Patchwork: Seasonal rhythm: A conversation at Doolittle Farm

Editor’s note: This week’s column comes from mother-daughter farming duo Bay and Hilary Hammond. The Shoreham women’s column is written as a conversation of sorts about their experience this summer, the first season that Hilary has taken on full-time farming duties at Doolittle Farm. Bay’s comments alternate with Hilary’s
BAY: More chicks, more lambs, more eggs, more sap. Bring on the blueberries, the apples, the cows and wait … goats!? Hilary is graduating from the University of Vermont and has one thing on her mind — farming. We talk and email, working out a timeline, gearing up to incorporate her full time. Home on weekends to help me keep ahead, she boils and bottles maple syrup — oops, was that five gallons of syrup that hit the floor? She comes home for April vacation to join me for lambing — darn, all born before she arrived! I am scheduling, planning, incubating and ordering chicks. I am assisting sheep during birth, collecting and washing eggs. Finally, Hilary is home and I can slow the pace. But the rains just won’t stop.
Hilary’s Chicken Stew
1 tsp each paprika and coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 to 4.5 lb Roaster chicken, cut up. Use the legs and breasts in this recipe, save the back and wings for soup or broth.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp tomato paste
1 to 2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 bay leaf
Combine rub ingredients and rub onto chicken parts, sit in refrigerator for five minutes.
Heat olive oil in a medium skillet, add chicken and cook 10 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from the pan, add the onion and garlic. Sauté until onions are soft then add ginger and ground pepper. Deglaze the pan with the wine and tomato paste. Simmer to reduce the liquid then stir in tomatoes, broth, honey, lemon juice and bay leaf. Place chicken on top of stew, cover and simmer on medium low for 20 to 25 minutes.
HILARY: Like any other farmers, my mom and I are always trying to scheme up ways of becoming more efficient. This summer was especially challenging as weeks of rain set us up for an unorganized grazing season (never a good thing with pasture-based farms). Our tasks felt inefficient but unavoidably so, and each day we scrapped the old plan and devised a new one. The sheep were constantly escaping, as the dense, wet grass was not able to hold a charge. Other days we were scrounging up extra tarps and bedding in an attempt at keeping the chickens dry. I felt like I didn’t know what we were doing, trying to “farm against the elements,” and I almost forgot that farming wasn’t normally like this until my mom reminded me. Her simple words gave me such relief: “Hilary, you have to remember that this summer has been the most challenging one we’ve had yet.”
BAY: Finally, the grounds are dry and we have our first cut of hay tucked into the barn. The sheep have soft feet, but they harden up without lasting issues. Chickens are tired of flooded grounds but keep growing and giving us their eggs and meat. For us, it is time to regroup; the unprecedented rains have left us exhausted but the unusual weather has pushed our tolerance to a new level. I see in Hilary the birth of an uncanny ability for quick creative solutions to everyday challenges. Blueberries are ready and the race to pick begins.
HILARY: The summer pattern was set: barn chores, field chores, pack a lunch and head to the blueberries. It reached the point where I began to crave blueberries every day, something I didn’t expect to happen. Many of these small, unexpected things came as a surprise to me. I actually really enjoy tomatoes and cornbread, things I never craved before. These small realizations opened the door for much larger ones, like the endless energy I seem to have and my fondness for the entire farm. I discovered my selfish side this summer as some days I didn’t want to share any chores or projects; I wanted it all to myself. But, I have to admit, six hours of picking blueberries definitely goes by faster when there is someone else there to talk with.
BAY: The season begins to close as the last of the blueberries are picked. Our hens are growing new feathers, our pullets are laying young eggs. The sheep are shorn, the lambs weaned and the rams are set in their own pasture. The piglets are enjoying their apple treats; the cows are full with calves and curiously observe us from across the fence. Our intern, Erin, is making her plans to leave as Hilary and I set our rhythm to absorb the extra tasks.
HILARY: Hand weeding and mulching our blueberry bushes is a mindless task. In the past, my thoughts have always jumped to the approaching school year and the excitement that comes with moving to Burlington and new classes. This summer, however, there are no thoughts of returning to UVM. I dream of my life as a farmer in Shoreham, living close to and working with my family. I stand up and look down the row, realizing I’ve already weeded and mulched five bushes, leaving 445 bushes to go. It may seem like five is a minimal number out of 450, but to me it’s five bushes tucked away for the winter. This is the kind of work I love. It’s something I can chip away at however fast or slow I want, and the concept of making less work for next season as well as healthier bushes is enough motivation for finishing.
BAY: No second cut of hay this year, thanks to Irene, sheep will miss that this winter. Expansion is on target, infrastructure is not. As I feel the change of seasons, I begin to worry: winter housing, damaged fields, washed out roads. Then, I see the sheep still grazing, the chickens still scratching and Hilary working with energy and passion. I watch her settle in and embrace the rhythm of our farm.
Hilary Hammond is a 2011 UVM graduate, earning a BS in Animal Science, a concentration in equine animals and a double minor in Ecological Agriculture and Food Systems. She is looking forward to a future in Shoreham on Doolittle Farm, where she will devote herself to farm growth.
Bay Hammond has farmed in Vermont since 1994, and in 2000 she opened Doolittle Farm in Shoreham where she lives with her husband and family. Her pre-farming background is in holistic health and nutrition, and she is currently a student of animal homeopathy. Bay will be shifting her role on the farm to include future growth management.

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