Monday, May 17, 2010

Randolph Center, Vermont: Stuart Osha and Turkey Hill Farm

"We're both 6th-generation Vermonters and this is really the only life we want; I mean, it's part of us. We love it and plan on doing it for as long as we can. It just evolved."

"The right to farm is very very important. And we are believers that any person ought to have the right to farm and sell their products...raw milk, butter, yogurt...up to a certain amount. And then, if you're selling over that and you're distributing product, you probably need to be watched closer. I said probably. If we could start with some limits on the small farm, that you could sell the products you produce without having to jump through all the hoops, it would feed the food system and I think it would feed the economy. It would certainly feed people."

Vermont is my favorite state to get lost in. It is, in fact, the only state that finds me delighted instead of frustrated as we take wrong turn after wrong turn down beautiful dirt roads encroached upon by green grass and wildflowers. That's sort of the way we ended up at Stuart and Margaret Osha's farm in the middle of Vermont, down a long forked driveway with a little hand painted sign that read "farm goods left at the fork." We passed a friendly man on the way who turned out to be Stuart, and he assured us we were headed in the right direction. He agreed to spend an hour with us on the fly, and we got to have an incredibly enlightening and enjoyable conversation with a fascinating and kind man. Margaret, his wife, passed through the room during the conversation, but unfortunately was on her way out of the house so couldn't join us.

Stuart has seen his share of health troubles, which is one of the reasons he left his successful business and invested his energy into the land and animals. He has three pigs, four cows and a hundred chickens who have beautiful and comfortable living spaces. He espouses raw milk and his strong white teeth and healthy demeanor are an advertisement for what he believes in.

He believes in local food and community networks for the economics, the satisfaction, and the practicality of them. He has about 40 regular raw milk customers who all come to the store at Turkey Hill Farm to pick up the product. The store (the "Moo-tique") is a single small room with a fridge (for milk, eggs, and other products), a freezer (for meats, etc.), and two sets of shelves holding maple syrup, Margaret's granola, Stuart's book of poetry and stories, and products from other farms in the neighborhood. They also sell veggies during the summer.

"The demand; people want the quality food and once they know the's not just us, there are lots of people like us just in this area...once they know their farmer they get a connection to their food and they want to buy it. They want to eat it. Because they can tell the difference. I mean, you eat one of our meat chickens and you just can tell the difference. You won't want to go back and buy one down at the supermarket. It's not the same."

He cited many books, individuals, and documentaries that have come out recently regarding the food system and industrialization. Though he owns no television, the internet has provided access to the popular culture around food lately, which he sees as an improvement in the general support of local systems. He also told us about recent laws and issues around sales of raw milk and small farmers. At any moment he feels that government decisions could put his small operation at risk. The Weston A. Price Foundation has provided a good deal of research around diets and health that Stuart is influenced by.

"Just the fact that there are more farmers, small farmers, producing and the fact that there are farmers' markets...I think last year was the first year since the 1950's that the number of farms has grown; but they are small farms, places like this, that are producing food. And the only reason they're growing is because people are responding to them. It's just, I think, more of an awareness...I think it's more of an awareness of what the big boys are producing."

Stuart wrote us an email later saying he had thought about the conversation and that he knew there was much more to talk about, that food and farms are such a big topical issue and that he wished he'd thought of more in the moment. He seemed like the kind of farmer who really considers what he's doing and why he's doing it a certain way at any given moment. Turkey Hill Farm was beautiful; small and practical and inviting to the community, producing food, sharing it, and including the neighbors in its operation. He hasn't traveled much, but, calling his operation a homestead, he said that if he had a choice he'd never leave the property, choosing to sustain himself, his family, and his community in the beauty of central Vermont.


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