Day Two at Kilpatrick Family Farm

Yesterday I posted about my first day at Kilpatrick Family Farm. For those curious enough about what I did the second day, here is approximately what Day Two looked like.

DAY 2:
7-7:30 am: Unload tomato starter plants from truck and carry into greenhouse.
The Kilpatricks start most of their plants from seed with the exception of a select few, tomatoes being one of them. Michael uses starter-plants grown by a producer in Vermont for his tomatoes. I share this mostly because I found it refreshing to know that getting starter plants is not considered “cheating” in the farming world—and sometimes it just makes good business sense!

7:30-9 am: Cultivate rows of lettuce in hoop house.
I learned that “to cultivate” is different from “to weed,” the former is done using a machine and/or tool and the latter is accomplished by hand. If you cultivate early and often enough, you can simply leave the small weed seedlings mixed in with the soil between the plants. The air will dry out the weeds and the wind will blow them away. Larger weeds, with a stable root system, should be hand-picked and discarded.

9-11 am: Sort last seasons garlic in preparation to make garlic powder.
Just like Day One, only a lot more fun with the company of two other farm crew members.

11-12:30: Remove brush from side of field and load firewood into truck.
This task was by-and-large the most “manual” of all the manual labor and I’m just hoping my biceps grew a smidge from hauling tree branches and logs. Of anything I did while at the Kilpatricks, this task had me asking “Isn’t there a machine for this???”

1-4:15 pm: Wash and sort root vegetables in preparation for market.
The Kilpatricks fashioned quite a remarkable vegetable washing station and seeing it in full-action was quite something.

vegetable_washing_station_kilpatrick_family_farm by Sarah Parisi for This Beautiful Life

The vegetable washing station is comprised of a long, hallow, wooden cylinder about seven feet long and four feet wide. Strung through the top of the tunnel is a simple irrigation pipe. To wash the vegetables, we poured loads of them into the cylinder at the far end. When turned on, the tunnel rotates while water sprays.

vegetable_washing_station_farming_photographer_farms_new_york by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

A board placed at the near end of the tunnel keeps the vegetables inside. As the vegetables tumble about, dirt is scrubbed off and the spray of water provides a constant rinse. After a few minutes of tumbling, the trap door is removed and clean veggies tumble out, ready for sorting.

farm_crew_member_washing_vegetables_kilpatrick_farm_middle_granville by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

Washed vegetables are sorted based on their “pretty” factor, with the nice ones being set aside for individual sale at market, seconds being put together and sold as “Soup Bags” and thirds added to the compost bin.

black_radishes_vegetable_farm_middle_granville_ny_saratoga_market by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

A bin full of freshly washed black radishes (yes, radishes!) ready for market.

washing_white_turnips_kilpatrick_family_farm_crew_photography by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

Some vegetables need help getting through the washing tunnel. Here, a farm crew member pushes them with a paddle-like “broom.”

white_turnips_vegetable_spray_washing_kilpatrick_family_farm_ny by sarah parisi for this beautiful lifewhite_turnips_washing_station_farm_photography_vegetables_new_york_photographer by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

Having been stored for the entire winter, these turnips show a great deal of bruising. Freshly harvested turnips come out of the ground white as snowballs.

carrots_and_beets_washing_station_kilpatrick_family_farm by sarah parisi for this beautiful lifecarrots_being_washed_middle_granville_vegetable_farmers_markets by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

Freshly washed carrots—my new favorite smell!

rainbow_carrots_michael_kilpatrick_family_farm_middle_granville_ny_saratoga by sarah parisi for this beautiful life 

Day One at Kilpatrick Family Farm

kilpatrick_family_farm_panoramic_view_of_land_middle_grandville_ny by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

Two weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to “audition” for a season-long internship position at Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville, NY. My audition consisted of two full-days of work at the farm, beginning bright and early on a Tuesday morning and finishing at 4 on Wednesday. I’m amazed at what I could learn just a short time; here is a brief recap of the varying tasks I completed the first day and some of what I learned from each task.

