Whole System Farming at Camp Treetops & North Country School

Farm Blog Written By Nick Kramer

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Pigs in the Scotch Pine

Despite the challenges of alpine farming, tucked away as we are among the High Peaks, a summer stroll through the Treetops and NCS campus reveals a verdant creativity. Our succession of delicate forays into this natural ecosystem has been made by humans passionate about its beauty and excited to figure out ways in which we can seamlessly assimilate our own community into the older, wiser system. As human pressures on our planetary resources engage long-standing conversations about our species’ extractive agricultural tendencies, those of us on the farm agree that it is our job to educate and produce using not just currently prevalent technologies, but also to be a laboratory for emergent—or perhaps long-dormant—approaches to growing and harvesting food.

In the spirit of this common vision, even as annual production continues per usual, we are giving special emphasis this summer to projects involving the introduction of perennial plants, the synthesis of animal grazing and forest management, and the establishment of multi-species ecologies that minimize off-site inputs. To name a few:

  • Our pigs are happily grunting their way through a hitherto-unproductive stand of Scotch Pine, asserting their omnivorousness in their consumption of forest greens and ground insects. We farmers, delighted to see their increased vitality and general contentment, are hardly upset by their dwindling reliance on grain, nor its pleasant effect on the farm budget.
  • In Dexter Pasture, the sheep and their adopted adolescent billy goat make their way daily through new swaths of grass, preferring to chomp at the top of each stalk, and being sure to leave the woodier, protein-rich cuts for tomorrow’s follow-up team of laying hens. The birds’ appreciation, I’m sure, is not limited to these grassy leftovers, but extends also towards the insect congregations on the sheep’s so graciously-recycled nutrient piles.
  • The future site of our forest garden, having just been pig-tilled, is now home to an industrious flock of free-range laying hens whose aptitude for escaping their fencing is surpassed only by their ability to elude capture once they have done so. An armada of potted perennial warriors—seaberries, walking onions, hops, chives, rhubarb, hardy kiwi, etc.—sit on the Meadow House porch, patiently (or so we think) awaiting the day they will follow in the chicken’s footsteps and make their first acquaintance with mother earth.
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Hens in the Forest Garden

In every instance, the work that makes possible these exciting projects could not be accomplished without the enthusiastic assistance of our campers. From the constant fence relocation that conducts the aforementioned Dexter Orchestra, to the ceaseless diligence of those at Waiter’s Bell in reporting escaped hens, it is evident that without the help of all hands in our community, big or small, operations here on the farm would come to a scraping halt. We are blessed to have the entirety of both camps once each week for Community Morning, and then marvel at the expediency with which otherwise Sisyphean tasks come to a speedy conclusion.

As for myself, I am continually surprised and humbled by the thoughtfulness with which a 9-year-old can assume responsibility and concern for the well-being of an ewe twice their weight. I’m thankful that we have campers present to co-author this chapter in our farm’s story, and that I’m sometimes afforded a glimpse at the proceedings through their eyes. It helps to remind us why we do what we do, and it truly is a gift not all farmers receive.