How a Yurt Campaign Became the Embodiment of Food, Family, Farm, and Community

It’s been about six weeks in our crowdfunding campaign, and we’ve had some ups and downs.  Wow, it was an amazing start.  Right away folks jumped on. Lots watched our kickoff livestream, and we had a couple of big rewards chosen. It was energizing.  And then I got busy at work, and didn’t keep the campaign in the forefront of people’s minds so much.  It slowed down.

We got to 10% and then to 12%…and we’ve been stuck there for a while.  When I’m up on Facebook promoting it, we have supporters choosing rewards. When I don’t, we don’t.  I totally get it: energy flows where attention goes

The scary part is what’s next. All along, my iFundWomen coaches and community have said, “the direct ask is how people get funded”.  And that terrifies me.  Asking for help terrifies me.  I’ve written about this before; feeling like I’ve evolved so much as a human and adult that I’ve grown to ask for help and not expect to do everything myself.  Maybe I have in lots of places, but not this.  Not money. Money is personal, somehow. Money is wrapped up in value—valuing oneself enough to think that other people will also find value in you.  I was never very good at asking for a raise, either.  Overdeliver on value and hope they notice and reward that, that’s been my motto.

The funniest part is that the yurt crowdfunder isn’t a donation situation, and it doesn’t come from the furthest recesses of my own hopes and dreams.  It’s actually an embodiment of the values of our customers.  When asking our customers last year about the things that they (you!) like about us, and why you even ARE our customers and supporters, we heard this:

  • We want to know that the animals we eat have had lives and been cared for.
  • We want to know that the land has been cared for.
  • We want to be better at preparing the meats from your farm (how can we be better cooks and grillers?).
  • We want to belong to an extended family and a REAL farm.
  • We want Vermont to stay in farming.

When you read that, it pretty much sounds like FOOD, FAMILY and FARM, doesn’t it?  Cool.  I think so, too. What you want and what we are—they are the same thing. We are reflections of each other, and that’s why we’re drawn together.

This campaign is an extension of that food, family and farm concept, and we have not been seeking handouts based on a random idea or simply seeking well wishes.  Buying rewards through our campaign is pre-buying a future vacation or experience for you and your loved one(s), or a retreat for yourself.  We do have a donation option (which several folks have chosen, thank you for being so sweet!), but most of the rewards are based on a trade of value.  Overdeliver, we hope.  That’s the point, anyway.

Yurt stays—the most logical of rewards in a yurt-funding campaign!  Of course you might want to stay in a yurt, on the farm.  A weekend might be perfect for a getaway.  A week is better for a real detoxification from the hustle and bustle.  A month could get that novel you’ve always been planning to write completed (and we don’t mind splitting into two two-week stays, either–we’re flexible like that). Yurt stays also make an excellent option for a wedding gift, an anniversary gift, a group retreat or reunion, or a valuable prize in a raffle.

Grilling workshops are all about the food, and people who love to eat and cook. We know we love to eat and cook when we teach those workshops, and standing around with a group of people who also love to eat can be a transformational and bonding experience.  At the very least, a tasty and filling experience, even if you’re not going for the spiritual or communal aspects!

On-farm dinners are for the eaters who don’t need to cook everything themselves, but just want to enjoy the space.  If you have haven’t seen the pictures of the farm that I’ve posted nearly every day for the last several years, this is a special spot.  The view of Randolph, the wildlife, the apple and locust trees…we feel very lucky to live here and we want to share that experience with you, because it’s better WITH YOU.

Music. We offered a musical playlist for a few reasons.  We have friends near and far without a lot of money, but with plenty of love and well wishes.  Are these friends going to make it for an in-person visit?  Possibly not any time soon, and the budget’s not there anyway.  So how do we make that connection with extended family?  Music, of course! As you choose a musical reward and listen to a playlist *I* have personally curated, we are connected.  You make us smile and we make you smile, and BOOM—we are joined through time and space, and right next to each other again like old times– an audio hug.

Finally, we’ve offered lamb naming.  Originally envisioned as a way for barbecue friends to tease Chris (and they DO love to tease Chris—aww, FAMILY!), the lamb names have become an extra way to enjoy connection. Some lambs are named for beloved grandmas and uncles, some are named for their final destination (the dinner table).  Regardless of your relationship with the food you eat (or don’t eat!), here’s a way to join your own hopes and sense of humor with a real animal on a real farm.  And you can come visit it if you want, too. We even made a slideshow to share pictures of the named (and still available!) lambs!.

We’ve designed the yurt campaign to reinforce the things that you’ve told us you love about us, and created rewards around them.  Now the toughest part (for me) comes: the direct ask.  My coaches have said over and over, “you have to ask directly.”  So I am.  Between now and the end of our campaign, June 21 (SOLSTICE—the farmer holiday!), I will be asking DIRECTLY.  I’m asking everyone I know.  We know you want to support us, and we NEED you to do so. 

Yes, we could get a loan for the yurt, it’s true.  But loans and debt are the death of small farms, and we already have enough of those (the loans and debt).  That’s why we’re trying something new, and it’s so scary.  It’s frankly easier to go to a faceless bank and ask for a loan that might end your business than to ask friends and family you know love you for an honest exchange of money and value.  How messed up is that?

Thank you for liking, sharing, and most importantly financially supporting this yurt campaign as we strive to Celebrate Food, Family and Farm in the Heart of VermontIt’s not just a tag line.  It’s who we are.

Thank you, and much love.


P.S. In case you missed that campaign link, here it is:


The Answer is in the Team

I don’t know how you were raised, but I feel like I had a typical rural Vermont upbringing.  My parents were (and are!) fiercely independent, and self-sufficiency was one of my primary lessons.  There wasn’t a thing I couldn’t do, or learn, or be responsible for.

And that’s how I conducted my life, for about 48 years.