7-10 AM: Untangle, sort and bundle row covers.
If you are ever out in a field, you may notice black plastic lining each row. This black plastic is put down when seeding the field. Where each seed is placed, a hole in the black plastic is punched to allow the seed space to grow. Importantly, the plastic is black as to attract the suns rays.

The farmer can then decide to cover rows with row cover, a spun-bonded (non-woven) polypropylene fabric-like material. The material is extremely light weight and mostly transparent, very much like toilet paper. The row covers help protect young seeds from winds while still allowing light to pass through.

Late last fall—just before the first freeze of the year—the Kilpatricks planted a few rows of hardy green vegetables that can weather the winter (think kale). Each row was covered and left, untouched, through the cold winter months. My first task at the farm was to help gather the row covers no longer needed. The covers which had not been ripped from winter winds were rolled and saved for later use (some we laid out on different rows that same day). Damaged row covers were gathered and bundled for recycling.

10-10:30 AM: Spread straw around rhubarb plants.
Spreading straw between growing plants helps protect weeds from taking root and makes ongoing cultivation all that much easier as the season progresses. 

equipment_shed_kilpatrick_family_farm_photography_new_york by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

10:30-12:30 AM: Wash bins.
When you go to a farmers’ market, you’ll most likely notice all of the bins…bins of turnips, bins of onions, bins of garlic, bins of pretty much anything and everything available for sale that week. If you are a member of a CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture), you may also be familiar with stacks of brightly colored bins filled with veggies. It’s a seemingly obvious thing, but every week, these bins must be washed, dried and prepped for use at the upcoming market.

I’m sure every farm/farmer has a system for this weekly task. I’m also pretty sure that on warm days in the summer, farm crew members compete for a spot at the washing table as it’s not a question of if you will get wet, but just how wet.

tool_shed_family_farm_middle_grandville_new_york_vermont_photography by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

2-3 PM: Sort onions for market.
In winter and early spring vegetable farmers like the Kilpatricks stock their market stands each week with vegetables they’ve stored throughout the winter in modern-day root cellars. Because vegetables stored over the course of several months are subject to spoilage and bruising, each onion is placed into one of three categories:

  • Firsts: Perfect, or near perfect vegetables. These are set aside for individual sale at farmers’ markets
  • Seconds: Bruised, blemished or otherwise “not-quite-pretty” vegetables that are still suitable for use but are less likely to sell. These vegetables are collected into and sold as “soup bundles” at the markets or sold wholesale to nearby restaurants.
  • Thirds: Just plain rotten. Nothing pretty about these guys. Sent to the compost bin and added to soil as natural organic material.

kilpatrick_family_vegetable_farm_saratoga_new_york_market by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

3-4 PM: Pull up last year’s pepper plants in preparation for this year’s planting.
Peppers are annual plants—meaning their life-cycle is just one year. The plants left-over from last year, now dead, needed to be pulled and discarded in the compost pile.

4-5:30 PM: Sort last season’s garlic in preparation to make garlic powder.
The Kilpatrick’s garage was filled with bins of garlic leftover from last year’s harvest. My job: to sort through the bulbs, discard the “mushy” ones (to be composted) and separate the cloves of the non-mushy bulbs which will be grounded into and sold as garlic powder.
hoop_house_barnyard_chicken_coops_farm_photography_new_york by sarah parisi for this beautiful life
inside_animal_hoop_house_backyard_chickens_cow_farm_photography by sarah parisi for this beautiful life
hoop_house_kilpatrick_family_farm_night_photography_farm by sarah parisi for this beautiful life

New Year’s Resurrection : Part 3 : Personal Connections

(Author’s Note: This post is the third in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. The first and second posts post can be found here and here…)


To make the subject of resurrection and it’s importance in the Christian’s life more personal, I should share some of my own struggles with those same fears of calling and legacy, meaning and purpose.
Immediately following college graduation in 2007, I began work as a graphic designer. My job was a “cushy” one in the sense that it offered great benefits, good pay, and promised to be everything a new graduate could want.
Around this same time, I learned of John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life. Now, I must first admit that I have NOT read the book in its entirety…but I’ve read enough of it to know the book’s central plea to forgo the pursuit of success as the world sees it and, instead, focus on finding your purpose and success by serving in ways that glorify God. Living a God-glorifying life of purpose certainly isn’t something to scoff about, but there are two major hiccups with predominantly be a Christian striving to “not waste your life.”

