Monday, May 5, 2014


On April 14th I moved to Victor, MT to begin a 6-month apprenticeship 
at Lifeline Produce. Life Line is a family run small scale organic 
farm. Steve Elliot, Luci Bridger and their kids run and live on the 
farm.  They sell vegetables and eggs at various locations including 
the ‘XXX’ farmers market (Look for me there in May!) the Good Food 
Store, the Food Co-op, the Western Montana Grower’s Co-op, Orange 
Street, and a couple others.

From where I am currently writing this in my tiny cottage, my closest 
neighbors are about 15 cows and a couple of calves. When I open by 
door they stare at me with classic cow blankness.  While Steve and 
Luci do not raise cows to sell for meat or dairy, they have a small 
herd of cattle which they raise in order to utilize their foraging of 
the grasses, their meat for their own use, and of course-- their 
manure for fertilization.

The soil in this valley is very striated, and varies from mile to 
mile. This means there are a lot of soil fertilization practices which 
are essential to a bountiful season of crops. As Wendell Berry says, 
bad land makes great farmers.  Steve and Luci rotate their crops and 
plant cover crops in order to give the soil a rest and fix nitrogen 
and other nutrients.

I begin each day at the farm crawling down from the loft of my one-
room cottage, making tea and eating breakfast while looking out the 
window west at the incoming weather.  Then I go and help to feed the 
sheep and the chickens with Luci.

The 18 ewes (female sheep) are about half way through lambing now. The 
8 ewes which have not lambed are so hugely pregnant their bellies sag 
and they don’t walk as much as waddle around.  I have not witnessed a 
birth yet, but have missed several by only a few minutes.  A ewe has 1 
to 4 lambs. When the lambs are born they seem like they are 80 
percent legs and I watch with apprehension as they attempt to stand 
for the first time, wobbling and shivering with such vulnerability.  
After they are born we coat their umbilical chord in iodine to prevent 
infection, feed the mamma yew a bucket of water and molasses (to give 
her some quick energy after her labor!) and make sure that the lambs 
are able to nurse. It is crucial for them to get milk in the first 
hour of their lives.

After a day or so when they have gained a bit more strength and aren’t 
so unruly on their hooves, we tag their ear, dock the female’s tales 
and elastrate the males. Elastration is a bloodless alternative to 
castrating using elastic bands which cut off circulation to the 
testicles and after a few days they fall off. We use the same method 
with the female’s tales. This may seem graphic or cruel, but it is a 
reality for sheep keeping!

So far we have lost 3 lambs. It has not been clear what their cause of 
death has been, sometimes they are just so small and weak that they 
get trampled or squashed by the other yews.  The rest of the lambs are 
looking vigorous and healthy. They run around the field, wiggle their 
tails and play with each other like they are in a Disney cartoon. Keeping 
sheep is no fairy tale however. Elastration is one reminder to you 
that if this was Disney, it would be a lot more like Katie Kinney’s 
rendition from our art class!

The majority of work at Lifeline this time of year is green house 
work. This means, seeding, transplanting, watering, and labeling 
plants for sale. There is also weeding in the hoop house, thinning 
spinach and beets, and preparing the beds for plants. It gets really 
hot in the hoop house during these warm spring days so I have recently 
started swimming in the beautiful pond, which is used for irrigation, 
hockey in the winter and swimming in the summer.

A almost entirely new area of learning for me is the more technical 
and mechanical aspects of farming. Steve has been teaching me about 
how irrigation, water pumps, and tractors function. The other day I 
spent more than 3 hours on the tractor using an attachment called the 
spader. The tractor moves very slowly when spading a field and is 
incredibly loud. After a while it puts me in quite a meditative state, 
and when I get off the tractor the world feels wobbly and clear. I 
feel gratified and empowered by this kind of work, and feel pleased 
with how it defies gender stereotypes!

During our backpacking trek last fall we had multiple conversations 
about how hard physical work makes so many simple things so much more 
gratifying-- like a pair of dry socks, or mac and cheese for dinner, 
or pausing for a moment by a creek when you are filtering water. This 
sort of activity teaches us so much about simplicity and gratitude and 
their interconnection. I have found that farm work has a very similar 
effect.  There is wonderful contentment to be found in a perfectly 
placed ray of sunlight in the morning in the cool green house, or 
eating spinach thinnings, or getting to sit down on a bench swing at 
the end of the day with a few purring farm cats.  I am elated to find 
not just an activity, but a lifestyle which allows you to maintain 
appreciation for simple pleasures.

As many of you know I dropped the majority of my classes (besides 
Wilderness and Civ.) in order to move out to Lifeline and begin this 
apprenticeship. I was feeling uninspired and unmotivated with school, 
and I realized that this academic institution is a  privilege which we 
should not be dragging our asses through. It is so important to 
remember that we are responsible for the choices we make, the 
activities we choose, the people we surround ourselves with and the 
places where we locate ourselves. We are frighteningly free.  If we 
can keep a hold on that reality even half of the time, perhaps we will 
be encouraged to dig deeper, ask more questions, work up a sweat, and 
immerse ourselves in our imperfectly complex and beauteous surroundings.
Come visit me at Lifeline if you want to get your hands in the dirt 

for a day!

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