I was (and still am!) an avid lifelong learner.  I love learning new things and have wide and varied interests.  I studied martial arts.  I took pottery classes. I took voice lessons.  I got a Bachelor’s degree in one topic and a Master’s degree in another.    I learned about competitive cooking, became a certified BBQ judge, and how to bake and work with desserts semi-professionally. When there are conferences or trainings in areas I have any interest in at all, I tend to go. I always use my available professional development money at work every year. I decided I wanted to farm and took business planning classes. I’ve attended more than 300 workshops and on-farm events, as an organizer and attendee, and have learned something from every one.

And I was raised to do it myself.  One of my earliest memories is my Dad saying, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself”.  I took that to heart.  I gained all these skills so that I would be a useful employee and a useful human, and capable so that I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone else.  I pushed and pushed. It’s a wonder that my friends still talk to me, given that my drive to push meant that I have not been as available or as good a friend as I’d like (and I recognize that my farm life interferes with that, too).

After about 35 years, I recognized that I had a problem.  I worked at a nonprofit and was always behind on the bookkeeping in favor of other projects that I had brought on myself.  We had a very capable and wonderful office assistant, who took over that work.  The day that the bank statements came in the mail, she had everything reconciled and turned into our Executive Director.  Previously, I had taken weeks, if not the whole month to get them to him.  Gently, she reminded me she could do other work to help me too, but my grip was too tight.  I could see the problem, but really had no idea how to change.  There was too much work to do to stop and show anyone else.

When I was 42, I became the supervisor of two people.  I was grateful to have such nice, capable and easy people to supervise, and felt we worked well together. I still did what I did, and when they offered to help, I said, “Thank you but I’ve got it” (even when I didn’t).

When I was 46, I received another in a long line of annual reviews that said, “you do a great job, and you’re an asset to our (university extension) group” (which felt wonderful!) and then the gut punch   “…but your teammates tell me they are worried about you, and frustrated that you are not sharing more of the workload, like you don’t trust them.” 

For years, I had just handled things.  I had said yes because I felt like I needed to *protect* the team, and that by NOT passing things to them, I was actually being a good leader.  I thought that shielding my team was a good thing, and suddenly the light began to dawn on me that despite being a supervisor, I was still gripping all the work, the thoughts, the responsibilities too tightly.  Ten years after the first conversations about this, I had learned nothing about REAL delegation, trust or supportive leadership.

Now I knew I was doing it wrong, but I still didn’t know how to do it differently.  The old habits were SO ingrained.  The volunteers at my annual conference asked, “Can I do anything to help?” and my answer, “No, that’s OK”, which always led me to be the last person cleaning and packing long after everyone else had gone home.  The birthday party or Thanksgiving guests who asked if they could do dishes to help, or chop the vegetables. 

What I didn’t realize for a long time is that my friends and family and teammates still asked, but even when I said no, they ignored me and quietly helped anyway.  Dishes were magically done during the birthday party.  Cheese and crackers and veggies were suddenly on the table during the pre-Thanksgiving festivities, and signage, boxes and display tables were packed and loaded onto a hotel cart after the conference.

Even though I didn’t allow myself to look to the team, the team was there. 

Still I didn’t get it.  I thought I did.  I even wrote a long blog post about asking for help and how important that is, and how so many people helped us get to the farm.  We are still so grateful for that, and many people did help us (and still do), but deep down in my heart, I still thought that this whole thing (the farm, our life, my job), is entirely on me

And then lightning struck.

In February, I had the great privilege of being able to attend Ranching for Profit School.  For more than 30 years, RFP has been the premiere educational experience for ranchers (livestock farmers) around the country (and other countries, through their partner schools).  I was excited to learn more about how to make my farm more profitable, and also to better understand what helps other farms be more successful, as graduates of this program clearly are.

Before the School started, we had some reading and pre-work to do at home, and were expected to come to the School with the answers completed for a 50 question test of what we had learned.  We arrived and were placed into assigned table/teams, with people who would become our “board of directors” for the week. 

The group exercise with the homework involved us discussing every answer to the 50 questions with our team, to decide on the right answer, and then scoring our personal answers and the group answers against the correct answers.  We then went around the room and each table announce their highest individual score and then their team score.

I had the highest score at our table, which made me feel pretty good.  I did feel a little bit like a ringer, that it had more to do with my extension job experience and the opportunity to learn from so many people and in so many places, but I admit that it made my ego feel pretty good about itself. Apparently, I was pretty smart. 

Our team score was HIGHER.  And as we went around every one of the other tables, their team score was higher than any individual high score.  This time, the metaphorical gut punch went straight to my core.

Maybe I had talked myself into thinking I had the best ideas and didn’t need anyone, because I was so headstrong about being self-sufficient.   Maybe if I hadn’t been so good at going it alone (see: high score), I might have figured this all out sooner.  The Answer is in the Team.  No matter how smart or capable or successful we are alone, we are MORE as a TEAM.

I spent the week practicing with my team.  I didn’t push.  I asked.  I asked for their ideas and suggestions about the case study problems we were solving together.  I asked if they could share tasks we were doing (when my default would have been to just jump up and do them).  And on the last day when we worked through specific challenges for each farm, my teammates offered ideas and suggestions to each other and to me with a perceptiveness that I can’t begin to describe. I learned to trust the team in a way that I have never allowed myself to be before, and just as importantly, I got to practice it for a week.

After the School, I enrolled in a follow up program called EL, which is a year-long commitment and a lot of work serving on a board with, and for, another group of farmers.  I needed to do that to keep myself moving forward, but I think deep down I need to keep practicing what it’s like to build and trust a team.  I’m working harder on it in my job life; trying to talk less and listen more, actively passing things (with trust) to others to handle them.  I’m trying to loosen the illusion of control that I’ve been clinging to, because the team is bigger and stronger and smarter and more capable TOGETHER than I am alone.  And when I forget that, I have a meeting with my EL board, and they remind me. 

