When the pandemic hit, six-year-old Henry Scott was in kindergarten at Martha’s Vineyard Charter School and two-year-old Deirdre Scott was in kindergarten at First Light Child Development Center in Vineyard Haven.
Their parents, Julie and Laine Scott, worked day (and night) as farm managers at Slough Farm, where the family live.
Now the kids would be home all day. But what is agriculture if not adapting to the situation? Julie and Laine simply took the children to work on the farm.
Reed Cabot helps out at Brookside Farm. – Jeanne Shepard
“We did some disconnections and tag-teaming,” said Julie. But for many hours of the day the children were with one or both of them. “The pandemic has definitely changed their world,” she added.
At first glance when I visited the family this week, everyone flourished including the 15 beef cattle (mostly heirloom), 25 sheep, nine goats, 80 meat birds, 50 chickens. layers, 15 turkeys, four kittens, a cat and a dog. And the beautiful vegetable patch, where Laine introduced regenerative gardening to improve soil health. Slough Farm, a non-profit farm in Katama that started educational programs before the pandemic hit, donates much of its produce to island organizations that distribute food to the hungry.
Laine and Julie, who met in California 13 years ago, both have training in livestock management – Julie at the Farm Institute for seven years and Laine at The Gray Barn and Farm for five years. At Slough Farm, they split their roles – Julie is the animal manager and Laine is the garden manager.
Henry and Deirdre got into the serious business of looking after the kittens. When I got to the farm they generously offered Tiger Face and Meep Meep for hugs. Who doesn’t need a kitten hug, especially during a pandemic?
But this is only the start of children’s daily chores.
Everyone goes to the pasture by golf cart to move the cattle in the morning. Henry runs the razor, which Laine fitted with water tanks to fill the cattle’s waterers.
Depending on the pasture, the Scots sometimes move the cattle again in the evening. With rotational grazing, each section of grassy pasture not only has time to regenerate before the cattle return, but the chickens (in a mobile housing) arrive three days after the cows have left to clean up the pastures. cow, devour flies, larvae and other insects for protein.
The movable fence is “hot”, and the kids know it, waiting for mom and dad to say the word before moving in to visit the cows. They know mothers by name; Julie bought Xuxu, a British American White Park cow, from the Farm Institute, and she is everyone’s favorite. Long-haired, photogenic cattle are the Scottish breed known as the Highland. Five of the cows are pregnant.
After moving the cattle, Laine attaches the mobile Shade Haven (essentially a giant umbrella on a trailer) and tows it to the new pasture. Driving the trailer is probably the favorite part of Henry and Deirdre’s morning chores, although they also enjoy filling waterers and checking in with the goats and sheep hanging out with the cattle.
Deirdre and Henry Scott help out at Slough Farm. – Jeanne Shepard
But even before the pandemic, Henry and Deirdre got off to a good start in breeding. Julie is also vice president of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society and led the return of a national 4H chapter to the island. She oversees the island’s youngest group of 4H kids – the Cloverbuds (ages five to eight) – who until March met at Slough Farm once a week.
Now that nanny Emily Gechtman has been here for two months, Julie and Laine have more hours in the working day without the kids on hand. Who knows what awaits us for September. But at this point, the imprint is made.
“I think they first really bonded with the animals when we had to bottle-feed a lamb,” Julie said.
“And now they’re out all day,” Laine added. “I live vicariously through them,” he added.
There is special joy in seeing children experience both the freedom to be outdoors and the increased self-esteem that comes from caring for a farm animal. This is something unique in a rural environment like the vineyard, and another way our lives here, for better or for worse, can cushion a seismic shock like the one we have experienced in recent months. There is a reassuring routine in life on the farm: animals must be fed and cared for, food must be raised and processed.
Across the island on Middle Road in Chilmark, fifth-grader Reed Cabot has been tending to yearlings Spot and Sparkle since they were babies. Born at Mermaid Farm across the street, the two male cattle would have had a different fate on the dairy farm (where cows of the female gender are obviously a little more useful!) Had they not been chosen. to cross the street and join Buddy and Boy, the famous 20-year-old pair of oxen who fascinate passers-by. Oxen are castrated male cattle that are trained to be draft animals; there is a long history of their productive contribution to the vineyard.
Reed met Spot and Sparkle when they were a week old. “I was going to visit them and they were starting to lick me,” Reed told me when I visited him in Brookside last week. “And then one day they were here and I was asked to bottle feed them and it was super fun.”
The Brookside Farm rabbit enjoys a snack. – Jeanne Shepard
Since then, Reed’s mother, Nicole, drops Reed off at the farm every day after school. Surprisingly, Reed’s grandmother Nancy Cabot used to visit Brookside Farm after school when she was young. It was a dairy farm then, and Nancy helped put the caps on the milk bottles.
For Reed, the best part of her time on the farm is watching Spot and Sparkle grow up. They have different personalities, she explained. “Spot thinks he’s a dog. It follows you everywhere and licks you. Sparkle is tough, but he’s really a little shy.
The two young oxen love each other and didn’t want to part when they first stepped out to graze in the pasture, Reed noted. Now they are more confident.
Even the casual observer can see that Reed has accomplished something with his gentle, animal-friendly approach. She socialized them. She walks with them, talks to them, strokes them and feeds them, and they respond to her with cow’s kisses and loyal company.
Reed loves all animals, she said, and may one day see herself as a breeder. She loved studying beluga whales at Chilmark School, at home she has dogs and chickens, and she recently received a floppy-eared bunny named Chip as a gift from Hilary Blocksom, the longtime caretaker of Brookside Farm. Chip lives in the Brookside barn, where Reed stops daily to pet Chip and feed him carrots before leaving to greet the oxen.
It’s not clear when or if Spot and Sparkle will be formed as a work team, but their first star tour could enter this year’s virtual agricultural show. Reed will help them prepare for a video appearance – the virtual runway to show off their stuff. Whether or not a blue ribbon follows does not matter; Reed’s love for Spot and Sparkle is unwavering.