlings. Jeremy Schleining, who was the 2013 summer farm crew leader, and Nicole demonstrate their method of poking holes in the plastic weed barrier using a spacer. The plants are then gently pulled from the flats, dropped four to a row onto the plastic, and then planted. Crouched down over the ground, we loosen the clumps of clay soil and press the young onions into the earth.

Jeremy and Khada, who are working beside me as we plant, are deep in conversation – something about religion and Robert Frost. A high school junior, Khada is one of Vermont’s many new immigrants of Nepali descent who were forced to leave Bhutan, and then were not welcomed when they tried to rebuild their lives in Nepal. I remember how Khada, who worked on the farm crew last summer, was shy and insecure about his English. Now he talks excitedly, leaping from one topic to the next as we move down the row.

 

When I moved here in 2007, we were surrounded by nothing by industrial corn. Little by little the VYCC developed its farm program, reclaiming the land from the abuses of industrial agriculture. At first, they did not know they would become deeply involved in tackling food insecurity in a state known for its vibrant agriculture, or in the movement for sustainable farming. Last summer, only a few years since they planted their first gardens, the farm at VYCC cultivated eight acres of vegetables and distributed 53,000 pounds of fresh produce to food insecure Vermonters. The program continues to grow by creating new partnerships and opportunities to connect youth with the land, while finding creative ways to build a more inclusive local food movement. New in 2014 will be programs for gap year students (who are between high school and college), who will live in yurts and work alongside the farm apprentices, ELL students, and at-risk youth crews.

When we have planted nearly three quarters of the row, about the length of a long city block, Nicole thanks the group for their hard work and tells them they can take a break before their bus arrives to take them home. “You don’t have to stay,” she said, “but I’d really appreciate it if some of you volunteered to help me to finish this row.” Most of them – and all the boys – vanish before I can even turn around, but three of the girls have volunteered to stay–Fartun, who is from Kenya, and Rosie and Zuti, from Thailand.

It has been a long time since I have tried to maintain that crouched position for so long, and my body is screaming, but I also stay. It is my chance to visit with some of the girls whom I met one day last summer. Rosie, wearing a bright blue headscarf, jeans, and silver cowboy boots, remembers me from that day. We had lunch together in the Hay Mow, when she explained to me so patiently why she and her friends were not fasting although it was Ramadan.

I recall how Zuti, who is originally from Burma, told me that she came here with her large family from a refugee camp in Thailand where they lived for eleven years. She wears a long plaid skirt and a red headscarf that frames a refined, melancholy face and falls down over her shoulders. She loves to farm, she told me on that midsummer day. “I plant all this,” she said, gesturing with a sweeping motion over the rows and rows of squashes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, and leeks. She is surprised that I remember her. But how could I forget?

The five of us work quickly and finish the row. “I am so happy that I don’t have to stay until dark finishing this row all by myself,” Nicole says. “Now you better run to catch your bus!”

The three girls run off and Nicole and I walk back down the row, where we come to the property line that divides our place from the VYCC. I am already home. Over the following week, I will pass by and admire the long rows of tender onion seedlings, forming ribbons of green across a growing tapestry of row covers and spring plantings.

In 2014, the farm will produce even more food than in 2013, to feed yet more hungry families. Aside from all the awesome food, I know that by far the most important product of the farm is the transformation in the lives of all the youth who pass through here. As I leave Nicole and head home, I can’t help but feel that a little of that magic has rubbed off on me, too.

[The Farm at VYCC always welcomes volunteers, and relies on individual donations. Contact them at farmatvycc.org]

[See my article on the VYCC healthcare shares program, “The Vermont Paradox: Youth Program Takes on Hunger and Chronic Disease in a Locavore State” at http://civileats.com/2014/09/11/the-vermont-paradox-youth-program-takes-on-hunger-and-chronic-disease-in-a-locavore-state/%5D

Richmond Farmers’ Market opens this Friday, May 30.  We will be there every other week (May 30, June 13,  27, July 4, 18, August 1,  15,  29, September 12, 26, October 10, 17) with our homemade honey ice cream and sorbet, and later in the season with our wool–yarn, rovings, and felted crafts. Stop by and see us!

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