My View

‘Mommy, can I pet a pig?’

June 8, 2013 

The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge makes a good first impression.

I visited the farm in Efland for the first time in mid-April when a neighbor organized a pollinator garden workshop there. I was keen to learn more about the plants I could grow to attract and help bees. I ended up leaving not only with ideas for my own yard but inspired to join the farm.

Initially, my kids weren’t so thrilled to spend a Saturday morning away from home and friends. The workshop sounded like work. “You didn’t tell us we’d get to feed cows!” they said later when they admitted to their dad that they’d had a good time.

While I toured the farm, on 17 acres next to Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center, they painted bricks to line the pollinator garden that we later would help install. Equestrian director and farm manager Chris Burtner told us the farm had started in 2006 with a few plantings of raspberries. Now it has rows of crops, an orchard and various livestock, including chickens, pigs, goats and cattle. The food raised – including meat, eggs and dairy products – are served in the camp’s dining hall, and farm members share in the produce’s harvest each time they work there.

To attract pollinators and other beneficial creatures to the farm, my neighbor Jennifer Carson – the farm’s former garden coordinator – helped obtain a grant from Weaver Street Market to plant the pollinator garden. With Geneva Green, president of the Orange County Beekeepers Association and owner of the landscaping business Geneva’s Gardens, Carson discussed the reasons for such plantings.

“I just want more biomass here,” she said, “and I want more beneficial insects and bats and birds to eat the bad.”

Those beneficial creatures help keep the population of crop-eating pests down while also pollinating plants.

“You really cannot fail at this if you attempt to attract more wildlife and more pollinators,” Green said, noting she’s come to love even yellow jackets. The wasps, like ants and bees, are members of the hymenoptera order of insects, which are great pollinators. In addition, the yellow jackets eat mosquitoes. “The best thing you can do is create diversity.”

After learning a bit about pollinators and pollinator plants, the group of about 30 people at the workshop helped dig holes and plant an ornamental garden as well as a learning bed. The learning bed, a garden row filled with one variety each of the perennial plants Green had selected for the ornamental garden, was strategically positioned next to the farm’s rows to attract pollinators to the crops.

Green talked about the plants as we worked and gave advice and praise. “I appreciate the care you’re taking with that gardenia,” she told one teenager. “It’s going to be a beautiful bush.”

In between listening to my urgings to get involved with the planting and mulching of the pollinator beds, my daughters raced around the farm, feeding found grubs to the chickens and discovering a four-leaf clover patch next to the pigs.

As I worked around roots with a trowel in the ornamental garden, my 8-year-old leaped on my back. “Mommy! Jennifer just pet a pig! Can I pet a pig?” She was off as soon as “Yes” left my lips. Later she was back with: “You’ve got to come pet a pig! It’s so awesome.”

I didn’t pet a pig. But I understood the joy she felt outside with our hands in the dirt and our focus on nature. While talking with Orange County resident Virginia Leslie, a member of the farm for four years, I knew my family would join. She visits the Community Farm once or twice a week and tries to eat from the garden all summer because it saves her money and she likes knowing where her food comes from.

“And it’s peace of mind,” Leslie said. “The whole world seems crazy, and I come out here and feel sane for a while.”

Catherine Wright lives in Hillsborough and homeschools her daughters. Write to her at catherine.wright@gmail.com.

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