We have just returned last night from a quick and last-minute visit to New Brunswick to visit our friends Will and Alyson at Windy Hill Farm in McKees Mills (40 min N of Moncton). We got word about a week and a half ago that Will had had a bad fall in the barn and so we took off to lend our able bodies and support.
We've never been able to sneak away during the growing season for a visit, so we were really excited to see the farm in it's full glory, and we weren't disappointed! Unfortunately I also took the opportunity to leave my cell phone in the suitcase, and so I have no photos to share, other than this one from the Windy Hill Farm website of Will, Alyson, and Cory, who I miss already!
Alyson and Jon worked together 10 years ago in BC when Jon was an apprentice at Glen Valley Organic Farm. They built a strong friendship, and I heard so much about Alyson that when I met her I felt as though I already knew her. We met when Jon and I were on our way to Nova Scotia, nearly 3 years ago, in February 2012. Since then, we've made an annual spring visit in kidding season, to visit the baby goats. This visit I was fortunate enough to catch goat mating season, so I got to see the other side of the picture! It was neat to see the bucks and does in heat, and really lucky to catch it, as does only go into heat for 24 hours every 3 weeks. Ruby, the matriarch, was just a young goat when Jon came to the farm in BC, and as of this season she has retired to live out the rest of her days at Windy Hill-- I guess I'm marking the passing of time in terms of goat generations, but it's really special that Jon has know Ruby for as long as he's known Alyson. She's like an old friend, too.
Alyson and Will run a shipshape, scale-appropriate farm that I lust after. Every little detail is carefully thought through and planned out, and each and every tool has a place and each action a reason behind it. I think of their farm as a model for what I hope Jon and I can achieve someday. Alyson is generous with sharing her knowledge, she encourages us in our endeavours and celebrates our successes as though they were her own. The fields at Windy Hill are tidy, the plants vigorous and the crops bountiful-- and above all else, everything is delicious! We always have amazing feasts when we visit. This time it was a sushi feast, the star of the table being Alyson's recently grown and pickled fresh ginger. I helped make candied ginger when we were there, and it is potent and scrumptious. Alyson milks goats and so there is always great cheese around-- we tried some blue, as well as gouda and feta and chevre, and I helped to stir some curds for feta.
Jon spent most of his time working on the farm helping with some carpentry projects that Will was in progress on before the fall. He put up some weather guards for the wash stations, which get rather chilly in the 5 weeks of washing that remain for the CSA this year. He also helped with some final touches on insulating the newly built (improved) pumphouse. Will is doing shockingly well for someone with 11 broken ribs and a number of other damaged bones-- He is taking it easy, but at the farm doing what he can every day, and was even able to start driving again while we were there. I half-joked that Will's fall was just an excuse for us to take time off for a visit during the growing season, but it's really true. Alyson and Will are such great people and so organized and surrounded by such a great community that supports them, that they would never be wanting for helping hands. Built-in crop insurance.
I helped in the kitchen a bit, as well as harvesting and bagging for the CSA boxes for this week's distribution. When I was out in the fields harvesting, I really got to be a part of the farm for the first time and feel the special place that it is first hand. Alyson and Will's employees care just as much as they do about the farm, and take great care and reward in what they do. The fields are well-laid out and no effort goes wasted. Like I mentioned, every tool has a place, and any time you need a tool you just have to think where it might logically be, and there it is. The systems run efficiently and communication is clear, shared, and transparent. It's the most well run farm I've ever seen, and that's a huge accomplishment, as farms are busy places and it's easy to fall off the wagon and end up with a mess very quickly. I worked with Sarah, Carla, and Alyson's Mom and Dad, and each person did their part to make the CSA harvest run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. There were no piles of dirty tubs left laying around for someone else, and no muddy footprints in the cooler, and the location of all items in the cooler is logged on the door so it's always easy to find what you're looking for. The harvest list is clear and posted so that everyone can add to it as needed. Alyson manages the harvest expertly, offering advice and feedback when required, but allowing her workers to take pride in what they do and reach a level of autonomy where they can gain real satisfaction from a job well done.
Alyson and Will's farm is a very special place and the way they run it inspires me. The past 6 months have been pretty crazy busy for me, and the visit to McKees Mills was exactly what I needed to get reinvigorated and excited about farming again. I have spent the past 2 years behind a desk and feel that I lost a big part of my passion for what we are working towards this year in particular. Fitting salad mix in to our lives has been a struggle, and there are times lately when I have found myself wondering, "why are we bothering?". Part time farming is not proving to be as rewarding as I had hoped, mainly because I am kept so busy (and so exhausted most of the time) that everything is constantly behind in my personal and business realms-- not a good feeling. My job transition, though I love the work, has been difficult, too-- as I work for a large non-organic fruit farm, I feel like we are further and further from our goals of having a farm like Windy Hill someday. However, I have returned from New Brunswick with a renewed spirit and a plan, and I have Alyson and Will to thank for a much-needed break from day to day life.
We will get there, someday very soon, and all the motivation I need is to see wonderful people like Alyson and Will setting the example for what can be achieved when you work hard and follow your passion and values. I am so fortunate to have friends like them and can't wait until the next time we can visit Windy Hill, as it's always a place I leave feeling inspired. Thanks to Alyson and Will and everyone else at the farm for a great visit!
Now, off to harvest salad. :)