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Lights on Laurentians: Strength of Communion

Photo by Kelsey Mattison
Written by Kelsey Mattison

“Hi love, how are you?” says Steve, whose voice sounds remarkably like Jeff Bridges’s.

“Good!” replies Dulli, coming in to the main house from a soggy day’s work in the field.

The kitchen is bustling with cheerful greetings and small talk as the group begins to gather into the old homestead for dinner. It is a big room with wooden floors and cozy lighting. There are pots and pans and baskets and things everywhere you turn, strongly suggesting this place is loved.

Kate turns around from the stove, wooden spoon in hand, smothered in a delicious smelling dahl, while revealing her pregnant belly. “Ooof,” she sighs, and pivots to the tower of colorful shelves to the right that make up the wall, a dwelling for jars and spices and books and tea and strainers and…a bag of raisins? Seeds maybe?

It seems that anything you could ever need is right here in this room, but only if you can find it. Though at first glance it looks in disarray, if you look a little more carefully you find that everything has a comfortable home: like the knives hanging on an apparatus above the cutting board countertop, and the oversized mason jar of wooden spoons of all shapes and sizes next to the stove. It is carefully constructed chaos, and the love is palpable.

Birdsfoot Farm is an intentional community of nine adults and two children that has been growing certified organic vegetables for over forty years now. Based in Canton, New York, Birdsfoot holds a year-round Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, a program that people can buy into and from it receive fresh organic vegetables on a weekly basis. Though organic veggies are delicious, and supporting local agriculture is important, what’s most unique is the undeniably tight-knit community that has formed on these 72 acres.

Dulli, the head farmer and one of the longest standing members of Birdsfoot, came here from Germany to pursue an internship in the early nineties. “Community was the answer to sharing the cost of land and labor,” she says, explaining how she got involved here after a childhood in Hamburg.

Dulli leads me into the charming old, red barn as a light rain pitter patters on the tin roof. She takes me on a full-fledged tour of the property and the houses on it, telling me about each one’s history and how Birdsfoot came to be as prosperous a community as it is today. “The farm was started by six Harvard graduates in 1972 who tried to do the hippie thing, you know, living together and sharing the deed. But the barn and the main house were built in 1850.” The wear and tear on these old buildings give them a visibly deep and charming history.

Each member of the Birdsfoot Family, besides Dulli, also works in town during the day. And all of them have hometowns across the country and even the world. Their diverse backgrounds add to the colorful dynamic that they create in their cozy union.

With 72 acres of land holding vegetables, flowers, pastures, forest, wetlands, and orchards, there is always something to do at Birdsfoot. “When I came in as an intern, everyone was farming. Now, I am the only farmer,” says Dulli in a playful and sing-songy voice. Though her husband Steve helps, and she gets assistance from other members of Birdsfoot and students from St. Lawrence University, running a farm is a full-time job.

She leads me through various fields and wooded areas, pointing out each house and giving me their names. They too become characters in the story and members of the community. The houses have all been built by members of Birdsfoot. We stop and she motions to what is called the Columbine House, a modest abode with tan siding and a brown roof on the farthest end of the property. “Doug, who was the oldest was supposed to live there,” she tells me, “but his ex-lover had left and he didn’t want to live in it without her, so the house went to Patreesha!”

We keep walking and Dulli brings me inside her own home, the Hugging House. She opens the huge wooden door with a deep moan from the hinges, and all my senses are greeted by life.  The back wall is paneled with windows, that, even in the gloom of the rain, fill the space with exuberant light. In front of the windows rests a long row of germinating plants, preparing to take on the outside world after being nurtured by Dulli all winter. They seem ready.

The walls are covered in colorful quilts and childhood artwork, and there are clothes hanging from every banister, drying from a recent wash. Upstairs, there is a floor-to-ceiling stained glass window, and next to it a dresser with its top drawer open and clothes strewn about. “This is Kira’s mess here, don’t mind,” says Dulli, placing responsibility for the disorder on her 14-year-old daughter. Dulli closes the drawer and we keep moving.

Next she shows me their outhouse. None of the houses have running water, so the waste is collected and composted. She opens the door revealing an array of postcards, yellow and orange walls, and a folksy candle holder made from an old Sam Adams bottle. “Kira was actually afraid of flushing toilets for a long time,” explains Dulli with a light chuckle. “Outhouses are so peaceful.” We slosh through mud, away from the outhouse and toward the main house as dinner time is fast approaching.

Walking down a rocky path, telling me about salsa dancing with Steve, Dulli suddenly stops and her voice drops to a hushed whisper. “Two hundred million years ago,” she starts, “two giants walked by, and the one giant’s like ‘Ahhh, I’ve got a pebble in my shoe’ and he took off his shoe and whoosh! Pebble came out.” She giggles, standing next to the pebble, which is actually a glacial outcropping about 10 feet tall.

After a short walk, we are back at the main house and everyone is starting to gather into the kitchen.

“Smells like time for dinner!” exclaims Patreesha, a small, middle-aged woman who has the light, airy voice of a 22-year-old.

“Kira, sunshine, there’s food out!” yells Steve.

“Okay!” shouts the teenybopper from the other room.

“Hi!” bursts Milo, the youngest member of the crew. Everyone turns to him with a smile, and dinner commences.

The energy in the room is tangible. Everyone talks about their day and a small, comical coincidence involving a mug.

“I wonder how Molly Canter is,” muses Patreesha.

“Who is this?” inquires Kate.

“She came here as Sharon.”

“I think we went to a wedding or something of hers,” interjects Steve, quizzically.

“Is she from Massachusetts?” asks Kate. “I have a mug that Milo just recently broke that said Molly Canter on the bottom.”

“She was a resident here!” exclaims Patreesha.

“She’s an ex-Birdsfooter, that’s hilarious!” exclaims Kate, realizing the connection.

The rest of the company marvels over the mug and the ‘small world’ feeling that has arisen from its presence. It seems that this community has reached further than anyone could have ever guessed. And that is something special. These people have made lifelong connections. Whether they live at Birdsfoot their whole lives, or for a year or two, that connection and that place remains with them forever, as they too remain within it. Every Birdsfooter has left their mark, whether it be positive or negative, the Farm has been shaped by the people just as much as the people have been shaped by the Farm. These connections and strength of communion are what keep Birdsfoot together.

About the author

Kelsey Mattison