Memories of Sprout Creek Farm
Fence Post Staff Reporter
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Elise. She lived in a big beautiful white mansion that overlooked the Hudson River in New York. One day, when Elise was about 18, she decided she wanted a pet, but not just any pet, she wanted cows! Elise knew she couldn’t have cows at this house because they would make a mess of the beautiful lawn and eat all the pretty flowers. So Elise grabbed her purse and put on her coat, and she went farm shopping …
The first time I heard this story I was 11 years old, and I was at camp. I was there to have fun and meet people, but there was more. I would bake bread, make candles, feed goats, collect eggs from chickens and even milk cows! I would have to get up early all week, but I didn’t care. A few years later I listened to this story as someone who was about to teach children how to bake bread, make candles, feed goats, collect eggs, and milk cows. I was a counselor now, and I had to show these children how special Elise’s farm was.
Elise went shopping and she found a farm with grass for her cows to eat, big red barns for shelter, and a little creek running through it for water. “It’s perfect,” she thought, and Elise bought the little farm. The next day Elise went out and bought 50 cows! Elise milked her cows everyday and became a very good farmer.
When Elise got too old to take care of her cows, she called her family around her. She said “I never want my farm to become a shopping mall, or parking lot or even houses, I want it to always be a farm. But what’s more, I want it to be a farm where children can come to learn about farming and animals and the environment.” So Elise’s family found a special school and a special group of women who promised to do what Elise wanted.
I had gone to that school. I had graduated, moved off to college and graduated from there too. I always went back to visit the farm though. One day they asked me if I wanted to live on the farm. Of course I did!
Every morning I would get up and milk the cows. I fed the sheep, and helped with the goats. Sometimes I even collected the eggs. But there was more to be done. I would fix the fences and harvest the onions, plant seeds and bale hay, trim hooves and make cheese.
Before my eyes were really open each morning, I would climb the stairs into the hay loft and throw down bales of hay for breakfast. Alfalfa, timothy, clover, and more ” these cows ate better than I did! I readied the milking machine, set the grain out for them, and walked down to the gate to let them in. Was everyone walking okay? Is everyone here? They were out in a new pasture all night: any bloat to be seen? It was a lot to keep in mind before coffee.
We latched “the girls” into their stalls, cleaned their udders, attached the milkers and slowly awoke to the rhythmic click of the milking machines. Sometimes there was music in the barn, other times there was rain, and sometimes it was just the rhythm of the milkers collecting their creamy treasure from our Guernseys, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, and Milking Shorthorns.
Sometimes it was uneventful and milking went smoothly; other times it seemed like everything imaginable went wrong. Snow would melt and the barn would flood. The one cow in heat would get let out before we got a chance to AI her and we’d chase her all over the pastures in vain. A hot air balloon would land next to the barn, and the noise would cause the cows to stop their milk let down. Those were the mornings that made the peaceful mornings all the more sweet.
I became a mom at 22, the cows were my “babies.” When one got mastitis, I milked her by hand until it cleared up. When one was de-horned, I collected cobwebs to help stop the bleeding. When they were close to calving, and I was on watch, I’d sleep nearby. On night I awoke inexplicably with an urge to check my charge, and found her ready with tiny hooves and a nose protruding. There was no time to call anyone else, and she and I got through it together, with a beautiful Jersey calf to show for it. These were some of the most beautiful moments in my life.
Christmas morning was my favorite. The grass wasn’t growing, so we weren’t milking, but my girls still needed food. The round bales were frozen solid and I had forgotten my gloves; but I peeled away the ice and was greeted with warm gentle “moos” of hello and good morning. I was certain that the most peace on earth to be found was in that pasture alone with my cows.
With peace comes times of trouble. That morning was beautiful. Several times we had exclaimed how blue the sky was, how lush and green the grass looked for September. How lucky we were to be milking cows on such a beautiful day in New York. It didn’t make sense, why would anyone crash a plane into the twin towers?
We watched the towers collapse. It didn’t make any sense. We milked in silence that night. No music, no rain ” the beautiful weather seemed to mock us. Just the rhythmic click of the milkers. Life went on, it had to. Nowhere was this more apparent, or more healing than on this dairy farm.
School was back in session. As the cows were heading back out to pasture after their morning milking, the school children arrived for their field trip. Many had been there before for trips, visits, or summer camp. Many had never seen a cow. They came from down the road, down in the city, and across the country. No matter where they were from, they could feel the magic of Elise’s farm as soon as they stepped off the bus.
Elise’s farm is called Sprout Creek Farm. It is nestled safely in the Hudson Valley in New York, right where Elise left it. Every day children come to the farm to learn about farming, and animals and the environment. For two years I was a part of that educational dairy farm. For two years I lived and breathed what I considered to be magic. I had grown up there, taught others there, and I was given the opportunity to give back there.
I still remember the day. It was overcast, but not really raining. Another group of school children was arriving and filing into our greeting area. “Are you ready?” I was asked. “For what?” I replied. I knew what to teach, I knew the rules, of course, I was ready, I had done it a thousand times. “To tell the story,” she said. “Me?”
I looked at the sea of faces, some familiar, all eager with anticipation. I sat in the director’s chair. I thought of Elise, her family, her cows, her wish, and the promise I was helping to keep. I took a deep breath, and I said, “Once upon a time …”
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