The Closing of a Farm

Grace Hernandez

Grace Hernandez › Grace and her husband Michael managed Buxton, a Polyface satellite farm. Her first passion is to ...

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For the past two years my husband and I managed a satellite farm for Polyface Farms. Joel Salatin was in the middle of a five-year lease at Buxton Farm when we came on board. In the two years that we subcontracted with Polyface we managed 600 cattle, 600 turkeys, 8000 broilers, and 1200 hens. We also took sincere pleasure in raising a large kitchen garden and a hoop-house where we grew our delicious tomatoes for market. We fell in love with Virginia. It’s a spectacular place to farm.

In late summer Joel called to announce his decision for 2013. He did not want to renew Buxton’s lease for several reasons. He was looking at land closer to home. Buxton is a bit of a thorn in everyone’s side despite its power in beauty. The challenge is the location, it’s too remote. A two-hour commute from Buxton to Swoope and back with deliveries and other satellite farms to manage was just too much driving time.

Is there anything easy about endings? Closing down a farm in our case, has been a cathartic exercise. Even when you know it’s best for all involved, it’s still unsettling. It isn’t just the hassle of packing, sorting, releasing of the accumulation of stuff. It’s the knowing that this is no longer your home. That the herd won’t return in spring, that someone else will be feeding the barn cats you loved and will leave behind because this is what they know. It’s the last time you pet the guard dog you grew to appreciate despite his peculiar habits. It’s the rollings hills, the forest, the wildlife, the peace and quiet, the privacy, the crystal clear river you swam in after processing 180 chickens on a scorching morning. It’s your country neighbors that you developed a friendship with in spite of polarized political opinions. After all, it was they who rescued you when the land hurricane hit in June.

In the middle of the move you decide to downsize. You don’t know yet what’s next for you and so you rent a small storage space. The things that made this old farmhouse cozy, you start giving away. Your two favorite chairs go to a young couple managing another satellite farm. The twin beds your friends gave you for apprentices goes to a neighbor for their grandchildren. You can’t yet let go of the 25 frozen chickens you saved for winter so you store them at another friend’s farm. You advertise on craigslist to see if anyone wants muck boots that are in perfect condition, but have ruined your right foot. You sell your guard geese Nelson and Mandella to a family in West Virginia who have a pond. You consider your habits, how is it you seem to acquire so much stuff in only two years? You rethink your visits to thrift stores and consignment shops, definitely no more yard sales.

Polyface slowly starts retracting part of the herd. You know what it’s like to see the cows leave for winter except this time they won’t be back. What will you do next keeps surfacing in conversations, but you can’t pinpoint an answer yet. You want to explore options. You’ve been touched, changed deep inside from this opportunity and you can’t fully explain how. You have lived on land that feels untamed in the two Virginias. You feel it’s a part of you now. You never look at pasture the same because you know the brilliance in intensive grazing. You have no problem taking life to feed yourself. This now empowers you.

Polyface apprentices arrive and dismantle the hoop house where your hens lived in winter. You will miss growing tomatoes with the fertile soil of 600 hens. When the hoop-house comes down reality sinks in. You feel a quiet nudge to get on board with this transition.

There are at least 20 broiler pens that get trucked back to Polyface, along with the entire processing area where you trained at least a dozen people how to gut a chicken. You watch the turkey shade mobile, the ATV, the egg-mobile, the tractor, tools, fence lines, and pumps get wedged onto trailer. Trailer after trailer, they head east. The brooder where you nurtured 8000 chicks and 600 turkeys loses its heat lamps and nipple waterers. You spend the next two weeks shoveling the fertilizer out of the brooder. Instead of it going into your garden you give it away. Your friend moves your tiny portable studio away from the soothing river, your spot, the place that captured the magic of Buxton, every night. You wonder if the pair of eagles will notice you’re gone.

You get your final herd share of raw milk. You put things up for winter and begin to reflect. You’re curious how other people are small farming, you consider how many farms you can visit in winter. You secretly want to raise pigs, but keep that wish a bay until you decide what’s next. You cry as you say goodbye to new friends you’ve made. You make plans to see them in the future.

You distract your thoughts every time you’re tempted to look back. You consider playing it safe and secure in your next decision, but you know there’s something wonderful beckoning you in the night. Something juicy and exciting. You only look forward.

You wonder how you were so fortunate to have this incredible experience in a such a short amount of time. Then you remember. Years ago when you got cancer you promised yourself you would live your bliss. Age would become irrelevant. Living your heart’s desire would become priority. Your life becomes about creating, giving, growing, raising food, taking risk, nurturing life, feeling empowered. You relax. You know this ending is only another beginning. Seeds for what’s next have already been planted. You anticipate and trust.

How do you navigate change?

Photo Credit: Grace Hernandez