By Cindy Jones
Everyone Knows you can’t get really good strawberries in the wintertime. Even in this day and age, when practically anything you want to eat is available all the time and in virtually endless supply, the strawberries remind us. Nature is no vending machine; if you want the really good stuff, you might just have to wait a while. No one needs to tell this to a small-scale farmer.
“There are limits to how quickly things can happen,” said Alice Skipton, and she speaks from down-to-earth experience. Alice and her husband, Craig, have worked the land at Heyday Farm since 2011 and have lived intimately with the rhythms, cycles and limits of the earth ever since. Heyday Farm is a 25-acre operation on the south end of the island; the meats, eggs, cheese and veggies it produces can be found in local shops and restaurants as well as its farm store in Lynwood Center. But you won’t find everything that it produces all the time; you’ll only find what’s in season, right here, right now. And as Alice explains, that doesn’t have to be a frustration.
“The limits are for something, not against something,” said Alice. In other words, the way they farm honors the earth rather than taking it for all they can get. And on a practical level, Heyday produces goods within the constraints of nature because, ultimately, no other way really works. Alice points out that a sustainable operation has to cooperate with the natural cycles, not oppose them. For instance, certain fields at Heyday are allowed to rest while chickens, cows and pigs are rotated around the farm in what Alice calls “the pasture dance.” That dance allows the animals and the land to support one another in ways that benefit both. The result may be less yield in the short run, but more fertile fields—and healthier animals—in the long run.
Their methods are labor intensive; small farms like theirs run largely on people power. But the hands-on treatment made possible by all those hands means far more humane conditions than most larger operations can provide. For example, industrial-sized farms often confine their sows in brutally small crates to prevent them from accidentally rolling onto their nursing piglets. At Heyday, in contrast, a worker supervises the babies’ mealtimes and moves any piglets that may be in danger.
By doing so, Heyday not only loses fewer piglets than the large operations, it provides an astronomically higher quality of life for their pigs. On this farm, that’s something that matters. “That honoring of life,” Alice said, “is a gift that’s so worth it.” It may take more time to raise food this way and the care that’s required doesn’t come cheap. But as Alice would point out, it’s a difference that’s not only worth paying for; it’s worth learning and spreading the word about. She adds that the real challenge to having sustainably farmed food may actually be sustaining the farms and farmers who provide it.
“We have amazing supporters on Bainbridge,” Alice said. “They get what it takes to farm this way.” The future depends on customers like these; the ones who understand the costs and complexity of producing food locally and humanely. Those customers are willing to pay a bit more and also willing to roll with the inevitable ups and downs in supply. They’re the ones who never complain about how hard it is to find good strawberries in January. As for Alice and Craig, their plan from the beginning has been to both acknowledge the limits they face and grow all the way out to the edges of them. “We want to run at capacity,” she said. To achieve that goal, the Skiptons are committed to using the farm’s resources to their fullest while still honoring the rhythms and cycles that are a part of its nature.