by melissa on March 5, 2014 | 0 comments
Lastly, the once the sap has moved from the sugarbush to the sap house it is boiled in the evaporator and made into maple syrup…
Click on the image to enlarge it:
Lastly, the once the sap has moved from the sugarbush to the sap house it is boiled in the evaporator and made into maple syrup…
Click on the image to enlarge it:
Once the taps are in, the sap begins flowing from the sugarbush to the sap house. Most of the immediate work in the sugarbush is done for the time being, and the staff’s efforts shift more to the sap house.
Click on the image to make it larger:
Tapping is happening.
The apprentices and staff are working to insert plastic spouts into the 3,000 sugar maple trees that make up the sugarbush. With warmer weather on the way (we hope, we think?!), the sap should be flowing in the next few weeks.
This image gives a quick overview of what our sugaring operation look like in the sugarbush (you can click on the image to make it larger):
Last Thursday, Lance Mauk, a student from Green Mountain College came to visit for the day. He came to Merck to fulfill one of his course assignments; his mission was to shadow Tom, the executive director, for the morning; watching his daily activities and asking questions about the tasks that Tom does.
Lance started his morning by attending the staff meeting, where he was briefed on the sugaring operation, plans for the maple breakfast, and lambing. He then went with Tom to visit Elizabeth at the post office (Tom is Merck’s mail carrier). Then they went to visit the farm before returning to the Visitor Center for a Q and A session in front of the fire place.
When I had the opportunity to talk with Lance later in the morning, he asked me a very important question: “It seems to me that Merck Forest and Green Mountain College have very similar goals. Why is there not more collaboration between the two organizations?”
Good question, Lance.
Sustainable institutions across the state converse all the time. Part of being “sustainable” implies that community collaborations and connections are formed and maintained. As Merck Forest strives to demonstrate what it means to be sustainable, we hope we will also be able to share with our visitors the importance of community to the framework of sustainability.
Written by Melissa Carll
Winter is a beautiful time to stay at the cabins, and February is a great month to be out in the woods. The day light lingers for a little longer, and often the days are a bit warmer than in January, and, as is the case this year, there is snow still on the ground.
Campers line up with their skis or snowshoes, sometimes pulling a sled, and spend a cozy weekend hiking and relaxing by the woodstove. There is nothing cheerier than returning from an afternoon of walking through the woods to a warm, glowing cabin.
Thanks to Alice Murphy for sending in this photo. She stayed out Ridge Cabin over the weekend.
With sleigh rides and new apprentices dominating the posts lately, the sheep have not really been in the limelight. However, lambing is just around the corner.
The ewes have a gestation period of roughly 5 months. They were bred in the fall, and their lambs are due to begin dropping on March 15, or thereabouts. The lambs will be around for the Maple Celebration, tails wiggling as they nurse from their moms; bleating and doing their legs-kicked-up dance around the pasture.
For anyone that comes to visit in the next few weeks, though, be on the look out for signs that the lambs are on their way.
What to look for:
Pregnant ewes have a rounder belly area towards the end of their gestation, though it can be hard for a person that does not see sheep often to tell. The belly will “drop” before the ewe is ready to lamb, and her flanks will become more visible.
A few days before lambing, a ewe’s udders will “bag up”, becoming much fuller, and heavier, looking, and filled with the lamb’s first milk (known as colostrum).
In the days before birthing, a ewe’s vulva will be noticeably swollen.
Behavior-wise a ewe may begin to act oddly, especially right before the birth: pawing the ground, stamping, sometimes laying down, or standing away from the flock.
Keep a look out for lambs on your visits to the farm in this next month. Lambs will be here soon!
Green Mountain College, located 30 minutes north of Merck Forest in Poultney, Vermont, is a small school. But, it’s depth and breadth of classes, based in a mission of environmental understanding, make it a unique educational institution.
GMC students frequently come to Merck Forest. They often visit with their professors and spend a day in the woods, or come out for a weekend to get a break from their studies.
