HOMEGROWN Life: Farming Roots
My 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.
MORE FROM DYAN:
- Parenting Lessons from the Barnyard
- A Tiny Life, Remembered
- Dyan’s Springtime To-Dos
- Raising Romeo, a Love Story
- Farmer Dyan Gets a Four-Legged Valentine
Dyan 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.
PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK