Category Archives: Sustainability

Trying to decide

I’m trying to decide what to do with Healing Tree Farm. It has been a remarkable part of my life and has really helped me come to a genuine place of healing after a difficult health ordeal. And while the move out to New York doesn’t constitute starting over, it does feel like a refreshing next step in the direction of a dream. Do I owe that next step a renaming or re-branding? Part of me yearns to step away from the connection to illness, but another part of me feels I owe that process some ongoing recognition.

At the same time, I feel like we’ve outgrown the name, heading into a direction so well-photo 1 (5)rooted in fiber, despite our continued adoration for apple trees. I have no intention of giving up fruit-growing; I just want to broaden the scope to include a full-scale fiber operation.

When people have asked in the past about Healing Tree, I find myself feeling obligated to share the full story. In NY, there’s a kind of freedom from that, if that makes any sense. I’m no longer the girl who got cancer and started a farm out there. I’m the woman who wants to launch a fiber business.

And it’s purely psychological. Naturally, I don’t have to launch into the full story every time I’m asked about the significance of the Healing Tree, but even if I don’t share the story outwardly, it runs through my mind.

So, as we pack up the fencing and materials at the farm this week, I am engrossed in this ongoing dialogue. Remembering, reflecting, and thinking about which elements to carry on with us, and which to leave behind, both literally and figuratively. And I can genuinely say, it’s a healing process.


Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

Skinny Loves and the Humblerer

imageIt finally happened. We had to call in the professionals when it came to shearing Tassie (It’s official! I received my first kick!) and Bree. Jeff Goodwin (and his incredibly helpful family), our new farm heroes, came to our rescue.

The ladies are looking great and the process went smoothly save for one small bump at the end.

Ironically, as Jeff and his family were about to head out, I mentioned that the farm had a personality all its own. I explained that just when I feel like I’ve got it figured out, it throws a dramatic curve and sweeps me off my feet again. It shouldn’t be called a farm; it should be called a humblerer.

As little ‘Topher and I watched the trucks pull out of the drive, I was feeling pretty great. The Goodwins had successfully sheared, vaccinated, clipped nails, and done teeth, and the alpacas did great. Loads of gorgeous Suri fiber lay piled high on a blanket beneath the old white pine. The sun was looming  lovely and bright over the horizon. Chris would be home soon for dinner. It was time to relax and enjoy this thing we call farming.

However, the humblerer had other ideas.

Before we headed up to start the fire, alpacawarningI checked in on the ‘pacas and noticed Pecan, Tassie’s mother, was down. Not down in the way I expect to find them while resting, but a death’s door kind of down.

I ran out to check her breathing and found she was breathing normally, but her behavior was way off. She snuggled into me (totally abnormal for an alpaca, no matter how adorably snugly they appear). I ran for my phone only to realize the battery had died.

I had two options – one to flag down someone on the trail for their phone, or two to try to get her to her feet and better assess the situation. Chris would be at the farm shortly, so I opted for a better assessment.

I got her to her feet and she stumbled into me. She walked zombie-like and it appeared she was either blind or suffering from some kind of neurological reaction to the vaccines. Chris arrived with his phone and we called Jeff to first find out whether he had ever seen this reaction. He had not and quickly walked us through a process of evaluation to determine the urgency of the situation. In this time, we saw signs Pecan was improving, but it felt painfully slow.

As it turns out, she had a quickly-resolved reaction to (we think) the vaccine. Before long, was walking normally. By morning, she was eating and behaving as though nothing had happened. We, on the other hand, were again keenly aware of how precious and precarious our walk with livestock can be. Not one, but two large-animal vets now programmed into our phones, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for each twist and turn life takes. And also how wholly in love we are with these magnificent animals, no matter the spit, kicks (Tassie!), and dung piles…

With special gratitude to the Goodwins for their gentle handling of our animals and for their support following. 

Fiber for Sale!

imageWe’re spinning out some lovely shades of gray and delicious pink this spring. While the pink is entirely local Shetland, these handsome grays are a blend of our own Suri alpaca and Shetland. 100% Hand-spun, local, and lovely luster.

$28/skein or partial barter, discount on multi-skein purchases. Available for pick-up at the DeYoung farmhouse off Cherry Bend Road. Contact to purchase.

Thank you kindly for your continued support! 

Socks also available! These toddler socks are warm and comfy and come with fine farm memories. $30 per pair made from start to finish by the sheep and this farmer.

Ringing in the New Year with a lesson in ringing…

ringerSpecial thanks to Susan Odom at Hillside Homestead near Lake Leelanau for letting us borrow one of the best inventions ever for primitive laundering. Why do I refer to it with such fondness? Just try hanging clothes to dry without one of these.

This model was sold in the very last years of the 19th century and still works as well as the day it was made. We tested it out this afternoon and found it very effective at squeezing the excess water out without any fuss, though it’s easy to see how quickly little fingers could also get caught up in the ringer.

The ringer will make it possible for us to do laundry the way it would have been done in a household located where our house stands today in 1935. No electricity necessary.

Dried (Really) Goods

thereachThe food dehydrator finally arrived. We’ve been researching the best methods for food storage and it has quickly become one of our favorite tools for preserving the harvest. We can now make jerky, fruit leather, and dry fruit, veggies, and herbs to store for months.

You can even dry sauces and soups for later use (a helpful tip for avid drytomcampers/adventurers).

I wasn’t sure what the kids would think – Would our dried apples compete with the store-bought variety? If the toddler had anything to say about it, I think they exceeded all expectations.

I normally buy dried tomatoes – I love the flavor and texture and it sometimes makes a decent meat substitute. Not only do the tomatoes dry really well, they’re something of a work of art when finished.

applebottomBuying fruit leather at the co-op is a bit costly for this family. Making our own is not only fun, but a healthy alternative. We use a bit of honey to add some sweet to match any tart flavors on part of the berries and can now make good use of all of that autumn olive at the farm.

leverI don’t normally do plugs for commercial products but in this instance, with the limited number of options in our region for food-safe dehydration, this product makes a really nice (and quiet) addition to your food storage arsenal. The Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-5A is one of the higher end models at the lower end of the total wattage spectrum. It’s a smallish unit with stackable trays (up to 12) and very quiet. Highly recommended, if solar isn’t a good option.