By Lindsay Courcelle
This year, our vegetable farm is transitioning onto new farmland near our home in Shrewsbury. For the last five seasons, we’ve commuted a half hour each way, almost every day, to get to our field in West Rutland. Although this commute was a challenge, we’ve always felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to be “incubated” at Boardman Hill Farm, where we’ve been able to use the land, equipment, and barn free of charge while our business has built up its reputation, customers, and finances. However, the time has come to farm closer to home, and this season the transition is happening full steam ahead.
Over the years, we’ve slowly built up our farm’s assets: our own tractors and tools, greenhouses, and some equipment for washing and processing veggies. A few large items remained on our “to buy” list this year, including a walk-in cooler and a couple tractor implements. We have searched far and wide for good deals on used equipment and have finally purchased almost everything we need.
One major project was figuring out an irrigation system on the new farmland. At Boardman Hill, we used a gas-powered pump in an irrigation pond, but there is no pond where we farm now. Through some help from knowledgeable family, friends, and irrigation specialists, Scott discovered that we could use a gravity fed system from a large holding tank on the same land. The tank is filled with crystal clear spring water, which long ago must have provided water for the family whose farmhouse remains on the land. With the hot and dry weather we had been experiencing up until now, it was imperative to get our irrigation up and running. Now, thanks to gravity and Scott’s hard work, water trickles downhill to our garden beds, keeping our crops well watered in dry conditions.
It is amazing to have our field less than a quarter-mile from our home. This increases our farm’s efficiency exponentially. In previous years, we would load up plants at our home greenhouse early in the morning and travel to West Rutland, only to find that the weather fifteen miles away was not quite right for planting that day. If we forgot a particular tool at home, our to-do list changed with the drop of a hat. Now, everything is within walking distance, and the weather in our field is the same as at our home. In the past, we had to pack lunches and would often return home late in the evening to begin supper preparations. Now, one of us can take the time to heat some soup for lunch on a cold day or start making dinner at a reasonable hour.
One of the best parts of farming nearby is seeing all of our neighbors honk or wave as they pass by in cars, on foot, or riding horses. One day, a neighboring farmer who is in his seventies stopped by to see what we were up to. He said the land hasn’t been plowed in his lifetime, and before that, he thinks his father hayed the fields. Now, the garden is filled with young plants of all varieties, and in a couple months it will be absolutely lush with greens and colorful fruits.
Lately, we have wondered what is it about seeing the farmland in production that excites our neighbors so much? Is it that young people are staying in the area because of opportunities in agriculture? Is it seeing how the land is transformed from grassy field to ever-changing landscape of food? Or is it simply something innate and primal that connects so many of us with gardening and working the land?
I recently bumped into the grandmother of a student who spent two weeks last year volunteering with us as part of her Y.E.S. (Year End Studies) Plan at Rutland High School. The grandmother said that she was shocked by how much her granddaughter had taken to the work. This year her granddaughter started her own seeds and had her father plow up a garden space for her. This of course warmed my heart, and I was again struck by the deep connection that many people find once they put their hands in the soil. In a time when one could easily go through life with his or her head in an iCloud, it is important to remember that food connects each and every one of us with the soil beneath our feet. As Wendell Berry wrote, “The earth is what we all have in common.”
Lindsay and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a vegetable farm selling through CSA and at the Rutland Farmers Market. Learn more at www.AlchemyGardensVT.com.