The surroundings seem right out of a Vermont postcard scene…cows contently grazing, red and yellow leaves framing white church steeples in the distance, a swing hanging under a huge oak tree. But there's more…
Brent and Regina Beidler recount the journeys of their lives both individually and together. Image-rich stories unfold of their childhood, early adult years in service in urban areas and third world communities, their relationship, acquiring their small family farm, and finally the birth of now 8-year-old Erin.
I begin to understand that the generous kindness they selflessly offer to others, and the earth, has returned to them in abundance. It's not just the surrounding beauty that provides the backdrop for an idyllic life; there's an unmistakable feeling of joy everywhere.
Everything about farming brings a smile to Brent's face. He's clearly living his bliss. "My grandparents' farm signified wide open spaces with lots of animals, tractors…things that I didn't get to experience at home," Brent recalls. "During the summers when I stayed with them, I always managed to wake before daylight when I heard Grandpa's footsteps on the way to barn. He proclaimed that I was destined to be a farmer when I was four years old."
Brent continues, "I worked on Vermont dairy farms after high school and while attending UVM earning my degree in Animal Sciences. As college came to an end I knew that I wanted to have a farm of my own. I also felt strongly about volunteer service work, so I decided to serve in Bangladesh for three years with the Mennonite Central Committee. The focus of our work was research that would benefit the poorest farmers. I worked in the flood prone Delta regions as a livestock specialist who worked with an agronomist and fisheries expert. The biggest problem facing the farmers I worked with was keeping animals alive. There is a Bengali saying, "If your son dies, you mourn. If your cow dies, the family dies."
Despite being ravaged by natural disaster, Bangladesh is a land of incredible beauty. The culture is driven by the values of family and community, and hospitality is not just a value—it's a national pass-time. There is deep reverence for knowledge and faith in God," Brent remembers.
Although Regina's family didn't farm, as a young girl, she too looked forward to summer visits on her grandparents' farm in Pennsylvania. She has vivid memories of animals, a root cellar filled with jewel toned preserved fruits and vegetables and a long lane on which she and her brother were sent to retrieve the mail. She and Brent knew each other as children. They were neighbors and attended the same small Mennonite church where Regina's father was a lay pastor. After Brent returned from Bangladesh, he started his own large market garden and farm stand. He and Regina rediscovered each other when she returned from living and working in Boston and love blossomed.
Brent and Regina were married in 1993, with plans to volunteer again with the Mennonite Central Committee, this time in a tiny village called Bitkine in Chad, West Africa.
Regina says, "We were asked to establish a small scale agriculture demonstration plot to create farming opportunities for young people. Bitkine was a village of several thousand people 8 hours from the capital. We learned a lot from our half acre garden including humility, as we realized how much we didn't know about arid climate gardening or the tools and techniques."
Nevertheless, they persisted, and worked on demonstrating how to grown onions and garlic as seed for other farmers. They shared family life with a Chadian family that had seven children.
"In the rural villages in a country as vast as Chad, no police forces or government agencies exist. People rely on tribal structures that have existed for centuries. Millet is the primary grain crop in Chad, and the potential exists for substantial loss at planting and at harvest by large flocks of birds. These losses are tempered by the Chef de Terre, who determines the day of planting and the day of harvest. In this way no one person suffers severe losses. Without millet a family cannot eat and has nothing to sell with which to purchase additional food or essentials at the market. There is a realization that the good of the whole is more important that the good of the individual."
Indeed, this seems to be a cornerstone of the Beidlers' perspective.
Regina and Brent returned from Chad in 1996, with little materially, but with a wealth of faith. They were fortunate to reunite with friends Bob and Beth Kennett, a Vermont dairying couple who provided them jobs and a home. During their two years with the Kennetts, Brent and Regina raised fifteen heifers, which formed the base of their own dairy herd. In 1997, The Kennetts also helped them to find the farm of their dreams. "It all came together beautifully." Remembers Brent. In May of 1998, they spent the first night on their own farm. They were finally home.
1998 also brought the birth of their daughter Erin, now the energetic center of the Beidler farm. Little Erin is a very engaging eight-year-old…just as resilient and every bit as adventurous as her parents! … She gallops through pastures and crop rows like a deer, barefoot and free, with an endless supply of energy and joie de vive.
When her parents allow it, Erin starts her day at 4:00 am, just like her father loved to do as a child. Brent carries her out with him for morning chores, still sleeping, to her makeshift bed in the 200 year old tie stall barn, appointed with dress up clothes, dolls, flashlights…and adjacent the new born calves. She eventually awakens to help Brent and Regina finish feeding and escort the small herd back out to the pasture, an activity she knows well, from the time she was an infant seated comfortably in a back pack. All three Beidlers do chores together, as a family.
Erin shares her plans with me for a special lemonade stand, discussing the option of complimentary roadside entertainment. "Me and my neighbor, Laura, will show people our bugs. They are kind of like water bugs, but we call them 'circles bugs' because they like going in circles all the time!"
When asked what sort of chores she does on the farm, Erin answers, "One my jobs here is to find the kittens born on our farm, make sure they are friendly to everyone." This is a job she takes very seriously, as there are at least 15 cats at home on the farm as well as a menagerie of other assorted animals: pigs, draft horses (which Brent uses to log with), chickens, and a friendly farm dog named Penny.
Farming is generally thought of as difficult and labor-intensive work in America. I can see that Brent and Regina's joyful attitudes and reverence for life comes from their combined life experiences, being raised in loving families, and then serving in third world countries. Their family values are well rooted, and the abundance that surrounds them deeply appreciated.
"Going organic was an obvious step for us, when we began to develop our farm plan," explains Regina. The Beidlers were one of the first Vermont farms to join Organic Valley Family of Farms, the largest organic cooperative in the U.S. "Sustainability is a word we all hear often. For us, it's a word that begs us to determine how to live and farm in a way that will support not only in the short term but also for generations to come."
"We understand that our relationship with the land is as sojourners that have ownership for only a short time. Stewardship and sustainability are at the forefront of each decision we make as parents, farmers and community members."
All is well here.