Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Greetings from Sidehill Farm!

We easily could have spent more time at Agape, though we had plans to visit our Guidestone farmer friend, Rebecca, at her new farm of employ near Ashfield, Mass. A 25-mile ride re-tracing our steps back to Amherst had us riding in hard drizzle (or light rain, the latter word we try to avoid in conversation with bicycling). Amherst is a hip college town and the home of Bart's home-made ice cream, of which we naturally availed ourselves!

Mark, Rebecca & Val (Rebecca's cute trailer behind)

Cheerful, sunny Rebecca picked us up and we were off to a supper at the People's Pint, a locals' pub in Greenfield, Mass. Then off to her farm, aptly named Sidehill (the farm is—you guessed it—on the side of a hill!). In the dark we found our new home for the next three days: an authentic Mongolian yurt, called a ger (pronounced like 'gare'). Similar in mechanics to the yurt we lived in at Guidestone Farm, this yurt had an authentic low-door and the inside walls were neatly covered with traditional Mongolian and Kazakh felt rugs of beautiful designs.

Inside authentic Mongolian Ger

We slept well and woke up to Friday harvest day. However, with the record amounts of rain the northeast has been trying to soak up, Sidehill has been late in transplanting the vast array of veggies eager to get into outside soil. So lots of greens were gathered. Val and I literally laundered some salad mix (using a real dryer to spin the water out) and weighed out half-pound bags. Then we weeded spinach, dill and cilantro for a few hours--a bit muddy and tedious, but we loved hanging out with Rebecca.

In contrast to Guidestone, Sidehill workers share lunch together (we shared breakfast at Guidestone). You're on your own for dinner and breakfast, so Mark made Rebecca some nice breakies while we were there. Sidehill was started by Paul and Amy, a late-30s? Quaker couple, about a decade ago. They were all veggies until this year, when they began a raw dairy.

Strawbale 'Mushroom' Home of Sidehill owners Paul & Amy (note living roof)

They live in a beautiful, 20-foot radius strawbale house, which looks (intentionally) like a large mushroom that just grew in the forest. The roof is alive and growing, like the sunny-johns at Guidestone. They've only gotten running water quite recently, and now have a lovely two-sided, outdoor shower, overlooking the river below. Rebecca and her two intern-mates, Becca and Keith, share morning and evening milking chores with Paul and Amy. The whole operation is a bit more rustic than our Guidestone farming experience, and quite lovely. Plus the foliage and forest is dense, and wild feeling—like it has plans of retaking the land the second you're not paying attention--making us Westerners feel totally out of our element.

Becka, Keith and Rebecca with their Sidehill album cover 2006

Rebecca loves it, and seems happier than a lark, with her long-time friends hovering in nearby burgs, a short car or bike ride away. The Ashfield area is a stunner, all breathtaking, bucolic, hilly views of small farms and old homesteads. Like the other communities down the Connecticut river (the whole area is simply called 'The Valley') Ashfield, Shelburne Falls and Greenfield generally all live within some strange liberal-progressive geographical vortex. People care about the land, about their food, about their kids. It's fairly small-scale and the land is so nurturing.

A half-dozen miles downhill from Rebecca's Sidehill Farm, right in Shelburne Falls is Salmon Falls. In the late 1780s the Mohawks and Penobscots signed a treaty with the nascent U.S. Colonial government. Lots of fine legalese about fishing rights will be respected, etc... Likely one of the first treaties the U.S. intentionally deceived and betrayed, near the beginning of a line of hundreds of such broken treaties. Curiously, some local students created a documentary showing in Shelburne Falls about the indigenous people of the area, their history and relevance today. We weren't able to catch it but it's at least nice to know someone is conscious. But of course they are! It's the Valley!


Anonymous Jessica Byers said...

Thanks for the Sidehill Farm report and the pictures. :) I've been asking for pictures...

I read your weddding page, too. Have a great great wedding!! I never knew you had so much interest/involvement in the Israel/Palestine situation. I'd love to talk about that sometime. You know I just went to Israel and Egypt this winter (family in both places - including my aunt in a settlement in the West Bank...) and have gotten much more involved in the Israel stuff since, just went to DC for a Brit T'zedek v'Shalom event (that's the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace).

Anyway, happy travels!! Let me know if you are ever in Portland!


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