Spotlight on the Hill
(A taste of what’s happening at Cobb Hill)
Cobb Hill Mushroom Enterprise luanched, March 2012
Three enterprising Cobb Hill members, Jesse Hills, Phil Rice & Bill Stack are getting serious about raising mushrooms. Their Enterprise Proposal includes:
Fungi are fascinating! They are neither plant nor animal but something in between. There are many mysteries about
cultivating them still to be discovered. We love growing, experimenting, and eating shiitakes and also the exercise of moving logs around (we use our backs and carts). We look forward to providing a healthy food source to our local area and helping others cultivate mushrooms well. A description of our cultivation process and brief summary of nutritional benefits can be found in this PDF.
Lambing 2012 begins March 13th!
The first Cobb Hill Icelandic lamb of 2012 arrived unexpectedly at least a week early. The milkers found the lamb bouncing around, happy and healthy before first light. Momma and ram lamb can be found in the barn.
Birding Report, August 2011
Ruth and I walked up the hill to look at the new fences on our pastures and ran into some beautiful families on Tuesday afternoon.
A brilliant male Indigo Bunting was sitting with a brown chick just above and to the left of the first gate on the Farm road. It had been singing for the last 6 weeks up the hill toward Dana's bench. Now it was chipping in a high pitched warning way to the young bird. Neither was particularly excited and we watched them for 10 minutes.
Two hen Turkeys and 7 poults catapulted up from the pasture just below the Butternut tree and headed for cover at the entrance to the Sugarbush. Interesting that the adult birds kept going into the deep woods but the young ones went right up into the trees for a land threat - they will run for the underbrush for a hawk.
On checking out our Bobolink habitat over at the Curtis Pasture I flushed a Snipe out of the flowing wet drainage above the Elm tree. The fully striped adult was rasping an alarm call and doing some distraction maneuvers. Then, probably against maternal advice, a juvenile flushed and lit out for the trees around the spring. This was the third time I had flushed Snipe while checking out the Bobolinks. We have heard their feather whistling aerial display over there since May.
Two Bobolink territories had been established with singing males by mid July in the Spring Drainage and the Elm Tree drainage. The intensive grazing regime rotated through both areas 10 days ago and I had not seen anything but Redwings since. I had guessed that a wet year and the competition with the Redwings had put the Bobolinks, which usually prefer slightly dryer sites, at a disadvantage. And since the cattle also prefer the drier areas, I wondered whether the birds had been displaced.
Tuesday, finally, there were 4 Bobolinks in the farthest territory, one adult female and the rest probable juveniles. They were all giving their alarm "chek" note. The other site remains empty and the males are nowhere to be seen. They often gather in larger groups from surrounding areas after nesting before heading to Brazil. Last year there were 13 birds by mid July.
Good news. What a treat.
Cobb Hill Cheese wins Gold Medals
Both varieties of Cobb Hill Cheese--made with our wonderful Cedar Mt Farms jersey cows’ milk--won Gold medals at the Jersey competition on June 11, 2010!
Ascutney Mt won ‘Best in show’ for the North American competition last summer. This year the competition was held on the Island of Jersey. While Ascutney Mountain has won in the past, this was the first win for Four Corners. All here are very proud of the
cheese makers and the dairy! Very exciting! The cows are dancing a jig.
The 2nd World Jersey Cheese Awards, an initiative of the World Jersey Cattle Bureau (WJCB), were judged in the Island of Jersey on Friday 11th June 2010.
102 entries were received from 10 countries, with a total of 38 medals awarded by an expert judging panel. The cheese awarded the title of the World's Best Jersey Cheese 2010 was "Jersey Blue" made by Willi Schmid from Switzerland.
The lead judges had this to say of the competition:
John Allison from the United Kingdom: "The Gold Medal winners were of an extremely high standard and would have ranked as such anywhere in the world. I was amazed by the variety of cheeses made from Jersey milk. The diligence and skill of the panel of judges made it an enjoyable and worthwhile competition."
Upper Valley Farm to School Program
The Upper Valley Farm to School Network is headed by Cobb Hiller, Peter Allison. The mission of the Upper Valley Farm to School Network is to foster links between farmers, teachers, parents and community members who are working to integrate local farms and food into the school cafeteria, classroom and community.