Now I’m practicing.  I’m practicing at work when I pause and say, “Yes, here’s a job that would really help me out, thank you.”  And I’m practicing when I work on developing farm systems that can be performed by other people if I get sick or have to be away.  I’m practicing when I hold back my vision of a thing and ask for others’ visions first.  I’m practicing as I redesign my farm and life to be something that incorporates the strengths, skills and passion of the people around me. I’m practicing as I work to develop a life that I can leave for a while to spend time with friends and family.

Recently, I came across a quote by Stephen Covey, well-known author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I once felt dismissive of authors writing about personal improvement, thinking they were get-rich-quick people, and therefore not to be trusted.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the right place in my life to appreciate the message.  Covey says, ‘Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.’

I have been proud of my independence, but I think I’m finally ready to build something greater than any one person alone.

Thanks for being on our Team.



Lambs, Lambs, Lambs (in Sweaters), and More Lambs

I’ve begun calling this group The Hoodlums. This is the cover of their first album. You can say you knew them *when*!
The leaders of The Hoodlums are these two brothers. They were the first born, and have welcomed each new set of siblings to the big party. At 23 lambs so far, there’s quite a party!
Lambs, like cats, like to find an odd, flat paper-like surface to lay on; If they were cats and this was a newspaper in the middle of the floor, they’d be on it.
Mrs. Banks has a fine set of twins to feed, so she’s tearing into the bale while Fiona is a bit more selective.
I have never seen a more catlike lamb (am I sensing a theme?) than the girl on the right. She cleans herself every day! Trust me, that’s rare.
I love how this guy just settled in and everyone else had to eat around him. “Hey, I’m sleeping here!”
Our matriarch, Lucy (of MUG fame), had two solid ewe lambs in her final lambing before retirement. Thank you, my dear!
Joan is Lucy’s 2018 daughter, who just had two lambs of her own. They aren’t big lambs, but Joan is taking great care of them and they are holding their own in style (if only half the size of the mob running races at night).
Jeri offers a warm spot for her daughter to lay her head down. Wouldn’t you like to settle down with them in the sunshine?
Couldn’t resist—lamb weighing selfie!
Our yurt crowdfunding campaign starts April 19, and our friend Ramsey came to take pictures to help us freshen our look. Isn’t her work lovely? Photo: Ramsey Papp
The fine Brady, checking us out. Photo: Ramsey Papp
More to come…lambs, events, and pictures! Looking forward to a whole lot of fun in 2019. <3

Family Creates Warmth in the Cold of Winter

Winter quiet brings a space for thinking that I never seem to have time for during the busier seasons, so I’ve been mulling about the meaning of family.

If you come from a relatively small birth family like mine (no siblings), the word family has a little more flexible meaning than it might for other people.  In our life, family is who shows up and cares enough to use precious vacation days to come from NY and camp in our back yard; or people who send us news clippings and Craigslistings of used yurts; and people who randomly ship paleo/low carb cookies that Chris can eat.  Or people who drop by their famous pepper jelly with an extra Christmas cactus (his name is Ernie–by the way—the cactus, not the person).  Or people who buy frozen geese as a joke and name lambs after football quarterbacks just to annoy us.

Family is about creating connection.  It’s not even necessarily about the length of time spent together; it’s about a feeling, locked in, that’s there and solid.  It can be a week or a month or five years, when you see each other and the warm glow is still between you.   A quick email, a texted heart, a momentary online exchange; it’s just nice to know each other is still out there.

A farm is a different kind of a business than others, often because it’s a physical, biological place and not just a building or cloud space.  Farm businesses can move to new locations; farmers can relocate.  But a farm is embedded in its town; it protects the watershed from flooding, it hosts wildlife for hunters and visitors, it produces food, fiber, and fuel for its neighbors.  A farm is almost its own member of the greater town family.  I get how people sometimes talk about a farm having a life of its own; they certainly have their own personalities!  I think ours somewhat resembles a few people I know (who shall remain unnamed!)…a little run down, a little rough around the edges, but waiting for a bit of love and care to bloom.

We are part of a greater community.  Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that, when we talk to the people we see every day online or in person, but our community includes all the people that we think about and don’t see as often as we’d like, and those people we probably should reach out to.  It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s Resolution (I don’t ever actually achieve those, do you?), but I did set an intention this year to reach out to people I think about, more.  When someone crosses my mind, I am trying to send them an email, text, card, message.  What caused that person to cross my mind?  Were they thinking of me?  Does it matter?  Were they in need of someone, anyone stretching a hand (virtual or otherwise) to them? If we can be that for them, I think we owe it to ourselves to try.

Because these invisible threads that connect and bind us, these relationships of birth/adopted/friends/besties/family-by-any-name…they are what hold us together when everything else goes down.

We try to ask ourselves–what kind of family are we cultivating? Is it a place where lots of perspectives are welcome, and there’s something to learn from everyone?  We hope so!  Is it about creating hope together and strength and connection?  We try.  Is it about being perfect?  Absolutely not. I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately, and let me be super vulnerable and up front here: I haven’t always been a very good friend. I once got fired from a wedding, and I totally deserved that.  Thankfully, most of my dearest friends have forgiven my failings, but not everyone has. Life is long, and we’re not perfect–I’m certainly not! So, let’s forgive ourselves and try to do better, together.

Thanks for being part of our family.  We wouldn’t be here without the support from and belief of all the people who thought we could do this, and continue to send us good vibes and high fives and visits to take a class or buy some farm products.  We are all in this together, and I love that.

And, exciting news! I was just interviewed on the Small Farm Nation podcast about getting our farm started up and the journey that got us here.  And about being a woman farmer and some other neat things about my farm experience.  Please give it a listen, and thank you again, family!

