Getting Going

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The lambing board at the start of the week.

This year’s growing season is picking up steam, and as spring takes a firm hold of our farm, greening the pastures, warming the soil, opening buds and guiding our work, I can feel the head-long rush into the coming frenzy begin to swirl around my feet like undertow, pulling me on from each finished task to the next. We make our plans in the cold weather; we try to execute those plans when it’s warm, and the move from plan to execution is the mystery of each year. Every element of the farm is alive and real; none can be stopped or turned off while we finish the work or go back to redo the project. Once the warm half of the year begins, the urgency of the present defines our diversified New England farm, and the deepening green of the pastures outside my window attest that that time is here.

This has been a vacation week for the schools in our area, so Sentinel Elm Farm has been

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A new door and ramp for the egg-mobile.

pretty quiet over the past few days. We did our best to keep the work going without any visiting students however, splitting and stacking tons of firewood, getting the laying hens out of their winter coop and onto the farm in their egg-mobile, prepping the calving pen for our first calf expected next week, and working hard to get the kitchen-garden going for the season. We also hosted a few great workshops in the bunkhouse, with composting on Tuesday, plant-based dying on Wednesday, and farm chemical safety on Thursday. Our compost workshop was our second in the last two years as we work to develop a farm-wide plan for generating, managing and using our own compost. Our various livestock operations produce quite a bit of manure and bedding material, and we have a rough composting yard for mixing and curing it all, but we are hoping to improve the system and maximize the impact we can have on the fertility of our land. Organic certification mandates strict processing guidelines for the production of the organic compost that our certified veggie acreage needs, and we are trying to determine the feasibility of trying to make that compost ourselves from on-farm products.

Some of our cultivated acreage dried down enough this week for Alex and the student farmers to get out there for the first round of tillage in preparation for spring planting. With the greenhouse filling with starts, our veggie team is eager to get beds plowed up and ready for the initial rounds of planting out in the fields.

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Our new seeder.

We started setting up temporary electric fences for the grazing season this week. We’ve been working over the past several years to increase our high tensile fencing, which stays up permanently, and decrease the amount of temporary fences that we have to put up every spring and take down again in the fall. The high-tensile fences are more durable, work better for containing livestock, and withstand the pressure of weeds and other debris on them better than the temporary fences. One advantage of the temporary fences however is that they are quick to put up and take down, making them more flexible in meeting the changing demands of our pasture throughout the grazing season. We use high-tensile fences in places that we know we want fences to stay perpetually, like the perimeter of pastures, and use the temporary fences to make divisions within those perimeters to manage daily pasture moves. This time of year we are building some high-tensile fences and setting up some temporary fences in places that high-tensile fences are not an option.

I spread several acres of grass seed last week, hoping to grow some fresh grass over the

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Some casual nursing.

areas where the cows overwintered this year. Grass seed is slow to germinate, and the little grass shoots easily dry out before they can get their roots down deep enough to draw from moisture down in the soil. It seems like we’ve had a little dry spell every year just after I’ve spread our annual grass seed, and we’ve had poor growth every time. This year however, we’ve had a nice soft soaking rain yesterday and today, and I am optimistic that this moisture will give our new grass the jump that it needs to make a good start and grow up into solid pasture. I’ll let you know how it all comes along next week.

Green-up

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Charlie and Chicken-Coopers plant the first starts of the year.

We’re coming to the end of another spectacular week here at The Farm School, and with a turn toward warmer and sunnier weather, the feel of spring has really taken hold. The pastures have taken on a shade of green for real now, and the red maples, one of our earliest budding trees, are blushing red as their buds swell before opening. The muddy yards have dried, the old snow piles are gone, and there are kids sitting out in front of the bunkhouse enjoying the warm sun.

This was the first week of the independent project component of the Learn to Farm Program, so the student farmers were on their own Tuesday afternoon to spend their time pursuing projects of their own design. This year’s class is focused on a really diverse set of projects including drilling and plugging mushroom logs, welding a water wagon out of an old pickup truck, making cheese, researching bio-dynamic practices, developing curriculum, working with bees, building a loom, experimenting with ‘no till farming’, exploring digital farm record keeping, biodiesel research and carpentry. They will have the next eight Tuesday afternoons to advance their projects, and the process will end with a presentation to the community to report back on their work.