This past weekend a group of students came to go camping. They were taking part in our dispersed tent camping option, and they were learning to be outdoor leaders for future adventures.
The group came into the Visitor Center in the late morning, after taking off their snowshoes and packs, leaving them in a row outside. They gathered around the fire, looking over the maps for a good place to spend the night (somewhere relatively flat, big enough to accommodate 9 students and tents).
After selecting the area, they gathered their belongings, posed for a picture, and then hiked out, excited to set up camp early and have the rest of the day to explore the trails.
A few weeks ago, Martha, an apprentice in 2012, emailed to ask if she could have some of the raw wool stored in the Harwood Barn. When she was living at the Lodge, crafty fiber artist Martha spent much of her time spinning raw wool into skeins that she then knit or wove into various projects.
Since the end of her apprenticeship, Martha has traveled the country multiple times, recently finishing making a documentary with a group that paddled down the entire Mississippi River. Now, she’s ready to get back to her art (though, I feel she probably had her knitting needles with her during the canoe trip).
Two weeks ago, we sent Martha a box with fifteen pounds of raw wool. She sent us this card in thanks. She’ll be writing about, or recording, the products she makes with the wool.
Considering her talent and penchant for fiber arts, plus her super awesome personality, I encourage you to keep checking back to see what Martha creates, it’s bound to impress.
Written by Melissa Carll, Communications Coordinator
At the start of every year Merck Forest begins to transform. MFFC transforms from a working farm to working sugarbush. While many are shut away indoors bundled in sweaters, huddled around the woodstove, the MFFC Farm Staff is braving the cold windy Merck days others know all too well. They are out in the thick of it, clearing lines, tapping trees, and working hard to make sure the sap is ready to flow. This process begins in January and continues through February. Once the sap starts running, the transition from sugarbush to sap house happens, and the real work starts.
During the month of March, the farm staff works diligently in the Frank Hatch Sap House. Boiling becomes an around the clock affair, all in the pursuit of that sticky, sweet, absolutely delicious maple syrup. Up here on the mountain, that’s something we like to celebrate!
Every year Merck participates in the Bennington County Sugarmakers’ Maple Open House Weekend. It’s a lovely weekend composed of sugarmakers all over Bennington County sharing their beloved trade. Boiling, tasting, and tours are just a few of the activities happening around the area. At Merck we take great pride in our organic maple syrup. As such, we enjoy celebrating this grand weekend by way of a pancake breakfast!
Putting on The Merck Forest Maple Celebration is no easy task. We’ve done it every year for the better part of a decade. People just love it! Spring fever hits and the sap house fills with people both Saturday and Sunday.
This event takes time, organization, and lots of extra hands. As with any event we put on here at MFFC, staff time is precious, but volunteer time is invaluable. Having volunteers help us to execute pancake flipping, sausage sizzling, beverage dispensing, table cleaning, and many other great activities makes the weekend run much, much more easily.
If you would be interested in volunteering for the Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast, Saturday, March 22 & and Sunday, March 23, 2014 we want to hear from you! For more information on volunteering and other ways to lend a hand for the Maple Celebration, or any time, please contact Amy by phone: 802-394-7836 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The maple sugaring season might be at the end of winter, a welcome to early spring, but the maple syrup process is a year-round endeavor.
Merck Forest sells its organic syrup all year from the Visitor Center and online. There is always a demand to have the sweet amber liquid in bottles.
As such, Amy, or sometimes Kathryn, and the apprentices will make a day of it in the canning room.
During the sugaring season, the syrup that is boiled is then stored in large drums. As it is needed, the syrup is then taken from the drums, run through a filter press, heated to the appropriate temperature (between 180 degrees and 200 degrees), and canned into our plastic containers and new glass containers.
The process takes the better part of an eight hour work day (much of that time is spent in the set up and clean up of canning). Especially in the winter when the frigid temperatures can sometimes freeze a hose or pipe.
But, once the water is boiling, the syrup heated, and the whole process working, the canning room is warm…steamy, in fact. As soon as you walk into the sap house, you’ll know our staff is at work because the entire building has that sweet maple smell to it.
