After Maine, we went to Herkimer’s Hill Farm in Cabot, Vermont. Mark Christensen & Jen Boucher and their son, Blue, live in a spacious 2-story log cabin towards the rear of the family farm there. As we drove down the long driveway, we were first greeted by Jen’s mother, Judy, their two dogs and a cat. Judy and her husband, Jim, live toward the front of the property across from the pasture in a stunning timber frame home designed by Jim.
Herkimer’s truly is a family farm; they grow food simply for subsistence and, when they have a little extra, they trade produce with their friends. The real crop on the farm is syrup…Vermont maple syrup. Their property consists of a few acres of pasture plus a few more acres for home sites, barns, vegetable and herb gardens, berries and some chickens and ducks. The rest of the 175-acre property is hilly and forested mainly with sugar maple and ash.
Our visit to Herkimer’s was a short six days. Mark and Blue had scheduled a visit with family in Washington and we were fortunate to get in a couple good days of work between a few rainy days and their departure. We picked berries and cleaned up a few rows of garden beds but most of our time was spent in the forest splitting wood. The forest provides the family with enough wood to cook and heat with. They have a beautiful, efficient and effective wood-fired stove and water heater that was a real joy to cook on and made the house nice and toasty in the mornings.
Sugaring requires a good deal of wood as well. Sugaring is the process that turns tree sap into maple syrup. Sap is collected and poured into a large stainless steel vat and heated, by wood, to reduce the water content. The operation is called sugaring because as the water evaporates the sugar content of the syrup rises. In Vermont, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Trees further south have a lower sugar content and may require 60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, which is why the best maple syrups comes from the northeast and Canada. The fake stuff in the funny shaped bottles (Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Buttersworth and Log Cabin) and most everything else on the grocery shelves are made from corn syrup, colors and flavorings. If you’ve never had the real deal, I highly recommend it. It’s a little pricey but now you know why. You can order Vermont maple syrup directly from Herkimer’s.
We did not have to chop wood by hand. The family uses about four cords of wood through the winter, and sugaring takes another nine cords or more, fortunately, they have a hydraulic splitter. Mark fell several medium to large trees for us to work on. He selects trees based on the density of the forest; he hopes to thin the forest, not clear it. He also takes out competing trees and, of course, dead or diseased trees. He had cut the logs to length – about 24″ – so they would fit in the furnace beneath the boiler. We spent two physically demanding but generally peaceful days deep in the forest splitting wood.
While in Vermont we had the opportunity to visit two permaculture projects: the Perfect Circle Farm of Buzz Ferver and the farm and permaculture training center of Ben Falk. Buzz bought a forested hillside several years ago and cut a road into it and watched how the hill shed water for a few years before developing a plan to capture and use the water effectively. He now has a series of swales and two ponds on his property, as well as a large open floor plan house, an enormous workshop and a greenhouse with an aquaponic element in it. He spent several years building the soil on his property and has now begun planting fruit trees and a prodigious newcomer, the seaberry bush. After the tour Buzz poured us a couple glasses of apple jack and we sat on his back porch and shared stories into the afternoon. Good day. Good guy.
Ben’s farm and training center is a little more established and directed. They are growing food onsite and have some fowl for eggs and to help keep the bug population down. There are a series of water catchment swales and ponds on the property and a variety of experimental plants, including seaberry. Ben was preparing for an incoming class during our visit but we had the opportunity to record a podcast onsite with Vic Guadagno for BorderTown: Stories From the Edge. I’m always a little freaked out listening to my own voice but, if you’re interested in some unedited stories about Good Foot Project and the rantings of two impassioned souls, you can catch the podcast here.
Next stop: Root N’ Roost Farm, New York