Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: Remembering Dollie


HOMEGROWN LifeHave you ever known someone who just made you feel good to be around them? Like a kind old aunt who in her gentle way, had a presence that brought out the best in the people she met.

That’s what my Dollie was like. Except Dollie wasn’t a kind old aunt, she was a goat. I lost Dollie on January 7th. There’s a big hole in the barn without her.

Now, when I open the barn door, expecting to see her face light up and greet me, she’s not there.

Dollie had a way about her from the time she came to live at Bittersweet. She was a two-year-old then. She was born on a farm in Washington, Maine, part of Pixie Day’s herd. Dollie was always a little smaller than the other girls in the herd. She had a gentle nature, and the combination of the two meant she got pushed around a bit. After she delivered twin boys in her second year, Pixie decided she would be happier living on another farm, so she contacted Brian at Seabreeze Farm to ask if he knew someone who would give her a home. Brian contacted me. I had just started my herd with two goats from Seabreeze, my Frannie and Barnie. I called Pixie and went to take a look at her. It was love at first sight.

Dollie came home to Bittersweet and I gave her a stall to herself. She was pretty scared. She hadn’t been handled much and I realized she just needed space to adjust to her new home. For the next four months, I spent time letting her get familiar with her new surroundings, and me. It took time but finally she stopped running into a corner of the stall when I opened the gate. We went from her not wanting to be touched, to daily brushings and time playing with the little ones. Eventually, she assumed the position of “herd Queen”, being the oldest.

Still, she was always gentle, never pushing anyone away when treats were given, always allowing the little ones to have their way. I think she always remembered what it was like to be bullied in her original herd. As the years went by, she liked coming out of the big stall to enjoy her twice daily ration of grain and sit with new little ones in the next stall. They would gently push their foreheads together, share bits of grain and hay and sometimes, at least it seemed to me, talk to each other. She was like that gentle old Aunt you know who was always happy to share bits of candy from her apron pocket.

Dollie lived at Bittersweet for five years. During that time, she gave me two sets of twins, two boys and two girls. Shellie is her baby from two years ago. She’ll have babies of her own next spring. Shellie is very much like her Mother. She too has a gentle way about her. She plays with the babies, always waits patiently for her food. Sometimes, when Frannie decides she needs a few more pats, Shellie will look at me as if to say, it’s ok, I’ll wait.

This was the last Christmas I had with Dollie. On Christmas morning, I sat in her stall with her head in my lap and we listened to Christmas carols on the radio. Their station is always set to WBACH. It was the most peaceful Christmas I’ve ever spent, and I smiled at the irony of it. Twelve days later, I was calling my friend Duke to help me put Dollie to bed in her final place. She’s in the pasture, where each day I can visit, say good morning and then go out to the barn to greet her herd mates.

They say if you want to learn how to treat your fellow human beings, spend some time with animals. I know mine have taught me a lot. Dollie’s gentle ways and kindness towards her herd mates is an example. She had a quiet presence, but her manner and gentleness shouted a big lesson in how to make it through this life with humility, grace and compassion.

I miss you Dollie. There’s a big hole in the barn without you. I thank you for the five years we had together. You’re gone far too soon and I’m sure if we had more time, there would be so much more you could teach me. I’ll miss our talks and our giggles at Frannie’s antics, especially times when she thought she’d dethrone you from being “herd Queen”. You’ll always be my Queen of the barn. And, in the spring, if Shellie has a girl, we’ll name your granddaughter after you. I’ll be thinking about our times together when you gave birth to babes with me by our side. It will be Bittersweet. But, I’ll never really be without my Dollie.


HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.


HOMEGROWN Life: Deciding Which Vegetable Varieties to Grow


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAnother year has come to an end. The seed catalogs are rolling in, and as I sit here drooling over them, I keep coming across new, exciting vegetable varieties that I just have to try.

There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken!” Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?

Vegetable VarietiesThere are some things I’m set on keeping the same. The Orangeglo watermelon and Bidwell Casaba have been very kind to me, unlike most other watermelon and melon varieties, so those are here to stay for the long haul. Catskill Brussels Sprouts will also probably stick around. There seem to be so few varieties of heirloom sprouts, and these do the best.

I always say not to mess around with our corn selection. We grow Bloody Butcher corn, which has served us well. It gets HUGE and gives us multiple relatively long ears on each stalk. The corn can be used fresh, or you can let it mature into a dent corn. After a failed attempt at saving seed from it and coming to the realization that we just don’t have enough space to save corn seed and avoid inbreeding depression, I’ve decided to expand my corn-growing horizons to include a flour corn, a sweet corn, and a popcorn.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast way to determine which varieties you should grow for all vegetables. Your best bet is to find varieties that were developed in areas that have a similar climate to where you live. For instance, Italian varieties will probably do best in coastal California, where we have the same basic climate. Russian varieties might serve you well if you live in colder areas. If you have a short season, choose varieties that mature quickly. This, of course, can take some research to figure out. For cool season crops, you’ll want to make sure they have enough time to develop before warm weather hits. For warm season crops, you want to give them time before the frosts come. Seed packets and catalogs include a number, usually next to the name or after the description, denoting that variety’s average number of days to maturity.