This week also included quite a bit of time at the sawmill, with the student farmers

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Into the greenhouse

working to mill out the lumber required to build our new mobile pullet house. They have been working with Josh to develop a blue-print for the building, turned that plan into a cut list, and are now turning a pile of pine logs into the material on the list. We hope to get the building started on top of our new set of running gear in the next couple of weeks, and need to have the building finished and ready to go by the end of June when the pullets will have sized out of the brooder.

We shoveled the winter bedding out of the Maggie’s Farm winter layer house yesterday, removing several truck-loads of nice material to add to our compost yard. We use a deep bedding approach for the layer house, shoveling the old bedding under the roosts once per week and adding new shavings on top. This allows the older bedding to start breaking down in the house and keeps the space a bit warmer through those cold winter months. This approach means that when we decide the time has come to dig out the bedding, we’re looking at quite a project, not only in the volume of material to be moved, but also in the smell and vapors coming out of that deep bed of material. Yesterday was a cool windy day, and we all really appreciated the refreshing breezes as they revived the air around our work site.

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Maggie’s Farm cultivation equipment

Alex has been rushing to put the finishing touches on the tractors and cultivation equipment this week, and checking on our drier fields in anticipation of getting out to do the first round of pre-planting plowing. Our fields run the full spectrum from dry to wet, so every spring demands a careful dance of monitoring and timing to get acreage plowed and prepared for seeding and planting, all with a constant eye on the weather. We had a few tenths of an inch of rain this week, but our cultivated acreage is coming along nicely toward planting.

Sentinel Elm Farm hosted The Acera School and Woodside Montessori for the first half of the week, and our very own Chicken Coop School from Wednesday to Friday. We work with the Chicken Coop students regularly throughout the school year, but it has been a long time since we had them do a full program at Sentinel Elm Farm. This visit was a wonderful opportunity for them and for us, and we had a truly spectacular time hosting them on the farm. We got some great

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Our chicken tractors are ready.

work done, ate some delicious meals, and we were able to achieve that unique family feeling we all cherish that happens from time to time with groups of visiting students. We projected a movie on the wall of the hay loft Wednesday night, feasted on unbelievable cheese burgers on Thursday night, and finished the visit off with pancakes and Farm School syrup this morning.

 

April Showers…

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Yarn spun from our wool

It’s been a wet week here at The Farm School, with heavy rain Tuesday and Thursday, and not much sun in between. The ground was already saturated by the snow-melt runoff from last weekend, so with nowhere for the water to go, this has been a muddy messy couple of days. The scene over at the beef herd has gotten pretty ugly, the sheep yard is a mess, and all the new lambs have been facing some challenging conditions for their first week of life. We’ve got some warm sunny weather in the forecast, and the sun is even trying to come out today, so I am hopeful that we’ve reached the wettest point, and that conditions will steadily improve over the coming days.

 

Despite the weather, we had some great programming at both farms this week. Sentinel Elm Farm hosted The Highlander Charter School from Providence RI for the first half of the week, and two schools, Metro West Christian Academy and Veritas Christian

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Intrepid workers brave the mud.

Academy together for the second half. All three groups brought big smiles and a real willingness to go out there in the cold wet weather to get significant work done on the farm. We took advantage of the wet weather to burn off our burn pile, and to cut and burn more brush from around the edges of some of the dairy pastures. We also found lots of inside work to do, keeping the dairy barn clean, shelling and cracking the dry corn from last year’s harvest, cooking some incredible meals, and enjoying good times around the wood-stove.

The adult students down at Maggie’s Farm kept things rolling along through the wet weather this week as well, with the glorious completion of the new brooder house, seeding in the green-house, some great classes, a little outside work clearing the edges of the sheep pasture, and a wonderful trip to eastern New York State on Friday to visit a few bio-dynamic farms. With stops at Camphill Copake, Hawthorne Valley and Roxbury Farm, they will get to see three

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Cute, and finished.

wonderful examples of farms guided by a strong system of practices and ideals, and the wonderful results that those approaches can bring.

