Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Our History... How We Got To 2018






We've been going through huge changes here on the farm, and it's made me sit back, and take a long look at the incredible road we've traveled to get where we are now... May of 2018

It's hard to believe that it's been over 40 years since Marian and I realized that we wanted to spend our lives farming. We were living in Western Mass in the 70's and had started growing a large garden. We learned to can, freeze, and dry all the vegetables we grew.  And we loved it. I was helping out on a dairy farm and we started making cheese in the kitchen from cows I was milking, and we loved that too. Something in all this clicked on a very deep level and we decided that we wanted to live close to the land. Not sure how to make this a reality,  we started looking around to see what other folks were doing for inspiration. Some friends were selling produce to restaurants, others were milking a few animals and making cheese. Cows, cheese, veggies....sure, why not? 

And so, with all of the arrogance of youth, we loaded up a U-haul, our 2 dogs, Tomar and Gabby and headed north to Vermont where we assumed there would be others who shared our vision of making a farmhouse cheese and selling veggies to restaurants. Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find that although there were lots of great farmers in Vt., none were making cheese on the scale we envisioned for ourselves along with veggies too. 

There was so much to learn! Who knew that cherry tomatoes needed to be picked and delivered in pint containers rather than plastic bags so the bottom layer wouldn't
 squish? Zukes  go in a 1/2 bushel, but peppers in 1 1/9 bushel boxes?That lettuce grew great in the spring and fall, not so great in the summer. That some veggies needed to be chilled, others, like tomatoes never chilled?

And cows!! All of the animal wifery we needed to learn. We were constantly blown away by all the miracles. How baby calves stood up so soon after birth. It was all so new and wonderful, and quite often terrifying too. To be the sole caretakers for these beautiful cows was overwhelming. What types of hay cows crave. How a beautiful mixed hay full of clover alfalfa and grasses made their milk taste like melted vanilla ice cream. How to tell when a cow was sick. What ailments we could treat ourselves, when we needed  to call a vet. Summer time came and setting up the rotational grazing was all trial and error... there were no workshops on the subject so we learned and fine tuned as we went. 

And then we had to learn to make a good eating cheese that folks would buy. It's hard to imagine a time when there wasn't a thriving artisanal cheese industry in Vermont, but in the early 80's there wasn't as much as a cheese inspector, let alone other cheesemakers who we could learn from. So we taught ourselves, nose to the grindstone.  After we developed a recipe for a cheese we liked, we had to get out and market it in a market where farmstead cheeses were unheard of. We worked with a graphic designer to come up with a label that could tell the story of our farm in a glance. 
Honestly, it takes my breath away when I think of how much we didn't know.

But we persevered and through the decades we learned that we loved having a farm that flowed and changed with the seasons, that evolved with the years. Making cheese and milking cows during the short winter days, starting seeds and getting into the garden as the days lengthened. Composting the cow's manure and returning it to the soil to feed the veggies.  And through it all, all of the ups and downs we continued to learn from our mistakes, to be aware, to listen to what our land was telling us. Even after all these years, every single time we plant a seed, every single time we experience the birth of a calf, every time we set a vat of milk to turn into cheese we are blown away by the magic of it all. It never ceases to amaze.


So, here we are 40 years later, wondering how long we can keep all this going. How much longer Orb Weaver Farm will even be around. We often thought that our farm would be a one generation farm, one that would fade away from memory after we retired. Not the end of the world, but still a bit sad. 
And just at the perfect moment, as we're realizing that in fact we are getting on in years, and the end of our time with cows and cheese is growing near, into our lives come two amazing and wonderful young people, Kate Turcotte and Zack Munzer. Kate is a self professed cheese nerd. Loves all types and makes of cheese and has had her hands in curds and whey for over 10 years. She loves to talk about coagulation, and ph readings and even dairy sanitation. Zack has milked cows, is a cow breeder and has a loving way with them. Loves all things bovine.  And they love our cheese and are passionate about keeping our farm going. Kate and Zack will continue to sell fresh raw milk from the farm, make our Farmhouse cheese and create other amazing cheeses under the name of Orb Weaver Creamery. Most importantly, we all like each other a great deal, this has become much more than a financial transaction.
It has become clear to us that passing on of our knowledge, the foundation we laid over so many years to Kate and Zack  is what was always meant to be. 
We're filled with wonder and awe with the idea that although we weren't even aware of it, we too have been part of the cycles of our farm and the changing of the seasons.


All of this change has taken so much planning, so much thought. Naturally, none of it has been easy. Marian and I are staying here, in our house and continuing with the market garden. But when the cows calve in December for the first time in over 38 years of cows born here, Marian and I won't be the ones turning their wonderful rich milk into cheese. However, we will be right there with Kate and Zack ushering them into the role of being the next generation of Orb Weavers.