It’s a beautiful Saturday evening, the dragonflies are out, a few puffy clouds float by, and the breeze carries the scent of clovers and wildflowers from the pasture. Folks are gathering at Farmstead with family and friends for one of our outdoor wood-fired pizza farm night, children giggling and watching our celebrity chickens, parents and grandparents chatting and resting at the picnic tables, waiting for a sizzly hot, smoky pizza made with ingredients fresh off the farm.
But Saturday pizza nights hold a special promise as well—a farm tour! The family groups keep me busy between taking orders, pouring drinks, and guiding the gentle walk down to the barnyard to visit the animals and learn about our practices. For some of the older folks, it’s a trip down memory lane to the days of growing up on a farm, while for the younger folks, this might be their first up-close encounter with livestock outside of video games like Farmville.
So let’s take a walk together on the farm, and I’ll show you around. Make sure you’ve got a good pair of shoes on, and you might want some bug spray. Here we go.
Continuing out from the parking lot of Farmstead Creamery, we walk down the lane, past the little creek that flows under the road, between the fir trees on either side that keep the snowdrifts tamed in winter.
“The farm was originally homesteaded in 1915 by the Fullington family, which is why the name is still on the lane. Back then, this was called the ‘cutover’ after the logging was completed, all that remained were massive white pine stumps. To clear the land, the Fullingtons had to pull out those stumps with draft horses and dynamite. There is about 100 acres of cleared land on the farm, so you can imagine how much effort that took. E.P. Fullington (a Civil War veteran, originally from Vermont, who was in his 70’s) purchased the original parcel with his son Lloyd, who was in his 20’s.
“By the late 1960’s, however, Lloyd’s children had all moved into town with jobs, and no one was interested in taking on the farm. At the time, my grandparents were looking for property as a family retreat. Friends of theirs had hunting land across the way, and they told the family about the property, saying ‘and their north field might be just long enough to land your Cessna 182.’”
Just then, our tour passes the trees along the lane to arrive at the edge of the field, rolling off to the north and west with waving wild flowers. It’s been some time since an airplane landed in the field, which is now rimmed with pasture fencing that shelters contended sheep busily grazing. Belle, the guard donkey, waves her sonar ears and watches the group in the barnyard with interest. Here we discuss rotational grazing methods, meet the chickens in their portable tractor pens, and see the laying hens pecking busily in the pasture around their Conestoga wagon-styled coop-on-wheels.
“The crown jewel of any farm, of course, is the barn. Ours was completed in 1919, and we had it restored in 2001. When you look at the numbers, four years to finish a barn (1915-19) seems like a long time. Well, there’s a story. Sometimes Germans (like us too) can have a stubborn streak, and E.P. and Lloyd got into an argument about building the barn. Lloyd stormed off to town and the family didn’t hear from him for a year—he’d enlisted in WWI. When he returned, they settled the differences enough to finish the barn.”
Often there are lots of questions about milking sheep and the process of putting the dairy together, which was completed in 2012, while the kids are ecstatic to pet the friendly goat and sheep.
We step inside to see the hand-hewn tamarack timbers, visit Linden and Sweet Pea our celebrity goat and sheep, and peak through the window into our dairy. Our heritage turkey toms are gobbling, so we head that way to meet the flock of cinnamons and coppers. Sometimes, when kids come, I’ll catch our tom Chocolate, so they can feel the warm, bumpy skin on his head.
“Wow, I’ve never actually been this close to a turkey before!” is a common response as Chocolate blinks and shakes his head, waddle flapping. I make the kids promise to keep quiet and move slowly, and we have a chance to peak at the baby chicks or turkeys in the coop as they nestle beneath their heat lamps.
This year, because of the Porcine Epidemic Virus, we simply wave at our special heritage pigs. They wag their curly tails at us from the tall grass of their pasture. The ducks run and splash beside the garden, showing off their comic antics. We pause a moment to study the raised-bed gardens, rhubarb patches, and berries that are part of our CSA program, farmer’s market presence, and store offerings.
“There so much happening on your farm. How do you have time for it all?” folks ask as we make the loop back towards the Creamery. “I had no idea all this was back here.”
One little girl grabs my hand to show me a treasured (but battered) chicken feather she found in the yard. “What was your favorite part?” I ask her.
“Ohh, the baby animals…and Sweet Pea…and Linden.”
Of course, there are all the odd or crazy questions too (I’ll save some of those for another day), the complicated dialogue about the particulars of sustainable agriculture, or the long rambles about how someone used to do things on a farm long ago. The folks taking tours come in all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and walks of life. Some pre-schedule private tours, while others come for Pizza Night Saturdays for the “family night” tour opportunity.
While it is a lot of talking by the end of the day, it’s special to have the chance to share the little piece of Earth we’re caring for with folks. Looking for a fun and education opportunity to share with your family? Maybe we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com