First, the appeal to “not waste your life” requires it be possible that you can wast your life, even if you have Christ in it.

Secondly, that the Christian life is more about what you do than who you are.

These two lies dominate much of Christian teaching today, especially teaching directed toward young twenty-somethings. In a stage of life marked by discovery, these early years of independence are often under girded by pressure to “finds one’s calling.” The task of finding a calling is wrapped in language of vocation and suggests that what is we do with our time and how we make a living somehow contributes to our value and worth, or lack thereof.

For me, the pressure to discover my “calling” led me down a path of fear— fear that no matter what I did, I was going to end up feeling like I wasted my life. That no matter what job I took, it wouldn’t be big enough, important enough, Kingdom-changing enough to not be considered a waste. That no matter where or how I lived it wouldn’t be enough.

Add to the struggle of trying to discern my calling I was getting really stressed out about the possibility of dying before I had any chance to do anything worthwhile. Even if I did discern my calling, I feared that people would consider my life a waste if I hadn’t fully accomplished that calling before I kicked the can, so to speak.

It’s in this place of fear that Christ’s resurrections speaks loud and clear of freedom and joy. 

You see, if I believe that I have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, I have to believe that I never, ever run out of time. That I have no “deadline” at which point I no longer have a chance to do what it is God has called me to do. The truth is, that our life on earth is just the beginning of a thousand times a thousand years of my life…Yes, we are mortal sinners in flesh, but through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we are truly eternal.

While this mindset could give way to an attitude of laziness, but I think that risk is well worth the gain of complete freedom in the knowledge that our life does not have value because of what we do or don’t do. Our personal worth—and the worth of our life—is not determined by whether or not we accurately discerned God’s calling for our lives and successfully carried it out.

No, the truth of the matter is that Christ’s resurrection allows every believer the freedom and joy to live, knowing that they are enough, by themselves, just as they are.

New Year’s Resurecction : Part 2 : Personal Reflections

(Author’s Note: This post is the second in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. The first post in the series can be found here…)

I’ve been struck by the resurrection of Christ, and its importance in our daily life, for quite some time. When we say we believe in the resurrection of Christ and that, through Him, we are granted eternal life, what we are really saying is, that somehow or another, those who have faith in Jesus are immortal. Wow! That’s pretty powerful!
But most of our current understandings of death make it anything but something to be anticipated with joy. Instead, Western thought by-and-large deals with death as something “tragic” or, at the very least, to be delayed as much as possible.
In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson summarizes our present obsession with viewing death as either tragic or untimely. He explains:

The view of death as tragic is a legacy of the Greeks. The Greeks wrote with elegance of tragic deaths—lives pursued with the best of intentions but then enmeshed in circumstances that brought a fatal flaw into play and, indifferent to heroism or hope, cancelled the intentions….

Procrastinated death is a legacy of modern medicine. In a culture where life is reduced to heartbeat and brainwave, death can never be accepted as having meaning beyond itself…

It’s this negative view of death that can underline most, if not all, of the other core fears we face. For instance, isn’t the fear of death the underlying fear when we ask ourselves “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing with my life?” or “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?” and even “How will history remember me?”

A proper, Christ-centered response to this question requires every believer to remember, as Peterson points out, that death, particularly Christ’s death, is ‘for us and our salvation’. In other words, if we truly, truly believed that, through Jesus, we have eternal life, these questions no longer have any place because they are all temporal questions, questions stuck in our view of our lives as something with a beginning…and an end. These questions emphasize an understanding of death as something that is final, as “the worse case scenario” for any situation.

Truly believing in the eternal life promised through faith in Jesus reminds me where I really need to focus is trusting and obeying Jesus in a moment by moment sort of way…because, somehow, through faith in Jesus Christ, there will always be more moments.

