Fairfield Farm Newsletter: Light Returns

By Fairfield Farm Manager Bridget Lawrence-Meigs

On April 8, around 3:20 p.m., the chickens started to hop up on their roosts and the starlings quieted their cackling. The light faded and a small group of students, family, and friends donned eclipse viewing glasses and gazed at the sun. In the coolness and dusky light we waited in anticipation to see what 94% coverage would look and feel like. I almost expected time to stop, but instead I was aware of just how steadily time was moving forward—a strong, steady and unstoppable force—taking us all along for the ride.

Hotchkiss Fairfield Farm Eclipse

Students in janan alexandra’s English 250 class and visiting Lambert Lecturer Ross Gay helped reconstruct the herb spiral and replant accessible raised beds during the solar eclipse on April 8.

Perhaps this event felt especially powerful because we were joined by this year’s Lambert Lecture speaker, Ross Gay, an award-winning poet, essayist, and professor. Gay’s creations are filled with details that illustrate how the ordinary and extraordinary can incite joy. His work is about noticing, pausing, illuminating, and imagining and some of it grows from his own love of gardening and spending time among plants. My parents and two of our favorite pups were also in attendance at our small viewing, adding to the significance of the event for me.

This time of the year we really notice the return of the light. Sometimes the chickens are still out in their yard enjoying insects and greens until 7:30 p.m. My day on the farm begins with an early stroll with Zuri to open their house at sun-up and ends with a post sun-down visit to tuck them in, figuratively. The joy with which they seem to greet the day this time of year, hustling out into the yard, always makes me smile. Our flock can go outside during the winter, but they are more tentative on the cold, darker days.

If you have been to Fairfield Farm, you know that we have a mixed flock of heritage breeds including Light Brahmas, Americanas, Australorps, and Wyandottes. Though some of them have lived at the farm for almost three years they still retain many of their wild and distinct behaviors. Only one of our hens, a beautiful Americana named “Honey,” runs right over and appears to enjoy being held. I am learning more and more about laying hens and how to ensure a healthy and productive flock thanks to new Assistant Farm Manager Ian Brunell.

Ian Brunell

New Assistant Farm Manager Ian Brunell is quickly learning the ropes and already helping the farm grow.

Brunell joined our team in February, and is already an essential contributor to our operation. His knowledge about livestock management, regenerative farming, and a passion for cultivating perennial plants are already helping us farm in a way that helps FFEAT students to connect more with the animals and trees living at the farm. His genuine curiosity and open-minded, positive approach to our work here is another example of light returning to the farm! In his own words: "Ian comes to Fairfield Farm at The Hotchkiss School with a mixed background in farming. He left film production work to pursue work focused on food production and sustainable land management. His first farming experiences were abroad in vineyard production, but after a close friend in the film industry connected him with a grass-based dairy in Wales, his appreciation and passion for livestock and bigger-picture land management took shape. Since, his work experiences have been focused on grass-based livestock and poultry production, regenerative land management, and lots of extra-curricular education in the field of agroforestry. He is very excited to learn the ins and outs of vegetable management with Bridget, the farm manager, and use his skills to contribute to, and support, food production and land management at the Fairfield Farm."

The longer days and warmer temperatures also encourage migratory species to return to the farm. One afternoon, we heard the unmistakable call of the Eastern Meadowlark accompanied by a bright flash of gold in the fields near the high tunnels. We think there may be two pairs of this relatively rare bird nesting at the farm this spring! This species is considered near threatened on the IUCN Red List because of habitat loss where the Meadowlarks thrive. The farm’s 287 acres offer excellent habitat for this species and others like the American kestrel. A local photographer and bird enthusiast has been maintaining a kestrel box in one of the pastures for over 15 years and our current pair is making good use of it.

Kestrel at Fairfield Farm

An American kestrel hunts from their perch on the newly planted White Oak by the Barn Garden. Photo by Jim Lawrence-Meigs.

Spring light affords us opportunities to connect with and notice the land that supports us. Our neighbor and farm friend, Nora Yasumura, sent me two videos the other day—one taken at dawn and the other at dusk—of two of our wild neighbors, a fox and a bobcat. These videos help to convey just how much all of the wildlife is poised to explore our shared spaces and welcome another season.

In addition to our wildlife, we welcomed fellow campus farm managers and sustainability educators from peer institutions to gather at the farm on April 6. Farmers are notorious for working long hours and, quite often, independently. One of my joys in life is to provide opportunities for campus farmers to gather, share ideas, learn from one another and feel reinvigorated about all of the ways campus farms and experiential learning opportunities speak differently to our students and campus community members. These beautiful places take a lot of work to grow and maintain and pausing to celebrate them and one another often helps to bring the light and meaning back into the fields, high tunnels, and classrooms where we spend our days. 

Gathering at Fairfield Farm

Campus farmers and sustainability professionals from Tory Hill Dining, Berkshire, Choate Rosemary Hall, Loomis Chaffee, Greenwich Country Day School, Adamah Farm, and Fairfield Farm enjoy sharing food and ideas on April 6 in the Rockland Room.

In the high tunnels and out in the fields our FFEAT team, Ian and I are already harvesting lettuce, planting all kinds of seeds, and caring for seedlings. All of this life revolves around the light and heat radiating from the sun and our efforts to notice and provide healthy food and water to all of the life that is in our care. We welcome you to come out for a stroll in the forest on the Larsen Trail, come see how our garlic and seedlings are faring in the production fields, and witness the pear and apple trees as they blossom. Our Spring FFEAT Team is already planting seeds in the high tunnels and kale seedlings in the field and harvesting radishes and lettuce from the high tunnels for campus dining.

As time moves forward, the seedlings will grow and fruit and appear in a variety of dishes or salads at the Ford Food Court. Some of them will also appear on the plates on tables at the homes of our neighbors who visit the Corner Pantry in Lakeville, CT or the North East Community Center in Millerton, NY. Others will be preserved by talented local chefs in our Grange Kitchen and shared during the colder months of the year when fresh, local produce is harder to source.

Carol Hwran

Local chef Carol Hwran teaches FFEAT students and community members participating in a Food Waste Prevention Week workshop how to make a Raspberry Shrub—a delicious beverage made from equal parts of fruit, vinegar and a sweetener that aids in digestion and helps to preserve the harvest.

These partnerships with Tory Hill Dining, local food pantries, and skilled chefs light up the farm from within and help us to live our mission—thriving as a place that supports the growth of both nutritious foods and curious, empathetic people.

Do you want to volunteer at Fairfield Farm? Please complete this Google Form. Follow Fairfield Farm on Instagram @fairfield_farm.

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