It’s 5:15, sometime in the first ten days of November, and I get behind the wheel of my car and drive West to the village of Holley. I’ve made this forty-five minute journey on more than twenty occasions and the ritual has become part of the rhythm of my life. I pull into the stone paved parking lot, emerge from the car and brace myself against the late-autumn air knowing that this will be one of the last nights that I’ll be able to enjoy walking outdoors without a heavy winter coat. Aside from the sound of an occasional car passing, there is never any noise. I know through experience that, as I approach the thrashing barn, I’ll have to navigate a slight swale in the path before arriving at the heavy door which I slide to the left. The warm glow of several hundred candles bids me enter the festively lit interior strewn with dried hydrangea and cornstalks, autumnal bittersweet, Indian corn and pumpkins. I look for an inviting table, pull out a chair and take my seat. I then close my eyes, bow my head and slowly exhale.
Amy Machamer is a seventh generation fruit farmer. Her ancestors, the Hurds, first began tilling the fertile soil south of Lake Ontario more than 200 years ago. Her mother, Sue, and her daughter, Amelia, help to carry on the agrarian legacy of her forbears to this day. They’re intelligent, hard-working and humble women with one foot firmly planted in the traditions and customs of early-American farming and the other strongly tethered to the cerebral realities of modern day life and agrarian practice. It’s fascinating to listen to Amy discuss centuries-old farming techniques- the language of her ancestors pulsing through her blood- in the modern day currency that one derives as a result of an Amherst College education. It’s through her words that I’ve gotten to know Amy.
Throughout the year, Hurd Orchards offers themed events tied to the passing of the seasons. The transition of spring becoming summer and summer transitioning to fall is marked by tastings and luncheons based on that which is currently ready for harvest- strawberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches and apples. And, as the growing season comes to an end, the Machamers will acknowledge their good fortune by opening their doors as their ancestors did before them and host several Thanksgiving dinners.
It’s during the twenty or so minutes before our meal that I’ve learned a little about the life of a farmer, the remarkable fertility of Western New York soil, the importance of place, and the wonder and joy that one can savor if you’re simply willing to slow down long enough to watch the passing of the seasons. Thanks to Amy, I now anticipate the arrival of the first snowdrops poking through crusty hoar or the flutter of a red wing blackbird as it alights on a roadside post. Forsythia in bloom tells me that spring is decisively entrenched and I will soon appreciate my first morning shower with the window open.
Until recently, I hadn’t comprehended the strong correlation that exists between the agrarian calendar and my personal life. I always enjoy the slower pace that comes during the winter when it is that I’m able to enjoy the holidays, catch up with friends, and pour through long-neglected nightstand books. In late winter, I begin farming (the argot of the industry) and, much like Amy and her family, I’m harvesting throughout the year. I’m grateful for the burden of long days and stretches of time without a day off. They’re made easier and more enjoyable in part because of the lessons of the thrashing barn.
If I’m lucky and my team and I have enjoyed a bountiful year, I will celebrate when it is that the end of the selling season arrives. If I’m not so lucky I, nevertheless, give thanks because, in reality, there’s always so much to be grateful for. Regardless of the the year that was, I’m always thankful for Amy and her family. I’m grateful for their commitment to feeding our community and their willingness to educate us about the world in which we live. Mostly, however, I’m grateful that they offer me an opportunity, sometime in the first ten days of November, to enter their barn, close my eyes while I bow my head and quietly exhale.
If you’d like to learn about Hurd Orchards or schedule some time to enjoy one of their events, please visit their website at www.hurdorchards.com
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