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Reflections on a Year of Farm Life

Okay, if you want to get technical, it has been one year, one month, and three days since I began my tenure at Walpole Valley Farms -- and oh what a one year, one month, and three days it has been! I normally take my space here on the blog to write about what I've been doing in the kitchen. Today, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my experience living here at the farm. Besides, who really wants to read about mussels in a spicy red wine sauce served atop spaghetti squash slathered in bacon fat?

I'll never forget my first night on the farm. I was, after all, awake for most of it! As a fresh Massachusetts escapee, I needed some time to acclimate. The first step in this process was learning to pile on the blankets, and make creative use of space heaters. Remember how cold it was last April? I do. We hadn't yet embarked on the beautiful and comfort improving renovations on the apartment and farm store, and boy did it get nippy at night!

Since that first night, I have had the privilege of watching the rolling hills beyond my bedroom window execute a series of elaborate costume changes. Spring has burst forth twice -- the speed and vigor with which the fields grew verdant leaving me just as astonished the second time around. I watched summer pass, with blue skies and and bright sunlight sending cows to chew their cud contentedly in the shade of distant windrows. Fall came, and the hillsides exploded into color with all the flamboyance of a flamenco dancer twirling away until fatigue triumphs over movement. Finally, winter came, slow and silent, and cloaked the farm in a mantle of of snow that was at first luxurious, then tedious, and finally odious. I think I speak for everyone in expressing my relief for the final return to warm weather and green pastures.

Each season brought with it an array of sights, smells, feelings, and goings on, all of which have woven together to form the fabric of what has been a wonderfully life-changing experience. To be sure, there have been plenty of challenges and frustrations along the way. That comes with any job. If I were working in an office, I might really get my knickers in a bunch over a paper jam in the copy room. Instead, I get to fume about that time I got to spend two hours chasing a jumpy calf back and forth over hill and dale. At least later you can tell tales of running after high-tailing animals without getting that look of feigned interest mixed with pity that you sometimes get when descanting upon the finer points of double-sided printing.

Moments of delight and an enduring sense of accomplishment have far outweighed moments of frustration and fleeting feelings of defeat. Often it is the little things -- my first taste of fresh nettle tea brewed right out of the fields, or of butter-soaked maitake mushrooms discovered growing at the foot of a venerable oak tree. Other times, it's big stuff -- successfully re-designing our chicken processing facility, learning how to drive a tractor without hitting the broadside of a barn, and, more recently, developing new skills as a manager.

The transition from my apprenticeship into my current role as assistant farm manager has brought me closer to my goal of living the full farming lifestyle -- and that's exactly what farming is: a lifestyle. Part of that transition is longer hours -- as I write this, the clock is politely informing me that it is past my bedtime; however, those longer hours are accompanied by a higher degree of self-direction, allowing me to immerse myself in my work in a way that connects me with the goals and vision of the farm. I feel, now more than ever, that I am a proactive participant in the nature-centric land ethic that we practice here. How could I not, when my decisions about how to manage our pastured-livestock have a visible, tangible, and measureable impact on the ecological health of our fields and woodlands? The last year, one month, and three days have brought me tremendously closer to feeling ready to start my own farm business, but I'm not there just yet.  In the meantime, there is much to do here at Walpole Valley Farms. I am excited to be working with a great team of new apprentices for the 2015 farm season!

- Chris Freeman

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