We slaughtered ninety-seven chickens. Raised the timber frame. Prepped our early fields for winter. Harvested a crazy number of tomatoes. Moved our animals to fresh pasture, one final time.
And then, just like that, it was over. Maggie’s class of 2013 has graduated – our foray into farming receding, fuzzy and dreamlike, into memory.
The chickens we slaughtered were our broilers, 6-week-old birds raised for meat. It was our third time at the killing cones, knives in hand, tasked with the grim work of harvest. In previous attempts, we’d all walked away bloodied and bruised by the experience. This time was still bloody, though without the same conflict. I dispatched 60 of the chickens myself without pause or projection. Just a quick cut and on to the next.
Our timber frame finally made its way out of the barn where it sat for months, in pieces and ignored, while more pressing farm work took precedent. The raising was an act of faith, so far removed were we from the days of careful measuring and milling that transformed tree into beam and post. But 20 strong backs made for quick work and after a little pounding with comically huge mallets, the bones of a building stood by dinnertime. We stood on the tie beams and clinked beers, savory smoke wafting from below where the wider Farm School community gathered in the grass to grill burgers and watch us work. As Josh placed the ceremonial hemlock bow at the peak, we climbed down to join the party not needing or wanting to be anywhere else in the world.
Our final weeks also brought us full circle back to Autumn and our first days on the farm. Time to take stock – to celebrate and learn from – the growing season past. This year, we celebrated the tomatoes. Five thousand dollars worth of Sungolds, Cherokee Purples and Brandywines harvested in a single day. Our fields of weedy onions, stunted spinach and bug-infested squash, however, provided ample opportunity for learning. After months of frustration, we cried defeat and with one quick pass of the plow, turned our mistakes back to the soil. Failure-amnesia coupled with faith in biological resurrection is what keeps farmers putting seeds in the ground. “Next season will be better,” we affirm.
Our graduation was a bittersweet affair. We performed ‘final chores’ with friends and family who came to celebrate with us. Rich, Nora and I took sheep duty. We set up their new fencing, dragged their rickety shade structure and checked their minerals one last time. Nora lingered with her favorite sheep, #56, and scratched her behind the ears a little longer than usual. These chores, tasks made common by a year of rote repetition, had become part of us – and the farm itself a physical extension of our love and labor. But with diplomas and pristine digging forks in hand, reality settled in. Our time was up.
My classmates are already spread far and wide: saving seeds in Nebraska, designing a livestock operation in Maine, studying forestry, getting a PhD at Harvard, apprenticing at farms all over New England, growing spices and still just figuring it all out.
Dina and I are home again in Boston. Despite the ache I feel for Maggie’s and the company of my classmates, it feels great to be laying plans for what’s next. We’re still working out the details, but what I can tell you is that I spent last Saturday wresting with a giant gray tractor with one functional gear to break ground on an acre and a half of land in Lincoln. We have a farm!
In theory, I’ve done this before – at least once. But this time, the dirt under my nails comes from our very own fields, which is both exhilarating and daunting. At the very least, I know where to begin and that makes me feel like I’ve come a long way.
Next week it will be time to plant garlic. And if we can get fences up fast enough, we’ve been promised two Dexter-Highland beef cows. Our family portrait now includes a baby boy and a tractor – further evidence that our yearlong experiment now has very real roots.
For those of you who have followed along throughout the year, we’re honored by your witness. And those of you who helped us take that first step, we’re forever in your debt. Please stay close. Come plant a row of garlic. You, our community, have fed us. Now it is our turn to return the favor.
More photos from the final weeks can be found HERE.