Love, Jenn


Remarkable 2018

Here we are nearing the end of 2018.

We are grateful for this year, and especially for YOU.

We know it’s the time when lots of folks look around and find gratitude in the things they have, which is wonderful, and something we all should do much more of, and not just in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

As we’ve trucked along this summer, particularly starting in April and May with our on-farm events, we have had so many reasons to be inspired and thankful and grateful and hopeful about what our farm is growing into, and what it means for you and for us.

We have a vision to “create food, family and farm in the heart of Vermont”.  Yes, OK, that sounds like a canned tag line in some ways, but it’s the absolute truth.  We love food.  We’ve strengthened our existing family and found new family through sharing, cooking, and competing in food.  Farming in the way that we do, caring for the land as an ecosystem and a place for connection and education, allows us to create an outdoor classroom for students of all ages.  Our farm is simply the embodiment of the idea that home is where your heart is. For us, that’s literally the Heart of Vermont, Randolph.

In 2018, we set out to test some ideas about sharing this vision with more people, and new people.  We want to grow the family!  And people responded, like:

  • Deb & Gary who saw an ad for our grilling class in the local Front Porch Forum listerv and just thought it sounded like a fun thing to do.
  • Kathi, Al and Mary Lou who were each looking for a short getaway from an ordinary evening at our on-farm BBQ dinner.
  • Sue and Jenny, who came to our pop-up Village Idiots concert and BBQ dinner.
  • Barb, Billie Jo, Cat, and Didi, who shared teaching and learning and digging and looking at soil through magnifying glasses at our Land Listeners workshop.
  • Keegan and Isaiah, who came visiting as Randolph students, and are coming back as friends and farm helpers.
  • Rob and Gus and MB and Susan and Dave, who all came to help with farm tasks and events.
  • Ellen and Stuart who brought their grandson to see the lambs at our Lamb Open House, and Lori and Sarah who walked FANCY up the hill from our overflow parking area.
  • AND non-event friends who just wanted to see the place and what we do, like Siva and Darshon and Stephen and Francie and Dave and our guardian angel, Doug, who keeps an eye on sheep and the wildlife on the lower 40!

We love you all.

We tested all sorts of events this year, trying to offer a variety of cooking, eating, and educational experiences.  We are grateful that each event brought old friends and new, and that everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves and feel welcome.

As we look toward 2019, we’re dreaming up a new schedule (with dates to be finalized early in the new year).  Lamb Open House will kick off the events season in the spring, with bouncing baby lambs from Lovey, Dot, Dulce, Brady, and the rest of the crew. We’ll be offering at least two grilling classes, with one focused on tailgate foods and one aimed at building women’s confidence in grilling (with a special award-winning female grillmaster!). We plan to host at least one on-farm dinner in mid summer, possibly a plated Saturday dinner or a Sunday asado.  If all goes well, we’ll host at least a couple of farmer workshops around livestock and land management.

Do you have requests for particular events, or ideas about how we can better serve YOUR food, family and farm needs?  Do you know someone you think would enjoy attending an on-farm event?  Please encourage them to sign up for our email list, so they can be in the know about farm happenings!

Thank you all so much for the kindness, community and appreciation you’ve shown us this year, and we are looking forward to more fun, hugs and great food in 2019.

Jenn and Chris

P.S. AND watch for news about our 2019 yurt crowdfunding campaign, coming soon! 


A New Lens to Love Your Food

Healthy soil, submerged in water, holds together without washing away.

Do you get tangled up in your food choices? 

I’ve had customer-friends mention over and over how hard it is to make choices these days that they can feel good about.  Whether you are feeding yourself, your kids or your grandkids, it’s tough.

Plenty of people might be telling you what to do or buy or wear or eat.  Eat meat, or never eat meat. Only eat vegan or never eat vegan.  Paleo, keto, vegetarian, organic, commercial, packaged, raw, local, or covered in BBQ sauce.  My gosh, I feel for folks trying to make the best choices for themselves and the greater world.  It’s not easy.

And I have no interest in making you feel bad about the choices that you do make.  There’s enough of that, frankly.  I’ve been there, and though I feel like I’m in a pretty good place nutritionally, socially and ecologically now, it’s been quite a path to get here.

I’ve mentioned before that I considered being a vegetarian, because I thought it was the responsible thing to do. It never stuck with me, although I certainly respect friends and family for whom it’s become a way of life. For me, meat and dairy were foods that my body needed, but more than that, I’ve continually looked back at what my ancestors regularly ate.  Given my mostly European background with a little Native thrown in, meat and dairy feel pretty central to the menu.  And interestingly, if you look at Scotland, England and New England, they are pretty grassed places (around the obvious trees).  Perhaps that’s a part of why grass-based farming has such a pull for me?  Hmmm.

I might get accused of being biased (I do admit that I am, we all are, but I try to be up front about it!), but in my line of professional work, it’s really important that we try to evaluate all the information coming in with as neutral an eye as possible.  I’ve read plenty of research articles about how meat and dairy produced through confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are more efficient uses of water, of energy, of transportation, of feed per ounce of end-product food.   I get it, we can produce food really fast and really “efficiently” in CAFOs. But are we looking at the big picture?  Are they the best choice?

I’m not here to bash CAFOs—there are plenty of people around who can do that.  And, frankly, the large scale vegetable crop farms aren’t really much better.  A whole lot of our collective diets these days come down to processed versions of corn, wheat, soy, and rice. With a side dish of potatoes.

So…how and where did I end up at peace as a farmer and eater? And how can you?

My suggestion: Use soil as your lens.

It all goes back to the soil, which I admit is a pretty funny thing for me to say (as an animal science, not a soil science, person).  I’ve come to embrace that soil is the foundation from which everything else flows.  Not just water and food, but economic development, civilization, communities, every product you can ever think of.

