“How come we don’t see you around town very much anymore?” is a not uncommon question. “Don’t you girls get out and have fun?”
The honest answer is that, between the chores, the shop, the market, the garden, running a business, and all the other dimensions to what we do, it’s crash late at night and get back up early. Something is always needing attention, and while one or two persons might be able to sneak away for a while (usually to run errands around town like a whirlwind), the chance for everyone to take a break and get off the farm is a very rare treat.
Rare, as in once a year…perhaps.
Most of our getaways are thwarted by farm happenings. An invitation to a wedding reception has to be passed by because our first sow is farrowing, and our presence is needed for the birth of the piglets. An evening waterskiing with neighbors is called off for much needed barn cleaning, chicken butchering, or CSA harvesting. Just when you think you might have a moment, a storm blows in, and everyone’s out scrambling to bring in the animals and stuff loose items into sheds.
But at some point, you HAVE TO get away and have a little fun for your soul. This last Sunday, Tom Draughon (who plays duet with me at the concerts at Farmstead Creamery) was performing as part of the Big Top Chautauqua show “Shanties and Shipwrecks.” It was the debut performance, a non-pizza farm night, and the sheep had just transitioned to an 18-hour milking schedule. If we timed everything right and there weren’t any disasters, maybe…just maybe…we could sneak off the farm for a night out.
This wasn’t a trip to see Willie Nelson or Trampled by Turtles. This was local folks taking a trek to support other local folks making music and telling stories. While on a much grander scale than our Locally Grown Summer Music Series, the Blue Canvass Orchestra shows at Big Top Chautauqua offer space for the creatives who call this area home to entertain, inform, and inspire.
Sunday was a hectic day at the creamery, with many seats full, a gelato case scooping near to empty, and the menu finally switched to all breakfast because we ran out of the lunch options! Everyone in our crew was dragging after the long week and the drizzly morning that pushed folks off the lakes and into the cozy shelter of Farmstead Creamery.
But then, in a last-minute lull in the hustle and bustle, we loaded the seats into the little red PT Cruiser (customarily emptied for hauling farmer’s market), locked the little chickens and sheep safely inside, grabbed the cooler we’d packed with food for the two-hour trip, hung out the closed sign, and hit the road.
It almost felt somehow dangerous, driving away with Mom, Kara, myself, and the two interns. Would the farm be alright without us? But the skies were clear, though it was chilly, and everything seemed settled enough. Brave Mom was quickly left to drive solo as we all fell asleep on the humming, swaying drive. That’s what happens when homestead farmers stop moving, you instantly conk out!
The sun glowed golden on the top of the trees circling the shimmering Lake Superior. Orange-vested volunteers waved us into our parking space, and we marched the short climb up past the ski lift on the hill to the blue and gray striped canvass theater. Admittedly, it felt almost off-kilter to be at an event we weren’t hosting, enjoying life on the other side of the front counter. We chuckled together in line at inside jokes, let the wind catch our hair, and genuinely savored being “off duty” for the evening.
The lights came up with the band in sea-voyaging regalia, bursting with songs of voyages and shipwrecks throughout the ages. The big-screen behind the action shared historical photos, paintings, and even an early video of life on a sailing vessel. After curtain, I had a chance to chat with the crew, help Tom load instruments away in his car, and shared a picnic in the darkened parking lot, where we were the only cars remaining. While the herd of listeners made their way down the hill, we toasted our night out, Tom’s opening night of the show, and our intern Jake’s birthday all-in-one.
And then there was the long, dark drive home, the last stragglers of chores like locking in hens and rams, and we collapsed into bed. Next day’s plan was butchering chickens, though the dawn came far too early. But the scramble to get out the door, the long haul north and back, and yet another shortened night—they all were definitely worth it for a delightful night out, away from the farm.
We did get the butchering done, and the shop is back open, so if you’re looking for someplace tucked away for an enjoyable “night out” from your place, maybe we’ll see you down on the farm sometime. Our next concert night is August 9th, in tandem with the Art Crawl!
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com