Written on February 10, 2015 at 11:21 am , by Suzanne Rust
By: Suzanne Rust
Photography by: John Huba
When they were younger, despite their artistic tendencies, Hannah Sessions thought she might become a lawyer and Greg Bernhardt imagined a career in education. So how did they wind up down on the farm? A love of Vermont and good food plus a yearning for a bucolic lifestyle and creative work inspired the couple to invest in a property that they converted to a goat dairy. Fifteen years later, their Blue Ledge Farm boasts 140 goats and produces award-winning artisan cheeses. Now these first-generation farmers cannot image a better life for their family of four.
Which three words best describe your family?
Active, creative, earnest.
What made you choose a goat dairy and cheese making operation?
Goats were an affordable alternative to cows when it came to the capital investment involved in starting a dairy. We always had our sights set on making cheese and we were very excited by the diversity of cheeses you can make with goat’s milk. Lastly, we felt like there was room in the market for excellent artisanal goat cheese. Hannah says that since getting to know goats and their personalities, she would be hard-pressed to work with any other animal.
What is the most rewarding thing about your lifestyle? What is the most challenging?
The things that are the most rewarding are also the most challenging! It is very rewarding to work where we live, and that is also the greatest challenge. Working where you live allows you to be very efficient with your time, to multi-task and to seamlessly blend family and work life together. We get to work together every day, and we are available for our kids.
It is also challenging because you never actually leave your place of work and there is always something that needs tending to. It is rewarding to be deeply connected to weather and the seasons, but that, of course, it also very challenging as weather dictates our ability to harvest feed and many other things. It is wonderful to live with the companionship of hundreds of animals, but challenging to never travel because we are responsible for their care.
You are both first generation farmers. What are the biggest misconceptions about farm life?
One big misconception is that farming is easy, and anyone who can hoe a row of lettuce or muck out a pig pen can do it. You do have to do physical, dirty jobs from time to time, but farming is high tech and takes an incredible amount of knowledge. We wear many “hats”: plumber, electrician, veterinarian, mechanic, accountant, public relations, builder, and graphic designer to name a few. We weren’t born into a farming family so we have learned to gather knowledge when and where we can! Fortunately, folks more experienced than us have been very generous with their time since the birth of Blue Ledge Farm. And we can always “Google it”!
How hands-on are you two at this point? Do either of you actually milk the 80 goats twice a day?
Hannah manages the herd of 140 goats and is very active in vaccinating, breeding and general care of the animals, and takes a few milking shifts per week. We have a great team of milkers so that no one person is burdened with milking twice a day!
Greg manages the cheese production, but between making hay, keeping the books and maintaining operations about the farm, our cheese maker, Megan, has her hands in more actual cheese curds than he does.
What do you love most about the cheese making process?
I enjoy seeing the development from milk, to curd, to a formed shape, and then a fully aged cheese. I also like the fact that we are creating a product that is nourishing to body and soul. (Greg)
How do the kids help around the farm?
Our kids are busy with their school and sports lives during the academic year. They will bottle feed kids during kidding season and in the summer they help harvest hay, give farm tours to visitors, and they sell cheese at our local farmer’s market. Like all of the farm kids I’ve ever known, they are willing to lend a hand when needed!
How do you think they are benefitting from the life you have chosen?
Our kids have never wondered what it is that their parents actually do for a living. They see us working, and they understand that hard work and diligence makes an idea reality. They have a lot of pride in the product that we produce and our part in the community.
Were you two always very environmentally conscious, or did that come once you started working on the farm?
Hannah was voted “most environmental” in high school, and both were vegetarians before starting Blue Ledge Farm and raising their own animals for meat.
Did either of you ever imagine that you would be running a dairy farm?
No, Hannah thought she would be a lawyer and Greg thought teaching was his future. We both always aspired to be artists.
You are both painters. Tell me a bit about that creative side and how you make time for it.
We paint during the slower months on the farm (September through March), but a painter never really stops working! We are always craving more time in the studio, but the farm, the landscape, and our animals are our muse, our subject matter, and our source of inspiration. I think our deep connection to these things comes through in our paintings, and if we weren’t constantly juggling the farm and the art, our paintings might be missing something.
Any short “farm bloopers” to share?
Years ago we answered a local ad for three piglets, so wild that they were “free to anyone who can catch them!” We felt we were up for the challenge but after chasing piglets for two hours we drove away with one lone piglet in the back of the truck. After stopping in town for a quick errand we headed for home, only to discover upon arrival that the lone piglet had in fact escaped from the truck! What followed was three days of heavy rain and no sign of the pig. Then, out of the blue we get a call from a nearby town “you missing a piglet?” The poor pig had taken residence under a porch, chasing away their dog. With help, we went and retrieved the piglet. How this person traced the piglet back to us is still a bit of a mystery– small town Vermont!