New Year’s Resurrection : Part 1 : Theological Considerations

(Author’s Note: This post is the first in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. I intended to post this series at the beginning of the new year (to explain the first paragraph), but hemmed and hawed over it for much too long…)

We are just now finishing up the first week of a new year. 2012 done, packed away. 2013 here, ready to unfold. Like so many others, I’m prone to think about what the past year brought to pass. I think about the  tears and the laughter, the heartache and the healing. The mistakes and second chances; the misgivings and the promises.

No matter how each of those equations turned out (did I have more tears than laughter, more heartache than healing?), the fact remains that the days are past—gone, finished. Past. Aside from the memories, all that remains at the end of a year is the promise of future days—the hope that no matter how good (or bad) last year was, this year can be—will be—better.

For Christians, its customary to celebrate this same hope in the future on Easter Sunday, a day signified by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Through Christ’s resurrection, Christians believe, death has been eternally conquered and a new age (not just a new year) has dawned, and eternal life is available to all who believe. So while New Year’s offers rekindled hope for the next 365 days, Christ risen from the dead offers hope for eternity.

While on this journey of seeking out the abundant life Christ promises us in John 10:10, I’ve become increasingly convinced that how we understand Christ’s resurrection has absolutely real implications for how we live. So what does it mean for us to live in this hope on a daily basis? To actually experience the promise of new life and live out the tenant of our faith that promises us eternal life?

In my own experience, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is preached but not emphasized, especially when compared to the attention paid to Christ’s death on the cross. I suppose this unbalance makes sense, considering Christ’s death is a capstone to thousands of years of Jewish history (we know how things will turn out) while his resurrection is the first chapter in a future still unfolding (we don’t yet know how things will turn out).

Christ’s death is the culmination of Jewish history and by offering himself as a sacrifice for all mankind, Jesus participates in the God-ordained system (based on animal sacrifice) that allows us, His creation, to return to Him. In this way, Christ’s death provides the final chapter in the story of God’s work through His chosen people, the Israelites. His death answers the all-time question of how a sinful man can ever enter into right relationship with a perfect God. Christ’s death answers the question of redemption once and for all.

But while this final absolution of sin answers the most pressing question of our past, does not yet give us a promise for our future.

Consider for a moment how the meaning of the Gospel would dramatically shift if Christ hadn’t risen from the dead. Sure, we are able to have a hope in eternal life because we’ve now entered into right relationship with Him, but it is this hope, this assurance of days to come that drives the Christian narrative and makes it distinct from all other faith narratives.

Planting Onions at Green Earth Institute

green earth institute planting onion seeds

Yesterday I headed over to the Green Earth Institute, located at the McDonald Farm in Naperville, IL, to help plant onion seeds. The work is pretty simple: take a tray divided into 72 dirt-filled cells, pour a handful of seeds into a folded index card, use an untwisted paper clip to carefully separate eight tiny little seeds and gently shuffle the eight seeds into in single cell of dirt. Repeat 72 times until every cell has seeds.

I specifically worked on planting Parade onion seeds. With a germination rate of 80%, the eight seeds planted per tray will likely yield bunches of 6 scallions, which will all grow and be harvested together—not unlike the bunches of scallions you pick out at the grocery store.

I found hand-planting seeds to be a heart-warming activity, especially in the dead of winter that is mid-February in Chicago. The task is simultaneously tedious yet calming, repetitive yet meditative. Anyone who knows their numbers one through eight can participate, which means even young children can contribute to this early-season chore, while the purposeful nature of the work makes it an engaging task for “more mature” volunteers, too.

I always enjoy volunteering at the Green Earth Institute, not only because the work you do is gratifying, but also because the other volunteers you meet are genuine and gracious. I leave filling inspired and encouraged by the conversations I share with fellow volunteers. Easily ranging from simple get-to-know-you questions like “Do you have any pets?” to topics of more depth like the importance of Norway’s seed bank, the conversations shared over a tray of seeds yesterday reminded me (again) that farming is not just about loving and enjoying the land; it’s about loving and enjoying people, too.

green earth institute volunteer at csa naperville farmgreen earth institute csa farm naperville onion plantingonion seeds in jar ready for planting naperville il farm csavolunteers plant onions at green earth institute conservation center naperville ilgreen earth institute learn about gardens and farmssteve tiwald at green earth institute onion planting naperville ilonion seeds in package ready for planting naperville il csagreen earth institute onion plants ready to grow csa napervillesteve tiwald green earth institute sarah parisi farm photography illinoisonion seeds in trays ready to grow naperville csavolunteer at local csa farm in naperville ilsoil growing onions naperville il csa farm green earth institute

All  images © 2013 Sarah Parisi. Please do not use without permission.

