At Chewonki, we start our day with morning chores. Everyone is assigned to a specific area on campus and we all do our part to help keep communal spaces clean and functioning. But one cabin’s morning looks a little bit different. For two weeks every semester, each cabin does farm chores, which involves waking up a half-hour earlier, heading over to the farm and helping to clean the barn and take care of all the animals. My cabin was up first.
My job on the farm, along with one other cabin-mate, was looking after the cows. We would usually start with milking, which takes about 10-15 minutes. Then we would bring out bales of hay for the cows, fill their water bucket, muck out their covered area and cover it with fresh hay. Our tasks also included throwing down more hay from the hayloft, clearing out the milk room, sweeping the barn and filling the barn cats’ bowl with fresh milk.
Throughout my two weeks working there I learned more than I could have possibly imagined about the farm. It was a different type of learning than I was used to; I actually didn’t even realize that I was learning. I wasn’t being taught in a school room setting about sustainability, cow breeds, or the milking process. I wasn’t listening to a teacher drone on about farming–I was living it. This was hands-on, incredibly-relevant-to-my-life, learning. I now know how many stomachs cows have (four), how long dairy cows are milked for, the gestation period of a calf, why cows like second-cut hay more than first, and so much more.
None of this knowledge was forced, I just found I was naturally curious. Sitting and milking a cow for a quarter of an hour will do that do you. You want to know why you’re doing what you’re doing and about the animal you’re doing it to. It wasn’t part of any curriculum, just from casual conversation with Hillary and Lisa (two of Chewonki’s farmers) while sitting on crates on opposite sides of a cow’s udder.
The end of farm chores was bittersweet–definitely more bitter than sweet. I was glad for the extra 30 minutes of sleep at first, but I’ve found it’s actually more difficult to get up in the morning without the prospect of seeing Hazel (the youngest cow) waiting by the gate for her breakfast. I miss looking at the sunrise from over by the chicken coop, seeing how excited the pigs were for their slop, and the quiet walk to the farm with my cabin-mates every morning. Above all I miss being a part of something bigger than myself before even sitting down to breakfast.
Starting the day in the dark hours of the morning by shoveling cow manure into a smelly pig pen by the light of a headlamp may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea. But as it turns out, it was mine.
Lucy, Groton School, MA