By Analiese Paik
Fairfield County gained a seasoned woman farmer last year when Carol Lake moved here from New Hampshire with her husband Peter and settled into a Ridgefield property that was once a biodynamic dairy farm. “The owner’s grandfather was one of the original biodynamic farmers in Connecticut. We found old biodynamic farming books in German in the barn” says Lake. How did a seasoned biodynamic dairy farmer have the good fortune to become the steward of a former biodynamic dairy farm? “I drove by it and saw a for rent sign, then found the house listed on Craiglist. We didn’t care about the house; we wanted the land. Typical farmers” she says with a laugh.
Last July, Lake was hired as the part-time Director of Education at Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center, a small non-profit in Yorktown Heights, New York. It was there she met co-worker Wilson Chang, also a farmer and educator, whom she quickly recognized as a kindred spirit and “amazing grower.” Soon after, Lake and her husband invited Chang to become a partner in, and one of the main growers at, Dancing Dog Farm and a house mate. “We needed help and didn’t need all the space in the giant old farm house” says Lake.
Planting at the farm began at the end of June and the half-acre’s yield was sold to restaurants and retailers including Village Social, Ridgefield Organic, and Organic Planet. “This soil grows the most stupendous vegetables that have amazing staying power” says Lake. “There are barely any rocks in the beautiful soil. Tests showed 8.2% organic matter without amending anything.”
Lake is working towards a Demeter certification, a farm certification that assures conformity to international biodynamic standards, and is considering forming two small CSAs this year, one for flowers and a second for produce. Ducks, rabbits, chickens, pigs and goats call Dancing Dog Farm home and two mini donkeys and two alpacas will soon join the clan.
Lake’s new farmstead is also the headquarters for her latest brainchild, the Eco Farm on Wheels. Think of it as a mobile farm whose farmer-instructors teach children about farm animals and animal husbandry, composting, vegetables from seed to plate, and agricultural land care, tools and implements. Twenty-minute-long workshops for kids include Let it Rot!, which teaches the hows and whys of composting with worms and active compost, and vegetables from seed to table, which invites kids to pull a vegetable from a bag, such as Brussels sprouts on the stalk, and identify the stalk, root, flower and edible parts. “I would love to be able to bring this to schools” says Lake. “Eco Farm on Wheels’ programs are certified for STEM and link with the requirements for the Common Core science standards.” She wants to work collaboratively with other farms and participate in large events, fairs, corporate and business events, fundraisers, family fun days, and even children’s birthday parties.
The Eco Farm on Wheels will have its debut on January 25th at the New York Public Library when they bring the farm to guests at the public institution’s 2015 Family Benefit, “Adventures on the Farm.” “I am most excited about being able to launch this company in this venue” says Lake. “The animals will get the kids excited and get them interested in sustainability. We’re bringing live animals to the library, which has never been done before.” Guests will find the animals – chickens, ducks, rabbits, baby lambs, and goats – and their volunteer handlers, in the foyer entrance off 42nd street. Workshops will be held in the periodical rooms and will be linked to children’s books that touch on eating and farming. “Our agricultural display of basic tools we use will have QR codes for each that will link up to more information on the Eco Farm on Wheels website. We still use the old-fashioned butter churn and the kids love to do it” says Lake.
“I am most passionate about teaching the children and lighting their passions for organics, animal husbandry and the importance of caring for their environment. It’s a wonderful teachable moment” says Lake, who has been an organic farmer and environmental educator for over thirty years. Eco Farm on Wheels carries business insurance and USDA certification to operate both on and off premises. Services begin at $200 per hour. Lake also teaches adult classes on felting, fiber art (different ways to craft with natural fiber from animals), and cheesemaking.
Carol Lake, Founder