Cold-hearty Icelandic sheep blatted in the pasture as Drew and Brittany Slabaugh picked weeds in an adjacent garden plot on their 20-acre Shakey Ground Farm. This California couple live and work on the solid lake shores of Charlotte now, on a farm that ends where the Charlotte Sailing Center begins.
They met at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, married, and began a journey in farming about five years ago. The extent of their experience with livestock had been adopting a rescued pitbull named Remy, once an apartment dweller, now a full-fledged farm dog. Remy now serves as farmyard mascot and principal squirrel chaser.
Dave Beckwith actually owns the land, but the Slabaugh’s work the farm full-time. What they hadn’t already learned from The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont about farming, Beckwith taught them. “We lucked our way into Vermont,” Drew Slabaugh said. “I had never been north of Pennsylvania.”
Prior to calling the Green Mountains home, the Slabaughs had Googled “farm work” and found NOFA Vermont. “Through NOFA we were introduced to a farm in Bristol, New Leaf Organics, and worked out an arrangement where we got to live and work on the farm,” Slabaugh said. “We had the summer of our dreams. It was awesome. We would work hard, go swimming in the New Haven River, and go to The Bobcat and get up and do it all again.”
They spent one season at New Leaf before meeting Beckwith. “He needed help and we really love the work,” Slabaugh said.
NOFA Vermont is a nonprofit association of farmers, gardeners, and consumers who offer training year-round. They have about 1,300 members throughout the state who work to certify farms and processors to the USDA National Organic Program Standards.
There are other NOFA chapters, Slabaugh said. “But we ended up liking Vermont’s chapter better because they had a lot of resources for young farmers like us. There was practical help and business planning and conferences. They have workshops all year.”
The Slabaughs raise Icelandic sheep for lamb meat and fiber products and have just added Belted Galloway cows into the mix. They have heritage chickens for meat and eggs, and a half-acre mixed vegetable production. They will even be able to harvest their first crop of hearty kiwis this year.
It all stays local, Slabaugh said. Their products can be found at the Shelburne and Vergennes Farmers Market, and they are featured on www.YourFarmStand.com.
Growing food is gratifying, Brittany Slabaugh said. “I love it. I like to be outside. Now we have a child and another on the way. Having them grow up on a farm is good.”
Shakey Ground Farm also has a small CSA, and a farm stand on site. Farming is not an easy way to make money, Drew Slabaugh said. “But we do like growing our own food. We only eat the food we produce. By March we are sick of squash, potatoes and onions.”
Two new hoop houses for winter extension growing have been erected, and they have a house full of tomatoes. Their plan is to have more than enough kale and spinach to last through next winter.
Contact Lynn Monty at 985-3091 or Lynn@WindRidgePublishing.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VermontSongbird.