Farm Life in the Catskills

© Jenny Neal – Usage prohibited without consent

I’ve recently been receiving a lot of kind feedback on the writing I do here, and some inquiries into what I’ve been up to since I last posted back in June. It’s the feedback – along with the helpful donations – that keeps me going, so here’s an update. Daily Catskills will resume in the next few days, from the September equinox until Winter solstice and all the snowbirds will shortly be seeing our Fall in all its glory from afar. Stay tuned!

Some readers will know that I moved to Lazy Crazy Acres Farm over a year ago in 2021 and it’s been eye-opening to see farm life close-hand for the last year.

Last winter, one of the coveralls here at the farm collapsed under the weight of heavy snow and was not covered by insurance for some insane reason. It’s been an extraordinary experience to watch one farmer, Jake Fairbairn, clear the huge pile of debris, assemble and raise his own barn with limited assistance. Swipe through the gallery below for the reconstruction that took place in the sweltering July heat:

Jake scouted a hard, rot-resistant wood – larch – from an Amish supplier. He found a coverall kit from Canada. He dug the holes himself with his back-hoe. Have you ever held a 100-pound larch post in a hole while a backhoe fills in the dirt? This city girl works out, so helping to raise these posts wasn’t that difficult, but the moral of the story here is that small-holding farmers and producers are the backbone of the nation. They are Americans with big shoulders, carrying the weight of continuing an arduous legacy under exacting conditions. To be a farmer necessitates ingenuity, strength, intelligence and a wide range of eclectic abilities that include everything from plumbing and welding to carpentry, construction and engineering. The farmer is also a mechanic and an electrician. Also necessary is a quiet stoicism: every day something goes wrong. A wheel flies off; an essential rod snaps; the timer on a piece of heavy equipment goes off by one beat.

In the city, when something goes wrong, we impatiently punch a number into the phone and someone arrives to take care of it. In the country, farmers must mostly fend for themselves if their problem is urgent.

Many thanks to Greg DiBenedetto for helping set the rafters of the coverall frame.

As for me, this summer, I took a chainsaw class with the Catskills Forest Association, downed my first tree, and will be doing some forest management here on the farm. I went on an epic hunt for American ginseng. I started a re-wilding plan for this 100-acre farm, but more on that later. I spent two days clearing out the Lazy Crazy Farm pizza pavilion and did some test pizza parties. I learned how to mow and bale hay. I set up a small farm stand selling garlic, and soon hot peppers and tomatoes for my own rib-sticking curry sauce that I developed during the pandemic that is both sweet and spicy. I’m now saving seeds and planting cold hardy greens. We have been planning a redesign of the farm, and I have written all about these past three years for a memoir. I published an excerpt of this memoir in the farm journal Farmerish, that is coming out in print this month.

All this is why I have not yet transcribed the wonderful interview I did with Heidi Stonier earlier in the summer of the Arts Inn in Fleischmanns, the small village here in the Catskills that is undergoing a cultural renaissance. When I lived in Fleischmanns I had village envy for Andes, but what’s happening in Fleischmanns now is way more interesting, sorry Andes! Jake and I went to the first event at the Arts Inn in August and it was nice to relax and reconnect with old friends, lie on the grass, stare up at the sky, eat some great food, and listen to some great music. More on Fleischmanns later.

Meanwhile, one of our dogs, Daisy, got cancer. She has had a large mass removed by Adam Sniderman of Arkville, but even though she’s very old – a rescue from a puppy mill – she survived a burst tumor, surgery and anesthesia, coming back from the vet the same day as scrappy as ever, because giving up isn’t any part of life here at Lazy Crazy Acres. (She’s literally got a big-ass scar.)

Next up, I have resumed painting and sketching and am planning to submit some watercolor sketches and vignettes to a small-works local show at the end of October.

Last but not least, one of our neighbor’s enormous cherry trees fell down and we went over there yesterday and hauled it home. Jake had taken it down with a chainsaw when it collapsed last month. The gigantic trunk is now in huge sections at Lazy Crazy Acres farm where we’ll mill the lumber and I’ll try and make a farm table. Well, if not a table, then a great many cutting boards.

And by the way, the DiBenedetto’s milk – Crystal Valley Farm – is the best milk in the region. When it comes to food, buy local. Shop local. Support your local small-holding farmers.

Thank you for supporting Upstate Dispatch. It means a lot to hear that it’s appreciated.

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