In “Braiding Sweetgrass”, botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer recounts her freshman advisor asking her why she’d chosen to study botany: “I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together.” She was pleased with her answer, but the advisor was emphatically not. He responded that that was not science, and perhaps she should consider moving to the art department. Luckily for all of us, Kimmerer persevered and went on to marry science and beauty. When I first read this passage, as a Californian I could not easily picture these iconic plants of the Northeast and the vivid harmony between purple and yellow that the earnest young student had in her mind’s eye. A recent trip to Vermont, however, immersed me in the loveliness of both aster and goldenrod.
My husband, Warren, and I happened to visit the Northeast in early September during the height of “Goldenrod Season.” In southern Vermont, our wonderful friend and colleague, Judy Schwartz, showed us five different species of goldenrod and three different kinds of aster in her pollinator garden.
At nearby Studio Hill Farm in Shaftsbury, insect life of all sorts abounds on over 200 acres. With Judy as our guide, we walked up the hill to the actual studio (where goldenrod glowed against the cabin's weathered gray walls) and then over another hill to a pasture to visit the sheep. Each footstep in the thick moist grass was bouncing with life and revealed something that was either scurrying, humming, flying, or bouncing.
Ben, the friendly guardian donkey, greeted us while Farm Manager Miranda Richardson set up the portable fencing to rotate the herd of 200 Katahdin sheep. A working family farm since 1936, Studio Hill had been seriously degraded by chemical agriculture for decades when Cally and Jesse McDougall took over the reins. For the last eight or so years they’ve been moving management in a regenerative direction and watching life respond in the process. Not only have the insects returned but also birds and mammals. Studio Hill is a testament to regeneration and earlier this year it became the first accredited Savory Global Hub and Training Center in New England! If you need regenerating and are anywhere near southern Vermont be sure to book a Farm Stay at one of the two houses on this verdant property. The School House is perfect for a couple while the larger Hilltop House is a great place to gather with family and friends.
Judy also brought us to True Love Farm where she is a regular volunteer. Farmers Karen and Steven Trubitt specialize in organic produce and cut flowers. They sell all of their produce within a 35-mile radius of the farm! Karen led our tour and explained their soil-building strategies. She was frank about the challenges caused by an increasingly erratic climate.
In the west we often get too little rain so it is hard for us to imagine that in Vermont they have had far too much, resulting in “root rot” on staple crops such as lettuce. “We’re having to grow lettuce in our precious hoop houses this year, " Karen lamented. “Normally we’d have at least three rows of lettuce growing in the fields. Meanwhile, the potatoes are struggling with all the moisture.”
Despite the challenges and constraints, Karen finds sustenance in the natural beauty and True Love's CSA community. The Trubitts have created hedgerows for pollinators and during our visit, Karen was excited to discover a variety of butterfly she had not seen before. “I think it is some kind of a fritillary”, declared Judy while I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the butterfly and the goldenrod looked together. They say travel broadens the mind, but I think it also can feed the soul–especially when immersed in a place of striking natural beauty like Vermont and surrounded by people who are working to heal the earth they love.
By Diana Donlon / Soil Centric