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 nap.
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.