Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Year at Stone Hollow Farm: March Reflections 2019

~by Margaret

I am a list person.  There is something cathartic about creating a list and then crossing items off.  Done – Accomplished.  I never add items to a once written list.  That defeats the sense of completion.  I just create a new list.  Looking out my window this cold March morning you would think a list this time of year would be feeble.  Not true.  Living on a farm certainly feeds my craving for listing.  Jeanna and I use lists in the bakery all the time.  Shopping lists, production schedules, and to do lists.  Come to think of it, recipes are really lists as well.
Yesterday’s List
1.     Bake bread
2.     Start pepper seeds
3.     Order tomato seeds
4.     Check maple tapping supplies
5.     Order revised business cards
6.     Create another list of needs for the upcoming market season
See, one list leads to another.
            When I went back to college for my business degree, creating a written business plan was strongly recommended.  I admit our business plan is still half written but I excuse my neglect by thinking that lists are a daily business plan and much more effective.  If we had completed the business plan it wouldn’t reflect anything we are doing today anyway.  To borrow from Chef Vivian Howard from “A Chef’s Life”, we’ve made a career of doing things we said we would never do. If we were paid for every time a “never” turned into a “yes”, we wouldn’t need lists because we wouldn’t need to work anymore.
Lists are essential on our farm.  There is sooo much to do.  Without a list I may stand trancelike, mouth open, overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be cleaned, fixed, moved, built, knocked down, mowed, planted, weeded….you get my point.  I am positive farmers invented lists.  I have a dark blue three ring binder.  I call it my dream book.  It is filled with plans and imaginations primarily in the form of lists.  If we ever have a house fire I am sure it will be the first thing I grab.  I use technology for many things but not my lists.  Something about pen to paper makes them indelible in my mind.  As I look back through my dream book over lists, some completed, some in progress and some probably never fulfilled, I recall the “me” of that period of my life.  If you haven’t slowed down in a while to write something by hand, try it.  You may find it enjoyable.  This blog was easy for me to write this morning.  It came like a flood, the kind you have to write furiously to keep up with. Spontaneous, wonderful and not on my “to do” list today, but pure pleasure.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Year at Stone Hollow Farm: February Reflections 2019

      ~by Margaret Darroch     

To quote from a book by Eric Sloane, “You can seldom explain likes or dislikes”, but I have always been attracted to structures made of stone.  Stone houses, stone fences, stone bridges.  Nearly 20 years ago when I purchased the property, it was natural that I name our modest 10 acres with a stone foundation bank barn on Stone Road, “Stone Hollow Farm”.   The land gently slopes from the high point of the Ridge Road down to the hollow where a tributary of Jeddo Creek flows. The barn and front paddock are cradled on the east side of road and show off like a jewel when approached from any direction. I often tell people I bought the property because of the barn.

 Our area of Western New York is known for its stone construction.  Early land owners cleared their fields for plowing and harvested the small lake rocks, “cobblestones” left behind by the glacier that crept and melted to fill the basin that was to become Lake Ontario.  If you have ever spent time clearing rocks from a field or have had the tremendous displeasure of trying to dislodge a stone buried right were you wanted a fence post to go, you will appreciate the dedication it must take to collect enough to build a house from. A leisurely Sunday drive east on the Ridge Road towards Rochester will provide a visual feast of cobblestone structures.  The cobblestone museum in Childs NY is a treasure trove of information and can be enjoyed after a pleasant brunch at the Village Inn, located a stone’s throw from the museum grounds (pun intended).  

While I find cobblestones lovely, my favorite has always been cut and field stone buildings.  Our main barn on the farm has a field stone foundation.  The walls are an intricate puzzle that the original builder pieced together using large field rocks from the property, some the size of small boulders.  They fit together leaving a fairly smooth face with colors of several different rock types and joined with cement heavy with lime.  Several years ago, a barn historian told me our barn was a “show barn” based on some of the building materials and its impressive height of 40’.  While I love how if  standing at ground level you have to sweep your head back with your chin up in the air to appreciate how tall it is, I most love how the stone walls are such a pleasant backdrop for the sturdy barn doors and nine pane windows.