If you ever stick your head in the door of the sap house, and smell that maple scent, canning is probably taking place.
Check out the new glass growlers of syrup. They are a nice addition to the shelves in the Visitor Center.
So far this winter it has alternately been frigid (today has not yet climbed above -15 degrees F) and spring-time warm. The fluctuations in temperature make it very hard to plan for sleigh rides. We are not sure if there will be snow, or if the weather will be so cold as to prohibit running the sleigh (for the safety of the horses and the passengers).
Next week looks more promising. Temperatures above zero, and the chance of snow on several days. This weekend in fact might be one of the better weekends yet. We invite you to come and take a sleigh ride around the farm and forest.
A welcome to Merck Forest’s new apprentices. Rose, Sarah, and Tyler moved in last week, and they are just finishing up their orientation at the end of this week. We are excited to have them onboard! Please, see their bios on the “About Us” page, and stop by to say hello next time you visit.
Several posts ago, it was mentioned how snow wakes this place up. Merck Forest sees many visitors in the later summer months through foliage, and then there is a quiet time until right before the winter holidays. As soon as the ski resorts open up, and there is snow on the ground here, we are busy again through the winter.
The cabins are a huge draw during the winter. In fact, the weekends are booked from now until the end of March (there is a waiting list though, in case anyone is interested). If there is snow on the ground campers will cross-country ski or snowshoe in to the cabin, often pulling their gear on sleds. If they are lucky, someone will have stayed at the cabin before them and there might be warm embers in the woodstove.
Last weekend was incredibly chilly. Campers reported back to the Visitor Center that they had a great time, the snow was spectacular, and they set alarms to wake them up every few hours to stoke the stove. It takes effort to stay warm in conditions so cold. But it is worth all the effort, and all the gear, to see a beautiful sunset across the snowy fields, to find the tracks of animals you didn’t even know had passed before you, and to while-away the dark evenings with a brightly burning wood stove, hot chocolate, and stories.
Let us know your cabin stories. How was your weekend? What did you see, or what didn’t you see that made for a great getaway?
Yesterday, when we arrived at work the thermometer at the Visitor Center read negative 2 degrees F. If it had not been windy, it would have been a beautiful, sunny morning. But it was windy. Merck windy. The farm area funnels the wind from all points, and creates a microclimate that can be vastly different from the lower elevations, and even the Visitor Center.
But yesterday, even the Visitor Center shook when the wind blew. Ellie the Cat does not like to go out when there is snow on the ground and it is cold. If it is windy and the ground is frozen, she’ll get just outside the door before freezing in her tracks. She’ll hunch down, almost like she is thinking to herself, “it looked sunny and warm from the window. What is this cold gale doing blowing around?”, and she’ll immediately race back to the door, meowing frantically until someone lets her back inside. She doesn’t realize how lucky she is. While the farm animals rely on shelters and their thick skin, fur, or wool to keep them warm, and the forest animals hibernate and hunker down during the colder months, Ellie Cat can return to a heated structure with ample food supplies.
After Ellie’s thirty second outdoor excursion in the morning, she opts to find a warm place to sleep for the rest of the day. Usually it is someone’s lap.
Who doesn’t like a warm, purring, lap blanket?
On Monday morning, during the first Group Sleigh ride of the day, everyone got a little unexpected excitement.
Mae and June were hitched to the sleigh, waiting patiently by the Visitor Center. Colene was on the driver’s seat talking to one of the excited riders, one of a group from Dorset, and Tim was in mid conversation with some of the party interested in the draft horses. Several people were already loaded on the sleigh, ready to go.
Suddenly, the horses put their ears back.
Tim, in his calm, but very insistent voice, asked Colene to “quick, grab the reins”, and she did, without any hesitation.
What was the cause for the alarm? Well, Ms. Plum had come at her quick pig trot down from the farm trail and aimed her snout right in the direction of the sleigh. She gave everyone a sniff (the horses were still unnerved by the swine’s unexpected appearance), and then the sow ambled down the driveway.
