The Grey Barn and Farm will clear one of its first big hurdles this summer. After three years of hard work, the farm expects to receive its certification as an organic farm.
During the three-year progress toward this milestone, Molly Glasgow and her husband, Eric, have converted part of what was Rainbow Farm in Chilmark, then owned by David Douglas, into what they plan as a sustainable organic farm. It has not been a simple process, and sustainability, by its nature, is a work in progress.
The Glasgows are well on their way to reaching their goals. To be eligible for certification, the land they farm must have had no prohibited materials applied to it for three years. They are now reaching that threshold. They have a farm stand, really more of a store, open from 7 to 7, selling raw milk from their grass-fed cows, eggs from their free range chickens, which waddle out of the way of the shoppers’ cars. They sell their own beef and pork and plan to produce cheese. They have the largest solar array on the Island, producing most of the electricity they use.
Ms. Glasgow detailed her family’s agricultural progress in a talk and slide show entitled “A View from The Grey Barn: Traditional Farming in the 21st Century” offered to a group of 20 at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum Library on Monday, March 12. She is a young, energetic, mother of two boys who go to the Chilmark School. She grew up in Texas and has a degree in sculpture from the Pratt Institute in New York.
With a streaming series of her photographs of life on the farm projected on the wall behind her, Ms. Glasgow said she and her husband had no previous farming experience, before setting out to create the Grey Barn operation. They spent nine months researching and learning about farming. “We learned to castrate piglets watching a video on YouTube,” she said.
When Ms. Glasgow asked one farmer what he thought the hardest part of farming was, he said you need to be okay with death. He asked her how she would deal with her animals dying.
“That has been hard for me,” she said. “I thought farming was about new calves and lambs. We try to think of our animals as having the happiest lives of any animals in the world.”
Ms. Glasgow got a big laugh from the audience when she said that she and her husband had always been interested in food and once dreamed about owning a restaurant, but after they had kids, they thought it might be too much work.
“So we thought, we’ll have a farm,” she said, adding sarcastically, “That was really clever.
“We suddenly decided that Eric should stop trading oil, which is what he did for 15 years, and start a dairy farm and make cheese.”
A native Swampscott, Mr. Glasgow graduated from the University of Chicago and worked as an oil trader in London.
They had often vacationed on the Island and wanted to set up shop here. “We saw the farm in Chilmark, covered in ice. I instantly fell in love with it, and we bought it.” They moved here from London in 2009.
“It’s really long hours and a lot of work,” Ms. Glasgow said. “There are special things you see every day. I wake up and see the chickens, the pigs, and the cows, and these were the things that drove me to wanting a farm.”
She said she hadn’t considered the parts of farming that were not a part of her “Sound of Music” vision. “It’s a lot more work. When I told my sister what we were planning to do, she said, ‘Oh Molly, you are such a dreamer.’
“I wrote down in my notes, ‘Tonight I’m here to talk about just how wrong my farming vision was. If I knew then what I know now, we’d still be living in London.’”
After more laughter, she continued, “It’s been a real surprise to me, in a good way: it’s the first time in my life that I’ve felt connected to the land.” But it has not been without some anxious moments. She talked about waking in the morning thinking about a dust bowl era movie she once saw and wondering what it would be like if she couldn’t feed her animals and couldn’t make anything grow.
“The farm keeps growing and has taken on a life of its own,” Ms. Glasgow said. They have hired two full-time farm hands and two women herders. Her work, she said, is morning to night, and when the sun goes down there’s paperwork. Monday night, after the kids are in bed, it’s the staff meeting, “pretty much just my husband and me. Trying to figure out what we can do to make things run better.”
Ms. Glasgow said that she has always considered herself to be a feminist and thought of herself as being able to do anything she wanted to do. “The hardest part of this for me has been that I was going to be the cheesemaker, but pretty much all I’ve made is hockey pucks and stuff that tastes like what you might lick off the floor.” She recently hired a cheesemaker who, she said, is like having a professor around “who always knows the answers to my questions.”
Ms. Glasgow, who once worked as an art director and has taken a lot of pictures, said that getting out into the fields, photographing the animals, has brought her closest to why she and her husband wanted to farm. “All the meetings and all the stress of animals getting out or of sick animals or of people not getting along, all fades away when Fat Sally (a pig) is giving birth and I have my camera,” she said.
During her talk her knowledge of the working details of the farm became more and more apparent. She talked about planting first with root crops to loosen the soil. “We realized that when you buy our meat or our milk, you are taking home our soil. Everything starts with the soil. We realized that our soil is the most important thing, and that’s what we work the hardest at.” She detailed many of their farming techniques, feeding methods, the rotation of animals in the fields, and she answered every question from the audience with authority.
She said they raise Dutch belted cows, one of only a few cows bred for double use. The males are raised for meat, the females, milk. “There are only about 600 registered in the States.” They produce easily digested milk, she added. The fat globules are exceptionally small without homogenization. Their animals are not fed grain. They eat sprouted barley grown on the farm, in addition to grass from the fields. The pigs roam the fields and the woods. “You can’t find an acorn in our woods.”
“I guess the biggest difference between traditional farming of 100 years ago and today is the increase in regulations and paperwork,” she said. “It requires more time managing, the farm, and the family.”
When does she expect her agricultural business venture to break even, she turned her head a notch, thought a moment and almost whispered, “Yeah, I guess that is a part of being sustainable.”