We’ve had a few more lambs this week, bringing our total up to nine out of five ewes. Everyone is doing really well, even through this cold wet weather, and our little bottle lambs from last week are hanging in there. They have found a balance of getting some milk from their mother, though she is quite a reluctant care giver to two out of the three lambs, and getting some milk from the bottle. We are currently offering them a warm bottle of milk at AM chores around 6am, and another at PM chores around 6pm. Depending on how much they’ve been able to get from their mother, they have more or less interest in our offering, but we are committed to keeping a floor under them with those bottles to make sure they don’t end up malnourished. We

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A new lamb, chilling.

will slowly ramp up the amounts we’re offering them as they grow, but I expect that they will start to find other ewes willing to let them sneak a nurse in from time to time, and will lose interest in the bottle completely at some point this spring. They have an incredible drive to find warm milk from someone, and usually, through relentless determination and perseverance, they find a way to get it.

Winter? Really?

Snow is falling steadily here at The Farm School today, taking us from what seemed like the first real stirrings of spring, back into winter. The forecast calls for more than a foot of snow through today and tonight, and I am certainly feeling a bit of whiplash from this sudden turn-around. Our pastures were finally clear of snow after a warm sunny day yesterday, the mud of the previous couple of weeks was beginning to show the first signs of drying out, the ground had thawed enough to start work on pasture fences, and we even had our first lambs this morning. Now we’re taking a leap back in time, the snow shovels are back out, the plow-truck will be running soon, and this latest storm promises another long spell of muddy yards and roads. Farming in New England has always been unpredictable, but the dial seems to have been cranked a few clicks crazier in the past few years. Just as a reminder, we were up near just shy of eighty degrees for a few days at the end of February.

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There are three lambs in there.

The morning sheep chore folks found four lambs in the sheep pen this morning, and though things seemed to have gotten a bit mixed up, we now have the ewes in jugs, one with a single lamb and the other with three. We were a bit unsure of which lamb belonged to which ewe, but after some experiments and close observation, we think we’ve got it straightened out now. The single lamb is enormous, full of milk, and bouncing off the walls. The triplets are having a few issues, and we have been bottle-feeding the smallest of them since she just could not get a turn on the teats or any attention from her mother. We have lots of willing bottle feeders here at The Farm School, so what can be an onerous task for a single farmer ends up being a real treat for the student farmers and kids at The Chicken Coop School. Each ewe has just two teats, so that third lamb, unless it really is aggressive and lively, often ends up undernourished, scrawny, or starved, and is usually best served by some support from a warm bottle of milk. Also luckily for us, we have a nearly inexhaustible supply of rich jersey milk coming out of our small dairy down the road, so we have plenty of fresh food for lambs.

Work has continued on the new chick brooder all this week, and we are really coming toIMG_4366 the end of the project. The inside is completed, with a small area for storing equipment and supplies just inside the door, and a nice large space for raising the chicks. We have a large door built into the east wall of the building, and that will lead to a ramp down into a large yard. I am always eager to get our chicks access to the outdoors once they’ve put on some real feathers, in the hopes that this will help them acclimate to the weather better, and get them scratching and pecking as young as is possible. The brooder is getting the final trim, siding and paint now, and we hope to have it all done by the middle of next week. Our attention will then turn to building a new mobile pullet house. This will be similar to the egg mobiles that we already use, but will house the pullets, young hens between chicks and layers, before they start laying eggs and move into the layer house.

The rams were separated from the sheep flock this week into their own yard with the goal of getting them off the scene before lambs started arriving. It is much easier and more comfortable to work intimately with the sheep without the rams sniffing around everything.

The greenhouse is filling with starts, and Alex has been busy all week getting all of our cultivation equipment in perfect running order. He also spent this week finishing the last few tractor one-on-one training sessions, making sure that every student feels as comfortable as possible with the equipment before the fields season really gets under way.

We expect more lambs next week, we’re hoping to finish the brooder, and lots of other things that I’ll keep you up to date on.

Turning seasons?

Here is a collection of pictures of some super-pregnant sheep; expecting lambs in the first week of April.