There’s a really neat book called Dirt by David Montgomery that describes how civilizations rose and fell based on their soil (as soil was lost, the civilizations died away). Building soil through natural systems took thousands of years of weathering rocks, followed by creatures living and dying and eating each other and leaving manure and repeating the cycles over and over again to add organic matter/soil carbon as a structure to grow food in. Increasingly, research is showing that we can create the organic matter side through good farming.

Soil from our farm was subjected to the “drop” test this summer to see how well it held together under the force of hitting the ground. It passed with flying colors!

There are basically four rules to healthy soil:

  • Keep disturbance to a minimum—whether by plow, or animal hoof, or tractor tires or fire. These are all types of soil disturbance, and expose bare soil to the air where its carbon is lost.  A little can be OK. A lot…makes soil wash away.
  • Keep it covered—like a blanket or a sponge, making sure something exists between the sky and bare soil (ideally plants!) means that water gets caught and held; something that’s increasingly important since we don’t know when the next rain is coming in lots of places.
  • Biodiversity is key—different plants feed different soil creatures, have different nutritional needs, thrive under different conditions (like heat or wet), have different root depths (some are really deep!), and produce different nutrients and chemicals. Growing a single crop of anything means that it’s a less stable system unless the conditions are just right for that one thing.
  • Living roots—we may not think much about this, but moving around minerals, breaking down manure (the dreaded thing no one wants in the water!), and feeding all those soil creatures, is able to happen because living roots are down in the soil. When we see a bare field with no greenery popping through—that means no living roots.

All the choices we make can do one of three things—build up soil, break down soil, or keep soil as it is.  At the very least, we should try not to make things worse!

Wow, you might say, how can I make good soil choices, when I’m not a farmer?

Think about what plant the food you are buying comes from. Does it come from a bush that blooms year after year (like a blueberry or elderberry bush)?  Or does it need to be tilled and replanted every year or two (like a strawberry)?  Does it come from a tree, like a walnut, or does it get planted in a hill like a potato?

When you think about soil as the filter, these choices become a lot less about vegetarian vs. meat eater and a lot more about how each food was produced.  Beef maybe isn’t so great when it’s fed a bunch of corn produced by tilling the same land year after year.  Then again, neither is tofu, if the land those soybeans were grown on has been treated the same way.

On the flip side, a grass-fed animal leans heavily on a perennial grass system.  Perennial systems are simply systems that last for multiple years. Whether than means grass, fruit bushes, nut trees, or the rhubarb plants in the corner of the yard, these are all examples where the soil is minimally disturbed to produce crops.  Their living roots cycle (however slowly) even in cold weather, they grow with a diversity of plants around them, and they maintain a cover over the face of the soil.

Does this mean organic or local are good or bad?  Does it mean supermarket food is?  Is grass-fed always a good choice?  Is tillage always bad? Are small farms infallible and big farms terrible?  Whew, take a breath!

I’m not a big fan of extremes. The world is full of decisions and information; this is a simply a new way of weighing our choices.

My advice is to take a step back, think about whether the food you eat comes from a perennial or an annual system, and make the best choice you can.  If you want to support improving the soils near where you live, that’s an extra motivation to support perennial farmers in your community.  We’ll help build soil in your little civilization, which will have lasting benefits beyond the meat, milk, veggies or fruits you buy. If you’re already a fan and supporter, thanks on behalf of all of us!

Most of all, be kind to yourself and your food-buying habits.  We’re all on a journey–learning new ways to look at the world–and that’s OK. Let’s keep learning together!

Do you want to listen to a recent Vermont Edition radio show talking about how our food choices impact climate change?  Listen to this great discussion about some of the ways we can all take steps to better manage land and the food we buy.

The ewes and lambs of Howling Wolf Farm adding to the hilltop soil organic matter!


Truth: Try Not to Feel Guilty About Pleasure

“I try not to feel guilty about pleasure.”

What a perfect response a friend and supporter of the farm shared with me recently.  Thank you, dear one.

For a few months now, I’ve been trying to learn more about the things that connect you all to us, and how to better serve you as part of our greater community together. After all, if you’ve been reading my latest blog posts, this is really about each of us supporting each other and creating a stronger family where we can all thrive.

Chris and I genuinely want your lives to be better, and that’s part of why I’ve been asking all kinds of questions.

Thank you for your patience and assistance in answering! If you would like to share your thoughts with us, we’ve made the survey into a handy digital form for ease. 🙂

The answers have been surprising, and somehow not.  We seem to be a group connected by a love of great food.  Some of us shop at Whole Foods and some shop at the local market, but consistently foodie destinations are on the map.

Lots of us like to eat AND travel, possibly the best combination of all options.  We travel to places where we meet old friends, like barbecue contests and coffee shops, and places where we find new experiences and meet new people. We are people who like to gather around and celebrate food.

Which is why the answers to one of my questions about guilty pleasures resounded especially with me.  Some of you have mentioned guilt around eating meat, which prompted me to write an earlier blog post about reasons why you can allow yourself to feel good about eating meat, but what sort of knocks me out is that lots of our general guilty pleasures seem to center around food!

(Even the delightful answer of “drinking coffee in my hot tub every morning” was a response to the “guilty pleasure” question.  Personally, that’s a guilty pleasure I can get behind!)

Seriously though, why do we feel so guilty about food, and our enjoyment of it?  Shouldn’t eating food, especially great food, be a joyful experience? Hasn’t food been at the center of our best gatherings?  Does food not bring us together?  If we travel long distances (and short ones) to find, purchase and experience food, why do we have to wrap it up in feelings of guilt and negativity?

Physical and emotional health rise up as our shared concerns in life, both for ourselves and our loved ones.  We are seeking to be happy and healthy, we need to embrace self care, and we want to be good people.  Life is complex and there’s not enough time to get everything done.

