Over the last 10 or so years, I have slowly become very food conscience for a myriad of reasons. I was a vegetarian for most of college, but had a horrible diet. However, thanks to the growing trend in our culture to value a healthy diet and almost more importantly have an awareness of what is in our food and where it comes from, I have learned quite a bit. So having a passion for sustainably grown food, a desire to get back to nature, have some new experiences with my husband John and take in the autumn colors; we made our way to the Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield, Vermont.
We first find Mari cleaning beets with two other workers, "Hello, you must be Mary", she says with a warm smile,
extending her hand. John introduces himself and Mari, says, "Welcome, come in here and meet Laura". We follow
her into a greenhouse structure that is connected to the back of the barn, which opens into a mini store.
We meet Laura and Mari tells us that we are standing in their store where they sell produce and other products
to the local community and to their monthly Omnivore Farm Share subscribers.
"Are you guys hungry?" Mari asks, John and I look at each other knowing the masses of food we just consumed on our drive here and say "no". "Well then, let's grab your bags and I will show you where you are staying." We follow her back up the stone slab steps, grab our things and follow her into the barn. The back portion of the barn has been converted into a very quaint and lovely living area.
We enter an open space with wood floors and large rustic wooden beams along the ceiling. There are two sets of tables and chairs and a well-equipped kitchen. We make our way up to the second floor, which is the sleeping area and also has a loft above the main bed. It fulfills many of my storybook notions of a proper farmhouse, so I am in love. "How about you guys get settled and then you can meet me back downstairs and I will give you a little tour of the farm," Mari says, we wearily nod and collapse as soon as she is gone.
After we are settled, we meet Mari back down by the store. She shows us several different areas around the farm that they are growing vegetables and herbs. They are not your typical fields of crops, everything is strategically placed based on how each section of land interacts with the sun or wind, proximity to other plants and animals, etc. One instance of their farming practice that we both found fascinating was that instead of decompacting soil with farm equipment, they used daikon radish. This is a prime example of the careful planning that goes into this farm and how the consideration of different ecological systems, assist in their mission and process.
"Okay, I will show you the rest of the farm later, are you guys ready to learn how to milk a goat," Mari exclaims somewhat excitedly, we match her enthusiasm with a "sure". "You guys coffee or tea drinkers," she then asks, we respond that we are coffee drinkers, "Okay, great, go back up to the house and make yourself a cup of coffee and meet me in the milking barn and we will do what we like to call 'Lattes on the Hoof'".
I don't think either of us knew just what that meant and being "city folk," still not sure how we felt about it, after. "Lattes on the Hoof," is essentially milk in you coffee directly from the goat, which is hot and becomes frothy in your cup; it doesn't get much fresher than that I guess!
"Most farms that have goats usually buy one breed, but we have a mix on our farm. One group that we bought are all named after movie stars, you guys will be working on Grace Kelly." Mari goes on to tell us that one of her favorite parts is interacting with the animals and notes the nice thing about their small farm is they know their animals very well and can monitor them closely. I also observed that everything is very clean and sterile, which is another illusion of farming shattered and one that I bet is harder to maintain on a larger scale.
Goats are very peculiar animals, their horizontal pupils are a bit startling at first and Mari explained that they have two stomachs and very strange way of digesting food. They are very endearing creatures though, I asked John if we could get a pigmy goat someday, but I don't think he is sold...yet.
We watch Mari do some demonstrations on two goats and then she trades them in for two new goats (one being Grace herself) and we begin to test our skills. John being good at most all things he learns, picks it up rather quickly and I eventually get it, albeit with some frustration. Grace does not seem too thrilled either as she keeps stamping her front right hoof letting us know she is out of her bucket of food. I definitely realize that I am happily out of my comfort zone and will never discredit the skill and effort it takes for such simple things as milk.
As we finish up our milking tasks, Mari says, "Let's go see another part of the farm and gather some eggs". We head towards another greenhouse like structure that houses tons of Rhode Island Red chickens in a clean, grassy pasture. "Do you guys have to worry about many predators," John asks, "Not really, we have had some issues with weasels, but nothing major," Mari responds as I start to trail off because about 20 chickens now surround me.
While they are beautiful, I am not used to being this close to "wild" animals, so when Mari asks if we want to gather the eggs out of something that looks like a giant wooden shadow box, I let John do it. "See those smaller eggs, those are called pullet eggs, they are from the young chickens," she explains.
Once all the eggs are gathered, we continue our tour of the back part of the farm and visit pigs and turkeys. Meanwhile, their Sheltie, Uno, has been joyfully running along beside us and nuzzling us for pets, quickly changes his demeanor as we step inside the pigpen with Mari. "He's okay, you are just not on the approved list of people that are allowed to visit the animals," she tries to assure us. Note to self, don't visit any animals in their pens or I will die at the wrath of a Sheltie. Not the way I want to go.
We fed the momma pig and her three little ones some goat milk, the momma noticeably tried to lap up every bit so her piglets couldn't have any (I guess the cliche of a "hog" is true to form) and then we continue on. It still amazes me that there are no smells or negative indicators you are on a farm. The animals are regularly moved to help ready different parts of the land for growing, so I assume that is a big factor.
We conclude our tour back at the milking barn and head over to our mini farmhouse, where Laura is waiting to show us how to make Chevre Goat cheese. This type of cheese is extremely easy to make, but requires time, so we complete the first step of the process and we are left to our own devices with a suggestion to check out a nearby restaurant called Ariel's.
Fortunately, we decided to check out the ladies suggestion because Ariel's may have been one of the top 5 meals of our lives. We tucked our gluttonous bodies into bed and I slept without waking until 7:30 am, which to me is sleeping in these days. I made my way downstairs and prepared breakfast with our welcome basket of pullet eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, shallots and goats milk. I am always up for a culinary challenge, so I created scrambled eggs with shallots and Parmesan and then a chili spiced breakfast hash with tomatoes. I did have the option to purchase more ingredients from the store, or pick some fresh herbs from the farm, but opted to keep it simple.
After breakfast and packing, we met Mari down by the store again and she took us over to another house on the farm for a lesson in canning from Laura. The threat of botulism has always left me wanting to steer clear of canning, but Laura made it simple and fun. We canned tomato sauce and pickled mini green tomatoes, which Laura suggested are a good garnish for Bloody Mary's, to which I said, "sold".
After completing canning, we did the last steps of our cheese making process and quickly got on the road to visit the Appalachian Trail in the Green Mountain National Forest. While I will never be a farmer, I was sad to leave because the more my life is consumed with work and the "hustle and bustle", I crave simplicity like that. Although I am sure I would get bored at some point, life is about balance and I felt the scale tip a little the other direction while I was there.