As we draw towards the end of March we are quietly slipping back into that time of year when every farmer begins to pay closer and closer attention to the ten-day weather forecast. The weather in the heart of winter is certainly worth keeping an eye on, with special attention paid to really cold nights, rain, and big snow-storms, but with the ground frozen and the livestock off the pastures, it is all a bit abstract. Now, with the growing season coming into sight over the horizon, these factors take up their rightful place in our thoughts, and become more and more influential on the farmer’s state of mind. When will the snow be off the pastures? When will the soil dry down enough for the first round of cultivation to begin? When will soil temperatures rise enough for the initial plantings? What will conditions be like when lambing starts in ten days? How closely will snow-melt and pasture green-up be spaced, and how will that affect the first flush of grass growth? In addition to those examples, we have a long list of projects to complete that are waiting for the snow to reveal the ground, and the ground to thaw enoughfor digging holes.

Our farm landscape is about half brown and half white now, with the pastures slowly clearing of snow, and paths and roads clear as well. Buds are just revealing themselves on the maples, but we still got some good sap runs in the first half of this week. The sugar shack has been running full speed most of the week, trying to work through a few full tanks of sap, and the jars of syrup or collecting in the kitchen. We made five gallons of syrup this week.

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Tar paper and trim

The student farmers moved several great projects ahead in leaps and bounds this week, with seeding in the greenhouse, serious progress on the new chick brooder house, a major pasture edge renovation, one-on-one tractor training, several great classes and field trips, and the final presentation of their business plans. We’ve had a bad cold going through the community this week as well, so all of this great work has been done by a revolving crew of survivors powering through the illness. The brooder house is drawing close to completion, with the door and some windows in, and the clapboard siding painted and ready to go on the exterior. We will use the brooder for our first round of chicks coming to the farm in the first week of May, so we are eager to get it all finished up with plenty of time to work out any last minute details before then.

In our constant effort to give the beef herd plenty of shade options throughout their

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The fence line was at the dark posts…

grazing rotation, we spent a couple of days this week clearing out the north-west corner of our ‘1-Acre’ pasture to give the cows a spot where they will be able to get under some trees. My chief concern for the beef herd is direct sun in the afternoon, from about 1-4pm through the warm summer months, so we are looking for shelter to the north and east of trees to block the afternoon sun. Our cows, with English origins, really prefer cool cloudy weather, and temperatures over seventy start to send them looking for relief. Ample shade is essential in keeping them comfortable, and although we don’t seem to have temperatures here that would pose any real danger to the beef herd, I am committed to keeping them as happy and comfortable as is possible. Hot cows do not graze efficiently, so giving our herd the chance to cool off in the shade between rounds of grazing seems to help keep them eating  enough to keep growing and making milk.

We’re all setup and ready for lambing, though hopefully we can wait one more week before they start to arrive. I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on everything that happens here on the farm.

Back to Winter, again.

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The barn for the beef herd is open to the east, and unfortunately the nor’easter blew snow right in on the herd.

This has been another great week here at The Farm School, highlighted by a significant nor’easter coming through our area on Tuesday. Snow started falling around dawn, and we had several hours through the middle of the day with nearly complete whiteout conditions. We had a steady east wind driving the snow into every nook and cranny of every building, and gusts that shook the trees and knocked branches down all over. We were all truly thankful that the power managed to stay on throughout the storm, and our visiting students stayed warm and comfortable as best they could. We ended up with about a foot of snow, although with the wind pushing it all around, that number is more of an average than a measurement. Two weeks ago, temperatures here were in the seventies and we were thinking about seeding pastures and setting up fences, so this dramatic return to deep winter has been stunning, to say the least. We had been completely snow free, and this latest storm is going to guarantee a significant volume of spring snow-melt run-off to keep the soil wet for a nice spring flush of pasture growth.

Monday seeding days in the greenhouse have started in earnest, and we’ve got onions

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Onion starts poking through.

germinating in there now, with Bok Choi, grown for the Big Pig Gig, to come Monday of next week. We grow both sweet and storage onions, with names like Red Wing, Cortland, Red Marble and Elsa Craig. We cure all of our onions in the greenhouse after harvest in the late summer, but the sweet onions, with lower sulfur content, go out in CSA boxes right away while the storage onions go into the root cellar or walk-in cooler to be doled out through the winter. We’ve got 150 trays of onions started, each tray has 128 cells, and each cells has two or three seeds in it, for a potential of more than forty-thousand onion plants coming up in there. The warm humid greenhouse is a remarkable place to be these days with wind-swept tundra all around us, and no signs of anything growing outside, and the emerging potential in there is tangible.

