Category Archives: Farms and Healing

The felted, matted mess

imageLast year, I purchased a beautiful Suri alpaca rose-grey fleece from a local farmer. It was the most beautiful natural colorway I had ever seen in a fleece, with hints of autumn-rose and oatmeals and grey. I handled the fleece with extra care, checking the temperature of the wash and rinse water carefully, handling it gently, quietly contemplating at each phase of the wash-rinse cycle all that might be made from these gorgeous fibers. And then I did something stupid.

I don’t like that word stupid, but it’s the word that really works here. Fiber demands its process. You can’t rush fiber. You can’t tell it to hurry up and dry or get clean. You can’t shear an alpaca and make socks within the next five minutes. If you could, we crazy fiber nuts would find something else to fawn over.

Eager to begin carding, I decided to place the washed fleece in a pillow case and put it on air dry in the dryer for a good 15 minutes. This is something I had done with other fleeces and without issue, but I did not check the air temperature in my eagerness to dry the fleece. Anyone who works with fiber knows the most fundamental of rules:

Heat + agitation = felt.

By the time I realized my error, I lifted a matted piece of felt the size of a corgi out of the dryer. And yes, there were real tears.

I tried in vain to make something useful from the felted monstrosity. I even hung on to the fiber for months, hoping I would come up with something useful to somehow make up for the error. But what I realized was that this felt was destined to compost, as beautiful as it was. And that I had learned a lesson worth 10 times the price of the fleece; that process is important and, in instances like this, vital.

It’s so easy to try to take the short-cut, or to give up when someone tries to throw a wrench in your plans, but when you look at life as a process of growing, of moving from this raw, dirty fleece to a clean, organized useful yarn, it’s easier to see that those little bumps in the road aren’t there to deter you, but to help you broaden your awareness.

There’s a reason Gandhi was so wise; he was a hand-spinner! ūüôā

Getting there is half the fun, right?

photo 1 (1)Well, this week we’ve moved out of our rental and in with family, packed our belongings at the farm (still a bit more to do), and rented the first of two large moving ¬†trucks for our trip out next week. This was the first week that I found myself feeling quite emotional driving around the familiar places like the farm, or walking the shores of Lake Michigan, knowing we were soon to be tourists more than residents.

‘Topher and I sat down under the big old Roxbury Russet at the farm, where he reminisced in his adorable four-year-old chatter about sleeping in the camper or playing with the chickens. “Me going to miss the farm, Mama” tore at my heart-strings, but yesterday some of the awesome folks at the LC reminded him that the farm is forever protected and he can visit whenever he wishes.

It feels really special to have been part of the history of this beautiful, incredible place. Wecampbelltree are so appreciative to the Conservancy and to the Campbell and DeYoung families along with those individuals who had memories of working or frequenting the farm, who visited and shared many beautiful stories. What a magical place!

In the spring of 2013, we planted three apple trees, all of which have survived. One was Topher’s first apple tree and the other two were wedding gifts from the year prior (we were married on the farm). They will remain and I’m excited to see how they progress in years to come as they will always carry some very happy memories for us.

For now, we are trying to make time to visit with friends and family and to frequent those places we know and love about Michigan. The girls have been adventuring and discovered a huge toad last night on the front porch. And they’ve already braved Lake Michigan for a swim.

IMG_9537As much as I’ll miss our northern Michigan “home,” I’m equally as excited to finally settle in New York. We’ve been planning this move for well over a year and it feels good to be this near the big move. The plumbing and electric have been completed, so now all the house needs is its people.

“Where we love is home; home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me. ¬†I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming,¬†despite the daily¬†regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and¬†witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture.¬†Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently.¬†The soil in the valleys appears good and the¬†prospect of a fiber mill¬†feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see¬†the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock¬†here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but¬†after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more¬†significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s¬†there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm¬†into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but¬†they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region,¬†a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much¬†more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all¬†down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys¬†are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation,¬†and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials¬†in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to¬†administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place¬†has been¬†preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

Thongs and the Wild Side

sea_kaleI opened 12 thongs on Christmas in front of family. Where has your brain just gone?! Not the thongs you wear, but rather cuttings from sea kale plants, also known as thongs. I’ve tried for three seasons straight to grow sea kale from seed and have struggled with transplanting, so this spring I’ll have a bit of a head start thanks to my sweet husband.

We spent Christmas in Glen Arbor, with a few stops out to the farm (good thing we bought a Prius). Both places are magical this time of year. The farm is especially quiet and venturing into the barn feels a bit like a retreat away from the the rest of the world. It’s calm, still, and filled with the curious sniffing of alpacas, eager for their pellets.

Glen Arbor, though technically quiet this time of year, is perched above Lake Michigan. The tide of wild winds come and go, making the occasional stillness seem nothing short of magical.  Before the big windstorm the other night, Chris and I stood on a high bluff and listened to the calm waters gently lap the shore. Despite the condominiums and houses being built here, the wild of this place survives.

It can scare us with its limitlessness, the way the vast ocean feels capable of swallowing a small boat whole, or it can have the opposite effect, as a playful echoing of our own desire to be free.

This morning greets me with bird song, blue skies, stillness, and green. And reminds me that life is like this ever-changing tide of wind and storm and calm; not something to be feared, but rather revered.


New York and MassaChooChoos

We just returned from another trip out to NY for the home inspection, andphoto 1 while there, visited a friend in Massachusetts (pronounced “massachoochoos” by Topher). The region of NY where the farm is located is very similar to the landscape of western Mass.

photo 2.JPGPersonally, my favorite part about these treks is the history, most notably the architecture, which is far older than anything we see typically in northern Michigan. The house we’re buying is a Greek revival, built around 1830 with wide plank floors and Greek- and even Egyptian- inspired details adorning every angle. There’s something really moving about walking through a house with such old bones.

The small towns near the farm reveal something special about the people of the region. There is a kindness here that beckons. It’s an old-fashioned kindness; welcoming and refreshing. You can hear it in the gentle approach of a stranger offering directions, in the clip-clop of the Amish horses passing down main street, and in the genuine approach of the cafe IMG_3520.JPGowner eager to introduce us to the community. This place feels like home.

Which makes returning to life in Traverse City feel very temporary. And gives us a bit of freedom to make the most of our final months as Michigan residents. We’ll make the most of this Michigan winter, reflecting on all that lay ahead of us with a bit less anxiety, and a whole lot more enthusiastic anticipation.

Wild Ride

November is usually a wild month of transition from late autumn into early winter, bold colors swept up in the current of changing winds. And in this¬†month of changes, we¬†find ourselves adjusting to life without a place to call home, our things familiar packed away in storage, and our heads resting on different pillows depending on the week. It’s a temporary gig and it helps to know that, but the experience has been trying.

photo (1)In the midst of these changes, we have been negotiating on a farm outside of Michigan, while still trying to maintain basic chores at the farm here. Every trip into the barn hauling water is a reminder of why we have chosen to make this huge leap. Nuzzles from alpacas keep our spirits high, despite the biting cold mingled with the harsher bite of uncertainty.
During Thanksgiving, I was reminded of the perils the pilgrims faced in arriving on foreign shores. They made the leap for different reasons, but with an unrelenting hope that the change would be worth the sacrifice. This is an easy change in comparison, and upholds the adventure we so crave.

What this year of 2015 has taught us is that focusing on a common goal and working through doubts or uncertainty toward that goal yields results. It’s easy to give up; it’s hard to keep going. But it’s the keeping on that gets you to your destination. And unwinds the story of who we are; our strengths, weaknesses, desires, fears, and more along the way.