Last week, I drove up from Pennsylvania, through the hills and into the forests of Vermont. The towns became smaller and further in between, the roads curvier and commonly unmarked, and the land ever more green, soft, and breathtaking.
I spent this past week at Bonnieview Sheep Dairy in Craftsbury Common, VT. The owners, Neil and Kristin, raise sheep, produce cheese, care for a small garden, and chase after their four young children. Life at the dairy is full of hard work. Every day, twice a day, over 200 sheep must be herded to the barn and milked – a process that takes about three hours. The greenhouse plants must be watered, the garden weeded, and the yard mowed and maintained. New projects are always in the works as well – Neil and Kristin would like to build a hoop-house and clean out the cow-milking parlor so they can add twenty cows to their herd.
The cheese-making process is overseen by intern Joe, who is now in his second year at Bonnieview. Making cheese may sound glamorous, but in reality, it’s anything but. It is a hot, wet, and time-intensive process. The actual cheese-making is minimal – most time is spent washing dishes, sterilizing tables and equipment, and waiting for the milk to reach the right temperature/pH.
I have split my time at Bonnieview between cheese-making and milking – and surprisingly I find I like milking more. It is a very methodical process (we milk twelve sheep at one time, and repeat till all the sheep are milked). While I must wake up early (milking starts at 6:00am, sharp), spending the morning with the sheep listening to Vermont Public Radio is enjoyable. Sometimes the sheep kick, and they are not potty trained, but these are minor nuisances.
I have had more trouble adapting to the isolation that Vermont brings. The area I am in, while beautiful, is very scarcely populated. While there are many things to do during the day (hiking, swimming, fishing, boating, etc), the nights can get pretty lonely. The other two interns at Bonnieview have been gone much of the past week, so I have had to find ways to entertain myself. This has meant diving into the Craftsbury community by attending fitness classes, small art talks, going to the farmers market, or simply by heading into the library or local café. But most of all, being happy at Bonnieview has meant being ok with being alone, and actually enjoying the time with myself.
This week marks my formal end to WWOOFing for this summer; next week I move to Sterling College (also in Craftsbury) where I will take a course on Farm To Table Agriculture (don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging). My experience WWOOFing has taught me a lot about gardening and animal care, but has taught me more about myself. It has taught me independence – from making my own travel plans, to adjusting to new communities and households. I will repeat what I have said from the first week – farm life is hard. But this hard work makes the fun things – whether just a routine group dinner, a special bonfire party, or an afternoon spent reading – that much more treasured and memorable.
Gardening Tip of the Week: When harvesting lettuces and other leafy greens, don’t be afraid – go for it! As long as plants are free of disease, they can be cut back to just three leaves. This will encourage new leaves to grow back quickly.
Cooking Tip of the Week: Maple Syrup makes a great addition to almost anything! Try it in a salad dressing (mix with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper), over fruit, with yogurt or ice cream, with fresh ricotta cheese, or as a glaze for meat or fish. While Grade A tastes like pure sweet, Grade B has a more pronounced maple flavor.
Alexis ZK is pursuing her interest in sustainable agriculture and local food by spending the summer WWOOFing and studying at Sterling College, VT. During the school year, she studies French and Food Studies at NYU, and fulfills her addiction to farmers markets. Follow her internship here.