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Working the Land

By Judith Jones, "Working the Land," March/April 2011

Judith Jones writes about the rewards of connecting with the land and animals.

We named the place Bryn Teg (beautiful hill) in honor of our puppy and Evan’s Welsh heritage, and it proved to be a turning point in our lives. For the first time, we had a garden and we planted gooseberries and raspberries and a heritage Duchess apple tree out front. We even put in a pond and stocked it with trout (most of which the great blue heron gobbled up) and walked the land with Adele Dawson, the naturalist (and dowser) who introduced us to some of the many treasures at our doorstep, such as wild sorrel, fiddleheads, milkweed. Soon we felt intimately connected with the earth, and that enriched the way we cooked.

The first year we settled into Bryn Teg there was still a small farm close by. Almost all the farmland had been sold off over the years so the farmer needed to borrow some pasturage for his small herd of cows and a few horses. We were delighted to let him use our land because it helped to keep it farm-like and in return we were invited to help ourselves to the most delicious milk we had tasted in years from the big tub in his barn. We were also treated to some choice cuts of deer that were hunted each fall to keep the family in meat for the winter.

But it didn’t last. The next year the farmer and his family moved. We were lucky though. One day we discovered, driving his tractor down Skunk Hollow Road, a younger cousin of mine, who lived with his family in an old farmhouse on land adjacent to ours. His wife taught school and he made maple syrup, hayed, and raised heifers to the milking point, then sold them. But with dairy farms in northern Vermont rapidly disappearing, the market for his cows was diminishing. One night some years later when we had all become good friends, as we sat around the kitchen table, we had an idea. Why not pool our pasturage and try raising grass-fed beef, for which there was a growing market?

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