My proposal is this: let us try not to feel guilty about the things that give us pleasure in life.  The world needs more health, happiness, kindness, helpfulness, self awareness, and care.  Let’s all be that for each other and let’s encourage a little less guilt and a little more soul-filling.

So, go to that coffee shop and meet your friend.  Hit the yoga class every Tuesday.  Read lots. Travel and experience places through a delight of food, not in spite of it. And take that moment to enjoy your coffee in the hot tub!

If you’re looking for a little cozy, satisfying soul-and-stomach filler as the weather turns cool, here’s a recipe for my favorite citrus lamb stew, which works beautifully with nearly any cut of lamb, especially shanks.

Citrus-Braised Lamb Shanks
I know this says lamb shanks, and that’s the original recipe, but I have made this for every conceivable cut of lamb. Hands down the finest and most versatile recipe ever, and I have had someone ask for the recipe EVERY time!
(From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book). Serves 4, but very easily multiplied.

4 Howling Wolf Farm lambshanks
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
A few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 bottle of white wine
1 cup lamb stock or water
Juice and grated zest of (each)
1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange
Salt and black pepper
Parsley to garnish

Heat some olive oil in a cast iron kettle or deep casserole dish. Add diced vegetables and sweat, without browning, until tender. Add thyme,bay, garlic, tomatoes, wine, lamb stock or water, along with most of the citrus juice and zest (hold a little back for later). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan and brown the lamb shanks on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add them to the casserole dish and cover with its lid. Cook in a low oven (250 degrees) (or transfer to a crock pot
to finish cooking) for 2.5 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
To serve, stir in remaining citrus juice and zest.
Terrific with potatoes, soft polenta, or creamy beans like cannellini.

Join our farm community and more lamb recipes are headed your way!

Cook Inspired with our Lamb: Six Tried-and-True Ways to Prepare a Classic








Let’s Have Some Faith in Each Other, and the Future

Photos in this post were taken by Ben DeFlorio in October, 2013, because I asked to be part of his portrait project. Best pictures of me anyone has ever taken. Thank you, Ben!

I feel like a whole bunch of people I care about are hurting right now.  All around, our community suffers from grief, confusion, aimlessness, emptiness, loss, and pain.  Be patient, friends.  Have faith.  Have faith in each other, in our human community, and in the bright and beautiful future ahead. Ask for help, and trust each other.

Let me share an example of faith and community.

Five years ago this month, we moved into a little rental house in the village of Randolph, after selling our house of close to 16 years.  In order to sell that house, we did some cleaning, threw items in storage, got it listed with a realtor, and made a handshake deal with our next-door neighbors. Larry, Sr. looked around, nodded his head and said, “yep, most likely going to buy the place”.  That was May.  We didn’t talk about it again until September.

In the mean time, we moved forward.  We threw out eight(!) heaping pickup truckloads of old boxes, trash, books and toys for the thrift store, and built a mountain of scrap metal and items to leave by the roadside for neighbors to take freely.  At a particular moment in the summer, we had to decide whether a modest windfall from Chris’ job would be used to buy our winter wood (the usual choice), or we would have faith that the house would sell and we could invest the money in other bills and other places.  We stepped off the cliff without the net of firewood for the winter.  It created a hard deadline.

We had no idea where we would be able to rent, and we had no idea where our sheep would live. We thought we would be in a place just temporarily while our land sold and we moved to the new farm we had picked out as *the* place (it wasn’t).  I investigated several options for the sheep to move elsewhere; nothing fit our budget so we decided to keep looking for a different option.

These photos were taken just a couple of weeks before our move to the rental house. Thank you, Ben DeFlorio!

If you are reading this blog and have followed our story at all, you know we ultimately found the right farm, and are working diligently to share a space of home and family and community and good food and lively music with the person reading this post, and more people like you.

This post isn’t just about good things happening in our particular life, it’s about having faith in humanity and community, and believing deep down in our hearts that things will be OK.

Our move from the old place is a shining example of that.

Our neighbors honored their handshake on an “as-is” property, which totally could have gone sideways. An acquaintance of 20 years connected us with her husband’s rental opportunity (and we grew closer by sharing some very pivotal life moments together). A friend of my dad’s from high school came to join us in painting the rental house, just because he was between painting jobs and had time.  Our son had the support of his friends as we bounced between awkward living situations.  Our family squeezed itself into a teeny rental to celebrate Thanksgiving as we collapsed after a marathon move.

Turned out, we didn’t didn’t need the wood, but we did need all the help we could get, and were grateful for it.  There were plenty of slips and slides, but in every case, someone stepped in to help in some way.

Photo by Ben DeFlorio.

That pretty much describes our experience in finding and buying the Tilton farm as well, except that we stopped denying our faith in the future and started asking for help on the heavy lift of our life’s dream.  At first it was so hard to ask.  That’s not the way we were raised, except that community *is* a way of life in rural Vermont.  That’s how farmers got harvests in.  It just was, and there was no shame in asking, especially when people or animals would starve otherwise.  Community can’t happen, can’t grow, can’t build success…unless someone asks, “can you help me?” and someone else answers, “yes, what can I do?”.

So, as awkward as it was at first, when people asked if they could help move or paint or truck animals, we said yes.  We asked for help with a financial shortfall—something we would *never* have dared do before.  Every time we asked for help and someone did, we helped build their faith in people, too.  See, helping people is what builds community over the long term.  Helping other people makes US feel good.  I’m coming to learn that not asking is a way of robbing someone *else* of feeling good.

This morning, I remembered a particular example to illustrate this last point.  Several years ago, we met a new barbecue friend.  He saw me hauling heavy equipment out of the trailer and rushed to help me.  See, his parents raised him to always offer help, especially to a lady (his words).  Me, I pushed away his help, because I saw myself as a strong farmer and an independent woman.  Who won out of this situation?  No one.