At this point Tim had climbed onto the sleigh, and Colene jumped down and asked Amy to go grab from bird seed from the V.C., something to lure Plum back up to the farm. By the time the bird food was collected in a chip bowl, Plum was meandering through the parking lot. One sniff of the seed though and she followed Colene back up the driveway, and along the farm trail to her paddock at the farm.
The sleigh ride guests had an exciting start to their morning, and further had a great time on the sleigh. All around it was an interesting morning.
Note to visitors: sometimes our animals do escape from their pastures. Something may spook them, or sometimes the grass really does seem greener on the other side of the fence. If you ever see one of the sheep, pigs, or horses out of a fenced-in area, please find a staff member and alert him or her. If you find an escapee after hours, and a staff member is not around, please note that there is a number by the phone outside the caretaker’s cabin for such occasions.
The forest is truly resplendent right now.
Sometimes, especially during the growing season, it is easier to focus on the farm; the activity seems to center more on the animals and the plants. But once that hub goes into its annual semi-dormancy, the forest reclaims a prominent position.
When it is dressed out in its icy, snowy splendor, it’s hard not to awe at the beauty winter can bestow on the woods.
People have been calling every morning for sleigh rides. The parking lot is full with people going snowshoeing and skiing. Families with dogs in tow, some pups wearing sweaters or booties on their paws. Little kids dressed in snowsuits that are so puffy they waddle when they walk and can’t put down their arms.
The snow wakes this place up.
Mae and June, the draft horses on loan from True Love Holsteins farm in North Rupert, make a pretty sight here at the farm.
These ladies are not just for show, they are also here to help out Merck Forest’s working farmscape. This winter, the team of Belgians will help pull the sleighs. While the sources differ on how much weight a team of Belgians can pull, it seems relatively safe to say that a draft team similar in weight and size to these two pretty ladies can pull at least twice their weight (so, if Mae and June each weigh close to 2,000lbs, they can each pull 4,000lbs individually, and 8,000lbs total as a team).
That makes the sleigh rides seem like a cinch, even the group sleigh weighted down with 12 people wrapped up under wool blankets. Our horses, Ellie and Daisy, and these newcomers, are shod with winter shoes, which give the horses better stability on snowy slopes. Their thick winter coats are extremely warm, and if the horses do sweat during a sleigh ride, they will be given good care so as to ensure they do not cool down too quickly.
They come to us as unknown quantities, dreamers, believers, doers…. They listen well, learn quickly, teach often, and give always… Smiles come easily to them, and positive reinforcement goes out to those around them by a seemingly osmotic process… Clearly, they give more than they get, and seem not to be troubled in the least by that dynamic…They have built much of what Merck Forest & Farmland Center, Inc. has become, and they do it with such grace and generosity of spirit, that it may be taken for granted at times. Such is not the case at this time.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our first cohort of year-long apprentices for continuing the traditions modeled by so many interns who preceded them. Emilie Schwartz, Becca Osborne, and Carolyn Loeb have been incredibly productive, hard working, and, above all, “happy campers” during their tenure with us. I miss them already, but look forward to learning of how they pursue their dreams. I wish each of them a fond “farewell”, secure in the knowledge they already know how to succeed in life. Their successes confirm the dreams articulated by George Merck more than sixty years ago and bode well for the organization’s future.
While thinking about Carolyn, Becca, and Emilie’s departure later this week, I started to wonder about where so many of the past interns, resource assistants, and apprentices may be? It seems that many have gone on to serve in either a farming or forestry job area, and so much of the work they are doing is incredibly interesting and environmentally and socially important.
Many past interns come in to the Visitor Center. All of us love to hear their stories, know what projects they undertook while here, and what they have done since leaving this beautiful place. If you worked here for a week or several years, we would love to hear from you. Share your story with us! Knowing what happened in the past gives us a solid foundations for the work we do now, and for our future planning. Email email@example.com.
Carolyn, Becca, and Emilie are finished with their year-long apprenticeship at the end of this week. They are the first group of “apprentices” in recent years, and the first group to be hired on to work three weeks shy of a year.
