WILD FARM is an old, old hill farm in southern Vermont on the lower slopes of Mount Equinox, chopped out of the wilderness at the end of the 18th century. The pictures below give you a feel for the place since our family bought it in 1960. More of its story is below.
THE FARM grew and prospered through the 19th century. Some of the forest was replaced by stone-walled pastures and fields for sheep, cows, hay, potatoes, and apple trees, while some was reserved as woodlot and maple groves
Hard times came in the 1920s and the farm began to grow back into unmanaged forest, the house used only as a summer place. By the time we came in 1964, it was overgrown and wild (hence the name). We brought 5 children and a goal of being self-sufficient, raising our food naturally, and slowly restoring as much of the farm as we could.
WE BRACED the barn, shored up the old milkhouse, took 63 big pine trees out of the orchard (which turned out to have a variety of heirloom apples), put up fences, acquired some sheep, then goats, eventually milk cows and calves. Over time we added many more sheep, geese, ducks, and chickens.
TWO MORE CHILDREN arrived as the older ones went off to college. As we raised them we also raised our own vegetables and meat, as well as raspberries and rhubarb, and occasionally strawberries. We never used chemicals or poisons, so when the youngest son started a commercial vegetable operation some 20 years later, there was no waiting period for organic certification.
WE STARTED MAKING MAPLE SYRUP in 1972. We bought an ancient hydraulic press to make cider and we also learned to make good hard cider. We bought a bright red cub tractor with a mower and the boys mowed while the rest of us made hay by hand at first, then with a dump rake and a hay loader, lifting it up into the barn with a rope-operated hay fork. Later we cleared an old hayfield of pine trees and honeysuckle bushes and helped a neighbor bale hay on it.
AS TIME WENT ON, the original old buildings needed repairs: a new roof for the spring house, new underpinnings for the corn house, a new goat barn, a new chicken house. The old pig house became a woodshed, new fences and gates replaced old ones, and we added new apple trees.
The old sugar house (1880)—which we still use to make our syrup—got a new wood-fired evaporator, a few windows, and a lean-to woodshed. But we still use buckets for collecting maple sap—old-fashioned but effective and easy to keep clean.
MOST OF THE FAMILY is scattered around Vermont now but they all come back whenever they can to help with sugaring (several children and grandchildren have become the chief sugarmakers), for picking apples and making cider, and to share the fresh eggs and vegetables we grow.
-- Ann Clay