2016: A Retrospective

Philo Ridge Farm is located at a historic intersection that has been producing food and forage for over two centuries. This past year was one of growth for the farm: cows returned to the property for the first time since 2012, a farm manager was hired, and a talented design and construction team led by Gregory and Carolyn Schipa of The Weather Hill Company broke ground on two new farm buildings. This photo retrospective provides a peek at the farm’s faces and places of 2016.

JANUARY

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In January, Ed Pitcavage was hired to oversee livestock, vegetables, construction and other projects at the farm. He and his family moved to Charlotte from Hingham, MA, where he most recently managed Weir River Farm, a property of The Trustees. Meanwhile, twelve pregnant ewes grew wider in the historic barn on the corner, and a batch of wool blankets arrived back from Peggy Hart, a weaver with whom we have worked for three years. 

FEBRUARY

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The snowless winter plodded on, and plans for increased vegetable production started to grow.  Michael Haulenbeek designed and cut a mortise and tenon frame for a propagation house, then added plastic walls.  This new structure would house seedlings. We opened the doors to the carriage barn-turned-office for a meat sale in February, and enjoyed smoked pork and hot cider with neighbors and customers from near and far. 

MARCH

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One word: lambs! They were born in the barn, and basked in the sun. We were grateful that all 22 births were straightforward, and all lambs thrived with rich milk from their dams and rich dry hay from the 2015 harvest. The lambs are mixed breeds - Icelandic, Border Leicester, Romney and Tunis, but all share a sire, Samson, who is a gray Romney with a hefty, soft fleece. 

APRIL

April brought more construction projects, including two mobile chicken coops for the broiler chickens which would move to pasture in June. Gwen, the traveling sheep shearer, gave the sheep their bi-annual haircuts. Michael and Vera watered and turned the composting manure and hay from the sheep barn, which served as their cozy bedded pack throughout the winter. In April, Vera started seedlings in the propagation house, which was heated by sun during the day and propane by night.     

MAY

Since purchasing the property in 2012, one of Peter and Diana's priorities has been to preserve the historic structures so they can be enjoyed for generations to come. When the English threshing barn roof began leaking, it was clear that a new roof was a priority for 2016.  The work began in May and finished in June.  Above, the workers remove tin to reveal old shakes.

As in years past, the pastures were ready for grazing in the first week of May, and the sheep enjoyed the tender new grass. Tulips and daffodils bloomed just in time for Mother's Day, and we harvested them to sell from the farm stand. Devin Green, a farmer who attended UVM then gained production experience at Powisset Farm in Dover, MA joined Philo Ridge Farm to grow vegetables.  Somewhere amidst the farm work, the team managed to gather for a wood-fired pizza lunch!

JUNE

The 200 acres of pasture at Philo Ridge Farm were growing well, and after much research about breeds and genetic lines, we purchased a herd of 20 Belted Galloway beef cattle. Galloways are known for their hardiness, their ability to grow well on a grass-only diet, their strong mothering instincts, and of course, their supreme flavor and beautiful coats. The breed fit with all the goals of Philo Ridge Farm, and the cows arrived in May, and began an intensive rotational program as the June grass flourished.  

JULY

The farm stand opened in June, and we had sunny, warm weather for visits from the Building Bright Futures parent-child playgroup.

Vera Simon-Nobes and Michael Haulenbeek moved onto the Foote Farm in 2012, with a few sheep in tow and a desire to produce food. Their labor and thoughtful planning have helped the farm grow from an idea to a reality. Michael spends his days caring for the animals, making grazing plans, building various livestock housing structures, and the occasional piece of furniture for the farm.  Vera works at Shelburne Farms by day, and moonlights as a farm-based educator, while supporting the sheep and blanket production, marketing, and farm stand retail set-up. Together, they strive to find peaceful moments to take in the beauty of the farm, and in June, they enjoyed a quick picnic in the hayfield before dusk. The walk to the freshly cut field was not to be missed by Aldo, the sheep guardian. 

Learning stories of this historic farm's past helps us be the best possible stewards of the land. In July, we were honored to sit down with Jonathan Foote who grew up on the farm and ran it as a dairy until 2012. Over a leisurely lunch, we heard about his mother's grapevines and chickens, the various rooms and their uses in the Brick House, the significance of the birch and maple trees, and so much more. 