Saying goodbye to our past interns and apprentices is always both a happy and somber event, but this year seems to be a special mix of both feelings.
Carolyn is like a bright ray of sunshine where ever she walks, and its not just the sun glinting off her blonde head. Throughout the year, she smiled and laughed all the time, and her positive attitude carried her well through the 11 months here at Merck Forest. “I’m not sure, but I’ll figure it out” and “Great job, guys” were two phrases that I would often hear her say. Not to mention, if you want a great lady to lead your education programs from kids to adults, Carolyn is one of the best, and natural, teachers out there.
Becca too has carried such positive enthusiasm to each task that she does. If there was a tricky task, or conflicting ideas over how to tackle a project she would often listen to all points, sometimes relent her own, and sally-forth with the job to be done. More and more as the year progressed, I noticed how she would listen to everyone, but also began to stick to her own guns. Becca is a quiet encourager and leader, kind and persistent. She balances a number of varying qualities, which, for a person interested in the many components of a farm, make her such a beautiful person and a great fit for farming.
Tenacious. Practical. Compassionate. Emilie never failed to amaze me with her ability to eye up a situation and be ready to act on the task. Her practical side served as a good counterweight during times of decision-making. While Emilie has been forthright and always ready to get the ball rolling, she also has shown such deep (com)passion for the chores at hand, and even more for the animals’ welfare. Her love of knowledge and sense of humor will be missed.
We will have a going away party for the ladies at the end of this week, and we wish them well on the next endeavors.
As per the last Piglet Post (click here to read), we were speculating that Plum may be pregnant. Alas, that is not the case. The artificial insemination did not take, but the farm will make another attempt next month when Plum comes into heat again.
Even with good planning, the balance of nature has its own agenda, one to which, as a staff, we must constantly adapt. Flux and Flow are common names on this hilltop landscape. Even when we think we’ve got them figured out, we are struck again with their vastness of character.
Over the years, Merck Forest and Farmland Center has offered sleigh and wagon rides through the farm and forest. This winter, we will once again be hosting sleigh rides. Keep your fingers crossed for snow; starting Saturday, December 21, the Sweetheart Sleigh will make its annual debut, and this two person sleigh will run weekends through March 2014. The group sleigh, a great option for families, will also run for three weeks. Schedule and info here.
There is a tremendous amount of leg-work that goes into getting the sleigh rides ready. The sleighs need to be cleaned, tuned up, bolts tightened, and moved out of the Harwood Barn. Scheduling is coordinated at the Visitor Center.
The apprentices, Colene, and Tim have been working the draft horses in preparation for them to pull several sleigh rides a day over the next three months. Sadly, Merck Forest’s draft team, Ellie and Daisy, will not be working the sleighs much this year. Earlier in the summer Daisy was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and she has been struggling to regain her strength since then. While Ellie could physically pull the sleighs herself, she is often uncomfortable working without Daisy near her…
In order for sleigh rides to run, the decision was made to enlist the help of a draft team from a neighboring farm.
After a bit of scouting, Tim found Mae and June, a draft team from True Love Holsteins Farm in North Rupert. They will be with Merck’s farm through the spring. The team of Belgians arrived nearly two weeks ago. The team is in good shape, though we’ve had to get them acclimated to the Merck hills (this is true of any one who comes to work at Merck, the steep hillsides are a good initiation!).
When you come up to visit this winter, to take a sleigh ride, or go skiing, stop by the farm and say hello to Mae and June, Ellie and Daisy, and the rest of the farm gang. If you are up in the next couple weeks, you’ll see the horses out on trial runs. There is nothing more lovely than seeing a pair of draft horses trotting through the snow, sleigh bells ringing.
This post is to answer the questions of some visitors who have been interested in knowing about Ms. Plum:
Last month we posted about artificially inseminating Plum, Merck Forest’s sow. It’s been three weeks and three days since the AI took place, and we are starting to think that perhaps Plum may be pregnant. She is not yet showing signs of entering a standing heat, but to be on the safe side, we don’t want to make any declarations. We’ll let you know for sure in a few days.
