During this slow time on the farm, as the ground rests under the winter snow, the animals relax in the barns, and planning and preparation for next growing season commences, we asked two of our women farmers to reflect on what it is like to farm in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are honored to share their thoughts and experiences with you in this two-part series, “Growing in 2020.” Click here to read Part 2, written by Jessica Dodd, Assistant Vegetable Manager.

The Essential Human Being

by Jess Brobst, Dairy Herd Manager

Once the reality of “COVID” truly hit our farm, there were no longer any children around, except for those of the farmers, and not a single visitor graced our barns or pathways. However, the calamity knit our team—“the essentials”—ever closer in the reality that work must go on, for an udder doesn’t care about COVID, social distancing means nothing to a pig, and every soul—isolated and quarantined—needed to believe that food would continue to come. Stop the theaters, silence the malls, and if you must halt our concerts, games, parties, and office meetings, then do so, but heaven forbid you stop the farm.

Our campus was unusually still many days, though the farming continued unimpeded by the pandemic. Photo credit: Nina Barry.

So continue on we did. We watched the lives of our association co-workers fall apart and reassemble. Not the way it was, like a comfortable pair of well-worn shoes, but into something different, something stark and new and not exactly in the style you were going for. The Visiting Students Program (VSP) disappeared, and people’s jobs and livelihoods with it. The Farm Store turned into a fortress of Plexiglas shields with enough cartons of disinfectant and toilet paper to supply an army of GI upset housekeepers. The Waldorf School, dedicated to learning through life and creativity, sat vacant and silent, while home computers amped up and teachers created zoom accounts.

Meanwhile, I still rose at four every morning, my muck boots and Carhartt’s never missed a beat. As our back stock of meat sold out and CSA shares skyrocketed, we knew the souls at home were counting on us.

So farm on we did. We structured our “farm pod” and worked to track loose ends coming and going from it, to keep each other safe. Besides the medical profession, food providers were on the front lines and we farmers were right behind. We wondered: Who will milk the cows if sickness hits our team? Who will feed the pigs? The VSP, with the students and interns who help with some of these chores, was already gone, and I had just turned my last volunteer away. Our heads spun, and our hands spun faster. We had just as much work as ever, and now COVID safety pushed our minds to the brink.

But time has a way of making all things soft and acceptable, and practice made perfect-enough as we figured out how to function: a Biodynamic farm built on art, education, and a mission to bring it all together for the sake of children, of humans, in a world where all the children were stuck at home and all other people were stuck on the other side of a mask and a big, yellow sign declaring,

“DO NOT ENTER, CAMPUS CLOSED”.

 

The cows continued to do their thing, happily walking the cow parade to hang out in the field. Photo credit: Brighid Caillean

A summer litter of piglets nurse with their mom. Photo by Nina Barry.

A sampling of one week’s CSA share this summer.

So learn on we did, and as we learned how to function with one another in a COVID world, we quickly realized that we were some of the lucky ones. Surrounded by farm family, with the sun on our faces, the wind in our hair, and the earth on our hands, we were the lucky ones.

Free to be.

Free to work.

Free to keep giving to the world while so many others were put on hold, or worse, taking their last breaths.

And something was beginning to stir, to crack open a door and see if the coast was clear enough to risk stepping one foot outside. Whispers began to emanate from the school, and tents began to pop up all over campus like a traveling circus. Teachers hustled to and fro, while central services shifted into high gear. Meanwhile, I dusted off a pile of brooms and scrapers, most only three feet long, began to look longingly at the pig cart, whose plastic handles were burnished to a unique patina that only innumerable child and intern hands can provide, and checked my inbox daily for updates. All the while, fences broke and fences were repaired, hay was made while the sun shone and when the grass decided to grow, and the farm wheels continued to turn.

 

Students arrive for the first day of school on September 1, 2020–outdoor tent classrooms stand in the background. Photo credit: Nina Barry

When the first mask-muffled shouts and peals of laughter rang through the parking lots, and tents were filled with flower garlands, chalk boards, and wooden stump chairs, something returned to the valley. The silent cries of our farm’s foundation, and an essential piece of our biodynamic-diversified whole, had been answered and restored in part.

For we bring you food, yes,
Our work has never stopped,
But we are more than food and our effort to supply it.
We are a farm, yes,
We are earth, plant and animal, yes,
BUT WE ARE HUMAN TOO.