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Barrosse Schwartz: Winter Farming

03/07/11 7:55AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(HOST) In Vermont, farming in winter is not for the faint of heart. On a recent chilly morning, commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz struggled to complete her daily chores.
 
(BARROSSE SCHWARTZ) I sometimes feel sorry for people who buy their food from the store, slickly packaged produce or processed food full of unpronounceable chemicals. On summer days, I collect the tastiest fruits and veggies straight from my own gardens and orchard. On winter nights we enjoy roast chicken, turkey or beef that we've raised ourselves and tended faithfully.
 
It's lovely to be outside to tend the kitchen cows and laying hens. The wild animal tracks across the otherwise unbroken snow leave me puzzling over who visited in the night. The contrast of yellow light to blue shadows on the snow in the morning, or orange light with purple shadows in the late afternoon, makes me wonder how I ever thought of Vermont winter as monochromatic.
 
But when the snow is high against the chicken coop, I must admit to waning enthusiasm.  On a recent 15 degree morning, I filled the cow's water pails in the kitchen. Then I bundled up for the barn, and stuck my right foot into a pair of heavy plastic clogs in the mudroom, only to realize that the old cat hadn't made it all the way to the litter box. Down went the buckets, off came the wet sock, a new pair was found, and the clog was cleaned - all before starting my morning chores.
 
I fed the cows two bales of hay by pulling off the binding strings in the hayloft and then pushing it in sections through the window to the bale feeder outside. As the last of it went out I looked up in time to see my cell phone sail out the window along with the hay.
 
The cows didn't even look up from their breakfast as I climbed into the center of their food to search for the phone. I've learned that once they're fed and watered, cows don't much care what you do. I think they half expect you to pull some crazy stunt, slipping and sliding in the mud or snow with a full bucket, dropping your mitten, your hat or your cell phone - which eventually I found.
 
Then it was off to the chicken coop to check the water and feed in the automatic dispensers, and to collect the eggs. I grabbed an empty egg carton from the bin to store the eggs, but inexplicably, the carton wasn't empty and an egg landed with a crash - right on my clogs and my clean, dry socks.
 
So once again: clean the clogs and change the socks.  Then clean up the egg, and start a load of laundry, including two pairs of wet socks. It's 8am and I'm not feeling particularly superior to people who buy their meat and eggs in the supermarket. But that's the way it is on the farm in East Dorset in the winter and I'll say this for it - there's never a dull moment!
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