Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Farm Bulletin: The Roots of Ayers Creek Farm

The following post was written by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm for Big Picture Agriculture, an excellent blog about trends and developments in agriculture, food and farming.

"Anthony Boutard, born in Massachusetts, grew an early appreciation for plants from his father who was a renowned botanist. Educated as a biologist with a graduate degree in Forestry, Anthony and his wife Carol moved out to Oregon in the early 1990s for Anthony to work with a company called 1000 Friends of Oregon, which focuses on land use and landscape preservation. After a few years in Portland, Anthony and Carol decided to take up farming and purchased a 144-acre working farm out in Gaston, about 30 miles from the city. Their philosophy is simple: to grow what tastes good and does well on their land."

The photos below are "lantern slides" taken c.1900 in a beautifully rugged region of Switzerland. Anthony assumes that the photos were taken by his Danish great-grandfather, Ernest Boutard, an engineer who had a patent partnership in Copenhagen, but whose heart was at home in the mountains. He studied at the Polytechnic in Zürich. His grandmother's family was from Graubünden, Switzerland.

[Anthony provided the captions to go with the photos. Click on a photo to see a full size version.]

The reckoning after the cheese has aged in a family cheese-making operation. The Appenzell produces a very fine aged cow’s milk cheese available in most cheese shops today. [Anthony notes: "The cheeses of Switzerland remain exceptional because they still adhere to the practice of moving the herds to the high pastures where the lactating cows graze on the alpine flora, the same intensely flavored vegetation used to produce the amaros (kräuterlikörs), bitter liqueurs that I savor as much as the cheeses."]

Celebrating the ascent of the village’s livestock to the high, summer pastures. Following tradition still extant today, that procession is led by children and Appenzeller goats, a hornless breed of the region. The three lead cows bear large, harmonized ceremonial bells, sounding three different notes, for the occasion. These are not practical for grazing. The regular bells worn by the grazing cows are much smaller and lighter, made of plain steel. The leather collar is heavier than the bell. The man leading the cows carries a milking bucket on his shoulder per tradition. (Note that the man in the center is not in the celebratory finery, and other cows are wandering about, not part of the procession.) [Anthony notes: "It was striking to see the modern Appenzeller parade where the choreography is unchanged over the course of a century."]

Harvesting wine grapes, most likely in the canton Ticino. Note the tile roof on the buildings. Ticino, bordering Italy, is the mildest region of Switzerland.

A building for storing grains. The flat rocks between the granary and its supports keep rodents from entering the stores. Yes, that is the Matterhorn in the background.

Flowering chestnuts growing in the canton Valais. The chestnuts were called the "bread of the poor," providing sustenance in challenging times and circumstances. Roasted or boiled when fresh, they were also dried and ground to make a flour for polenta and baking.

Milking goats in a high summer pasture, as well as goats being goats as is their wont. This was taken either in the canton Appenzell or Graubünden (Grisons). These are the progenitors of what is known today as the Grisons Striped goat, a tough mountain breed at home in sparse rocky pastures.

Pausing at a shrine on the way to bringing milk from the high, summer pasture. Likely canton Valais in the southern part of the country. Raclette is its signature cheese, though many types are produced in the region. (The mountains in the background remind me of the Dents du Midi.)

Service in a mountain community, probably in the Appenzell. The 19th century saw the depopulation of rural Swiss communities. Some to other European cities, like my great great-grandfather who left his small village in Graubünden and learned to make pianos in Cologne, Germany, ultimately settling in Zürich. Others immigrated to the Americas. There are people of Swiss descent from Argentina to Canada. At the height of the exodus, during the 1880s some 82,000 migrated to the U.S. Towns named Bern, Helvetia, and Glarus, names which betray their Swiss roots.

Thanks to Big Picture Agriculture and Anthony Boutard for allowing me to share this essay.

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