I hurt my new friend’s feelings by rejecting his kind offer, and I was more tired than I would have otherwise been if I’d accepted his help.  It took me some time to see it, but I’ve learned that accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of openness and a way to help others feel useful and appreciated.

If you are hurting or struggling, my experience has been this:

The most powerful act of faith we can exercise is to let our community help us.

The most powerful action we can take to build a positive future…is to ask for that help.

Thanks for listening,


Vaughan. <3    Photo by Ben DeFlorio.


Nine Reasons to Stop Feeling Guilty About Eating Meat

Plenty of people love to eat meat, but are concerned that they shouldn’t, because of negative stories that they see about animal products. The environmental impacts of flooding manure lagoons; pictures of animals being treated poorly; the long distances food is trucked to get to our plates; and simply not knowing (or trusting) the companies or agricultural system where the animal came from.

I totally get that.

In college, I joined an animal rights group because I felt strongly that animals should be respected and treated well.  I remember sitting in our second or third meeting, feeling a tremendous disconnect from the group’s organizers, who were vegan and proudly wore plastic shoes instead of leather ones.  “How is it that plastic is a better choice than a natural product like leather? Shouldn’t we be connected to how our food affects the environment?”, I wondered. I left the group and found a more practical way to improve animal welfare.

Even the biggest, tastiest ram starts as a little guy who needs care and oversight to grow and thrive.

Looking back, that was the very beginning of my path toward being a more responsible eater, and eventually, livestock farmer.

Along this path, I’ve been gathering reasons about why we should actually feel good (and not just NOT bad!) about supporting livestock farmers and buying products made from animals.

  1. We care. I’ve come to understand first-hand that people who do not care about the animals that they partner with, depend upon, and ultimately gather food from (in one form or another) don’t last long as livestock farmers. This isn’t just a job that we can decide not to show up for, or call in sick to.  It’s an intense and delicate balance to care enough to be willing to be tired, hot, wet, cold, stiff, muddy, and (name your discomfort) while pushing yourself to put the animals first.  And then caring enough to end an animal’s life quickly, when they are sick, or when it’s time to harvest them. Last winter I had to euthanize my two oldest ewes, and I bawled like a baby, but it was the right thing to do because they were suffering.
  2. We manage the land and the animals well. All of our management is focused on keeping the land and animals healthy. We pay attention to where manure builds up, how much rain is soaked up by the land and stays there (instead of running off to cause floods and damage), and give the animals fresh food every day.  Our goal is to be part of a sustainable system that brings more wildlife onto the land, and grows more kinds of food on the same land.  A great example includes the apple trees we have been pruning, which now bear more fruit, and attract the tasty, nutritional venison-producing deer! I spend time every day watching and documenting how the land is changing under our management, because I am out on it.
  3. We let animals have a life and express their natural behaviors. Pigs root, and sheep graze, and turkeys wander and fly. You may not realize, but pigs are great nappers.  Much like us, they only get out of bed for a good reason (like breakfast), and they’re quite fond of a Sunday afternoon snooze (every day).  They love to explore the world through their noses, and are quite easily bored.  A small fenced area with a concrete floor doesn’t really allow a pig to be a pig in its fullest way.  Poking around the roots of trees, finding nuts and berries, laying down in a warm patch of sun in the winter, or mud in the summer—these are signs of a pig at its happiest.  They make little grunting sounds.  That’s what happiness sounds like, and we want them to feel that right to the last moment.

    These pigs grew fat and happy nosing around in the tree roots and hay all winter, just expressing their piggiest behavior.


  4. We know (so you know) where the animal came from, how it was raised, and how it died. Some years ago, we bought the Spring piglets from a farm that didn’t raise their own; they shipped them in from Canada. I’m sure the folks in Canada did a fine job, but I really wanted to KNOW where the pigs had come from.  I wanted to have a relationship with a person I knew, and be able to count on our relationship well into the future.  I think it might also be worth mentioning that those pigs always seemed perpetually stressed, and nippy, throughout their lives.  Was it breeding? Was it early life experience?  Was it just that batch of piglets?

    I’ll never know, because since then (for over 15 years), I’ve bought piglets from the same extended family, who live a couple of towns over.  It’s not just that these folks are old friends and adopted family at this point, or that we (through our customers’ support) are helping to maintain two other small farms in addition to ourselves, or that these pigs are blue-ribbon winners at the local fair and are used to help kids get involved in 4H and caring for livestock themselves…NO, it’s about taking some of the mystery out of where our food comes from and adding in some trust.  We trust that our friends raise great piglets (and they do).

  5. Meat such as lamb is nutrient dense. There are good reasons humans have been eating meat for thousands of years, well before the beginning of formal agriculture. Registered dietician Diana Rodgers spends a good deal of time talking about the nutritional benefits of eating meat, and how not all types of meat are equal, either.  According to Diana, “grass-fed lamb has a better than 1:2 ratio of omega 3’s to 6’s, where roasted chicken has a ratio of 1:8. It’s also has twice the iron, 3x zinc, and a 3oz portion of lamb contains 2.2 mcg of B12 compared to chicken which has only 0.3. Lamb is simply superior to chicken, nutritionally speaking. Also, for those looking to cause “least harm,” one lamb can produce a lot more meat than a chicken, and an animal raised outdoors on pasture has a much better life than one raised on 100% grain indoors under artificial lighting for its entire life.”

  6. Some meat production is GOOD for the environment (and not just NOT bad). I know I’ve spent time and blog space above waxing poetic about the pigness of pigs, but the true animal heroines of land management are ruminants. In our case, the sheep. Ruminant animals like cows, sheep, goats, deer, and buffalo, are something magical.  They can eat things we can’t eat (like grass), and gain nutrition from them.  They have a multi-chambered stomach that acts like a giant beer vat, fermenting fiber to release proteins and sugars that are usable by the animals.