The UVFTS sponsored the 2009 Hartland Farm Fest on May 31st. Read all about it in the Valley News: http://www.vnews.com/06012009/5713560.htm
For those who might not have seen it, here is a reprint (sans pics) of an article by K&S that appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of the small farmers journal. For more info on the journal, check out; www.smallfarmersjournal.com
FJORD HORSES AT WORK IN THE GREEN MOUNTAINS OF VERMONT
Written by Stephen Leslie and Kerry Gawalt of Cedar Mountain Farm at Cobb Hill Co-housing in Hartland Four Corners , Vermont
THE FARM AND THE COMMUNITY
We are farmers, Kerry Gawalt and Stephen Leslie and our daughter, Maeve Rose. We have been farming together since we first met as apprentices at Hawthorne Valley Farm in upstate New York in 1992. We worked together at that farm for a total of 3 years learning how to tend dairy cattle, raise vegetables for market and work with farm machinery. We also spent nearly 2 years out west in Montana and Idaho learning more homesteading skills and how to work with draft animals. Finally, searching for a stable situation in which to build up a farm of our own, we joined forces with Donella Meadows in the fall of 1996. She was a famed “systems thinker” and environmental writer (the Limits of Growth---was her groundbreaking book forecasting the environmental effects of unchecked population on the planet), teacher and activist, who was forming a co-housing community in Vermont . The community was intended to showcase "green" architectural design, sustainable living and organic farming as a centerpiece of community life.
Even though we lost Donella to a sudden illness in 2001, a core-group of us carried on the co-housing project. New members have joined and today Donella’s dream has become a reality. We live in an eco-village of 23 households clustered on a hillside and surrounded by woods, pasture and agricultural fields. All the homes are heated in winter by a single wood-burning furnace and have solar panels for hot water. The houses are super-insulated and situated for maximum solar gain. They each have composting toilets to minimize water use.
We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush. We are now looking forward to expanding the research and education potential of our farm and community by partnering with the Sustainability Institute (a ‘think’ and ‘do’ tank) founded by Donella Meadows and also located on this land. Through sponsorship with the Institute we are hosting groups of school children and developing workshops, publications and other forms of educational outreach for adults.
Our market garden is a 4 acre mix of vegetables, greenhouses, flowers, fruit trees and cover crops (our cropping system is a loose adaptation of the bio-extensive garden and cover-cropping outlined by Eric and Anne Nordell in the pages of the Small Farmer’s Journal). Our dairy currently consists of 40 registered Jersey cows and assorted heifers, calves and steers. Our crops are marketed primarily through our 86 member CSA , and secondarily through an on-site farm stand, 2 local restaurants and a nearby food coop. Kerry provides personal chef services to private groups utilizing farm and local ingredients in all the dishes. The 270 acres of farmland and forest are now in a permanent conservation program with the Upper Valley Land Trust. We own our own business and lease the acreage and farm buildings that we utilize from Cobb Hill Co-housing. We currently have 2 fulltime employees and enjoy the help of several committed volunteers who help out in return for bartered farm products. By joining with Cobb Hill Co-housing with its commitment to keeping this land actively farmed, as new farmers we were able to gain access to otherwise unaffordable ag-land in a region with sufficient population to sustain a vibrant spectrum of local organic and/or sustainable producers.
As with any human community, there are conflicts and tensions that arise here. Plunking a village of mostly non-farming professionals down in the middle of a working farm produces plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings. Our situation is not perfect, it is a work in progress, but what the community does have is a solid commitment to resolving these points of friction and a wider commitment to trying to be part of the solution in addressing our societal ills.
SHARING THE HARVEST
Our CSA is involved with helping to feed the local community with the help of a grant from the USDA and donations from our CSA members. Old Windsor Village Senior Housing receives food from our farm for over twenty low income households each year. The Haven, a shelter for homeless families in White River Junction, Vt. , receives weekly baskets from the farm.
Neither of us were raised in farm families so learning the skills of commercial farming has been an arduous and at times, daunting process. But we have had good teachers and sought out mentors in each location we found ourselves in. Early on, we were sparked with the dream of doing our farm work with horses and we bought our first horse in 1994, a weanling Fjord mare, Cassima. Our journey to becoming adequate teamsters has been long and fraught with successes and tragedies and the tale of it is beyond the scope of this article, but one thing for sure, we look back with no regrets because of the fulfillment that working with the horses brings to our present days.
From spring to fall our team of Fjord horses, Tristan and Cassima, work in all aspects of the garden, spreading compost, plowing, discing, harrowing and cultivating. We feel strongly that the draft horse can provide a cost effective and non-polluting alternative to tractor-powered modes of food production. Our current farm system is one of mixed power, utilizing a 30 and a 50hp Kubota tractor for manure handling, barn scraping, hay making and forestry work. However, our long term hope is to integrate the horses into the haymaking operation as well. We also have a third (brood) mare and her foal within the herd.
The Fjords are small draft horses from the steep mountain region of Norway . Sure-footed and hardy, the Fjord is an excellent work and riding animal. First bred by the Vikings, the Fjord shares its roots with the Asiatic wild horse. The breed is dun colored, ranging from brown to gray to the rare white and yellow phase. They stand between 13hh and 15hh and weigh 900-1100lb.
