Over 20 years ago Sisler Builders employee Danny Young and two of his friends purchased 200 acres in Westfield, with the intent of gardening in Vermont. They divided up the land, built modest homes, planted crops, and raised livestock to meet their needs—no mean feat in this remote town less than 20 miles from the Canadian border. For most of that time, Danny worked for Sisler Builders, leaving and returning in the dark most months of the year in order to make the 40-mile trek back and forth to work.
When Danny retired a few years ago, he said the thing he was looking forward to most was spending more time in his garden. It turns out Danny’s not alone in his passion for gardening. While it may seem improbable for such a seemingly rough and tumble group, it’s not unusual to find members of the Sisler crew in lunchtime discussions over pickling techniques, pest control secrets, and composting choices. And its not just chips and Twinkies in their lunch bags either, as many bring fresh vegetables, fruits, pies, and other dishes to eat and share.
Another Sisler Builders employee, Scott Langlois, put in some raised beds a few years ago and grows tomatoes in sheet rock buckets that he paints dark green to hold the heat in. “I’ve eaten more salads this summer than I ever have in my life,” he says. “The stuff just keeps on coming.”
“My garden is my therapy patch,” says Matt Rouleau. “It’s where I go to relax and unwind, and the fresh vegetables are just a bonus.” Matt has been gardening for over 20 years, and every summer he renews a friendly fight against the deer, squirrels, raccoons, and other vermin that threaten his garden. “They keep a closer eye on things than you do, and just when it’s time to harvest you find they’ve already beaten you to it. I used to tell my son that it was all right and that I would go after my vegetables in November, but it turns out I am only a marginal hunter, and the deer and the others usually get the last laugh.”
Not all of us have skills equal to our passion. Ten years ago my wife and I purchased an old farm here in Morrisville, and I set about trying to reclaim an old vegetable garden. After much kicking and swearing, I finally managed to fire up the old Troy-Bilt rototiller that came with the place. The blunt tines barely dug into the hard ground, and the wretched machine dragged me around the garden before finally depositing me onto my stomach with nothing more than the plastic handgrips still in my hands. I’ve since gone to raised beds, and despite the never-ending weeding and an aging yellow lab who loves fresh broccoli and strawberries as much as I do, I never seem to tire of working in my garden. From the first asparagus in May to the carrots and parsnips I pull for Christmas dinner, my garden yields its rewards throughout much of the year.
Up in Westfield, Danny is busy “putting food by” for the winter. He grinds his own grains, and he pickles, dries, or stores many of the fruits and vegetables he grows. Between the garden and the pigs and chickens he raises, he is able to meet almost all of his food needs. “Pretty much all I buy is coffee, flour, and sugar” he says. In all, he grows over 30 different fruits and vegetables including things I wouldn’t even attempt, like artichokes and melons.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be good at gardening to enjoy it. Here at my place, even my goats like gardening. Last fall we threw them some pumpkins to eat, and this summer a pumpkin plant grew up in their pen. They, and we, watched it all summer long. They waited for the pumpkins to ripen, and then they ate them plants and all, and that was that.
By Peter Merrill, blogger and former Sisler Builders employee.