In the spirit of our collaboration on the land at the Sweet Birch Herbals Homestead, we are starting a weekly collaborative blog post shared with our community of friends about the lessons and moments we experience working with plants and animals. These writings articulate the weekly wisdom we draw from connecting with plant and animal beings on the homestead and the relationships we build with them.
- Hannah (Plant Mama) & Andrea (Goat & Duck Mama)
"Coming Home" by Hannah Jacobson-Hardy
After four years of moving around like a dandelion seed floating through the air, I felt it was time to root down and plant myself with my community herbal company, Sweet Birch Herbals. I asked Great Spirit, “Where does Sweet Birch and I want to grow?” I wrote down the question on a purple piece of paper, folded it up, and planted it into the Earth.
I grew up in Northampton, so I wanted to land somewhere close enough to my family. I began driving around in search of “For Sale” signs in the fall of 2018. I scoured the real estate bookings online and nothing really screamed, “Yes!” to me. After one disappointment after another, I decided to drive up to Ashfield and let my inner guides lead me.
I took the back way up West Road and down Briar Hill Rd. turning left onto Creamery. My car stopped in front of a driveway, no for sale signs in sight and feeling kind of lost, I turned around to head back the direction I came.
One week later a friend introduced me to a family selling their home in Ashfield at 686 Creamery Rd. - The same driveway I had pulled in to turn around! When I went to see the house for the first time, I got chills, for I remembered the drive only one week ago. Yet, this time, I was beaming with excitement, anticipation, and curiosity. “Will this be my home where Sweet Birch sets root and really grows into the herbal education program I’ve always envisioned?”
Everything happened really fast and was a whirlwind from September to the Winter Solstice, when I closed on the property. The open arms of the land gave me a big hug and my heart burst with joy as I walked around the land thanking it for calling me here.
I don’t believe in “land ownership,” I see myself as a steward for this brief time period in which we inhabit human bodies. The plants are my greatest teachers. The first thing I did upon receiving keys to the house was offer the land a large handful of tobacco I had grown. My teachers on the Medicine Path use Tobacco offerings as a way to thank the land, the plants, and the Spirits residing there. I began to speak to the Spirit of the Land:
First, thank you for entrusting me to steward your beautiful soil.
I release all “ownership” of you even though that’s how the bank sees it.
I ask for your guidance and collaboration every step of the way, please.
May all beings who reside and visit here feel deep peace and healing.
Dreams do come true. Thank you to the community for welcoming me and supporting the vision for collaborative land management with Andrea as we continue to build gardens, raise animals, and offer workshops about the creative arts and plant based wisdom. May we leave this Earth more beautiful than when we arrived.
"Wisdom from Animals" by Andrea Calouri
photo by Gregory Thorp
Over the last two months of keeping the goats and ducks at Sweet Birch Herbals I continue to witness this incredible connection between the goats and other people; the human desire to be with other creatures, to simply experience their presence in a sweet and quiet way. I should backtrack and provide some context: I brought home Daisy and Aster, two French Alpine goats, about 4 years ago when they were 7 weeks old. It was a bold move for a 32 year old with no land to do, and yet it was one of the best and most meaningful decisions I have ever made. I bottle-raised these two goats, researched nutrition, their care, monitored their health, built fencing, learned what plants they can and can’t eat and was completely in awe of how I was such a big part of their herd dynamic. We were a herd of three, and that feeling hasn’t changed much.
The connection I have with these two animals almost feels mythical, at times. We act as each other’s home. They are more than livestock or collaborators in nourishing food, they are also my teachers, and this is something I never forget.
Having ridden horses for over 20 years I often tell people, “horses are healers and goats are givers.” Givers of what? Of joy, of curiosity, of compassion, of fun. They are always willing to give themselves to you, they bring gifts of sweetness and playfulness. Each morning I milk, I brush my goat and tell her thanks for the gift. We’re bound to each other through the ethics of reciprocity - 4 years of care being returned through nourishment and understanding.
So imagine I’m here in my little bubble, milking at 7AM, returning midday and then in the evening for chores - it’s just me and the goats. I think, “this is their world,” until suddenly I find out that a good friend visits with them every day as a way to bring daily sweetness into her life, or that our local town photographer visits to admire, take photos, and enjoy their presence. One night a few weeks ago, as i was pulling into the homestead a car was stopped on the road and the person asked, “Are those your goats? I stop here every day to say hello. It means to much to me.” We started to have a conversation about their rich emotional lives and their gregarious nature. It was then I realized how much this little herd of three was actually a herd of many; so many people experience a connection with my goats - who clearly were living full days of newfound friendships with our farm store’s visitors. It’s now I realize that while the goats give us milk to make cheese and bake and while they give me satisfying moments of love and kindness, they also remind others of a world beyond the challenging and difficult. Their gift is the gift of now, of being present and grounded with the tactile “what is,” - earth, sky, trees, plants, joy, play. Their presence reminds us of our own, it reminds us that we, too, are a being of this earth, not just of this artificial world we have created. I thank them for this teaching every day.
Andrea Calouri moved her goats and ducks to Sweet Birch Herbals in the spring. She is an artist and farmer hailing from the Bronx, NY.
Come by the farm store to see her block printed patches and shirts inspired by goats, ducks, and herbs. She brews maple syrup in small batches and is launching a hand printed clothing line.
Learn more about her at https://www.littlemousefarm.com/