A Linguistic Discovery : Community Discipleship House

It’s been just under two years since I originally started This Beautiful Life as a blog. While there aren’t nearly as many posts as I would like, the years have not been without progress for TBL. In fact, the faces, places and spaces of 2011-2012 have all worked together to add definition to my original concept, casually outlined in an introductory post from April 12, 2011.

For much of the past two years, I’ve found it difficult to explain the concept of building community using a lifestyle grounded in agriculture and simple, beautiful living. No single word or phrase seemed to really identify my intentions. The word “commune” often came to mind, as it conjures the ideas of community and even growing food, but the political connotations of the word felt too heavy when describing my vision.

Retreat center,” “shelter,” “artistsretreat,” “halfway house,” and the like also came close to describing some elements of my vision, particularly as it relates to hospitality and providing a place of rest, healing and growth. The growth of “agritourism” as an industry and the increasing popularity of “farm stays” help emphasize the farm part of TBL but is wanting in an emphasis on promoting ongoing community.

Specific examples of already existing places, like L’Abri in England also helped me get close to the idea, but again, were not quite the vision behind This Beautiful Life.

While not entirely detrimental in my ongoing exploration of TBL, the linguistic dilemma of how to describe my dream of “living in community on a farm” has inhibited effective communication regarding any specifics of this dream.

Just a couple months ago, I had the occasion to meet someone who shared his experience of participating in a dedicated, year-long residential community that emphasized the personal spiritual formation of each participant. The program allowed this young man, along with seven other young adults, a concentrated time to explore what it means to live a Christian life devoted both to Christ and community. The program also encouraged and facilitated growth in important life skills, including career prep and household management.

Specifics of my acquaintance’s program aside, it was the title of the program, “Community Discipleship House,” that immediately struck—and stuck with—me. Oh-so obvious and self-explanatory, the phrase is surprisingly uncommon. (Of the few places online I could find containing the phrase, most reserve it for ministries focused on bringing hope and healing to individuals suffering from addiction.)

Despite its scarcity, I’m amazed at how well “Community Discipleship House” fits the vision of This Beautiful Life—it’s a term that is simultaneously narrow enough to be worthwhile but still broad enough that the specifics can be left for further discovery.

Some upcoming posts will be dedicated to unpacking this term and how it is shaping the present and long term visions for this beautiful life.

Food Now : Kansas City Locavore Event

A great deal has happened—more personally than professionally, I suppose—since the last post. To start with, I had the chance to photograph a great farm-and-food related event in Kansas City this past August.

I was thrilled to be part of such a great event that aspires to educate the local community about the importance of eating healthy, local foods. Farmers from the surrounding area contributed all of the food for the event dinner and local celebrity chefs prepared the fantastic feast. Perhaps best of all, the event took place at an über unique and trendy venue—the 12th St. Bridge in the West Bottoms.

Each year, proceeds from the event go to local not-for-profits working for local, healthier eating. This year’s beneficiaries included Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, The Dream Factory of Greater Kansas City, and The Food Conservancy.

If you live in the KC area, be sure to check out this event for next year. It’s well worth your support!

Field Notes : Dairy Cows


The dairy cows are by far the most important animal at Primrose Farm (it is a dairy farm, after all). So while talk of backyards chicken is plentiful, the idea of having a dairy cow, or two, in the yard hasn’t quite caught on with such popularity…yet. Here are some things I’ve learned about these curious animals these past few months:

  • Important Terms: Bucket Calf: a calf fed milk from a bucket; Bull: an uncastrated male cow; Calf: a cow under one year old; Calving: the act of giving birth to a calf; Cow: a female bovine animal; Dogie: a motherless or neglected calf; Freshen: to give birth and start producing milk; Heifer: a young female; Open: not pregnant; Springer: a cow about to give birth; Steer: a castrated male; Weanling: a recently weaned calf; Yearling: a calf about one year old
  • The dairy cows at Primrose Farm are Jersey cows—the smallest of the dairy breeds weighing in at 800-1,200 pounds. Jerseys are known for being able to produce more milk per pound of body weight than any other breed.
  • Cows are herd animals and will organize themselves in a hierarchy of dominance and subordinate.


