Category Archives: Old Fashioned

Letter to the Greater Schoharie Valley

The woman in the photograph is my great, great grandmother, Rose Render. She lived onphoto 3 (1) a farm in middle Michigan, raising her boys and her livestock on her own, without the help of modern conveniences like electricity and running water. My mother remembers going to Grandma Rose’s for dinner, enjoying chicken raised on the farm and processed by our grandmother’s own hands. My mother described her visits to the farm as travelling back through time. The tiny, sturdy farmhouse walled off to the approach of a fast-paced modern era.

I assume the desire to farm runs deep. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, save for that year I wanted to run for president in the seventh grade. Some of my earliest memories involve planting radishes and pumpkins in a garden beside my mother’s house, beside the neat rows of cherry trees that stretched out for miles in three directions.

We’ve faced hardships as farmers. We’ve lost animals to predators and had to learn to harvest our own birds for meat. We’ve had animals get out of the paddock to explore the lake or visit town. Last year, we lost nearly 200 apple trees planted with love, by hand, to a brutal spell of unprecedented cold winter that followed an equally brutal drought. I’ve wept in the soil for these losses and questioned many, many times why we do this thing called farming.


The answer always comes back to the successes. Grafting apple varieties on the brink of extinction in order to preserve this unique living cultural landscape. The raising of sheep, of alpacas, of learning to shear by hand, of washing these fleeces with great care and following this education down to carding each, and learning to spin so that the farm could support raising these beautiful animals. The reward in each of these feats far outweighs any set-backs.

Farming has also taught me to follow my instincts, to see failures as opportunities for growth, to find strength in vulnerability, and to be bold, despite the risks.  And this next bold move has taken us down some narrow roads – exploring the limits of our own fears and anxiety as we venture forth from Michigan to New York. Last fall we sold our house imageand have been staying with family as we make trips out east to locate a farm where we can finally put down permanent roots.

It has taken several trips out, but we finally feel comfortable in saying we would like to land in the region of the Schoharie valley, somewhere between Canajoharie to the undulating, aged mountains that rise up from Roxbury. And we’re seeking help. We’ve met with farmers, and are currently putting out feelers for any farmer or land owner who may be considering selling their farm. We are hoping to locate a farm with a house (we love older homes and are not afraid of renovations) with as few as four acres (more will be put to good use). A barn is not necessary, but a barn or outbuildings are a plus.

IF you know of anyone who may be able to help us, please feel free to share our email address We appreciate any help and look forward to becoming NY farmers this year! Thank you._o4xWwwKByO91WVxwu-cQcT7gkqweBxIjtCdCjO2G2U,NuqeJjwABcK9WcVXgvNf4Tkear9KK_FbgJqF45848_s

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.

photo 2 (3)
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:

The Art of Gathering

Drop spindle demonstration. (Note: Cherry apron in celebration of the season). Photo by the lovely Holly Pharmer
Drop spindle demonstration. (Note: Cherry apron in celebration of the season). Photo by the lovely Holly Pharmer

There’s an art to gathering. A group dynamic with a set of unspoken rules we seem less accustomed to in this fast-paced, pixel-ated modern era. At yesterday’s Sheep to Market workshop, I felt a kind of settling into the satisfaction of togetherness – the interwoven fabric of conversation, inspiration, and education. Though a larger group, there was a definite synergy to the way the day unfolded and what people offered out of their experiences on this planet. Those questions we did not have an immediate answer to, led to new discoveries and broadened the scope of our conversation.

There’s something about working with raw materials, beside the animals who grew the fibers, within the context of where and how they were raised, that appears to help people re-connect with that sense of place they are sometimes craving. Maybe it’s the all-encompassing aspect of fiber from ground to fingertips, the visual and visceral experience of creating something from those things gathered within an environment. And the fact that the final product, a single strand of yarn, represented the as much the nuances of our personalities, as much as the wholeness of the creation.

Natural mulberry dye on cotton/alpaca blend. Special thanks to Jenny.
Natural mulberry dye on cotton/alpaca blend. With special thanks to Jenny!

It didn’t stop with the workshop. Following, one of the participants stayed to help me experiment with making dyes with mulberry. And though we did not follow the “rules,” the hue of the fiber reflected the solemn joy we experienced in being outdoors, in building the fire, in walking the land, in reflecting on what it meant to be human in this great big world.

In the end, it’s clear, this gathering together around things like fiber is not so much about making a product, but about connecting. Just as the twist gathers up the fibers for strength, affording the varied consequence of hue, so does the gathering of image (2)people together accentuate and punctuate our own strengths and personality.

[And what Healing Tree Farm workshops would be complete without ‘Topher shenanigans?]

