Barnard Farm Rooted in the Soil

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Front Page / May. 18, 2017 9:22am EDT

Homesteaders Revel In Connection To Place
By Seth Butler


As snow falls on May 9, in Barnard, Will Langdon takes a series of soil samples from each field, using a soil plug extractor. He then mixes them all together in a pre-washed bucket, to establish an average soil consistency for testing each separate field. (Herald / Seth Butler) As snow falls on May 9, in Barnard, Will Langdon takes a series of soil samples from each field, using a soil plug extractor. He then mixes them all together in a pre-washed bucket, to establish an average soil consistency for testing each separate field. (Herald / Seth Butler) During last week’s snowfall in Barnard, when the vernal weather took a turn toward the autumnal, Will Langdon in Barnard took advantage of the abnormally wet weather to mix soil samples from 14 separate fields on the vegetable farm.

In the midst of steam rising from the fields when the sun shone, varying bands of snow, and pervasive fog, Langdon donned extra layers, and proceeded to gather soil samples, using a soil plug extractor to gather an average of three to five samples per field. Langdon and his wife, J’rae Mendall, had recently returned to Barnard, after two and a half years spent farming in Maine, and traveling together throughout Australia, Asia, and Europe. Langdon, who hails from Australia, had been tipped off to the idea that Vermont was a better place to learn about natural farming than the U.S.’s west coast.

He was still living in Australia when he decided to move nearly three years ago.

Having since traveled the world together, and worked on large commercial farms, the couple set their sites on Barnard, with the goal of homesteading.

“I think one of the reasons we have come back is that it really feels like there is a community here, where people take care of each other, turn up, and help when help is needed,” Mendall said.

“There is a sense of belonging, not just to the place, but to the people.”

Paying Close Attention

Langdon and Mendell, having learned much during their worldly travels, are now fast at work applying their newly acquired cultural knowledge to local agriculture.

“Someone once said, the three things that make a good farmer are observation, observation, and observation,” he said.

“Constant paying attention, makes the job far more interesting… There is a whole dynamic play of nature going on.”

Priceless Opportunity

The couple will spend the coming summer, working with Heartwood Farm’s co-owner, Justin Park, while looking for land to homestead in the area.

Park, who also came to put down roots in Barnard, is happy to work with the husband and wife team.

“They want to learn, they want to absorb as much as they can, and they want to work hard, they want to make sure this farm succeeds,” he said.

Park found Barnard on a very similar path, having come to work there first as an intern, then returning to take ownership of Fable Farm’s former vegetable CSA.

(Agri)Culture

Park’s farming philosophy is directly related to the long-term stewardship of the land, the town, and the larger community.

“You have a sense of community around the preciousness of this place, and really the possibilities of creating what could be an agrarian community. For me, it is beyond everybody being a farmer, as much as I want all the land to be cared for, now that I live here, and am rooted here, I want to see more people be here. I want to see more businesses pop up. I want to see more kids in the school. I want to see more activities, more events. I want this town to be thriving.”

Langdon concurred.

“What’s going here is purely cultural, but we don’t see it, because it’s probably the same within 500 miles of here, or 1000 miles of here. The way we interact, the way we think, and treat each other, it’s all cultural. Culture isn’t just how you dress, or what dialect you speak, necessarily, it’s relationships.”

Growing Naturally

“My first spring here, I do not recall ever hearing a hermit thrush. I can hear a hermit thrush five miles away now, and I love it. Why didn’t I hear it that first spring? It must have been around me… what are we missing? What are we not seeing?” Park wondered aloud.

The soil samples and observational notes that Langdon collected during the day were mailed off to UVM’s Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab for evaluation. Once the results are returned to Park by email, the farm team will work to build the soil as necessary, using composted cow manure and a cultivator, before beginning to plant 14 fields this coming season.

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