We are wading our way through strawberry season, our craziest time of year. Introduce the fact that we just added an additional 25 acres of tillable land and 45 acres of woodland at the Putnam Farm to work up, and you might ratchet up the anxiety levels, but so far it has not been the case. In fact, we are settling into our new “home” pretty comfortably. The fields haven’t been plowed in over 40 years to anyone’s recollection, so we “broke ground” by plowing the fields and seeding cover crops just as soon as the soil tests returned from the state lab. The Macs put in 12 acres of cow corn in the back half of the land, and we are working on the front half. After the addition of wood ash to remedy a low soil pH and some potassium deficiencies in the soil, I seeded the cover crops (or green manures); one field down to buckwheat, and the other field to soybeans, a cover crop I have never tried before but hope to capture some nitrogen with.
While I was seeding down the soybeans, I had some time to reflect upon some questions that have been asked of us since we took ownership. There are the simple questions like “Are you going to put up a farmstand down there?” which currently is not our intent. One that took me off guard, but has cropped up a couple of times, is “What are you going to name your new farm?”
It is a curious question to me, because I never questioned that it would or should be called anything but the Putnam Farm. The Putnam family farmed that ground for over two hundred years. There is a legacy there that deserves some recognition because of the emotion and sweat equity a family puts into a piece of ground. I think it would be pretty presumptuous of me to rename the farm, and a display of egotism. Jon Satz in Brandon, Vermont, a fellow farming buddy, kept the name of his farm (Wood’s Market Garden) the same, out of respect for the family that came before him. Yes, land is a resource, but if you look at land only as an income-producing tool, you probably missed the point of being a farmer, and in the long run are likely to be a pretty shitty steward of that land. The home farm where we live was owned by the Colby family from 1832 until we bought it in 1974, and I knew Stan Colby, the gentleman who ultimately sold it to us. I got to know him better over the remaining years when he was living in Cornish. It had always been known as the Edgewater Farm. He gambled a bit and took less money for the place than he could have gotten on the open market, so that two kids could get a crack at having their own farm. He lived long enough to see that gamble pan out, for he was just as pleased as we were to see us developing a successful strawberry business and fixing up the old homestead.
Frank Brock, a fellow ski patroller and longtime friend I worked with at Mt. Ascutney, once jokingly said “We’re not here for a long time, we’re just here for a good time.” Our stay on the land is not a long time, and we do want it to be a “good” time. But we are just one in a number of families like the Colbys and the Putnams who are using this house, this land, this water for a while and we should never leave it in anything but better shape than we found it. So when I work in the fields I ponder questions about the families who stood there before me, and it connects me to them. Did Stan Colby’s grandmother really plant a box elder tree in the front yard of the house that eventually spawned all these weed trees encircling the lower meadow? How did Link Putnam farm this wet area of the field? Could my Dad ever have imagined that when he bought this 2-cylinder John Deere tractor to plow and bale hay in 1956 that his kid would be using it to plant soybeans in 2012?
I am never alone on a farm.