Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In Upper Jay: The Running of the Cows

Swiss Brown CowCows run. Not only that they hop about, kick up their heels, and act like school kids released for their summer holiday. The occasion? Being released from living in a barn all winter and finally being able to get out into a field of fresh grass, which took place on a Sunday morning at the end of May at the Sugarhouse Creamery, a farmstead in Upper Jay that decided to create a picnic, party, and farmer’s market featuring the products of several new farms recently launched across Essex County.

“The plan is at 11:30 or so we are going to let our Brown Swiss Cows out for the first time this spring,” said Alex Eaton of their first public running of the cows. “They are all in the barn at the moment eating a little bit of hay. We are going to release them and then they will go crazy. It is the best sight in the entire year. They kick up their heels, their udders are swinging around, and these massive creatures are so playful. It’s an incredible sight.”

“Did you know that my brother is dating your niece Abi?” said Margo Brooks, not the opening line I expected. “My brother Peter is Abi’s boyfriend.”

“Oh wow, I heard rumor of something like that!”

“We used to be the herd managers where Abi’s brother Riker is now,” said Margo of my nephew.

“What brought you here?” I asked.

Tsinat w cows“We were on a quest to start our own farm. We had been at Consider Bardwell Farm, a well-known cheese maker in Vermont. We had been there about five years and were getting the itch to start out on our own. We started searching for our own place and landed on this property. We had both gone to St. Lawrence, knew the area well, found this little place, and fell in love with it. We have been here about a year and a half now.”

“What do I like about farming? Everything,” said Margo, who grew up on a farm and is a fifth generation farmer. “I like the everyday challenges that farming presents. They are always different and you never, never, ever, ever get bored with farming. It is so challenging in every way, emotionally, mentally and physically. As Kristin Kimball said in her book The Dirty Life it takes everything from you and gives so much more back.”

“Isn’t this a great way to start a Memorial Day,” said Tony Corwin of South Meadow Farm spreading his arms as if to embrace the many farm stands, the people pouring up the drive, and the picture perfect blue sky, and verdant fields. “These young farmers represent hope for the future.”

“I love cows, these are great,” said Barbara Merle-Smith petting a Brown Swiss Cow moments before the cows were set lose. “I always wanted to have a cow, but living in suburban New Jersey wasn’t the place for it. I love that young families are coming in and renewing the arts of days gone by – farming and all.”

“These cows are great,” said Tsinat, a young boy petting another.

“I have been making cheese for a year and I have been milking cows for eight,” said Ashley Kleinhammer of the North Country Creamery. “I had many mentors across Vermont who taught me how to be with cows and the previous owner of the farm that we have now taught us how to make cheese. What I like most about making cheese and yogurt is milking the cows. I do it all because I like to milk cows. I end up with all this milk and I have to do something with it, so I make cheese and yogurt. Plus I think it is very important to not just put it on a truck and send it out. Today I hope that people will come out, meet us, and see the vibrancy of this community.”

Indeed they had. Word had definitely gotten out and people were busily sampling cheeses, breads and beer, while others were already stocking up on veggies and eggs, or placing orders for wood fired pizzas, and still others ohhing and ahhing the big brown-eyed cows while some small cats dashed about.

“I have been working as a professional brewer for about five years now,” said Dan Badger of the Ausable Brewing Company, a farm brewery. “My brother Dylan and I are establishing grain crops, a hop yard, also sourcing other ingredients locally as possible from other farms. We are from Potsdam originally, were both living in Vermont at the time, I had quit my job at Long Trail, and came over to do a stone project with my friend Asa Thomas-Train (of Mace Chasm Farm). I met some of the other farmers, saw a lot of potential, and there is new farm-brewery legislation that made it very attractive to do an operation over here.”

Cows runningThen a shout went out that the cows were ready to run. People lined up the length of the path from the barn to the fields, and then the barn doors opened. Tentatively at first the cows stuck their heads out, a few bolder caught the sent of grass, and they were off.

“They were very eager to get to the grass,” I said to Alex Eaton after they passed.

“I had hoped so, they really seem to like it,” said Alex. “They really do run, full on, which is such a sight. And it’s a great turnout. This is the best, and now we can clean the barn.”

“It’s fun seeing the cows get all exciting about the green grass,” said Jay Ward of the bovines gamboling through the fields and dashing hither and yon. “You don’t think of cow having emotions, but boy are they excited.”

“Did you see those cows running?” said Courtney Grimes-Sutton of Mace Chasm Farm. “It’s awesome. The flower wreaths, the cowbells, and they are such beautiful cows. Beautiful grass. Beautiful day. I love it. I knew I wanted to farm coming out of high school so I just worked my way into it over time. Asa (her husband) just wanted to come back to the Adirondacks and we met working at Essex Farms. I was skinning a pig. Starting a farm of your own is creative exciting, exhausting, terrifying, expensive and we certainly miss having weekends for ourselves, but it’s just a trade off.”

“So what do you think about this new farming movement?” I asked Ian Ater of Fledging Crow, one of the pioneering young farmers.

“It’s about time, he said. “It’s great, it’s awesome, and I am happy to be part of it too.”

These farmers can be found at many local Essex County farmer’s markets, and most especially the Sunday market in Keene’s Marcy Field, plus several, like the Sugarhouse Creamery in Upper Jay have their own stands. But mark your calendars now for the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend 2015 for the next Running of the Cows. You don’t want to miss it – and bring a blanket so you can picnic on the grass.

 Photos, from above: A cow reaches its goal – grass; Tsinat greets a cow; and cows on the run. Photos by Naj Wickoff.

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Naj Wikoff is an artist who founded Creative Healing Connections, the Lake Placid Institute, and co-founded the Adirondack Film Society-Lake Placid Film Forum.A two-time Fulbright Senior Scholar, Wikoff has served as president of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, director of arts and healing at the C. Everett Koop Institute, Dartmouth Medical School, and director of Arts and Productions for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Wikoff also covers Adirondack community culture events for the Lake Placid News.

One Response

  1. Hi, Naj — what a delicious article. And to hear Abi and Riker’s names as part of it also tickled me. There was a YouTube video that went viral about cows doing this in Germany, so I can just picture this.
    Hope you’re thriving — sounds like you are.
    Let me know when you’re next down this way.

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