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Three lambing jugs in the upper barn.

We expect lambs to start showing up on the scene in the first week of April, and we took a few important steps forward in our preparation for that this week. We use lambing jugs here to give every ewe and her lambs a few days in their own space to get acquainted and gain strength before mixing with the full flock, and we set those jugs up this week. The connection between the ewe and her lambs is the most important factor in determining our level of success in raising each lamb up to be big and healthy, and independent of direct hands on care from us, so we try to do everything that we can to help ensure that their connection is strong. Using lambing jugs gives us the chance to isolate the ewe and her lambs, to give them a good chance to cement that bond, as well as giving us the chance to make regular observations of the new family in a controlled space. We can check on the ewe and her lambs, watch for successful nursing and growth, make sure everyone is being cared for, and address any challenges

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The new brooder, with a classic JB diamond window.

that we see before they go out into the larger group and become much more difficult to get a hold of. I also lead our yearly lambing class with the student farmers on Thursday, introducing them to the lambing process and going step by step through the vital part that they will play in assisting ewes and lambs through the event. We strive in our management of the flock to promote easy lambing and good mothering, but there is always a little support provided to each ewe and her new lambs. My objective is to give our students a good introduction to the progression of lambing and their role in it so that they are able to provide calm and effective support through the process.

Work also continued on our new brooder house this week, with progress on the east wall, including a frame for the high window and completion of the ceiling.

Sugaring Season

Ten days ago it felt just about like summer here at The Farm School, with temperatures

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1st cut, 2nd cut, and straw. I love an organized barn.

well up into the seventies and the snow melting fast. Rivers and streams in the area, bursting with the quick snow-melt, rapidly climbed to the tops of their banks, the yard turned to mud, and the evaporator in the sugar shack was going full tilt. Farmers here have even been finding ticks on themselves and their dogs. The temperature has been going down pretty steadily all of the past week though, and by this morning, we sit at 2 degrees. We were so blinded in our glorification of spring that the returning cold air froze the cow barn water system before we realized that winter wasn’t quite over yet.

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Steaming coming off the pan, Stephanie in charge.

Last week was a busy sugaring week, with some big runs throughout the week, and the sugar-shack cranking out syrup at full speed. We boiled all day, and most of the night, throughout the week, and worked through several full tanks of sap. The shelves are filling up with finished half gallons of syrup, and the quick warm up of the week is reflected in a quick transition from the clear syrup of the early season to the darker syrup of warmer weather. The initial run of sap, coming up from winter storage in the roots, is the cleanest and sweetest sap of the sugaring season. Once the weather warms, and the tree begins to take in moisture from the soil again, things begin to get a little more cloudy. This phenomenon is strongly enhanced by warm air temperatures, since the sap begins to age more quickly in the buckets at each tree as the temperatures rises. These two issues can lead to a darker product coming out of the evaporator pan, though that usually means a stronger maple flavor as well. Most serious maple producers strive pretty strictly for the clearest Grade A Light Amber, but here at The Farm School, the kids eating in the bunkhouse are happy with just about anything sweet and delicious coming out of the sugar-shack. Now that temperatures have gone way back

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A view under the eave.

down to single digits, I really hope that we have reset the season a bit, and that we can go back to some nice clear sap runs and lighter syrup for a while. We’ve got a little stretch of poor sugaring weather here forecasted for the middle of this week, but then it looks like we settle down into another good stretch of warm sunny days and cold nights to keep the maples pumping up sap.

Work has moved ahead on the new Maggie’s Farm brooder house, with our focus last week turning to the ceiling and eaves. We really need to make sure that this building provides our tiny little chicks with a safe environment to grow up in, and that means doing everything that we can to keep out other creatures, and to keep the heat in. We are sheathing the underside of the eaves in 1×10 rough-cut pine from Heyes Forest Products, and putting the same product on the underside of the rafters to create a ceiling. This work will hopefully keep the roof system inaccessible to any and all intruders, make sure that no one is nesting in there, and help to keep the chick space inside cleaner.

IMG_4291Last week was our final push on cord-wood for the winter, and we took down a few trees right around the yard, and bucked, split and stacked them for the furnace. Those trees had been standing between the main farmyard and one of our closest pastures, and the change in the view from the yard is remarkable.