For more information check out: www.blueledgefarm.com
Written on April 1, 2014 at 4:09 pm , by Family Circle
By Cristina Corvino
Raise a paw to these clever new canine and feline books. From an addictive game of I Spy to an irresistibly catchy tune come to life, these are sure to satisfy your Internet pet craving for the day.
Cat vs. Human: Another Dose of Catnip by Yasmine Surovec
Explore the unique and unconditionally loving relationship that only cat parents understand best. Yasmine Surovec, author of the successful blog catversushuman.com, debuts 21 brand-new comics for your enjoyment.
Find Momo by Andrew Knapp
We spy…a black-and-white border collie. Based on designer and photographer Andrew Knapp’s addictive blog (gofindmomo.com) and Instagram account (@andrewknapp), Find Momo includes images of his dog camouflaged in unusual landscapes. Warning: Once you start searching, it’s hard to stop.
Downton Tabby by Chris Kelly
Felines sit atop their aristocratic thrones in this amusing storybook parody of the PBS television hit Downton Abbey. Among the lessons you’ll learn: “How to Argue with Lord Grimalkin About His Most Deeply Held Beliefs.”
What Does the Fox Say? by Ylvis, Christian Løchstøer and Svein Nyhus
Sing along to the viral hit song (over 380 million views and counting on YouTube!) by Ylvis as you read the entertaining lyrics and get lost in the charming illustrations. What do you say to that?
Written on March 18, 2014 at 10:00 am , by Janet Taylor
Inspired by my work at an inner-city hospital—but dismayed by what seemed a revolving door of the same critical patients—I decided to obtain a graduate degree in public health 10 years ago. I was exhausted by having a job during the day and school at night, but I felt like the luckiest student in the world when I confidently turned in my first paper.
I can still remember gasping for air when I checked my grade on my smartphone: C minus. I had let myself and my family down. I was an academic disappointment—or was I?
Looking back, that episode taught me a valuable lesson. I realized that there is a difference between a moment and an experience. Yes, I had let myself down in that moment. But the experience made me want to improve. This was not a fatal event, but one from which I could regroup.
Whenever you attempt a victory—whether it’s hitting a fundraising goal for your child’s school trip or creating the ultimate Easter basket—there is a risk that you may not succeed. The question is whether you stay in the game, knowing that there is always room for improvement, or slink over to the sidelines and never try, try again.
Be willing to learn from the experience of failing and be determined to turn things around. I did so with hard work and a willingness to listen to painful but honest feedback from my advisor. You can too. Remember: Failure is a symptom. It does not have to be a condition.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on May 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm , by Paula Chin
I spent the past couple months binge-watching Friday Night Lights—all 76 episodes of it. I’d heard how great it was, but c’mon—high testosterone teens playing football in Texas? Not my thing. But one cold winter night I called up the pilot on Netflix. I was smitten—with gruff, beleaguered coach Eric Taylor, his plucky, resilient wife Tami, the high school hijinks, the tragic accident at the big game. Never has small town life–in all its ordinariness and glory–been so wonderfully captured. FNL is about so many things—the bittersweetness of growing up, dreams fulfilled and shattered, the blessings and burdens of our loved ones, issues like class and race. It’s warm, funny, heartbreaking, exhilirating. Just like real life.
I felt only slightly guilty indulging myself night after night while my 12-year-old, Nat, slouched over her homework. Not that my addiction escaped her. One evening she asked what I was watching and why I loved it so much. Then, when I had finished the incredible 5th season finale (Kleenex pls!) she asked if I would rewatch it with her. We’re now finishing up the first magnificent season, and it’s been an amazing bonding experience. Not surprisingly, Nat’s big into the Taylor family drama. Mr. and Mrs. Coach bicker and fight, but their marriage is as solid as it gets. Daughter Julie is a smart, petulant 15-year-old in the throes of first love. No doubt Nat is watching Julie looking for clues and cues to her own future—and enviously eyeing Julie’s locker at Dillon High (Nat’s school doesn’t have them). Like me, she’s even grown to like football…well, kinda.
What shows have you and your tween bonded over? Do you have a huge crush on Coach, like me?
