By Kenny Fowler and Evelyn Redshaw
The taste of the beet was unlike any I’d had before. It was surprisingly sweet, with a bitter after bite, and it had a fleshy texture, which was emphasized by the grittiness of the sandy soil that still covered it.
The field of white flowers was an infinity in a box. It stretched out so far as to almost appear endless, yet it was finite to either side, a ribbon of paradise pulled from a movie and sewn into the patchwork landscape of a North Country farm. It beckoned to be frolicked in, and it seemed a miracle to be invited to do so. And so twelve college students and one outlandish farmer rolled through and dashed amongst flowers, racing like children and popping up and down like weasels.
Later, the students crowded into the trailer kitchen cutting bright fresh vegetables with dull knives and dirty fingers. Light brown eggs crackled with parsley and onions on a griddle pan, and pig cheeks simmered in their own grease on a cast iron skillet, becoming enticingly brown and crispy. Potatoes were boiled, salads were tossed, and everything was proudly paraded out onto the table. By the end of the meal, stomachs and spirits were satisfied.
This meal signified the end of our visit to Essex Farm, which in turn represented the culmination of our visit to the Champlain Valley. Almost two days earlier we had driven nearly three hours to the nearby Pok-0-Mac Cready Outdoor Education Center, our base camp for the weekend. From there we traveled to Reber Rock Farm, Andy Wekin’s Pedal Power garage, and the Lakeside School at Black Kettle Farm.
We made our way to Reber Rock early in the morning, our hearts heavy with anticipation and uncertainty. Today we had the option to participate in a chicken slaughter, something none of us had done before. Not everybody chose to participate, but everyone gained a new perspective. At the end of the process, neither the chickens or the people were quite what they were before.
After the slaughter was completed we toured the farm and said our goodbyes. Then we drove ten minutes to Andy Wekin’s pedal power garage, where we were enlightened about how simple it can be to use one’s body as a source of energy. Our last stop was at the Lakeside School at Black Kettle Farm. There, we learned about the teaching techniques of the Waldorf education system and toured the school.
The next day we found ourselves at the Essex Farm, the home to the events described in Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life and to the delicious beets we shared with you earlier. Before we knew it, we were stripping down to swim in a mucky pond, sticking our faces into giant heads of lettuce, and savoring spoonfuls of homemade sour cream dipped in sweet maple syrup. Kristin’s husband, Mark, our outlandish farmer, enthusiastically led us on a whirlwind tour of their property. He shared his passion, wisdom, and amazing depth of knowledge with us, and by the end of our visit we all had a new appreciation for life and a new set of perspectives to ponder.