By: Sofia Dewey
‘Fia’s got moon boots!
Scott, a burly southern Ohioan man who never takes off his hat, points at my silver rain boots and passes me on the gravel path between the farm store and bird barn. I am speed-walking through a trail of puddles, a fifty-pound bag of chicken mash slung over my right shoulder.
Were you expecting something else?
Scott chuckles and disappears into the house behind me.
Scott is married to Tamsin, a strong and kind woman who grew up an hour north of London- after moving to the U.S a few decades ago, she began, in her own words, a career in “god-forsaken corporate America”.
In May 2014, she and Scott bought 60 acres in Burton, Ohio: they’ve dedicated the past eight and a half years to creating a regenerative and sustainability-based farm that has become home to around 300 free-range chickens, 50-60 Red Devon cows, a herd of sheep, a few pigs, and a small clique of passive-aggressive geese. I spent the Saturdays of this past summer as part of their five-person team. There is Jack, a six-foot-four Hercules who just graduated from a high school in Cuyahoga Falls, and Kat, a feisty, overworked, pre-vet student at Findlay. Monday through Friday, Scott works at the body shop he owns 45 minutes away. Tamsin is the only person home while he is gone: she cleans chicken and geese stalls, drags hay from the second floor of their main barn, herds the cows and sheep through a maze of different pastures, feeds the pigs, and runs the farm store. When I met Tamsin for the first time in late April of 2021, I asked if the workload felt too heavy. She was quiet for a few seconds before she broke into a smile.
I’m a little tired. But I love it. And my animals. They’ve got it so much better here than the other places around… That’s what matters.
Toast, a few of her piglets, and one of many groups of free-range chickens (June and July 2021)
The first few weeks I was there, I didn’t interact much with anyone except Kat: we dealt with the poultry livestock, and I saw Tamsin in fleeting moments between her customers at the store while I walked from the chicken tractors to the greenhouse.
Scott was quiet: he looked like a stereotypical farmer– out of place in a remodeled, white granite kitchen, ironically styled in “farm-house chic”.
On my third Saturday, when the five of us stood in front of the farm store under a cloudy morning sky, Scott announced that,
‘Fia’s comin’ with me. Gon’ show her the pas’ures.
We rode in loud silence on a John Deere Gator across the back path- Scott occasionally talked about how he hated using it:
Flattens the earth. No good for de’ soil. Dampens the nutriens’ and nothin’ grows.
When we reached our destination, a shaded grove of trees, Scott stepped on the electric fence and led me over it. As I followed him through pastures of tall grasses, he pointed out dents in the ground, bare of any growth, and shook his head.
Hasn’ grown back yet. Should be fine in a few months. Cows love it.
Scott bent down to break off a few strands and spread them across his palm, outstretched towards me.
See dis’? Switchgrass. Panicum virgatum. Best bunchgrass we have here. And this?
He pinched a wide, green strand between his fingers:
Fescue. Festuca arundinacea. Basic. The rest we need more of. Ryegrass, timothy, scutch. Cynodon.
I tell him I’ve never heard the different breeds before. He flips his palm upside down and keeps walking, shaking his finger at me.
‘Course you wouldn’t. N’one knows anythin’ anymore. You’re quiet. We’ll teach you.
Herding is a daunting task. For a team of five people, greatly outnumbered by livestock, the methods to corralling animals range from few and far in between: I have used a four-wheeler to scare cows into jumping over 4-foot fences, yelled and waved my arms at unphased sheep, and acted as a human claw machine to recover runaway chicks. Of the many “culture shocks” I encountered at Chander Hill Farm, one of the most significant was that every creature has a name– and they know it.
A Moscovy duck that looked oddly similar to Elvis Presley, and three passengers: Zeus, Maya, and Chica
Tamsin–lean, tall, and the owner of a permanent tan– is a sheep whisperer. She appears from inside the house and walks through the pasture, rattling a half-full pail of feed, calling out to her old lady.
