"I enjoy farmer's markets. They're the best way to see other farmers." Meet Hogwash Farm's Leslie O'Hara
Fall may be just around the corner -- and eventually, Thanksgiving -- but Leslie O'Hara already has 500 chickens and 100 turkeys piled up in the freezer-truck on her Hogwash Farm in Norwich. She's pregnant, and due soon, and figures it's best to be prepared.
Leslie sort of backed into farming. She graduated from Middlebury with degrees in biology and art, and moved back to the Upper Valley--she grew up in Lyme and Orford--to work and retire college debt. So even though she worked at Hogwash for several years before taking it over a year ago from Nancy LaRowe--who moved up the road and now works full-time at Vital Communities--running it has been an education.
At Hogwash, she raises pigs, beef cattle, sheep, chickens, and turkeys. Meat, in other words. Which means that one thing she's had to get used to is what she calls "the second-to-last step" before the meat is packaged. "It's no fun for everybody," she says. In fact, she gets help when its time to slaughter the poultry -- "I never hold the knife" -- and the larger animals get trucked off to USDA-approved slaughterhouses. Even then, she says, "I have a hard time putting them in the trailer, knowing I'll never see them again."
But it's not like there's much choice. "I've had to learn to castrate piglets. And to back up a trailer," she says. "Things just have to get done, so you have to learn to do them."
Leslie sells bacon, sausages, pork, beef and poultry at the Norwich Farmer's Market -- which she looks forward to every week. Summer is a hugely busy time, she explains. And a lot of farmers become hermits. "We’re never going to invite each other over. So the only place to see each other is here."
One other thing she's learned? A farmer's fatalistic view of life -- though in Leslie's case, it's always delivered with a sweet smile. Talking about her first season of births on the farm, she says, "Pigs just seem to sort themselves out. And the sheep? I had 15 ewes and 25 lambs and not a single problem. Which means that next year I'll probably have the year from hell."
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