Thank you to the lovely women and men who gathered together to spin a yarn at the workshop. 

Kindness Intertwined

We’ve blended the kindest alpaca fibers from our sweet Bree and Pecan with the equally lovely fleece from the Shetland/Scottish Blackface cross out of the Scheel Farm in Petoskey for this rendition of our Peaches-in-Cream skein.

There’s something special about working with the fiber off your own animals – the close tie to both land that

Peaches’n’Cream Close-up

nourished and livestock who grazed to produce this high luster yarn makes it feel more like a memory of place, than a single skein of yarn.

Tass-a-frass “Tassie” says you can shear the fiber off emo alpaca, but the emo stays.

Thinking about all of this makes me wonder what what we’ll call the yarn made from Tassie’s fiber, which is the most beautiful and luxurious fiber on the farm, from the most incredulous shearer-fighter on the planet. Hmmm… maybe something like “Kick-Butt Yarn” or “Spitty-McGee-How-Does-Your-Shin-Feel-Now? Yarn…

Anyway, this lovely Suri blend is available for $28. Add $4.40 for shipping or pick up at the farm. And thank you for your support!

Email to order. Or, if easier, visit our Healing Tree Etsy shop for more fiber and online payment options.

Shetland Cotton Candy

Introducing Shetland Cotton Candy, hand-spun, hand-dyed local Shetland yarnimage from the farm. The roving looked so much like cotton candy, well, let’s just say, I have a great idea for next April Fools Day.

It’s currently drying, but if you are looking for the perfect yarn for a baby hat or footies, this yarn is for you. Will be available tomorrow for sale. Email for details.

For the Win

On a shelf next to the fireplace, there’s a Little League trophy belonging to my husband’s childhood, alongside a Pinewood

Derby car he built with his dad in Cub Scouts. Chris won the Pinewood Derby three years in a row thanks to the careful instruction his father gave him on everything finding the “sweet spot” with weight to the physical build of the car to gain momentum faster than the competing cars.

Last fall, a young boy knocked on our door. We’ve grown accustomed to those fall visis from neighborhood kids selling everything from popcorn to flowers to cookies to discount cards, just to keep their beloved school programs afloat. This boy was selling popcorn to benefit his Cub Scout pack, and though we had no interest in the popcorn, Chris crouched down on the front porch and asked him whether he was planning to build a derby car. The boy said he wanted to, but didn’t know if he’d be able to. Chris then retrieved the derby car from the shelf to show the boy. After about 10 minutes of scout talk, the boy left, and Chris commented that it was nice to remember the experience of the derby and that he hoped the boy would have a chance to participate.

In January, another knock at the door revealed the boy had returned. Chris answered the door and the boy said, “Mr. Graves, will you help me build a derby car?” Another man accompanied the young boy and explained that the boy was in his care and that he didn’t have the tools to work on the car, but if Chris agreed, he would ask around the neighborhood and have the tools ready, as well as a place to work. Chris agreed.

When it came time to work on the car, the man returned and told Chris that another neighbor opened his heated garage for the effort. Tools had been gathered and Chris went to work imparting his decades old derby wisdom.

His goal, he had decided, was to show this boy, not so much how to win a derby, but that people cared about him. His photo 4 (3)goal, in line with the rest of the neighborhood, was to impart a sense community. A few days before the race, we learned there was no one who could take the boy, we’ll call him J, to the race. J ended up staying at our house and was happy to learn that not just Chris, but the entire G-T family would be joining him on race day to cheer him on.

Though I had no preconceived desire to win the race, my heart sank when, in the first race, the car came in third. It suddenly occurred to me that this boy might be really disappointed if the car under-performed. The next race, the car came in first, and seemed to set a bit of a pattern for doing so. Still, I didn’t know where we’d end up. There were so many cars, and so many dreams riding on that first place title.

After a few hours, it was time to reveal the overall standings. I was hoping for somewhere in the 10th to 6th place, but as the ranks were revealed one by one, J’s name did not appear. Fifth place, fourth place, third place passed, no name. photo 3 (6)Then second. I held my breath. Could it be? J’s car came in first place overall for all age-groups.

J jumped up, overtaken with the exhilaration of such a win. I looked over and Chris had tears in his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. He said he was worried that all of his input, decades old, would have been circumvented by new methods and approaches to racing. J’s car had come in a few ounces lighter, he explained. It worried him tremendously. And yet, something about the design, or maybe it was purely the energy of a community driven to show someone the love that brought that car to a first place finish.

After a victory pizza, Chris told J, “Now, I need you to promise me, that if a boy ever knocks on your door and asks you to help him build a derby car, you’ll do the same.” J nodded and smiled. And that was the best reward of the day.