Written on September 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm , by Paula Chin
I grew up in L.A., thoroughly Chinese-American—Chinese food, parents and relatives who spoke Cantonese, Chinese-American Christian churches. So it was a big shock when my mom told me and my older brothers that she was half-Mexican. I was 13 years old, and it had never occurred to us that she was anything but 100% Asian. True, she has olive skin, a strong brow and cheekbones, and deep set, double lidded eyes. She looked different than my aunts and other relatives, but we never noticed. We simply saw her as more beautiful, more exotic.
There was more to mom’s story. She had been abandoned as an infant and adopted by a Chinese couple (the orphanage was right near the house they used in Six Feet Under). Her brother and two sisters were adopted as well.
I don’t remember what prompted her to finally tell us, but I do remember my reaction. First, confusion. “So Uncle Bob isn’t a blood relative? Grandma and Grandpa too?” Then outrage. “How could you not tell us all this time? Didn’t you trust us?” I came to understand why Mom kept it secret—a mixture of shame, a sense of protectiveness toward the only mom and dad she ever new—but it wasn’t necessarily the best strategy. As Elizabeth Foy Larsen points out in her piece in the October issue of Family Circle:
At first thought, it can seem sensible to keep your own counsel. You have a right to privacy, and there certainly are things your kids really don’t need to know. But the truth has a way of revealing itself, and when that occurs in an unplanned way—a relative blurts it out, a conversation is overheard—there can be lasting damage. A child who stumbles onto a parent’s lie is very likely to feel betrayed, or at least more skeptical about everything he’s told from there on, according to a University of San Diego study. “There are some kids who will feel deeply hurt for a long time,” says Gail Heyman, Ph.D., who conducted the research. “They’ll think, ‘If she lied about that, what else isn’t she telling me?’”
My hurt and anger quickly faded, and I’ve completely forgiven mom for her, well, let’s call it a sin of omission. And sure enough, once we knew the facts Mom could tell us all sorts of stories she had kept quiet about, which drew us closer.
Still, I’m doing things differently with my 11 year old. Full disclosure here–once I knew about Mom, I became determined to adopt a child of my own; my daughter is from China. Anyway, she pretty much gets the complete lowdown (age appropriate, of course) on what’s going on, past and present, in my life. And when she hits those crazy teen years, I plan on being honest about my own, missteps and all. I just have to make sure I don’t commit the sin of TMI.
What about you? Tell us your stance on coming clean with family secrets in the comments below. And read more about sharing family secrets here.
Paula Chin is a senior editor at Family Circle.
Written on March 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Has your child ever told you that they hate another kid in your extended family? Or a friend’s child because they’re mean and you’ve responded by saying, “But he’s really a good kid, he’s from such a nice family,”? Or “You know he has had some problems. You just need to treat him they way you want to be treated.”
I recently watched this happen between an 8th grade boy and his usually very astute mother. The boy was unhappy with his first cousin–the oldest child of this woman’s sister. As she responded to her son, he glanced in my direction with an unmistakable expression of ”I-love-my-mom-but-can-you-believe-she-so-doesn’t-understand?”
I don’t know this mother very well but it was pretty easy to see where her comments were coming from. She clearly loves her sister, she’s worried about her nephew, and maybe there’s something else she knows about him that she can’t tell her son. The problem is, this mom stepped on what I call a “landmine.” Landmines are things we parents do and say, usually with the best intentions, that upset our kids and make them shut down. Like landmines in real life, you don’t realize they’re there until they’ve blown up in your face. And in this case, the mother was left with an upset child who felt like she brushed him off.
If your child ever comes to you with a similar problem, here’s how to avoid a landmine: Listen to your kid because his experience here is more important than yours. Yes, the other child may have some problems. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that you don’t have to deal with this kid–your child does. Think about it from your son’s perspective. This is an important moment for both of you. He’s telling you something that he knows you don’t necessarily want to hear. You want him to feel comfortable talking to you when he’s having problems. He won’t if you shut him down.
If you do step on a landmine, you can always go back and make it better. During the conversation–or after, when you realize what happened–you can go back to him and say, “I’ve been thinking about what I just said to you and I realized that I wasn’t really listening to you. I’m really sorry about that. Let me try that again…”
Now please don’t expect your child to respond with something like, “Mom, thanks so much for saying that. I’m so lucky to have such a great mom.” Much more likely, you’re going to get a shrug and, “Don’t worry about it.” But that answer is kid code for, “Thanks I really appreciate you apologizing, I see that you’re a human being and you make mistakes and now I feel even more comfortable talk to you when I have a problem.”
Then you have to promise me something. When your child walks out of the room, take a moment to give yourself credit for handling a difficult situation well and building the foundation for your child knowing that you are a source of comfort and guidance in difficult moments.
Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you handle it? Share in the comments below.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.