Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Great Pasture

Well, I feel that it’s been an eventful couple of days. Yesterday, we did a couple new things. For one, a couple of us took a thorough tour of the farm led by Wayne, who oversees all operations on the entire property. It’s really quite an interesting slice of land, full of history, scenery and ongoing, vibrant agriculture and conservation.

A few words about Appleton Farms. It is the oldest farm in the U.S., having been farmed continuously since it was awarded as a royal land grant in…1636? 1638? I’ll get back to you on that. It is almost exactly 1000 acres. About 400 are mostly wooded, set off as a place of recreation, with many trails for hikers. Another few hundred comprise the farm, but really are made up of many different operations, from marginal agricultural land that is just mowed once a season and is primarily wildlife habitat, to grazing land for the dairy and beef cattle, to continuously mowed land for hay, and a few extra acres (about 30) for our humble CSA vegetable operation. The remaining land is roads, buildings, houses (there are quite a few houses on the farm, mostly on the perimeter abutting local paved roads).

I think the highlight of the tour was getting a close look at what is called the Great Pasture, which is a 140 acre single block of lovely pasture, apparently the largest whole block of field or pasture in Ipswich. It is rolling land studded with a few gnarled old trees, oaks mostly, and some rocky outcrops. It is home to a herd (is that the right term?) of interesting cattle of the White Park breed, bred by the Romans a couple thousand years ago in Britain. They are lovely, dignified and docile. They remain on the great pasture year round. I’ve also been told that in a month or so the Great Pasture becomes one of the best places for grassland birds in the state, with lots ob bobolinks and meadowlarks (I’ve already heard meadowlarks near the CSA fields). I’m hoping for vesper sparrows and grasshopper sparrows, but Wayne says they have not been documented on the farm, so I’m going to make surveying the pasture a weekend mission a few times throughout the season. We’ll see if we can eke out a grasshopper sparrow somewhere.

Then, after work yesterday, we went to our first CRAFT seminar of the year, which travels to different farms throughout the season to watch some sort of farming practice in action and learn. Yesterday, of all things, was chicken processing, which consists essentially of killing the chicken with a quick cut through the major blood vessels of the neck, a short dip in scalding water to loosen the feathers, a minute in some sort of rotating machine with soft rubber spokes to remove the feather, and then evisceration and cleaning. Due to a time crunch I didn’t actively participate, and truth to tell I wasn’t really in the mood to at the time, but I eat chicken and I think it would be a good thing to learn. In a smaller homesteading farm where you only killed a few chickens a year, a lot of those steps would be done without all those specialized devices. Not that Green Meadows is Tyson Farms, exactly, but I’m sure they do a couple-few hundred chickens a year. They are trying to educate their customer base to buy the scrawnier, ‘chickenier’-tasting breeds that they use, which are hardier and wilder but smaller and having less breast meat.

Today, we planted strawberries, finished constructing the compost station contraption, applied self-decomposing rows of corn-starch mulch to the onion beds, transplanted our first batch of lettuce into the fields (and interesting operation, I will have to describe it more but I’m hungrier and am going off to dinner) and seeded leeks in the greenhouse.

Adios, amoebas. Sorry if this post seems rushed, but I didn't write yesterday and wanted to get something down.

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