I know I left off writing about our time in Vermont but I just don’t know where to start telling the story of our time at Root ‘n Roost Farm in White Sulphur Springs, NY.
Cheech and Chong?
Hands down, the best part of our stay were the people we encountered and the friendships we made. Sean and Cheyenne, who own and oversee the farm, have done a great job of bringing people together and building a true community. Their sustainable farm operation is “permaculture-based, human- and animal-powered” and their seasonal CSA provides farm-fresh products “grown by hand, using only hand tools and no petroleum powered machinery.” Our farmstay lasted a short two weeks and we shared the work and play with nine other WWOOFers and interns from New England, China, Taiwan and France.
Every farm is unique but I knew this one would be a bit different than the others when, upon approaching the small town of Liberty, I called Sean to see if he needed us to pick up anything from the store on our way in…a couple 12-packs of beer were requested. Of course, with nine farm hands, Sean and Cheyenne and the two of us, a case of beer wouldn’t go very far, but it did make our welcome a bit more celebratory and that feeling of celebration lasted throughout most of our stay.
As was the case on most of the farms, Anastasia set about to the planting, tending and harvesting of food crops and flowers while I found several construction projects to tackle. It’s not that I was avoiding farming, it’s just that a good 25% of the work done on a farm is either building something new or repairing something old. In this case, I helped finish a small room addition to house a ceramic kiln. Nick, the farm’s summer intern, and I made quick work of the addition as three walls were already standing and all that was needed was a roof, insulation, siding, plasterboard and weatherproofing. I think we were done in two days.
Next was a wattle fence enclosure to lend some privacy to a couple of bungalows near the pond at the back of the property. Anastasia and I had repaired a wattle and daub wall on a prior farm so I understood the concept – weave longer, thinner branches horizontally between thicker upright posts. Simple.
Ideally, the posts are made from straight yearlings and should be about 1 1/2″ to 3″ in diameter and the horizontal members from smaller trees or straight branches about 3/4″ to 1 1/2″ thick. Nick and I teamed up again to procure the needed timber and branches – he with a stout Bowie knife and myself with a 10″ ESEE Junglas.
We spent a full day, and then some, thinning the forest of yearlings and small trees, shedding branches and making the timber ready to work with. In the end, with the help of four or five others, we had built three sturdy 8′ x 10′ panels from which we formed the privacy fence.
It made for a solid, sturdy fence – and nice-looking as well. Plus, the materials were free and thinning the forest helped to foster growth of the larger trees so it was well worth the effort but, man, was that a lot of work.
A quick word about the knife – the ESEE Junglas is far and away the best large knife I’ve ever handled. The high-carbon 1095 steel blade came ultra-sharp and stayed ultra-sharp after 10 hours of chopping trees. It worked better than a small ax for that job. I also use it to baton through dried logs and once, while in Utah, I cut a 14″ fallen Aspen in half to clear the road so we could drive on. It comes with a great sheath and a lifetime guarantee – you break it, they’ll replace it, no questions, no receipt. Sorry, I probably sound like a commercial…but it’s a damn good knife.
After the fence, Nick and I built a small wooden housing to mount a solar panel on top and store a 12 volt battery inside
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. Another fairly simple, but necessary, building project on the farm. The panel and battery were to provide a charge to the electric fencing around the upper hog pen. The whole group of us had been chasing piglets for days, trying to herd them back into the pen only to have them wriggle their way out again. A harmless little jolt would go a long way to training these little hogs-to-be.
All the different farm projects I have worked on got me agreeing with what Wendell Berry claims; that specialization has become a limiting flaw of modern man.
On a farm, a man, or a woman, needs to be a generalist; a person capable of building barns, mending fences, repairing machines, plowing fields, delivering babies, caring for newborns, healing the sick, mending the injured, terminating the terminal (and knowing the difference), slaughtering, butchering, harvesting, shucking, peeling, boiling, steaming, canning, frying, roasting and baking. In addition, they ought also be a fair, attentive and supportive partner, father, mother and neighbor; they should protect the land and all that serve it, AND they must have a fine enough sense of business to afford to do all of the above.
Farming – in my estimation – is one of the most honorable, necessary and fulfilling roles in our society. Unfortunately, the USDA, Big Ag and most of the American public don’t think of it as such. I fear that most people plainly expect food to show up at the market. Or on their dinner table. Or in a bag as they drive past a little fast-food window. I believe most people have lost touch with a critical understanding:
People simply do not know where their food comes from or what it takes to produce it.
Now, I don’t mean to get too preachy on this topic but…since I have to eat to stay alive, and it is something that I do several times a day, well, that makes me very interested in knowing exactly what I’m eating and where it comes from and how it was produced.
But, maybe, that’s just me.
I mentioned that the folks at R’nR are something special…and they are. Frankly, it’s been that way on all the farms but at R’nR we had a larger crew of people to work and live and play with. We all took turns on meals and, not surprisingly, with folks from all over the globe, we had a very diverse and tasty menu.