For the past several years the pipes at the Frank Hatch Sap House have frozen in the winter, and no one on staff could figure out why. The pipes were taped and insulated, everything indicated that they should actually work–but they did not. It was just a mystery, one that we learned to work around.
That mystery was unearthed several weeks ago.
Chris, trail maintenance coordinator, had been eyeing the eroding retaining wall at the back of the Harwood Barn. The logs, which had been staked in place along the stone stairway, were starting to rot, and the soil behind the logs washing away. A great project! He, Tim, Colene, and the apprentices harvested and hauled logs from the larch plantation (behind the caretaker’s cabin) down to the barn. There they planed and cut the logs to size. They began began excavating around the old retaining wall only to discover…an exposed pipe!
At one time, when the original retaining wall was in place, and the soil behind it was compact, the pipe had been insulated. However, in the last few years, the eroded soil had exposed the pipe, though it remain hidden behind the rotting logs.
Viola! Mystery solved! The pipe to the sap house runs from behind the Harwood Barn. Hopefully, with some new insulation around the metal plumping, and a new, beautifully built wall, filled with gravel from onsite, the pipes will not freeze this year.
In a working landscape there are always mysteries to solve: everything from freezing pipes to figuring out the best way to integrate the needs of the farm in with the natural world. It’s just part of the dynamics: being a Nancy Drew in coveralls.
The piglets had their two month birthday last week.
That two months marks a time of change for the both the piglets and Plum, their mother.
Right around 8 weeks of age, piglets are usually weaned from their mom. They are eating solid foods, and able to forage out on pasture. Our six piggies were ready to move away from Plum and the Small Animal Barn, and their new paddock was set up on the south side of the old hoop house.
Plum was not particularly pleased when the piglets were removed from her side. In fact, she even jumped over the lower portion of the Dutch door in the Small Animal Barn, which, if you have ever met lovely Plum, seems like some feat (“some pig”). Don’t worry, though, Plum is fine, though the door is a little dinged up.
The other reason for weaning the growing piglets is that we would like Plum to have more babies by the spring. Within this week of her piglets being weaned, Plum was in heat again. Physically, Plum’s body changes when she is in heat, and anyone at the farm may have heard her “dinosaur sounds”, a whine/grunt/bellow that also signals she has entered estrus.
Rather than keeping a boar on the farm, we artificially inseminate Plum. Carolyn and Becca took on this task, and had to act rather quickly: sows generally are in heat for only 40 hours—which, when orders need to be placed and mailed overnight, allows for a quick window of opportunity for Plum to conceive.
We’ll know if the AI was a success in approximately 21 days. If it was unsuccessful, everyone will probably hear those “dinosaur sounds” erupting periodically from Plum’s paddock during her next estrus. If it was successful, look for new piglets around the Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast in March.
We’ll keep you updated via the “Piglet Post”.
When I arrived in Rupert in January 2013, my hope was that I would gain the skills during the coming year to eventually run a homestead of my own. My secondary goal was to be directly involved in agriculture so as to integrate responsible land use with a career in environmental problem solving.
During the year, the depth and breadth of opportunities for learning have blown my mind. At work, I’ve cried in frustration while learning how to harness and drive the horses or when that darned piece of equipment just won’t work; and I’ve laughed while chasing muddy pigs around the farm yard, working in the woods with the teen trail crew, playing farm games with kindergartners or simply eating lunch with the farm staff. I’ve found peace in the sugarbush, hayfields and berries, and been given a run for my money with the goats and rams. One of my most adventurous commutes occurred in March, when Old Town Road iced over so badly that we had to slide to work most of the way from the Lodge on our behinds. The same day, the wind was so strong that it blew me into a snow bank. Working at Merck has been nothing if not new, daring and wonderfully funny at times.