  • A dairy farm is dependent on cows always being in some stage of pregnant, as only cows who have recently given birth can produce milk. A cow will generally lactate for 6-10 months after giving birth.
  • Artificial Insemination (AI) is a common method to impregnate cows at dairy farms where the presence of bulls does not always contribute to production. Three cows gave birth this Spring at Primrose Farm, all from AI.
  • Calves are born with their tongue hanging out. To watch a video of Crunch give birth to her heifer at Primrose Farm, click here. (Note: this video may be considered graphic.)
  • Like all mammals, the mother cow will eat the afterbirth (i.e. the placenta) after giving birth.
  • A newborn calf weighs only 25 pounds, give or take.
  • Calves born to dairy cows don’t drink from their mother’s udder, as the mother is accustomed to producing more milk than the baby actually needs. Instead, the farmer will save some of the milk from the dairy cows to feed to a calf individually. I had the opportunity to feed the calves at Primrose, after which they started to nuzzle and push me incessantly. Turns out, this is a natural inclination for young calves and it’s called “punching.” By punching their mother’s udder in the same manner, they help stimulate the production of milk.

If you would like to keep tabs with a real dairy farmer and hear about his day-to-day tasks of tending to a 600-head herd, I recommend following @FarmerHeins on Twitter. There was also a great article in about calving in the recent issue of Small Farmer’s Journal.

Field Notes : Backyard Chickens


Backyard chickens have become quite the vernacular topic amongst hipsters and agri-minded urbanites. Here are a few things I’ve learned about chickens these past few months.

  • Important Terms: Bantam: a miniature chicken; Boiler: a chicken 6-9 months old; Broiler: a 2-3 pound young chicken; Chick: a baby chick; Clutch: a batch of eggs that hatch together; Cockeral: a rooster less than one year old; Flock: a group of chickens; Hen: a female chicken; Nest Egg: a fake egg placed in the nest to encourage laying; Pullet: a female chicken under one year old; Roaster: a chicken weighing 4-6 pounds; Rooster: a male chicken
  • Contrary to common belief, it is not necessary to keep a rooster in order to get eggs from chickens. Much like a woman menstruates on a monthly basis no matter if a man is around or not, so too a chicken will produce eggs with or without male company. In fact, keeping a rooster can sometimes do more harm than good in egg production due to the stress roosters often cause the hens. Hens under stress produce fewer eggs and anything from too many roosters to cold weather can increase a hen’s stress level.
  • While it’s not necessary to have a rooster in your chicken coop to get eggs, oftentimes you’ll end up with an unwanted rooster (or two) due to the difficulty of telling the sex of a chick. If you end up with with too many roosters, egg production can decrease.
  • Breeds of chickens are divided into three categories: egg-laying breeds, meat breeds and dual-purpose breeds. It’s important to research breeds before selecting chickens for your backyard coop. The chickens at Primrose Farm (and in the image above) are Columbian Wyandotte, first exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.
  • The chickens at Primrose Farm in St. Charles eat a mixture that is 3 parts corn, 1 part whole wheat, 1 part commercial chicken feed, and 1 scoop of oyster shells. The oyster shells provide the hen with much needed calcium to produce eggs with strong shells.
  • Did you know that you can tell how old an egg is by how much it floats in a bowl of water? The shell of an egg is porous, meaning it has a million tiny holes on its surface. The older the egg, the more air that has entered the eggshell. A farm fresh egg will sink directly to the bottom of the bowl.
  • You can also tell the age of an egg by how much the egg yolk rises in the pan. A fresh egg yolk stands straight up whereas an older egg yolk will flatten.