Anastasia and I developed a special fondness and friendship with Sophie and Sylvain, a young French couple who were traveling the world for one year on a worldwide plane ticket. And, of course, with my work partner, Nick, as well.
The entire community that Sean and Cheyenne have built around RnR is big and FUN. Sean is a musician and singer who plays in several bands and Cheyenne sings in at least one of the bands as well. The CSA that they run attracts a wide swath of locals and they also conduct tours of the farm during the warmer months. Sean is an active and vocal proponent of permaculture design and, for a farmer, keeps pretty active in social media as well. Between WWOOFers, interns, fellow musicians, CSA members, farm visitors and a collection of local farmers, bee keepers, permaculturists and the occasional mushroom grower, RnR is a rocking good time.
OK…so, what about Cheech and Chong?
Sean and Cheyenne got married last September. And we were there in August, which meant…a bachelor party! Sean invited all of the men working on the farm to join in. For two nights of celebrating. The first night we met for a little pre-party before caravanning over to the Woodstock Performing Arts Center for a trip back to 1976 with WAR and Cheech and Chong in concert. Almost 40 years later and “Dave’s not here” is still a certain red-eyed kind of funny…and “Slipping Into Darkness” will always be a killer tune.
Afterwards, we headed back to the rustic homstead where we had started and the fun ramped up more when the musicians in the bunch (which was pretty much everyone but me, Nick and Sylvain) started doing what musicians do. Three guitars, two banjos, a mandolin, a couple violins, an ukulele, a blues harp and some crazy cat in pajamas doing some Hasidic scat-rap. I just kept the fire going.
Instruments changed hands. Players changed roles. Rhythms came, disappeared and then reappeared. Was it bluegrass? Rock? Jazz? Country blues? Yes, all of the above. And more.
I could have stayed all night (others did) but I wanted to get back to the farm and cuddle up with Anastasia. Sylvain felt the same way about returning to Sophie.
The next morning the entire farm took a break. Sean and Nick returned late in the day. Sylvain and I drove Sean’s car back the night before but I can’t say how we made it back from that homestead along the dark, green border of Pennsylvania and New York where the music plays all night. I do remember lots of mist and fog and miles and miles of unlit country roads and Sylvain asking in his unassuming Franco-English if this is the right way and me answering, “I don’t know, let’s try it” until, somehow, we ended up back at RnR.
The second night of Sean’s bachelor party was held at a gorgeous property on a private lake with a roaring fire with more food, music and beer…followed by another concert at Woodstock, this time with Yo-Yo Ma accompanied by three or four bluegrass artists. It was all pretty amazing.
I do not know that I ever have truly expressed my gratitude to Sean and Cheyenne for creating such a vibrant and encouraging community. It is a real talent to be able to cultivate and sustain that type of energy and I look forward to the day when Anastasia and I are settled in our retreat center and we can begin to develop that sort of environment around us once again…and I hope that Sean and Cheyenne and all the others who we have met along the way will come and help us build that community.
And slaughtering chickens? Yes we did…check out the post and pictures here.
When our two weeks ran down and it was time to leave, I began missing the people and the times we had spent there. Sophie and Sylvain were leaving that same day and were traveling not far from the route we had planned so we gave them a ride. It was fun, the four of us in the Schwartz taking off for new adventures.
We stopped along the way and grabbed a beer at Mountain Brauhaus. From our table we could see the face of the Gunks, the world-famous rock climbing spot near New Paltz, NY. We toasted our friendship and our journeys and then we dropped them off at their next farm and bid them adieu. We followed their worldwide journey online and I trust, someday soon, we four will share another toast in another place.
As great as our New York stay was, it could not have happened without the courage that Anastasia manifested during a difficult time there. When we arrived in New York she was pregnant. We didn’t actually know it yet but, since we had been trying to conceive for a couple years and we tracked her schedule like a hound dog, we had suspected as much. A pregnancy test confirmed it and we were off and running again. Or so we thought.
During our last week at RnR, we visited an OB in the area a couple times. Anastasia wasn’t feeling right about this pregnancy and the doctor confirmed that the pregnancy had ended shortly after it had begun.
We did our best to keep the news from everyone – we saw no reason to bring their moods down and we really didn’t want anyone’s sympathy. So we kept it to ourselves until the very end and then apologized to Sean and Cheyenne for being away from the farm so often those last few days. They were understanding and sympathetic, as we knew they would be. It is only now that I write this that I realize just how strong Anastasia was throughout that time. This was her second pregnancy lost and, still, she just kept moving forward. Not as a way of denial or avoidance, but simply with acceptance. There was, and is still, grief, but ultimately she just moved forward – what else is there to do? She is a remarkable woman and I am fortunate to have found her.
After we dropped off Sophie and Sylvain, we visited the hospital and afterwards checked into a pretty nice hotel (for Sullivan County, NY) and spent three rainy days eating pizza and French toast and watching movies and recuperating. It was perfect. It was necessary.
And then we started off for Illinois…