When it comes to latitude, rather than season length, onions are much more specific than most other vegetables about where they can grow. Varieties will either be long day, short day, or intermediate. If you live north of 35 degrees latitude (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to approximate), you’ll want to grow long-day onions. South of that, grow short-day onions. If you’re just on either side of that latitude, you can grow intermediate onions. I’ve also had good luck with long-day onions here on the 35th parallel.

Besides climate, you’ll also want to look at the size, yield, and disease resistance. If late blight is a problem in your area, choose vegetable varieties that have some resistance. If you have a small garden, choose compact or high-yielding varieties to make the most of your space.

Or you can do what I like to do and just pick a bunch of varieties to try and see which ones do best. Good luck!


Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: Farming Roots

032712-HOMEGROWN-LIFE-BLUEMy Father’s family came from Oklahoma and Texas where they farmed thousands of acres. Daddy’s Mother moved the family East so his oldest brother could have an operation in Boston, one that would allow him to walk – something up until the age of 14, he had never done. They settled in Lexington, Massachusetts, the surgery was successful, and they set to farming blueberries in the 1930’s. Later, my cousin would sell the homestead and move to Vermont where he would begin to farm 168 acres. Today, almost 40 years later, he’s there, farming goats. A lot of goats. 800 of them. Dairy. The largest dairy goat farm in the US. The land is in trust to guarantee it will remain a farm forever.

My Great Grandfather Brennan settled in Massachusetts. He was a produce merchant at Faneuil Hall. He and my Great Grandmother raised 13 children on a farm in Revere, 10 of those children dying before they reached their 20’s. Three more were born 10 years later. Two of those were my Grandmother and her sister, my Great “Auntie Mil”, who moved to Lexington, Massachusetts after my Great Grandfather Brennan died. I spent my summers, with these two women, on Cape Cod, where they eventually settled. We’d sit around the kitchen table at night, playing cards, and they’d talk about growing up on the farm in Revere.


Their Mother “put up” all kinds of jams and jellies from the fruit trees on the farm. They always said they never ate any of it as it was for “company” which seemed to be in abundance as the farm was dubbed “The Do Drop Inn.” One cousin apparently “dropped in” and was finally told her stay was over a year later. I have a basket, one I found as a teenager, in my Grandmother’s attic in the Cape house, that was used by my Great Grandfather Brennan to carry kittens to the neighbor’s houses. Growing up outside Washington, D.C., my Father expressed his farming roots in what could only be described as a “victory garden.” A typical suburban house lot was converted to a backyard orchard and vegetable garden complete with compost pile. Later, when I was in high school, we moved “to the country”.

I got to pick out my bedroom in our new house. I chose the one overlooking the Beall dairy farm stretching out across the ridge below. I could hear the cows mooing as they waited for the gates to be opened at milking time. Daddy’s “victory garden” grew and every kind of vegetable imaginable appeared on the table. Apples, peaches, pears, apricots, cherries, strawberries, raspberries surrounded the freshly planted lawn. Compost took on a whole new meaning when the day before we moved in, Daddy had 2 loads of manure delivered from the farm next door. Instead of unpacking boxes, we spent that first weekend hand spreading the odiferous mass across what would become the lushest lawn and the best garden in the neighborhood. My poor Mother, who shared neither my Father’s enthusiasm nor his love of gardening, just kept apologizing to the neighbors.


I guess one could say farming is in my blood. It sure seems that way as I don’t consider it a way to make a living, but a way to make a life. A life guided by the seasons, one that’s filled with chance meetings of some of most salt of the earth people I know. Whether they dig in the dirt or muck barns, it seems to me, farmers have a sense of what’s important in this life, maybe more than most. People who’ll give you the shirt off their back and their last minute of time to help out when you need it most. Folks who’s pride and joy is saving an animal’s life when some people would ask why bother. People who bring in and harbor a 16 year old ewe in the barn just because it will make them more comfortable in their senior years.

I owe my love of keeping closer to the land to both sides of my family with roots stretching from the wide open fields of Oklahoma to the Emerald Isle. When things go awry, translation….not according to my plan, when weary bones have me wondering about putting one foot in front of the other for another day, I think of how quitting is not an option. They didn’t.


At times when bones are weary and just putting one foot in front of the other seems to be a big chore itself, I head to the barn. Sitting on the milk stand, listening to the gentle movement, the slow steady breathing of the animals, hearing the horn signal at the lighthouse as a steady fog makes it way to shore, sets my mind back to a better place, one of gratitude. I’ve come home to my roots and and they just happen to be planted at a place by the sea. I’m grateful for that too.

When I hear that horn, I can almost see my Great Grandfather Brennan standing on the bow of a ship, moving to a new place and a better chance at making a life of farming. I chose to make mine at the edge of a rocky shore, surrounded by the wind, the sea and some beasts who fill my life with laughter and joy, new best friends, and a family of folks who call themselves farmers.


HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.