We employ a variety of vintage and new horse farming equipment. Our two-way riding plow is a circa 1913 Syracuse , whereas our 14” walking plow was purchased new from the Pioneer Equipment Co. We utilize a Pioneer forecart to pull a variety of tillage tools; disc and spring-tooth harrows and a drag-harrow for final seedbed preparation. We use a vintage McCormick-Deering riding cultivator as a tillage tool, but do all our actual cultivation of row crops with a single-horse walking cultivator. We make this a two person job, with one of us on the lines to guide the horse and the other steering the implement. Even though this might seem inefficient in terms of man hours, we find that we can get in early and make precision work of it. For spreading we have a 40 bushel McCormick-Deering spreader which works fine with a finished compost, but we hope to upgrade to a 100 bushel spreader. We are currently in the process of trying to restore a no.6 mowing machine, with hopes of utilizing it to clip cover crops which is currently done with the bush hog, and perhaps eventually to take part in mowing the hay.
From one point of view it is true that working with horses takes more time than with a tractor, but looked at another way what horses do is give time back to us. They help us slow down and reawaken to the life of the senses.
Before moving to our present site in the fall of 1999, we spent 3 years raising vegetables, horses and calves on land belonging to Donalla Meadows just across the river in New Hampshire . At that time we were certified organic by the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. When we moved across the river to establish our current operation in Hartland, Vt., the USDA was engaged in the process of creating the national organic standards and like many small organic producers we questioned whether the new industrial-sized regulations were relevant to us any more. Sure, we were glad to see corporate farms moving away from chemical farming to cash in on this expanding market, but in the trade off we wondered what would become of the locally based grass-roots movement that had been doing the right thing all along? Since we sell directly to most of our customers, we did not feel we needed to be certified. Our farm is open to visitors and their questions about our farming practices.
In addition, once we started milking cows, we found ourselves at odds with regulations that seemed more concerned with consumer-driven fears about food safety than about assuring the highest quality care for our cattle. It seems that legitimate concerns about the routine feeding of antibiotics to feedlot beef cattle has been misconstrued in the public mind to mean that dairy cattle are treated in the same way, which is a fallacy. We believe whole heartedly in the preventive medicine of good nutrition and a healthy environment for our cows, but we would no more deny them a necessary treatment of antibiotics than we would to a horse or a sick child. The corporate organic farms can always shift a sick cow over to their conventionally managed operations to be treated for mastitis, but for a micro-herd like ours that is not an option. We feel animal health and welfare to be foremost in our farm management plan.
Our methods emphasize the building up of healthy soils as the basis of sustainable agriculture. Composted manures from our horses and dairy cows along with cover crops feed the land. We do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Our Fjord horses provide the power for the market garden. All our farm products are sold within 12 miles of the farm.
Our Jersey cows graze the hill pastures and produce milk for our raw milk customers (the state of Vermont allows us to sell 12 gallons a day at the farm) and fluid milk for our business partners, Cobb Hill Cheese, who make alpine style and Caerphilly, a welsh cheddar. Both cheeses are made and on site. Our surplus milk is picked up by Agri-Mark Coop for the Grafton Cheese Plant, a most jersey cow milk cheddar maker. The cow manure is turned into compost to feed the soils of the farm. All our cows are registered and we use sexed semen our most of our cows and heifers. This has given us a boost in the number of heifers we have for Vermont ’s semi-annual breeding stock sale. We have had animals go California , Maine , Texas , Kentucky , New Mexico and New Hampshire . A bred heifer sells for $2500 to $3500. These fawn colored Jerseys are the smallest of the Dairy breeds and make the richest milk. Jerseys come from the Channel Isles off the coast of England . They have been a long-time favorite of Vermont farmers and have held their ground here even through the modern domination of the Holstein . Our herd thrives on pastures, organic grains, and hay produced here on this farm and by our neighbors. The herd has a nutritionist, who balances the ration after testing all our forage. They average 16,000-19,000 lbs of milk each annually. Our star cow make 25,000 lb per lactation.
We believe it is profoundly relevant in our times, both from the perspective of personal health and planetary well being, that we strive to return to a rhythm of eating with the seasons, which implies harvesting from our own homegrown sources, or purchasing produce from local sustainable farms. North Americans now expect to be able to buy any type of food in every season, from any part of the world. How much energy was spent, what degree of sacrifice was required to deliver that fresh head of lettuce to our table in the middle of February? What good purpose does it serve if our dietary choices are only concerned with keeping our own bodies healthy even at the expense of the environment?
In an effort to help novices grasp the concept of interconnectedness, the Buddha would direct their attention to the matter of the food that they consumed. He put it in the form of a simple question and answer; “How do we know for certain that all beings are one, that all are interconnected? We may know this by contemplating the most basic fact of life---all beings must eat!” On our farm, we raise the bull-calves that are inevitably part of the yearly crop of calves born to our dairy cows. We strive to handle these steers with love and respect during their 2+ years as residents of the farm, and delight in watching them grow healthy on our rolling pastures. We are deeply saddened when it is time to end their lives, but we honor the sacrifice and are truly thankful for the gift of continued life they offer to us and the community of people who buy products from our farm. This thankfulness stems from the certain knowledge revealed to every attentive farmer that we are all bound up together in this circle of life and death and renewal.
