Deep in the hills of central Vermont lies Longest Acres Farm, a 220-acre, multigenerational homestead.
“I live with my partner, two kids, parents, sister and her husband, each in our own homes. We garden together, raise children together, ride horses, and farm together,” says co-owner Kate MacLean.
Delivering directly to the consumers, the homestead raises farm-to-table chicken, pork, beef, and other products sent directly to customers across the Northeast, including top chefs throughout Boston. In light of recent global events, Longest Acres Farm changed their business model from selling exclusively to restaurants to now serving families in Boston and Vermont. In April 2020, we checked in with Kate for an update on life on the homestead. This is her story.
“The wind whips my left cheek, singeing my nose, watering my eyes. It has been racing across the farm for three days now.
The moments of relief are physically dependent – in the mow of the barn, the nook in front of the milk room, collecting eggs on hands and knees on the littered coop floor. It is late April, and while we are supposed to be grateful that there is no snow on the ground –and we are – it is far from spring-like here in the hills of Vermont. Snow falls almost nightly. It melts by breakfast. We are humble, cautious in our complaints. We know that Aprils of years past have been far less generous. But somehow I feel owed a mild, windless day.
"If I could change the business plan, I would. We would grow peas, or maybe beans, acres of them. But I can’t, won’t."
My sister and I are anxious to get into the garden. The perennials are up, the rhubarb unraveling, the garlic too. The hoop house wordlessly receives the small, gnarled, early greens I’ve managed to coax from seed. Fiona and I grew up convinced of our collective inability to grow gardens, but here we are, some 30-odd years later, on a land we’ve adopted as our own, with our parents, our partners, my children, and a small army of beasts. This year, the gardens feel heavier than before. The global suffering demands more of it, as though I could protect my sister, my parents, my children from what is swirling around if only I could simply grow vigorous potatoes, longer beans, bigger squash. The very act of growing, raising my own food, feels like the only tool I have against the helplessness, the uncertainty.
But on this Sunday, I walk past the gardens into the barnyard where the cows are waiting – impassively, as bovines do – for grass to grow. The babies have been falling from their mothers for two weeks now. Today, our seventh was born. A little heifer from Fettuccine; her first calf. I try to kiss her in congratulations, but she wants nothing of it. She lows at me, then at her calf, who is remarkably agile in spite of his recentness. She tosses her head and horns vaguely in my direction and I take the hint. Out. I slink over to the mama pigs to try my luck there. This time I’m better received, for I’m prepared with gifts: rotten pumpkins from the cellar.
My daughter asked, casually, at the breakfast table this morning if we were taking pigs to slaughter that day. She’s three, so the words come out a bit loud, but the familiarity she has with death is striking. As I’m retying the bailing twine fix to a fence, I find I’m worrying about this. I myself eat less meat today than I did in my childhood, even though I’m surrounded by the abundance of it. My freezer is stocked, my pastures are full. The appreciation for it haunts me. These are animals I raise from birth. Some of them I hold in my kitchen, inching them along in the first few vulnerable days when needed.
If I could change the business plan, I would. We would grow peas, or maybe beans, acres of them. But I can’t, won’t. The farm, as it is, selling chops, steaks, burger and bellies, exists as a small, humble protest to the gigantic arm of industrial ag. The one that keeps pigs in cages and cows in feedlots. The one that runs on fossil fuels, and federal subsidies, on the bent and windblown backs of hard-working farmers for the greed of the few. I remind myself of this often, and yet it needs repeating, sometimes twice, particularly on days when the wind is licking my ears and the echo of the mother’s low is bouncing about in my head.
Satisfied the bailing twine will hold the gate, and thereby the farm, together well enough, I continue home to the main house. It is Sunday. Family dinner is tonight, and I intend to spend the better part of an hour roaming the cellar to see what will feed the nine of us.”