    This is a process we humans are simply not designed to do, and it’s a big reason why nomadic people like the Maasaai of Kenya, and folks living in the Swiss Alps are able to survive in very harsh environments; ruminant animals can create food in places that we can not.

    I will talk about what “good” grazing management means in another blog post, but the really important thing to understand about grazing animals and the environment is that the ecosystems of Earth co-evolved with animals.  Grazing animals helped sequester carbon in the soil through plant roots, kept land open for nesting birds, built deep roots to hold soil in the Great Plains, and encouraged a wide variety of species from spiders and insects to wolves and bears.  What we do now using portable fence is recreate what Nature did for millennia before we got involved.

    Compost and soil health educator Cat Buxton led a workshop at our farm this summer; teaching us how to monitor and observe changes on the land.


  7. We honor meat all the way to the plate. This is a big one for us, as foodies and cooks. We want to take good care of an animal and give it a full life, but we also want it to taste good.  If we invest our time for months or years to raise an animal, and you invest your money to support us and the animal we raised on our farm, we think you should have the best eating experience possible.  We want to help you understand how to cook meat properly and enjoy it to its fullest.  With every “Stewie” steak and “Tennant” stew, we are grateful for the lives that they share with us, but also it’s an extra way for us to honor them by helping them taste as great as possible. We think the greatest way to honor a life is to lick the plate!
  8. Being a responsible eater means being connected to the life and death that we are part of. Our goals as farmers and good stewards are to minimize and prioritize how much death is involved in our choice to eat. It’s been said, “everything eats and is eaten.” It’s true that something has to die for us to eat, whether you eat meat, vegetables, grains, or other foods.  What might be interesting to know is that what’s the most obvious (above-ground animals) must balance with the less obvious (below-ground animals) in any food system.We simply can not assume that nothing dies when we eat.

    It is true that a sheep dies and we eat it.  But that sheep lived on grass that housed Orb Weaver spiders, ground wasps, grubs, and dung beetles.  Under the soil, there might have been up to 14 tons (per acre) of bacteria, worms, insects, and fungi. In our pasture system, the soil has not been tilled for many years.

    Tillage breaks up the soil “housing” microbes, worms and insects.  Exposure to air releases carbon into the atmosphere, starving the microbes living there.  Tillage is involved in the production of most common vegetable crops, and it is arguably responsible for more death per acre (by number or body weight) than any livestock farm. The path of greater life surviving, and a healthier farm ecosystem, means that the above-ground animal in the system must be harvested. And these concepts about life and death through soil management really put a different spin on whether our food choices are “sustainable” or not.

  9. It tastes really, really good. Chris and I spend a lot of time eating meat, and it’s the star of the show, as it should be. When you feel a deep connection to a food, and you prepare it well, and the flavor knocks the park out of anything you can find in the supermarket; well, it sure feels like all the pieces have fallen together, just right.

If you’ve felt in your heart like buying local and pastured meats are the right way to go, I hope that by sharing some of my own reasons to eat meat, you’ll be better equipped to handle questions and comments by other people.  And that you’ll in general have a better understanding of what sort of life you are contributing to and investing in: the farm, the animals, the soil, ours, and YOUR OWN.

Thanks for reading,







Five Things We Love About August

There’s a little something extra special about Vermont in August.  Maybe it’s the fact that things slow down a teeny bit (seems like everyone takes a few days off sometime in August!) or that we cling a little more tightly as the evening starts to arrive a little earlier.

It could be I’m speaking a little too much about my own place in life, but August reminds me of the “middle age” of the year. The fresh excitement of May and June has yielded to July, and then August comes on to remind us to value the warmth before winter comes.

What do we love?

  • Parties—Chris and I have August birthdays as do a bunch of our family members…this leads to a host of family parties, tournaments, visits, and hugs. Oh sure, there’s plenty of house cleaning, cooler schlepping and Monday-morning exhaustion to go along, but We Regret Nothing.
  • Family—I can’t explain why, but August is the month we take the time to see people that we don’t see most of the rest of the year. Our family is a tangled delightful mess of birth, marriage, friendship, job, and adopted relatives with lots of friend-family mixed in.  August is THAT perfect excuse to take a Friday afternoon or be sure to go out to hear a Wednesday night concert, because we know family will be there.
  • Blueberries—This farm is a classic reminder that our actions aren’t as much for ourselves as the ones who come after us. Those who knew Otis Tilton tell us that he was glowing with pride over the blueberry bushes he tended. We absolutely understand why.  They were the first farm crop that greeted us just days after we closed on the property and have become a source of joy and anticipation for us each summer.  Someday we’ll figure out a blueberry-related farm product (any ideas?), but for now they are mostly going into our freezer and the mouths of on-farm visitors.
  • Smoked meat—OK, we love smoked meat all year (Who doesn’t? Even chicken and fish are fabulous smoked!), but in particular so many of the events we attend or host are potlucks. It seems like crispy, caramelized, smoky, tender ribs or chicken wings generate the smell and the taste of summer instantly. Sharing meat with people we love is pretty much what we’re all about.
  • Golden days—I was just talking with an old friend who described August as the “golden days” when goldenrod comes into bloom, and farm fields are spread with the deep rich hue that pretty much embodies late summer. I was out moving the sheep yesterday morning and found myself stopping to linger and gaze around at the spots of late-summer sunlight scattered across the pastures.  Goldenrod might be a sign that summer is on the down side, but it’s just as much that reminder to stop and enjoy it while it’s here.

That’s truly what we love most about the summer…taking a few minutes to stop and enjoy it!

Speaking of valuing warmth before winter comes, if you are getting an itchy feeling about the oncoming fall, zip me an email!  I just got back a nice batch of smoked hams and slab bacon.