As small independent farmers, we are not interested in waiting for the government, or science, or corporations, to come up with solutions to the array of threats to the human species and to the natural environment. Seeking to act as responsible “global citizens”, we’ve decided to try to take matters into our own hands, and to see if we might fashion a sustainable culture on the basis of a healthy agriculture. Our basic goal is to promote an agriculture that is both ecologically and socially sustainable.
You can change the world by changing what you eat. For us farmers, farming is not a job per se, it is a direct form of social action, maybe the most important “grass-roots” activism possible. In our current social context, how and where you procure your food is both a political act and a gesture of the spirit. A large measure of our hope for transforming our culture depends on beginning at the base by creating a renewed and truly healthy agri-culture.
As in any practice that involves a lot of repetition, looked at from the outside, farm life may appear to be dull. Yet, it is just through this intimate daily contact with living systems, through the experiential dynamic of immersion in the cycles of the seasons, that the farmer is enlivened. Developing our own powers of observation is what this practice of farming is all about. The daily care and interaction with plants and animals takes us outside of an exclusive focus on ourselves and opens us up to a sense of connectedness with the larger patterns of life. This connectedness is the basis of all authentic spirituality. The crops and the livestock provide a continuous link to those who came before and they lend the farmer a sense of shouldering a precious gift and a weighty responsibility to carry forward a link in this chain so that it will remain unbroken for those who are yet to come. When we stay close to the land, and the real life of the senses---mind, heart and body stay awake
Comparison of economics of the horse-powered farm to the tractor-powered farm
Economics of horse farming..why not use that Kubota tractor?
What does it cost to use the horses per hour of work? This article will explore the costs of both types of mechanization. The first assumption should be a 15 year expected pay back for either a horse or a tractor. Assuming use of 600 hours a year
1. The purchase:
28 hp tractor-$22,000
- Team of draft horses-$6,000-20,000, depending on breed and gender, mares would allow for future generations of horses.
2. Storage/housing-basic three sided pole barn-$5,000
3. Plow, disc, harrow, cultivator, spreader-all could be sized for either horse or tractor.
- New-Spreader $4,000, plow $700, disc $ 900, cultivator $500.
4. Harness and halters for team of horses- $1,000
5. Basic tools for repairing equipment-wrenches, socket set, welder/torch, work bench.-$800
6. Supplies to take care of horses-buckets-$30, brushes-$50, water tank-$75, fencing for pasture-energizer to power electric fence $150, posts and wire for paddock for exercise $80. If the was enough land for all pasture needs, about 1 acre per horse, the fence cost would be higher, but the feed costs would be about 1/3 less.
7. Feeding/fueling the beast-
A team of fjord horse fed on purchased feed only without pasture would consume 250 bales of grass hay and 800 lbs of grain. This diet would support the horse doing medium load work, horses working a heavy load, would need more calories. The bottom line, hay $750 and grain $ 240. If the horses grazed, the hay bill would be reduced by 35%
The tractor runs on diesel, which it only needs when used, unlike the horses who are fed whether or not they work. The tractor costs to operate are : $6.10 hour for fuel/oil, $.67 for maintenance and $2.10 hour for depreciation. Fuel use is 1.67 hours per gallon.
8. Basic maintenance costs-
The horses need their feet trimmed every 8 weeks, which can be learned or hired for $40 per horse/trim. Deworming and vaccinations cost about $100. The tractor requires basic maintenance, which can be learned or it can be sent to the shop-$400 annual costs.
9. Money spent on training for basic machinery/horse training will save a lot over time.
10. Annual costs
The Shadow puppet show "Turning" was created to provide a tool for
visioning a sustainable future. It assumes that humanity wakes up and
transitions out of the doomed fossil fuel economy into a sustainable
one. "Turning" takes place 50 years into the future and tells part of
the story of how humans were able to transition from the vantage
points of two wise women. The imagery is at times whimsical and
humorous and highlights sustainable practices and technologies that
exist today. The show seeks to give hope to all who struggle with the
direction the industrial growth society has taken in regards to a
rapidly changing climate.
In creating this show Artist, Jay Mead collaborated with climate scientist, Beth Sawin. They are incorporating "Turning" as part of Beth's "Our Climate Ourselves," workshop. They are tailoring this experience for several different kinds of audiences. Using shadow puppetry as a medium, they are creating hands on opportunities for others to express visions and stories about climate change. This type of story telling is a community art form as it requires that people work together at all levels of this creative process.