July brought little rain, lots of irrigation, and an aggressive weeding and harvesting schedule. Devin and Colleen kept the farm stand well-stocked with vegetables. The cows grazing rotation sped up to accommodate for slower growing grass. All hands were on deck to help host the Farm to Ballet Project for the second year, where The Hindquarter prepared a farm-raised meal, and families enjoyed a set from The Meatpackers before the performance started.  We were honored to be a host site for this exciting production, and were thrilled to welcome Velocity Media, who filmed the performance and interviews with dancers and others who hosted the production at their farms. (View video). Ticket sales from the performance were donated back to the Farm to Ballet Project to support their creative work in the arts.  Many thanks to the 350 attendees and to Meg Boucher Wilson, who photographed the event! 

AUGUST

Our first batch of chickens was ready by the end of August, and we celebrated the day with smoked chicken tacos and a sunny evening with chicken customers on the Brick House lawn.  The five little pigs took many mud baths. Megan Bookless became flower-arranger extraordinaire, and offered stunning bouquets at the farm stand. Chamomille was one plant that delighted in the drought - keep an eye out for this dried flower as tea in the farm stand next year! Kids from the Charlotte Green Thumbs Garden Camp visited the animals and veggies at the farm four times.  On their last visit, they harvested over 40 pounds of Green Mountain Potatoes, which Devin packaged and sold in the farm stand later in the month. We said goodbye to a sagging structure that housed machinery and a machine repair shop at one time. The beams were preserved and will be cared for and erected elsewhere in Charlotte in the future. 

SEPTEMBER

Peter, Diana, Ed and the farm consultants visited farms around the U.S and Canada to gather insight on the direction of Philo Ridge Farm. Busy was an understatement in September, and the only place on the farm that was still was the propagation house, which was packed with curing winter squashes. 

OCTOBER

The animals grew, the new livestock barn on the North end of the property took form, the sweet corn sold out, the last of the season's 600 broiler chickens went to the butcher. Peter Foote, who was the fourth generation to live at the farm stopped by one afternoon and shared stories of growing up in the Brick House. The strong haying season concluded with enough hay for our own livestock as well as extra to sell. 

The warm fall afforded us the chance to leave potatoes, squash, greens and more in the farm stand well into October - thank you to everyone who stopped by for meat and veggies as the days grew shorter. With the new livestock barn almost complete, Michael did an underground investigation of water lines to make sure the pigs, veggies, and cows on the West side of the road had continuous access to water. Vera hosted families for taste-testing, chicken observation, and general play through Building Bright Futures. Aldo, the Maremma guardian of the sheep met his first porcupine early one morning, but remained in good spirits. (Thank you Vergennes Animal Hospital!) 

We sold chicken to the Charlotte Central School cafeteria in October, and enjoyed chicken soup with students on October 24, National Food Day. Later in the month, we delivered ham to a high school in Massachusetts, where school food chefs prepared a chard and ham frittata for 400 people at the National Farm-Based Education Gathering. 

NOVEMBER

From the farm stand looking North, the horizon changed in 2016. A new "pack barn" was built, which is providing winter housing for cattle and pigs, as well as vegetable wash space, and equipment and tool storage. The barn was designed to fit with the vernacular of the farm. The sun came out just in time for the raising of the cupolas!  

DECEMBER

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The cows grazed until late December, when they moved into the new barn. With the completion of this building, attention turned to a new project. The Garen barn, originally located on a farm about two miles down Hinesburg Road, will be restored and constructed near the Brick House, and will serve as a year-round farm market and kitchen. This space will allow us to process and sell farm-raised food so the bounty can be enjoyed throughout the year. 

We processed dehydrated chilies in December, labeled honey jars, made crushed herb blends, and skirted wool to ready it for the spinnery. We donated 60 pounds of squash, onions and garlic to the Charlotte Food Shelf. We sorted seeds, organized tools, and studied spreadsheets in preparation for a productive 2017 season. 

We are tremendously grateful to the greater Charlotte community for supporting sustainable agriculture at our farm and others during 2016. We hope 2017 brings good health, delicious food, and joyous adventures to you and yours. 

(Vera Simon-Nobes; 12/31/16)