An older sheep emerges, trotting after the woman who, in the afternoon sun, looks like a daughter of Demeter. Thirty seconds later, she is the leader of a pack of 40 sheep. Scott, coming from the opposite direction, walks next to the running cows, talking to them as if they are stubborn children, chastising the stragglers and signaling me to start the four-wheeler.
Their bull, a 2,100-pound beast of an animal, is named Ace. According to Scott, he is on a diet, and is making good progress. On my first day, Scott leads Kat and I over a hilly pasture to move Ace and, standing in the middle of the field, calls out to him like he is a puppy. Ace lumbers over to him, ignoring Kat and I’s backs pressed up against the fence.
One of their pigs, a new mother to seven, is Toast. She is large (about a quarter of a ton), angry, and territorial, and I am often sent to her stall with an armful of overgrown garlic scapes. When mother and children are reunited after half the piglets have been castrated, Kat scratches the top of her head and calls her Mummas, cooing at her as if she did not almost rip a barn door off its hinges.
Ace, Chander Hill’s lone bull, moving between pastures (June 2021)
There is a never-ending sense of togetherness. I spent most of the summer working with Kat, but when construction of the new farm store began, Scott handed me a nail gun and gave me a ladder. Jack, his right-hand man, (not a fan of high-powered tools) took to digging 4-foot-deep holes in record time for support beams. Scott obsessively measured the distance between the posts, handing me the end of a measuring tape and instructing me where to stand, shaking his head at the often miniscule differences in lengths. Kat helped me rip up old barn wood and uncoiled power cords. The four of us, through bright orange ear plugs, listened to country-covers of pop songs blasted through speakers by Scott.
In talking to my friends about my time there, I find myself using the phrase:
Well, they’re farmers, but-
I notice that, like most of the people that have never actually owned a farm, there is an ingrained sense of superiority to those that work in agriculture and livestock. For years, I have made the joke that I will drop out of school and start one. If I fail my math test, I will move to the countryside and grow vegetables. If I get rejected from university, I will become a farmer.
My friends and family laugh because it is a warped form of common sense. To those I have spoken to, farming is portrayed as the last resort: those who make their living from it have no other option- it is a lifestyle for the unintelligent and unambitious.
Scott graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati. Before the death of his father, Tamsin tells me, he was on the path to a high-power career in San Francisco. Tamsin was a professor in England before moving to the States and working in the manufacturing and sales of medical equipment. Their lives before the farm are everything I used to associate with people who aren’t farmers. When I learned of their pasts, the first question that came to mind was how they got to where they are now. The only answer is passion. Tamsin and Scott are some of the most dedicated people I have met. They truly care about making a difference in the world as well as the lives of others, and are (contrary to the gruff, no-nonsense, stereotypical image of farmers) incredibly kind. They have no children together, but they treat their three golden retrievers like rebellious teens, and call their newborn calves little boy and little girl (no names– when they are sent off to join the farm store produce, they get picked up by someone else: Tamsin and Scott, for moral and legal reasons, refuse to do it themselves).
Little Boy, around 3 hours old (late June, 2021)
At the end of the summer, I was sent home with two bundles of garlic scapes, a jar of natural honey, a bar of handmade soap, three lamb chops, and a bittersweet feeling that as much as I loved this farm, I would not be back for a while. This was a parting gift, handed to me with a smile by Tamsin. Jack had left two weeks prior on a football scholarship to Chicago, and Kat had gone back to Findlay a week before– I was starting junior year in three days. Tamsin had found two Amish boys that would be working there on the weekends in our place. This part of my life had ended, but it was just another Saturday for the couple that had taught me an immeasurable amount of new knowledge. Part of me was searching for a way to thank Tamsin and Scott, to tell them that I would never see the world in the same way again– I had only just been introduced to an entirely new realm of learning, and already I was leaving it behind.
But it was 5 pm, and my shift had ended: I was sweaty and tired, and my shoulder hurt. I smiled back at Tamsin, the paper bag of goodies tucked under my arm, and told her I would miss the chickens (sarcasm). Scott appeared from the main barn and stood next to Tamsin, waving at me with one hand and holding three retrievers back with the other. I drove across the gravel driveway, my moon boots sitting in my trunk.