Last week also included our yearly series of pruning workshops with Brad Maloney. He comes out every year to take the students through three full days of pruning, starting with an introduction to the basic concepts and tools, and moving pretty quickly out onto the farm for work in the trees. We have fruit trees all over the ridge, and between Brad, Carlen and all the IMG_4289students, they try to prune them all. This series of workshops has been happening here at the farm for quite a few years, and by this point, our trees are beautifully shaped and healthy.

 

Shearing

I’m off the farm this week for a little vacation time with my family. Here are some pictures of the sheep shearing that is going on back on the ranch. Enjoy!

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Fred DePaul has been teaching Maggie’s students to shear sheep at The Farm School for more than 10 years.

 

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Shearing is a tough process, but the leg holds are the key!

 

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The electric clippers
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The finished product, a little rough for sure, but the wool will all even out in a couple of days.

Winter, for Real.

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Furnace wood ready to burn.

I’ve definitely written about it before, but I am always struck by the profound impact that the condition of the physical world around us has on the work of farming. Our work is so rooted in the material world, in the surfaces and objects of the farm, in the temperature of the air, the strength of the sunlight, the falling snow and the melting snow, and the condition of the matter at hand. Last week’s snow storms really took us back to winter, after a January that felt a lot more like October, and this week has certainly witnessed a typical week of work on a New England farm in winter. We’ve been shoveling snow all over the place, making paths between buildings, opening up room to roam for various groups of livestock, and digging out equipment that we need to use. Bradley has spent countless hours tinkering with the plow truck, trying to keep it going on their seemingly endless rounds of plowing. Every project now requires an accounting for the snow, every step must be considered on the ice, and every engine needs time and tending to run well in the cold. Depending on the temperature of the day, and the strength of the sun, we may be dealing with a world hard and frozen, or a soft, wet, muddy mess. For the most part, the nice blanket of snow gives our livestock a cleaner environment, and most of them are comfortable lying out in the snow most of the time.

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A view from inside the firewood shed.

Cord wood production has continued this week, with some extra work required to clear the work sights of snow before work could continue. Students are making regular trips from the landing back to the wood furnace with large wagon loads of split firewood to dump, and the stacks are growing daily as we work to build up our supply. Those stacks will stay in place through the spring and summer, and will get re-stacked inside the firewood shed before furnace season gets going again in the early winter. That move will make room for the next batch of split wood to move in over next winters firewood production seasno, and the continuous rotation will move forward, ensuring that we have dry firewood stacked and ready next to the furnace every winter.

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A look at the foundation and flooring at the new brooder house.

We installed floor joists in the new brooder house last week, and started laying the floor down on top of those this week. We opened with one-by-six rough-cut pine, laid diagonally across the floor joists and screwed down. This pattern built in a lot of little triangles throughout the flooring system, as each piece of flooring crosses several joists at a forty-five degree angle, making the whole thing extremely rigid and strong. We then applied a layer of thirty-weight tar-paper over the sub-floor, and began topping all of that with more one-by-six pine laid perpendicular to the joists. This three-part floor will ensure that there is no airflow up from below the house, keeping our tiny little guests snug and warm.

This has been another great week of programming at the Learn to Farm Program. We had

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Each tree takes a lot of planning.

another in the business planning series, an introduction to fiber arts followed by a full day intensive hands on fiber arts workshop, and another crop planning session on Friday. We’ve been able to maintain a nice classroom and firewood work balance, just like the past few weeks, keeping everyone learning and moving every day.

We’ll be shearing the sheep next week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, marking one of our first concrete steps toward spring. I will be off the farm for the week, but I will try to get at least some pictures up to show the process.

