Peter and the Farm is a documentary by husband-and-wife team (and the visionaries behind Basilica Hudson) Tony Stone and Melissa Auf Der Maur. 

 

PETER DUNNING

Peter Dunning, the subject of the film, wrote this mission statement for his farm around 1980.


Mile Hill Farm is a small, marginal, 136 acre hill farm in Springfield VT. Situated at the end of a town road, its southern exposure and scenic steep hills mask its glacial rocks and thin soils. First cleared and settled around 1860 (Vermont’s agricultural hey day) , the farm has provided sustenance for many generations. An old, yet productive, 3 acre orchard of pears and apples provides a focal point to its fields and woods.

Since 1978, when we bought it, we devoted our lives to creating a balanced, diversified, and sustainable homestead. We’ve committed ourselves to improving the quality of both the farm and the environment and in the process have enriched not only our own lives but the lives of our friends and customers as well.

Beginning with sheep and fruit, we have expanded and diversified to a full range of vegetables and flowers. We do not and have never used any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or harmful pesticides. Our three barns full of winter accumulated manure are cleaned out every spring, mixed with ground limestone and carefully windrowed with a manure spreader. The piles are turned once or twice with a front end loader and the following year the compost is harrowed into the gardens and spread onto the hay fields.

In addition to sheep, we have 2 family cows, a small herd of Black Angus, and regular litters of pigs. Eighty hens provide eggs for sale and in the summer we raise meat birds, ducks, and turkeys. We hay our own 35 acres as well as neighboring fields. The sheep and cows are grazed rotationally, and the poultry are allowed to dig and scratch outside.

During the winter the animals are kept in the barn, bedded on hay and sawdust, and fed our own hay. In addition to our own hay we buy organically raised grain from a farmer in New York State. The ewes and lambs are fed a mixture of whole barley, whole soybean, and cracked corn. We mix these grains ourselves and find satisfaction in knowing there are no additives, no chemicals, no by-products and especially no animal by-products. We abhor the current mentality, based solely on economics, of including animal by-products and wastes in pelleted form (called grain) and fed to ruminant herbivores like cows and sheep. Although the USDA is finally beginning to see the horrible consequences of feeding, for example, sheep brains to cows, they still remain blasé in general and “officially” accept and even promote such practices as mixing urine, blood, bonemeal, animal fat, and even chicken manure into the rations of commercially raised cows and sheep. This, of course, combined with the long accepted use of hormones and antibiotics for faster growth.

On the other hand, our calves and milk cows are given a mixture of ground corn and soybean meal as a supplement to leafy, green hay. The mature Angus thrive without grain but plenty of early cut hay is feed. Pigs are kept year round on a small scale, usually not more than 5 or 6 at a time. Their diet is more varied since they clean up any wastes from the gardens and orchard. Their mainstay, however, is organic cracked corn combined with our own surplus milk, either whole or skimmed, and fed twice daily.

In essence, we have learned there are no short cuts. It takes time and it takes money and it takes experience to properly care for our land and our animals and ourselves. What is the alternative?