2012-09-19 / Arts and Entertainment

Finger Food: A Personal Account

By Tim Greco

Above, Dr. Mary Ellen Finger and her husband, David Vickery, at their farm. Below is “Sausage,” the pig, more than 500 pounds. 
Tim Greco Above, Dr. Mary Ellen Finger and her husband, David Vickery, at their farm. Below is “Sausage,” the pig, more than 500 pounds. Tim Greco Well, life on the farm is kinda’ laid back;

Ain’t much an old country boy like me can’t hack;

It’s early to rise, early in the sack;

Thank God, I’m a country boy

–John Denver

The lyrics to that old John Denver chestnut can be misleading if you are a city boy like me. Perhaps, I confess, I had a preconceived notion that life on a farm would be idyllic.

As I discovered, that is not the case at all.

Because of my love for all things great and small, I was eager to meet one of Philipstown’s farming couples, homeopathic veterinarian Dr. Mary Ellen Finger and farmer David Vickery at their beautiful Horsemen Trail Farm.

As I arrived, Finger and Vickery were at work trying to stabilize a ewe that had become ill. The culprit was worms, in a roundabout way. “Climate change, in particular local environmental changes, were creating conditions where we don’t get strong winters that break the egg cycle of worms,” Finger said.

Dr. Finger, toting her medical bag, started to help the poor sheep, who was lying on the hay. I inquired as to the sheep’s name, so I could comfort the sick animal by name. Finger replied, “Sheep.” I thought to myself, what an odd name?

It took me a while to get it.

I am happy to report that by the time I left this delightful farm, the sheep was back on its feet and on the road to recovery after a laser treatment. Dr. Finger went into detail and did her best to explain to me about the reality of life and death on a real farm. I grew silent.

Vickery gave me a detailed account of what it takes to run a working farm. He also spoke of predatory animals like coyotes and foxes. “Three summers ago we had a fox come through and he ate 110 chickens in 90 days.”

Although farming brings in very little income, it helps in other ways by providing food, and sales from eggs sold locally pays for chicken feed. Finger said, “We live off the land the best we can.” Vickery explained to me that while people from city sometime have a mindset to treat animals are as if they are human, the reality is that farm animals are raised for food.

We then went into a very large pen with about a hundred or so chickens. My preconceived idea was that chickens would shy away from you as you walk near them; but as I found out, that was not the case. As I was standing there, they surrounded us, not caring about the fact that I had just purchased a fine pair of black leather shoes the night before. As they walked over the shoes, Vickery smiled and said. “They think we have food.”

Next it was a walk over to the coop, where I thought it would be best if I just peered in from the outside; but Vickery was not having any of that and insisted I come in. I observed that the nesting areas, where the chickens would lay their eggs, were elevated. I then asked Vickery how -- how in the world -- did they get up there? The answer, “They’re birds, they fly.” I was shocked, since up to that point, I had no idea chickens could fly!

Then Vickery reached in for three eggs, a greenish, brown and white one and asked me to hold out my hand. To my surprise they were warm to the touch. I gasped, hoping my host did not notice as I searched my pockets for hand sanitizer.

I wanted to ask him if brown chickens laid the brown, but dared not.

Next it was off to visit the pasture to visit the four four-legged friends. When we entered the vast fencedin area, I was introduced to a donkey (lesson learned, I didn’t ask if he had a name this time around. I called him Eeyore) who came up to my side as I rubbed his neck, but it seemed that that was not enough for him. He kept head butting me to continue.

At that point, two of the most beautiful horses I had ever seen sidled right up to us saying, How Do You Do? I would have loved to have pet them, too, but the aforementioned “Eeyore” was now head butting me from behind, which made me a little nervous and unsteady on my feet, to say the least. Vickery assured me and said it was just his way of saying hello. Just then in the distance came a herd of sheep running down from the mountain to join our menagerie.

Vickery continued to shoo “Eeyore” away from me, but it seemed to me that every time he turned his back to point something else out to me in the horizon, the persistent donkey head butted me again. I have since learned that donkeys are very smart, territorial creatures.

Sensing my nervousness as our equine friends closed in, Vickery turned to open gate that led to a wonderful garden. My donkey friend saw another opportunity to give my hind quarters one last head butt to send me on my way.

Vickery then took me to one of the most interesting parts of the farm, a climatecontrolled trailer in which he takes barley grain seeds, and sprouts them into barley grass, hydroponically, a seven-day process from start to finish. Along the insides of the trailer are trays of newly sprouted barley grass that will be harvested to be fed to the animals during the winter. I sampled the grass, which was surprisingly sweet and smelled like melon.

Alas it was time to bid this wonderful place farewell.

Honestly, I never knew how much work goes into running a farm but my friends made it look easy. Not exactly what I had pictured it to be, but fun nonetheless.

On my way out I met Sausage the pig, who, to my chagrin, was covered in mud and not as clean as the pig in the Hollywood movie, Babe.

As Vickery and Finger fed it a heaping bucket of slop mixture, again I thought to myself, “Sausage”…?

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