Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Bunker Farm

In July I received some good news. Noah and I, along with my sister Jen and her partner Mike, were  selected to purchase the Bunker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. In May the four of us put together an application to purchase the newly conserved farm from the Vermont Land Trust. In a hefty eighty page document, we outlined our diversified farm plan; which included raising animals for meat, growing various vegetable crops for local markets and restaurants, growing annual and perennial flowers, selling our own maple syrup, and developing educational programs with local school and community groups.  It is the most exciting thing that could have happened for the four of us and we are looking forward to a long and fruitful life on the farm.

This farm is nestled in one of the most beautiful valleys in all of southern Vermont. There are sixty acres of open fields and one hundred acres of woodlands. The hills rise up in all directions from the house and at times it is steep. There are two ponds, sixteen acres of sugar maple woods, stands of locust and white pines, and the place teems with wildlife. We are constantly aware that the land is so much bigger than us and that it will remain in conservation and agriculture long after we are gone.

The farm house was in pretty good condition, despite the looks of the paint job. There is a lifetime of work to be done, the short list includes major chimney repair, a new roof, and replacing rotten sills, but during the month of August we managed to paint a majority of the exterior and interior, refinish the old pine floorboards, and replace some of the worst of the old windows and doors. In September, we all moved in.

Giving the house a fresh coat of paint and digging out all the plants around the foundation made an immediate impact.

I uncovered this nice stone pathway, previously covered in weeds and grass. In every direction, there is endless work to do. I found myself taking on the garden in little sections, digging out the weeds and brambles, saving the odd bits of good looking plants. Across the road is our pole barn, which is in better condition that it looks.

One of the ponds on the property. We swim in it despite the rumor of very large snapping turtles.

Hills rise on three sides of the house and the land encompasses all three sides of the road. Walking up through an upper pasture there is this little picture window looking down on the beautiful old hay barn. Apple trees scatter the landscape, all gnarly and overgrown, but still elegant and delicious.

Here is the beginning of our very own cow herd. At the start we have five hearty Herefords and two Jersey/Angus crosses.

Our lovely sheep are Dorset crosses and we hope to breed them with a Finn ram this winter. Sheep are great to have in conjunction with cows- the cows graze first, but only eat the tops of the grass. The sheep come through and eat the grass much closer to the ground, but they also eat a large variety of weeds and undesirables. The land is a little overgrown, particularly along all the edges and hedgerows, with massive crops of beautiful, yet horribly weedy plants such as Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Rosa multiflora, Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), and Berberis (Berberis thunbergii). All of these plants are non-native and tenacious, creating twelve foot impasses of tangled plants. Luckily, our sheep herd came with a goat, serendipitously named Dahlia, and she prefers these woody, thorny plants above all else.

Our pigs are Tamworths and of all the different pigs we've raised, these are by far our favorite. As far as I can tell, pigs have three personality traits; a little mean, a little dull, or curious. These ones are curious, unafraid, and affectionate- what more can you hope for in a pig! We are considering breeding the sows in spring, if we can find a good boar. Breeding pigs and keeping 800 pound boars around is a bit of an undertaking, but we love having pigs and nothing is better than a piglet. We picked these piglets up from a farm in Windham. When we arrived, the piglets were still in the pen with the sow and the boar.  It was a testament of their genetics that we were able to hop in the pen and take the piglets out with the parents standing by. These pigs are fenced in two acres of overgrown orchard and they spend their days feasting on fallen apples.

Chickens. These girls are our two laying hens, a gift from my father, and I am sure we will get more in the spring. We are also raising meat birds and have already raised, slaughtered, and sold our first 150 and we are on to our second batch. It is a little late to be raising chickens this time of year and keeping them warm enough has been a challenge. Our goal is to raise 1,000 birds a year, primarily in the spring and summer months.  

The day we got the farm Mike planted a vegetable garden. Throughout the fall we have been eating carrots, cucumbers, radishes, herbs, and kale out of this little kitchen plot. In the background is our illuminated greenhouse.

Inside the greenhouse, Mike has planted all sorts of leafy, vegetables- some from starts and other directly sowed- and we are presently selling bags of spicy, mixed greens.

This is the Flower side of the greenhouse, where come February I will sow lots of seeds, and probably far too many out of enthusiasm. In the meantime, my Dahlias are drying out.

Much to do on the gardening front. Digging is my main occupation- turning brambles and nettles back into garden space. The soil is ideal- light, beautifully colored copper brown, rich, free draining, and there is no clay. I only have experienced soil like this a few times in my life, so I have a lot to learn.  I have planted a few things that were hanging around in pots, just to get them in the ground, but I will have more to show and tell in spring. Here's to the beginning!


  1. Wow! I've read this blog (off and on) for a long time, but never commented. I just want to say that this farm and farm-life seem so idyllic. A lot of hard work to be sure, but a wonderful setting and opportunity. I wish you the best!

    1. Thanks for reading Emily. Even though there is endless work to be done, it feels like we won the lottery. I just went out and fed all the animals in the frosty morning. It is a good life here. Thanks again and take care.

  2. WOW! WOW! WOW! I am amazed at the scale and scope of your progress! Congratulations and WELL DONE! Love the photos of all the animals, but must confess, those laying hens are my favorite!!

  3. Wow, it is so beautiful to see the farm drenched in autumn color. Can't wait to see it in person in just a few months, hopefully covered in snow.