Living at the Lodge has been a joy and a complement to working on the farm and in the forest, especially given my interest in homesteading. This winter, we tapped 15 trees behind the house and learned to boil sap ‘the old fashioned way’. Sitting outside at sunset or under a starry winter sky, watching steam rise off the pots (which eventually gave us three gallons of homemade maple syrup) was magical. After our fall harvest, I’m up to my ears in canned and blanched foods ready to be eaten this winter- a result of learning from my housemates and books. Installing and living with solar power is prompting me to think seriously about integrating a similar system into my own future. And, there’s really no better way to end a day than curled up by a woodstove with a good book and a cup of tea.
I can say with certainty that working at Merck has taught me more skills that will be relevant to my future than any other employer. Yes, we work with livestock and grow high quality food, engage with the public as well as drive tractors and make hay- all of which have been extremely satisfying. I can now comfortably use a chainsaw and a crosscut saw. And working with draft power has been one of my favorite parts of the apprenticeship. But the less flashy aspects of the apprenticeship have also been valuable. Before January, I had no idea how to fix most broken implements, or do basic carpentry, or maintain vehicles or use a plow truck. Those skills, which should be a part of high school or college (and are not) will be relevant to me for the rest of my life.
When I describe my experience at Merck to family and friends, I say that this year has been like getting a degree in farming and life skills. And it’s also wonderful to know that our work here is integral to Merck. As a farm staff of five, three of whom are apprentices, the farm really relies on apprentice power to function year-round. Now that’s what I call a win-win situation.
For months Tim has been working on a plan for the farm: one that acknowledges what can grow well on our land, the desire to use draft power, the strengths of educating apprentices, sustainable landuse, a farm that is visitor-friendly, et al.
One component of the plan, which started to go into place a few weeks ago, was the cultivation of land for more berry bushes.
Currently, Merck Forest has pick-your-own blueberries and raspberries during the summer season, but the plan is to extend the growing season (and picking season) with fall raspberry varietals.
The farm also wants to expand the types of berries we offer, and so blackberry bushes will be added too.
The latter are an experiment. We are not sure if we have the best location for blackberries, but the farm staff picked an area up by the old greenhouse, which has a nice, warmer, microclimate. We hope that the blackberries will grow well here.
Emilie and Colene used Ellie to prepare the location for the bushes.
As such, the parking lot is getting a little bit of an overhaul.
We’re closing off the smaller parking area to cars. What? you say…
Well, let me explain. You see, so many visitors come here and drive loops around the parking area while looking for the right area to place their vehicle. Sometimes in the summer, people cannot find the large parking lot, the one meant for daily and overnight visitors, because the trees block the view into the space. Often, the passenger will bounce out of their idling car and run into the Visitor Center. “Where do we park?” they’ll ask.
The installation of new signs last year seemed to ease some of the struggle, but overall, the parking lot setup is just not intuitive enough for most people to easily navigate the space.
And, when they come to visit, they don’t want their first minutes here to be filled with confusion. It doesn’t start the trip off on the right foot.
We hoped the signs were a first step toward mitigating the traffic confusion, and then this past summer, Chris worked with various groups to make a new trail that runs from the large lot to the VC.
It looks pretty snazzy and more foot traffic seems to be following the route, but it still doesn’t solve the difficulties of people knowing where to park: big lot, small lot, on the grass by the Visitor Center, somewhere under a tree?
The smaller “short term” lot seems to add to the general confusion. It’s not large enough to hold more than five cars comfortably, and with the introduction of the new pathway, even fewer cars can park there, unless the path is blocked.
So, the smaller lot is being revegetated, and all cars will be directed into the larger lot–hopefully in a concise, easy way.
The revegetation is ongoing. That sod mentioned in the last post, two flat beds worth from the completion of the farm trail, was hauled down to the VC last Thursday. After dragging up the compacted gravel, our staff worked to lay down composted soil and then place the sod on top of it. Leaves and other detritus were added into the mix.
The area still needs some more work. More sod may come from the addition of a small trail to the new coop at the farm.
Hopefully, with one large open lot for parking, instead of several tinier not-quite-parking-spaces scattered around, visitors will feel more comfortable when they come up the driveway.