Swimming with the Frogs

Tim and I have never felt this hopeful since we arrived here on the farm - full of trash, bones and bare dirt blowing away in the wind seven years ago - through the most bizarre sequence of events. While the restoration and problem solving of the past years have been invigorating, the path has been up hill. With our recent strategies, we are getting a glimpse of a long-term, future relationship with this beautiful land, farm and business and it feels really good.

Now that we really believe we are going to get to stay here, we experience another level of connection as we invest in the various conservation projects here at the farm. And there are plenty. After two plus years of trying to find financial support for the intense flooding issues, we found TeamAg who helped us through the tangle of bureaucracy which led to a grant from PennVest another two years later (in the meantime, 600 native trees/shrubs installed along the creek through CREP and Stroud Water Center). Last spring 2018, the PennVest plan was complete, the money was in, contractors were hired, and then it began to rain - for the rest of the year. The part of the project intended to address the flooding was stalled. We waited as our driveway washed out time and again and small, and large ravines carved themselves out in front of the horse barn, and behind the garden shed…

The time has finally come for the new culvert project (which will address the flooding). The excavator is scheduled to come next week. And while this is what we’ve been waiting for since 2014, and we will finally be able to stop washing soil down the creek, I also know that I will lose my most beloved summer spot. Our swimming hole. This is a truly magical place. It is actually only as deep as the middle of my thigh but is big enough to plunge my whole body into the ice cold spring water. We don’t have air conditioning, we have a swimming hole - just a few steps beyond the orchard - just a few seconds walk from our house. And it is hidden. The Paulownia tree with it’s wide, shady leaves, the Jewel Weed, the Mugwort have all grown up around this small hidden bowl of delight. It is possible to bathe down here without anyone knowing. Here, with the brown and green frogs and the dragonflies and water striders.

Here is where both of our children first found their love of water. Here is where the huge crayfish occasionally pinched our toes, defending their homes as we splashed around. Here is where the racoon visited at night to catch the crayfish, leaving tracks on the wet mud and crayfish shells on the shore. Here’s where the minnows showed up and a water snake made her home for a summer. And the Blue Heron even visited a few times. This is the spot where our youngest son, Niko, paddled his chubby little legs as a six-month-old recklessly trying to plunge himself in while I held him at the edge. This is the spot where our oldest son Eli spent happy hours trying to catch a minnow with his woven fish trap. This is the spot where, today, Eli and the neighbor children used a large plastic tub as a boat to carry them one at a time across the small pool with howls of delight.

Now I stand in the cold water, my heart full of gratefulness and sweet memories. This beautiful little pool is at the mouth of the culvert. When the construction for the new culvert is complete, this spot will no longer be. In my heart, I offer apologies to the small ones who live here, who will need to scramble to find a new home, for the web of stream life that will be disrupted. I am sad to lose this precious hidden oasis even though I know in the long term, in the big picture, this will bring more health to our land, the Creek and the world downstream from us. I know that Fiddle Creek will carve out its new pathway and settle in again, and we will settle into it, and a new swimming hole will be dug, and new trees and plants will grow up around to offer shade, perhaps even the pecan tree that we are waiting to plant. I know in the big picture, this is good - we will be protecting the land and ourselves from the extreme flooding that has washed away raised beds, the former garden and the driveway many times. Even so, there is a wistful feeling...

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D2C - Direct To Consumer

We’ve encountered many ups and downs, unexpected turns, drop-offs and surprise blessings since setting off on this adventure called “Fiddle Creek Dairy”. Our goal - to become rooted, find a balanced and simple life, sustaining ourselves from this land while we raise our two children and Frances continues work as a musician…well, it hasn’t been simple. And in the last couple years, we haven’t even been sure if it was possible.

This winter, we wavered many a time, starting to consider what other path we may walk down as a family, what other place we could call home, what other way we could sustain ourselves. On top of the on-going rigorous challenges of farming (which we love, by the way), our small family of four has been faced with multiple health challenges in the past several years. The farm business got put on auto-pilot while we struggled to survive one crisis after another as we waded through recurring thyroid cancer, respiratory issues and the realities of autism spectrum disorder. Now that we have more networks of support in place and are getting our feet on the ground again, our focus has come back to our farm and the on-going question of how we are going to actually make things work financially. We are not ready to give up on this dream that has been so rich in meaning, even while so deeply challenging.

Tim and I have always envisioned creating food for all who value health rather than offering an exclusive product. Because of this, we have been hesitant to charge what it costs to make yoghurt this way - a small scale product where quality practices inform our choices every step of the way. While we believe this is the path into a sustainable future, it is not always efficient or cost effective in the short term. We also realize that to continue living and working here, we need to figure out how to make the finances work.

With a growing sense of urgency, we began working with a friend, and then Kitchen Table Consultants this winter. Many small-scale farmers, like ourselves, choose farming because of our love for working with land and the beautiful transformation of life, not because we are in love with organizing numbers. However, we realized that organizing the numbers is crucial, so we dove in to this new area of growth. It has been surprisingly invigorating to develop a new skill set and finally grasp the kind of analysis we need in order to make informed, clear decisions.

Now we know we need to work towards two major changes. The first change is to reduce our herd size so that we will keep the number of cows here that the land can support right now. The soil was depleted when we moved here, and soil fertility is an ongoing challenge. Because of this, the grass in the pastures is not growing as well as it could. When there is not enough grass in the fields, we end up buying more hay for feed—hay was our number one expense last year. So, with sad farewells, we have sent some of our cows to other farmer-friends.

The other major change we will work towards is selling our products directly to customers - here at the farm, and at farmer’s markets. This way of selling will allow us to have the profit margin necessary to keep the farm going. Since our yoghurt, cheese and frozen meat have a long shelf life, we hope that folks will be able to stock up and the occasional trip to the nearest location will be worth it. At this point, our yoghurt will continue to be available at various stores in Lancaster County as well.

Happily, our model for financial sustainability is about down-sizing rather than expanding. Since restoration of health for ourselves and our land is such a necessary priority right now, it feels right to be strategically scaling down rather than increasing production. With trepidation, hope, joy and a fair amount of fatigue, we step forward into an unknown but bright future. We look forward to connecting with you and providing you with high quality, healthy food.