Farmers: Kristin and Mark Kimball
First season: 2003
What they raise: Mixed vegetables,
dairy, beef, pork, eggs, chicken, dairy, wheat,
rye, oats, corn, oilseed sunflowers, maple syrup,
cherries, apples, plums, pears.
Location: On Lake Champlain,
a little south of Burlington VT.
Marketing strategies: Year-round
CSA for 25 families.
2005. We bought Rupert, the Highland bull
I wrote about in my last journal
entry -- plus fourteen brood cows, nine yearlings, and
eight calves, with six cows due to calve in the next few weeks.
This brings the beef herd to a grand total of fifty-two beasts.
We weren't planning to expand so fast, but the people who
were selling the bull decided they'd just as soon get rid
of their beef herd entirely and offered it to us for a price
we didn't feel we could refuse.
The new yearling bulls are in the barn now, waiting for the
vet to come cut them. The heifers have joined our jersey yearlings
and a dry dairy cow, grazing down the weeds and brush and
grass growing up around the outbuildings. The rest of the
mighty herd is a gorgeous sight on the long, green pasture.
They are richly furred and crowned with long, fierce horns.
Every morning and evening, my pup Jet and I hike out to check
the electric fence, the automatic waterer and the height of
the grass. Our diligence comes from fear that the fence will
ground out, or they'll run out of grass or water and charge
through the next field onto the county highway. In less than
two weeks of rotation, they've managed to munch their way
through the spring growth on a 15-acre pasture. I'll move
them further out next week and rotate them through the 30-acre
pasture. We could use some warm weather to get the grass going.
The chilly spring we've been having has really held the growth
The time it takes to tend the expanded herd has taken up
any slack we had in our already stretched schedule. We farm
14 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. Sundays, we try to
relax a little after chores, go to town for a meal or a movie,
or take a walk around the farm and catch up on sleep. Today,
a Sunday, the sun came out and we went out for what was supposed
to be a relaxing stroll through the pasture, only to find
that the beef cattle had ripped out a section of the high-tensile
fence, which needed immediate repair, and there went the Sunday
A farmer Mark talked to recently reminded us that when farms
like ours fail, it's usually not for financial reasons but
because of burnout or divorce. We, newlyweds, laughed about
that, and now when things get really stressful, we yell 'Burnout
and divorce!' at each other, but we are also sincerely struggling
with fatigue and time management. Nonessential chores like
mowing the lawn and keeping the housework under control just
haven't been getting done, which lowers our morale, and we
both feel like we've let down friends and relatives who haven't
gotten much attention from us lately.
Meanwhile, the workload is due to get heavier before it gets
any lighter. This week, for example, we have to set up some
kind of head gate to hold these big yearlings for the vet
when he comes on Tuesday. The little calves already on pasture
have to be banded and tagged before they get any bigger, and
we have no easy way to do it. My first batch of 130 broiler
chicks arrives this Thursday, so there is the brooder to set
up, the feed to formulate, grind and mix, and mobile coops
to build. And the meat freezer is nearing empty, so we'll
have to slaughter a hog this week and also a steer, if we
can figure out a way to get a tractor through a muddy patch
between home and the cattle pasture.
But the bright side: The plants are looking awfully good.
Standing on our shaggy lawn, looking out toward the lake,
I can see six acres of tilled ground, three planted now in
regular rows of garlic, greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts,
carrots, cabbage, peas, tomatoes, beans and potatoes. Our
ad-hoc greenhouse (the south facing porch of the farmhouse)
is stocked with flats of healthy looking seedlings. Flowers
have been planted next to the distribution area. While we
haven't yet been hit with the full force of summer weeds,
we have, so far, managed to keep the fields fairly clean.
We've been working the horses almost every day, spreading
manure and disking and cultivating, and they look fit and
hard. When I see them grazing in the pasture, I feel a small
pang of pride.
Tomorrow, we'll start preparing another two acres of ground
for planting corn. The horses will be frisky after their day
of rest. They'll throw themselves enthusiastically into their
collars to pull the heavy load of compost over soft ground,
and I'll admire them from where I sit, behind. By tomorrow
night we will have moved the fight one small step forward.
Yesterday, an elderly neighbor stopped by to see what we were
up to. She grew up on a ranch out west. 'It's a very good
life, farming and ranching,' she said. I agreed. 'One does
have to get up very early, though,' she went on. Then she
got very serious, and pointed a finger at me, like she was
giving me the secret to a happy farm home. 'The important
thing, dear, is to make sure you take a nap every afternoon.'
I'm going to schedule one in for tomorrow.