January Farm Correspondence: Bear Mountain to Staunton

At long last, 2021 is here and our Community Action Year has finally commenced!


I’m so happy to be back on Bear Mountain working as the Outreach and Equity Coordinator with my fellow Fellow (and Farm and Fellowship Coordinator), Hannah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t desperately miss the rest of our cohort.


Our friends are all living and working in Augusta County, a formidable hour and a half drive on windy mountain roads from the Allegheny Mountain Farm. But though they may be far away, it hasn’t changed the fact that we’re a family. And after all that we’ve been through together, letting go of the supportive community we’ve built just simply isn’t an option.

Our cohort, celebrating our time as a family group, before heading off the mountain last year.

Fortunately, we’re all very much committed to remaining the tight-knit unit we’ve been since last June. Doing so this year will simply require just a bit more creativity than it did last year when all we had to do was walk into the Timber Frame.


In addition to socially-distanced weekend visits and cohort days, one strategy we’ve devised for keeping in touch is exchanging reports on our activities. I had the pleasure of ringing in 2021 with the Augusta Health Fellows in Staunton before heading back to the mountain. As we bid farewell, they asked me to send photos and updates from the farm and so, upon arrival, I wrote them the following dispatch.


I liked the idea of sending a regular account of our mountain doings. However, as I probably should have guessed, our “formal” correspondence quickly devolved into casual WhatsApp messages adorned with screenshots and emojis.


But hey, what better use of a blog assignment than to follow through on a half-baked idea? It’s also perfect timing, with the rest of our cohort just now returning to the region and starting their new positions.


So without further ado, I give you Farm Dispatch No. 1 & 2:


2021 Farm Dispatch No. 1

01/02


Dearest Vanderloovens,*


We’re happy to report that our beloved mountain is as beautiful as ever.


We arrived to little snow and much mud. Thankfully, we were still able to utilize our trusty steed to transport our belongings upstairs.** The lodge still maintains a formidable barricade of snow and ice, requiring some skillful acrobatics to gain entrance. Once inside, we discovered a charming, unexpected message from one of our predecessors. While it was odd to find the lodge so empty, sweet reminders of our time there together remain.


We had a lovely reunion with the animals. The ducks are thriving and Belinda seems to have returned home after her long odyssey, much to Dwayne’s delight. Egg production seems to be down, but that’s to be expected this time of year. The cows are still mourning the loss of little Shirley, but I’m confident they’ll make it through this. The fact that Shia consented to a photoshoot, gives me reason to feel hopeful. Old Lightfoot is as surly as ever, but is looking dapper in his new winter coat. They all miss you and can’t wait for you to visit.***


We ended the day with an incredible sunset, roaring fire, and decadent brownies. Tomorrow we’ll begin the work of making this place feel like home again.

Hoping everyone is keeping well in the big city!


Love,

Your country cousins


*Over New Years we realized that the new Staunton residents had ascended to aristocracy and required a new name to match their marvelous big city lifestyle

**Our affectionate name for the Village, located ¼ mile up the mountain from the farm (not physically upstairs)


***See An Ode to Belinda. Shirley was one of our calves that unfortunately didn’t make it through the winter, and Shia is her younger brother (for all intents and purposes, though not in actuality). Lightfoot is our lone farm horse.



2021 Farm Dispatch No. 2

01/26


Dear Friends,


My oh my what a glorious winter wonderland we’ve found ourselves living in these past few weeks!


During our first week of work the trees were covered in a coating of white crystals apparently called either rime ice or hoar frost - I’m not sure I’ve quite grasped the distinction. But either way, it was magnificent to behold. The sun came out to help us welcome our newest addition to the farm team: Teddy, and his family which includes the multitalented baker / weaver / yoga instructor Mary, Ron the Maine coon, and dogs Rhea and Tucker. It’s so wonderful to have new friends (furry and otherwise) on the farm.


Over the past week, many inches of fresh snow arrived straight from the heavens, wrapping our mountain in a fluffy blanket of white. While it’s made driving the mule up and down the mountain impossible, we’ve made the most of the new terrain, utilizing our stock of sleds for transportation and amusement alike. Alas, if only we had a simple chairlift to carry our tired bodies back up the mountain at the end of the day!

We had another sick animal on our hands in recent weeks. Agatha (the name we’ve given to the white Ameraucana hen) alerted us to her illness by impersonating an owl. It turns out all she needed was a few days away in her own personal chicken spa to get her on the mend. These days she’s back with the flock, apparently thriving.


Macaulay simply refuses to stay in the pasture and is forever traipsing around the farm house and hiding behind hay bales. At the top of our to-do list is reinforcing the cows’ polyline fence. It’s about time our little escape artist learns some boundaries. Though I have to say, he’s starting edge Shia out as my favorite calf - all that spunk and fortitude.


Teddy is proving himself to be an ambitious and energetic leader with all kinds of exciting plans for expanding production and learning opportunities on the farm. Current projects include increasing CSA accessibility, getting the greenhouse and high tunnel ready to host sprouts, and fortifying the deer fence. Mary, meanwhile has been spoiling us with gifts of house plants and scarves.


When we aren’t hard at work, we spend our time reading by the fire and cooking delicious meals. Spanakopita, jollof rice, tagine, misir wat, sourdough, yam and plantain stew, quesadillas, lentil “meatballs,” roasted romanesco, and pumpkin ravioli have all been on the menu as we feed our minds with the words of Jean-Martin Fortier, Pam Dawling, Harvey Ussery, and Amy Poehler.

Come see us soon -- the mountain and your friends here miss you!


All our love,

Jamie & Hannah


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