It would have been hard to grow up here and not have an appreciation for stone.  The Town of Hartland is just a few miles, as the crow flies, from the shores of Lake Ontario.  In other places of the world you go to the shore to collect shells. Here we collect stones. The Canadian side of the lake is mostly sand, but the shore of the American side is covered with small stones made silky smooth by the lapping of the waves.  I was blessed to have an Aunt and Uncle who owned a cottage there and spent much time in the summer walking the quiet shoreline.  The stones you find at the very edge of where the waves stretch and then retreat are turned into brilliant gems when they are washed by the water and left to glisten in the light.  As a child, all their sizes and colors made it impossible for me to ignore. There was also the challenge of having to walk over the stones with tender young feet to reach the water for a swim.  There was no such thing as swim shoes in those days.  You were just expected to tough it out.  The biggest struggle was the decision to either endure the discomfort of your feet for the next ten to fifteen feet until you reached the sand bar, or belly flop into the frigid water and gasp for breath until your body adjusted to the temperature.  The stones left an impression and each visit meant collecting at random and then sorting through and taking the best specimens home, as many as my parents thought appropriate.  I don’t think I have outgrown my first love.

Several years ago I was asked by a cousin who lived out of town to help coordinate a surprise party for my Aunt Pat’s 80th birthday.  My Aunt stilled lived locally and she needed someone to meet with the owners of the venue, find a cake decorator and plan the decorations.  I wanted the centerpieces for the tables to evoke memories and serve as a topic of conversation.  I asked my cousin to send a disc of old family photos which I printed out on tracing paper and glued in a Triptych of glassless frames to house a candle.  The effect was beautiful and rendered the emotion I was hoping for from the guests the afternoon of the party.  What surprised me though was the reaction the bases of the centerpieces created.  I spent several hours during the weeks before the party with my friend Vickie at the shore collecting small rocks.  I washed them and gave them a coat of sealer to create the affect the water has on them.  The stones were used to surround the picture frames on a base in the center of each table. A handful of stones on each centerpiece had words pasted on them like, “family”, “love”…etc.  The lake stones were just as talked about as the old photos illuminated by candlelight.  After the party I discovered that the stones were gone.  My cousins had taken them home.  At first I was disappointed.  I had planned to keep them myself. Then it dawned on me that they had spent their childhood collecting rocks at the lake too and it was like taking a piece of “home” home.  I have wondered how   Security at the airport must have reacted to all the rocks, but I suppose they have seen everything.

I keep stones as my traveling companions.  They sit in a cubby on the dash of my truck in plain view like old friends.  One was given to me by my friend Arthur who saved it for me from a trip he took to Wales.  It is round and cream colored with a hint of green.  I never had a green rock before.  The other was painted by my friend Sandy to look like a lady bug.  I am not sure how or why they ended up as my travel buddies.  I thought about taking them out a few times but decided we all feel at home together in my truck. 

I started this blog with the thought that we can seldom explain our likes or dislikes but maybe that’s not true.  I think I may have gotten to the bottom of why I love stone structures.  I will even confess that once after a trip I hugged my stone barn before walking through the doors again for the first time. There is a sense of grounding I get from stone structures, a sense of permanence and peace. What resonates with you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

December 29, 2018

            The bustle of holiday baking in the shop is over.  The stillness that winter brings has settled over the farm.  The animals are tucked in their bedded stalls on the lowest level of the bank barn.  The stone walls and heavy doors keep the shrill wind at bay even on the coldest nights.  A season of dormancy is in its fullness.
            Yet….There is already an anticipation of spring.  The goat does hold a secret of new life arriving in May thanks to a borrowed buck who returns to this own home today.  Tiny shoots in the south kitchen flowerbed are pushing through the dirt as if to test the air.  The hens are beginning to lay eggs again.  Not many, one, and then two as each day’s light is extended.

            Inside the farmhouse we are taking time to catch our breath, reflect on the year just passed and imagine the one before us.  This coming year holds plans for new varieties of heirloom vegetables and heritage animals alike and for mending fences both literal and figurative.
            Stone Hollow Farm is a living, ever evolving and fertile haven for bees, plants and animals both wild and tame.  All the more so for those of us who are blessed to be stewards of this place.  As stewards, it is both a privilege and a joy to carry the mantle of those that cared for the land before us.  Join me each month of 2019 as I discover the history and chronicle the challenges, triumphs and revised plans, on a small canal town farm in Western New York.