By Amber Newman
Maxwell is like a giant puppy, except he weighs a few hundred pounds and is a calf. Taking him from the barn to the pasture is a hilarious 30-second rodeo, and his mother, a four-year-old Jersey cow, isn’t much help. The way it’s supposed to work is that Fern will follow anyone with a bowl of grain and if you’ve put Maxwell on a lead rope, he should follow his momma.
However, sometimes Fern decides—halfway to the pasture—that she’s found a tasty looking patch of lawn. Fern weighs about seven hundred pounds. If she wants to stand somewhere and eat grass, she is going to stand somewhere and eat grass. At the same time, Maxwell is bounding in some other direction and taking you with him!
This adventure is a twice daily occurrence for Christine Trefethen and Eric List. They live in Bethel with their teenage daughter Sophie while their son Eliot has moved on to college. Morning Glory Farm has been their project and passion for the past 15 years, and every day they’re growing less reliant on the outside world for their needs. Christine works as a pediatric occupational therapist and Eric is project manager at Clearwater Builders, but they find time to pursue their passions and work toward the life they envision.
Rising extra early before work, they say good morning to their animals: They milk whoever is producing, clean the stalls, feed everyone and bring the cows to pasture. Aster and Azalea are dairy goats, Yaara and Zinnia are the sheep, Fern and Maxwell are the cows, and there are too many chicken to count, let alone name. In an hour or two, fresh milk is in the fridge, the barn is clean, and hens are happily pecking about the farm.
Christine says her mom’s large garden inspired her to begin farming, but becoming increasingly self-sufficient is one of her own values.
“When we started looking for land to purchase, we looked for property that would allow us plenty of space for a big garden,” she said.
Their first endeavor after buying “was to bring the old trees back into fruit production through significant pruning,” said Eric.
Local orchardist Beverly Blake was instrumental in teaching Eric how to do this. He also learned about restoration and grafting through MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association).
“I became greatly enthused learning about developing my skills as an orchardist and reached out to Michael Phillips [who] lives in Stark, New Hampshire on Lost Nation Orchard and has written two books about using organic methods to grow apples,” he said.
Eric considers Michael his current mentor.
As for the animals, Christine said, “that is a newer dream. It started with getting chickens. I adore chickens! Then I read a book called ‘The Year of the Goat.’ I fell in love with the idea of having goats. Then after spending time at Wrinkle in Thyme Farm with sheep, it seemed like a good idea to get sheep too.”
Christine loves to knit and is glad to have her own source of fiber now, she said.
More people are turning to organic farming as a way to take charge of their diets and grow closer to the land. They want to know their food was raised humanely and with no hormones or pesticides. They want to have a relationship with the farmers in order to support small businesses and families as opposed to large companies with extensive and possibly harmful operations. Not only are people interested in avoiding consumption of pesticides and other additives, they want their food to be grown in ways that don’t harm the earth.
One thing that may prohibit people from eating organic is that it’s too expensive and difficult to maintain. Christine doesn’t think their lifestyle is more costly than a conventional one, though.
“It probably would be [more expensive] if we had to buy all of our food. I do think it takes significantly more time. We grow a lot of our own fruits and vegetables, have our own eggs, milk and chicken,” she said. “We buy a lot of our food through our local buying club, Boondocks, and are also are members of a food coop, Fare Share, in Norway. We also barter our meat chickens for beef with our neighbor and we purchased pork from another neighbor who raised them for people in the community.”
Eric does think it costs more, but Christine said, “It’s important to weigh the long term costs with short term savings. Although we may be spending more money on organic food now, we are hopefully saving our land for future generations to grow food on.”
Not only do Christine and Eric employ sustainable methods through their diets and shopping choices, they built their house to be eco-friendly as well. Solar panels produce 100 percent of their energy and sometimes even a surplus which returns to the grid. They built the house with 12-inch thick walls and an 18-inch roof for extra insulation. Even their heat and hot water is solar-powered.
“Water is stored in a 500 gallon tank,” said Eric. “The plumbing system has a heat exchanger that collects heat from the waste water from our shower and from the washing machine and this preheats our domestic hot water.”
In addition, their barn is primarily made of salvaged or leftover supplies. Repurposing materials for new projects is a great way to save money and trips to the landfill.
Aside from having friends contribute to the farm, Christine and Eric are a part of a work-exchange program called WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Everything from self-sufficient ashrams to zinnia gardens qualify as “organic farms” as long they’re producing food using sustainable methods. There are more than 2,000 locations in the United States alone. The WWOOF website acts as a matchmaker for people who need an extra set of hands and people who want to learn about agriculture and livestock. Some farms take local helpers for a day, some require long-term visits of a few months or whole season, but visiting a farm for a couple weeks is average. WWOOFers are expected to work half days in exchange for housing and meals.
WWOOFing is education outside of institution and tuition. It’s a cultural exchange. It’s a way to travel and sow new relationships. Learned farmers, beekeepers, cowboys, hippies and homesteaders are all sharing what they know about treading a little lighter on the earth.
“We are eager to share the things we’ve learned with others,” Christine said. So far, Morning Glory Farm has hosted three WWOOFers who have helped in the garden, barn and orchard, but learning doesn’t only take place outside. Christine enjoys teaching volunteers to make butter, yogurt, cheese and bread, and Eric loves to share a special granola recipe.
Morning Glory Farm is just getting started. The agenda for summer includes establishing beehives and building a hoop house to grow their own greens during all four seasons. Christine also wants to learn how to spin wool and dye yarn. Eventually, they want to transform their shed into a WWOOFer cabin, too. Ongoing goals include avoiding plastic packaging altogether and promoting a local food economy.
They already have a good support system in place, they said. Nearby friends have sold and mentored them in livestock endeavors, offered hands-on help with infrastructure, and their hay supplier is just across the valley. They also draw inspiration from Moon Dance Farm in Andover and A Wrinkle in Thyme in Sumner.
“It’s important to me philosophically to care for the soil that our food comes from, and to value the labor that people put into producing high quality food,” said Eric. “We participate in a closely knit community, and it has direct positive impact on our health and well-being.”