This has also been a great week of farming at the Program for Visiting Schools, with two visiting groups of seventh and eighth graders from The Mission Hill School in Boston. Mission Hill has been coming out to The Farm School just about from the founding of this program, and uniquely, their students come out to see us in every grade. This gives us the opportunity to watch their students grow up from kindergarten through eighth grade, to develop long and meaningful relationships with them and their incredible teachers, and to share the farm with them in a truly familial way. Their recurring visits have also pushed us to adapt our program in significant ways, aiming to make each successive farm visit build on the last, and to give them a fresh experience every time. Several years ago we began trying to think about The Farm School as a second home, or home-away-from-home for the students from Mission Hill, and that structure has made these kids feel even more like family. Their visits are exceptional and wonderful, and are highlights of our year. We try to get the seventh graders to build something for the farm that will outlast their time on the farm, and we’ve included picnic tables, benches, and several infrastructure projects over the past few years. This year they are building a whole array of garden ‘furniture’, like tomato cages and large sections of trellis. The eighth graders have spent their days in the kitchen, doing all the cooking, including huge community meals for their second night at the farm, the Big Deal Meal. This year they are working on a dumpling extravaganza!

Snow

img_4164The snow has been coming down hard all day at the farm, and with more than a foot on the ground as I write this at 2:30 on Thursday, I’m not sure where we’ll finally top out. Our snow pack has come and gone pretty consistently this winter, but with some cold weather forecast for the next few days, and more significant snow predicted within the next week, I’m optimistic that we might finally see an extended period with snow cover. Most of our winter livestock systems depend on the ground being frozen, but a nice clean blanket of snow goes a long way in keeping the animals clean. Other than the pigs and chickens, all of our animals are happy to lie down on a thick blanket of snow, right out in the pasture, and we can be pretty confident that their in a clean spot. Despite the cold wind and heavy snowfall, the dairy cows, with a body temperature right around 101, and a huge barrel of fermenting hay for a stomach, have been out eating their newest round bale all day. They’ll come into the barn this afternoon for some grooming with the visiting students, and they’ll have a chance to dry off a bit out of the snow. They have a nice bedded free-stall area in the back of the barn to get out of the weather, but we give them the choice whether or not to use it.

This has been another great week of programming at Maggie’s Farm, with another session

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PVS layers, snacking on some leftovers.

welding with Ron Mott, more business planning with Ray Belanger, and a livestock budgeting class with me. We focused out livestock budgeting on a close look at the money spent in 2016, a comparison to the budget from 2015, and a deep dive into how the costs and value of the product relate. We’ve kept with the morning class and afternoon cord-wood schedule this week, trying to keep that nice balance of physical work and intellectual pursuit. The student farmers have really mastered the skills and process that goes into firewood production, and by this point in the winter they are producing several cords per day. We have a goal of making thirty or forty cords this winter, so we’re hoping to be done in a couple of weeks.

Visiting students returned to Sentinel Elm Farm this week, with Carlton School here Monday to Wednesday, and Haggerty School here for the back half of the week. It is wonderful to have kids back on the farm, stirring things up, visiting the animals, getting some great work done, and enjoying some remarkable food in the bunkhouse. This snow storm has transformed the farm, made getting around much more difficult, and forced us to spend more time inside than we’d like to, but our visiting students are enjoying it all.

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Farm School potatoes, prepping for another great bunkhouse dinner.

Lunch at the bunkhouse today was home made ramen bowls, with hard boiled eggs from the farm, scallions, farm-made kimchi, thin sliced pork and bacon from the farm, dried sea weed and various sauces to put on top. The ramen noodles came from Vermont Fresh Pasta, and they were perfect for the meal! Cristina and Eliza fed thirty kids visiting the farm, fourteen student farmers, ten PVS farmer/teachers, and six or seven more folks that work and live at the farm. Each one of us walked away from the buffet table with an incredible bowl of delicious food, prepared with love, care, and lots of time and effort, and sourced right here on the farm from super high quality livestock, raised to highest standards by all of our students.

We made some great progress on the new Maggie’s Farm brooder house this week, lowering the building off its cribbing towers onto the cement foundation blocks for each corner. Getting the building down off those towers was such an incredible relief, and to have done it with all of us intact and whole is a wonderful thing. Once it came down onto the foundation, we quickly finished up leveling it, and started building the flooring img_4167system. We got two-by-eights from our sawmill, purchased ‘rough cut’ joist hangers from the local hardware store, and put in the structure that the floor will rest on. The next step is to put down the flooring, hopefully also sourced at our sawmill, and then we can start putting up framing for walls. Now that the building is down and leveled, the work should be able to push ahead much more quickly. I’ll keep you up to date as we move along!