Lessons from a Pandemic: Family Farm

We are one month into life with Covid-19 and our Governor's Stay-At-Home order, and closing of schools and restaurants throughout Vermont, tossing our food economy into immediate freefall. Today we were told it would last another month, and this extrovert nearly crumbled! I want to reflect on life as a business owner and a food producer during this time. We are deemed an "essential" business for two reasons: we produce food and we have livestock to feed and milk. Shutting down never happens on a farm. Milking still happens twice a day, milk still has to be processed into cheese. We have put Covid-19 precautions in place for all of our employees. We have worked solo in the barn for a month, and always with gloves. In the cheesehouse we work solo when possible, and wear gloves (like usual) and a mask at all times. Two of our employees opted to not return for now. Another employee went home to Pennsylvania for family reasons and wasn't able to return (our call, due to risky exposure). We are fortunate that our afternoon milker has been steadfast and committed to continuing to work, as have two of our cheesemakers, though limited in scope to maintain physical distance. Our substitute milker has stepped up to assist a few mornings a week. It's surreal and quiet here, when normally we are like a bustling ant hill in the cheese plant. The goats are wonderful and peppy as ever but we miss our employees and the camaraderie of working together in close quarters. Enter: the teenagers! A month ago we wondered what type of relationship our children had with the farm. Was it a hassle to live so farm from their school, friends and sports? Did they wonder what their parents did all day on this postage stamp of 150 acres while they were off in the world? Well, Covid-19 has provided some opportunities that were heretofore unseen. Our children have stepped into active roles at Blue Ledge Farm.This leads me to the lesson of this week: Lesson #1: there really is something to a family farm.

Above: our daughter, a senior in high school, milking the goats in the morning.

When I credit what a quick learner she is, she says, "well, Mom, I grew up with it".

Above: our son, a sophomore, has more on his plate with remote school, but has stepped up to help with our newly-established farmstand, here he his helping put it together:

And sticking to our schedule, every Friday is chevre packing today which does require lots of hands, and so they are my helpers every Friday:

Playing sports year round, plus schoolwork, plus friends and activities meant that until a month ago we spent much of our quality family time in the stand or the sidelines, watching these two from a distance and struggling to find time to have a sit-down family dinner even three times a week! This pandemic has temporarily stripped a lot of fun from our lives (softball (we were favored to be Division II State Champs!!) and lacrosse seasons to name two), and caused a lot of heartbreak and stress, and to have them step up like they have in the face of this challenge has been remarkable. They take a lot of pride in the product that we produce and we couldn't be more proud of them. When we needed them, our immediate family is there! They have helped kindle the fire to keep evolving our business in the face of this extreme challenge, to make it stronger and more viable for the future. Whether or not they choose to farm or run a business in the future, they have proven themselves able to act when called upon. Which will lead me into the next blog post: Lesson 2: Business Evolution! Stay tuned.