Harvest Season in the North Country

by Sherrie Kelly

Today I woke up before the sunrise. I popped out of bed like I do every morning at six thirty, to catch up on assignments and enjoy the quiet solitude of the kitchen table as I sipped my coffee and ate my oatmeal. I waited patiently for the ripeness of the blazing sun to materialize from below the tree line. Each sunrise here at the Sustainability House is beautiful, but this one was particularly breathtaking. I look forward to waking up each morning to see what beautiful brush strokes of color the sky above our farm will present to me. I walked outside and to feel the cold droplets on the grass from the morning dew under my bare feet. I looked out and marveled as the sky transformed before my eyes, the sun emerged and lit up the classroom in the distance, and the grass in the field began to glow, as the heat of the sun gradually covered the whole farm. The warmth hit my left cheek, and fell across my squinting eyelids. I knew then that my private time with sunrise would be over, because soon everyone in the house would wake up, and fill the kitchen with chatter, smells of eggs from the chickens outside, and onions harvested from the garden.

“Farm class,” as I like to call it, started this morning at 8:30. We began class today by harvesting celeriac and celery to ferment in jars. We went outside in the dewy morning and got our hands dirty. The act of harvesting food has had a considerable impact on the way I view food in general. I find that I am more aware of the foods that go into my body, and where they come from. Before I started living at the Sustainability House, I had always tried to eat organic, locally produced foods, but I never had the chance to truly internalize why. Living in this environment with so many food conscious people, who are passionate about the sustainable food here at the farm has taught me how much eating can have an impact on the environment and my wellbeing. It is a comforting and accomplishing feeling to see my food growing only a few meters from where I sleep, and then going to “farm class” and pulling the food out of the soil or cutting it off a stalk with my own hands.

After harvesting the celery and celeriac, we washed the vegetables with a hose on the lawn, and our class of four ventured indoors to preserve the food we had just harvested. My task was to cut away the leaves from each celery stalk with a knife, chop them into bit-sized pieces, and place them into a canning jar. After, I put a tablespoon of salt in the jar and filled it with water. Learning the process of fermenting vegetables and the science behind it in class, has given me a feeling of achievement. I felt empowered by the realization that I was capable of creating things usually processed by machines and sold in the grocery store.

Although I have only lived here at the house for a couple of months, I have found that my relationship with food has changed drastically. I make more food products from scratch than I ever did, and I have realized how easy some of these processes can be. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was on food processing duty for my weekly chores. I decided I wanted to make pumpkin muffins, one of my favorite fall treats. Before I came here, I had always bought pumpkin puree at the store for the recipe, thinking it was the only option, and that I was incapable of processing a pumpkin by myself. When I arrived back from campus one afternoon, Ben, one of directors of the program, left a small pumpkin covered with clumps of dirt on the kitchen counter. There was a blue post it note stuck on its orange skin that read “Alexandra.” I was perplexed. Where to start? I pulled one of my housemates aside and asked her how I was supposed to handle this pumpkin. She took me through the process step by step, and I realized how easy it could be to prepare foods freshly. That day I learned how to process a pumpkin for muffins. I knew there would be many more learning experiences like this to come here on the farm.

Today I watched the sunset. Streaks of blue, pink and golden yellow moved in strata across the sky. I walked around to the side of the farmhouse, feet wet from the grass, and observed as the layers of color disappeared into the evergreens. I heard the pigs stir noisily in their pen, and the chickens squawk at the sky as if they were relishing in the splendor too. As I stood there, I began to realize the true beauty of this property. I realized how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to live here, tucked away on a secluded farm, far from the rush of campus. It has provided me with a sense of peace, as well as a closer identity with the agricultural roots of the North Country.