Friday, May 8, 2009

Bringing the farm to life

When I was first approached about what would become Pearson's Town, I was asked to come on board as a volunteer to coordinate other volunteers to work a modest field. The idea was to grow some food for the cafeteria at Saint Joseph's college and for the local food pantries. This garden had started with a student's vision and the hard work of a small few. Those dedicated to the idea kept it alive for a couple of years, but there was a desire to make it more than it was and to keep people interested and involved. Volunteers had come, but volunteers had also gone, leaving the project in the hands of the small few.

With an inspired vision Mr. Engstrom, and Stu from Bon Appétit saw an opportunity to take this grass roots garden and develop it to it's fullest potential. This garden became not just a means to get more locally grown healthy food into the school, but also an opportunity to inspire the up and coming generation to affect change in the way our country approaches food down to it's very roots.
When I was brought on board Pearson's Town was a 75 x 100 foot patch of dirt, and a really cool adjacent walled garden that used to be alpaca paddocks. As we approach the beginning of our inaugural season as a farm, I have been left in awe and wonder over what the farm has become. In just two short months, the company, the school, the community and local farms have come together to create not just a garden, but a legitimate farm!

What was once our vegetable garden has expanded to include many facets of the farming world. The summer no longer looks like four months of weeding. . . well, it still looks like four months of weeding, but it also looks like moving cattle, tending to poultry, working two fields, educating the community and making careful observations about changes in the natural world and how to prepare for a greater harvest next year!
The other morning I got a call from Roger at Little Alaska Farm - our meat provider. They are a sustainable all grass fed and finished cattle (and now pigs and sheep) operation about an hour north of the college. Roger and Leon work together on the farm. Roger, the cattleman, runs the farm, while Leon, the butcher, takes the critters and turns them into the finished product.

Roger had called to tell me that I should be up Thursday to help move cattle. It was cold, raining, and windy, but nature waits for no man. The time had come to move the cattle out of their winter shelters and out to pasture. Before we could separate and move the herd we had to separate pastures by way of hanging electric fencing. . . . in the rain!!!! Electricity and water. . . hmmmm.

Once the fence was up we had to separate the bulls from the herd, then the cows and very young calves, lastly the calves that were ready to be on their own. With a herd of greater than 100 cows in a confined space, this proved to be a challenge. If you have never experienced the joy of having 40+ cows moving in your direction at a brisk jog on a slippery surface with no where to go, then you have never lived (or seen your life flash before your eyes for that matter)!

Ben, the Little Alaska Farm dog supervised our progress and helped herd the cattle.

(Author's note. . . every farm around here has a "farm dog". Perhaps we should approach Stu about requesitioning one!)
Rain, electric fences, numb fingers and cow dung. It was probably my favorite day yet!! I was able to just absorb thirty five years of cattle wrangling from Roger, and one of his hired hands. The good part is that I feel a lot more comfortable around the cows than I did. So the next step is to check our farm's paddocks and get 'em ready to bring "our" cows down.
And. . . .
Monday is the day!!! Interns start and the farm will finally really become Pearson's Town.

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