Traditional Countryside Skills in Chagford

Traditional Countryside Skills in Chagford

Hi Folks,

The snow has finally stopped falling in New England and it's cold! Most days this week, it has been between minus 15 and minus 1 degree celsius. It's remarkable however how these kind of temperatures don't affect farm life. Every house I've been to so far has an insulated root cellar built into the foundations that allows them to keep root vegetables stored throughout the winter - for some of the CSA's I've visited there have been several tonnes of potatoes, onions, carrots, squash and cabbages - these are then supplied to their members weekly over the winter months. Watering animals in the fields is also challenging when it never gets above freezing, all of the farms here use ingenious frost-free stand pipes which are fed by pipes buried five feet below the surface, the watering troughs are also grouped around the barns, each one with a submersible water heater to prevent them freezing over. Despite the cold it has been very pleasant working conditions, if you have enough layers and woollen gloves & hat you warm up quickly.

This week we visited Fable Farm CSA (, which is run by an old friend of Chinnie's. Johnny took me cross country skiing, the first time I have ever been, through the woods and around his farm - it was incredibly good fun and also a fantastic way to see the wooded valleys and rolling hills of this landscape which is not too dissimilar to Devon! Fable Farm is a 80-household CSA on a similar scale to Chagfood and they hold a social evening every Thursday during the summer for their members where they have live music, dancing, cider, ale & tacos. They regularly get 150-200 people attending each week despite being 15 miles from the nearest village or town - it really illustrates the loyalty of support for local food I've seen everywhere over here.

On Monday we headed to Cob Hill farm in southern Vermont where the CSA manager Steven Leslie manages five acres of vegetables with his two teams of Norwegian Fjord Horses. There wasn't much field work going on while I was there but I managed to have a go with the horses using a 5-ft snowplough to try and clear the driveway into the farm which was as much fun for the horses as it was for me! The farm also hosts a dairy that milks 25 Jersey cows and uses the milk to make several types of cheese, butter and yoghurt. Steven has written a book called "The New Horsepowered Farm" that has been an invaluable resource for us at Chagfood over the years so it was a pleasure to meet him & talk about all things equi-cultural. He also showed me the final draft of his new book that includes a section on the work we do with the horses at Chagfood.

On Wednesday we headed across Lake Champlain into upper New York State and to Reber Rock Farm ( Reber Rock is run by two young couples (Nathan & Racey & Chad & Gwen) who, like a whole generation of new young farmers over here, work incredibly hard. They farm 10 acres of vegetables, 20 acres of cereals and have 25 head of beef cattle. They don't have a tractor and do all of the farm work with Suffolk Punch draft horses and process everything on the farm - including the cereals! It was a real privilege to spend a couple of days with them all they really made an effort to show me around and put me to work doing everything from canning & bottling to driving the horses and helping to build their new house. I learnt an enormous amount about veg growing, cereal growing, preserving, marketing, building and horsemanship in such a short time and made some very good friends as well - Reber has certainly been the highlight of the trip so far! 

Today - Friday - I'm off to spend the day at Essex Farm CSA ( Essex if perhaps the best known CSA in the whole of the USA, largely because there's a fantastic book written about it but also because its the first "full diet" CSA in north America. The farm supplies shares for 200 people a week from 500 acres of land, members pay the equivalent of £1,500 per person per year and in return receive an unlimited supply of fresh organic vegetables, dairy and meat each week. They also use working horses for the majority of the farm work and, due to the size of the farm, employ around 10 full time workers. In addition they have also started the Essex Institute, to train a new generation of young organic farmers and currently have 15 apprentices for the season.

Tomorrow I'm giving a presentation about Chagfood & the Landworkers' Alliance at the Northern Organic Farming Association conference in Burlington VT, then on Sunday I start the long drive out west, I need to be in Missoula Montana (2,000 miles away) to give another talk on Wednesday evening - wish me luck!

Until next week - have a nice day already!