The Furry and Feathered Faces at Kilpatrick Family Farm

While growing and selling vegetables is the flagship business at Kilpatrick Family Farm (where I visited in mid-April), the farm is not without its share of furry and feathered—and fun to photograph—faces.

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WATCHDOGS
A good watchdog is essential at any farm with livestock. Prior to getting two Maremma Sheepdog‘s to watch over their brood of chickens, the Kilpatricks lost over 20 chickens to predators in one month. These two cuties have knocked recent losses down to zero. Not a bad track record for a dog with a such a mild name like Carrots, eh? (Did You Know: It’s the scent of the dog—not the barking—that warns predators to stay at bay!)

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THE MILK COW
The Kilpatricks keep one milk cow whose milk they keep for personal use. Read an earlier post to hear about my own experience hand-milking a cow.

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GOATS
In addition to cows, goats provides a great source of milk or meat. Even more, they offer a great deal of comedic relief in the barnyard. The Kilpatricks had just acquired two dwarf Nigerian kids at the time of my visit.

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CHICKENS AND DUCKS

The Kilpatricks keep a good number of chickens on hand and sell eggs at local farmers markets and grocers. Click here to read an earlier post to learn more about chickens. Only two ducks—one male and one female—share space with the chickens. I think they served as “barn parents,” or something like that.

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BARNYARD CATS
It goes without saying that cats are an essential part of any working farm, keeping the mice population firmly in check. And as much of a dog person that I am, these cats were of the hospitable sort.

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THE FAMILY DOG
The Kilpatricks keep two Border Collies as family pets—a mother and her pup. From what I could tell, Gracie (pictured below) was the hardest working animal at the farm, constantly watching out for opportunities to participate in the day’s activities. Not to be unfairly compensated for their hard work, both dogs enjoy special privileges—like warm, indoor beds and, of course, plenty of toys.

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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.

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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.

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Freshly washed carrots—my new favorite smell!

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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.

DAY 1
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. 

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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
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Planting Onions at Green Earth Institute

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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.

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