By Sue Henninger
Every Sunday, Jacalyn Spoon, who grew up in a project apartment outside of Buffalo, would visit her grandfather and his vegetable garden by Tonawanda Creek.
“It was my happy place,” she recalled nostalgically, adding that she had a dollhouse and a toy barn with animals that she spent many dreamy afternoons playing with.
As an adult, Spoon lived in a house in the Village of Groton where she had a large, productive garden that she eventually “outgrew.” Fortunately, her house had increased in value, allowing her to purchase the 16 acres on West Groton Road on which Blue Spoon Farm now sits.
The move was not without its challenges. The previous homeowner had assured her that there would be internet access. Unfortunately this turned out to be untrue. Spoon had to have a phone line installed and the lack of reliable service can be frustrating to her family, their renters, and guests.
A more gradual, and not entirely unexpected, development has been the need to adapt to the increasing urbanization of the land surrounding her farm. Issues she’s had to deal with include runoff from neighbors’ water systems that aren’t properly drained, and complaints about her birds’ occasional escape though the farm’s permanent fencing.
Spoon purchased her first animals through a process of elimination.
“Since my whole point of farming was food production and I don’t eat much beef, cattle were out,” she said.
This applied to sheep as well.
“I hadn’t ever met a sheep I liked that liked me back,” she confessed. “So I went with goats.”
According to Spoon, it’s impossible to be sad around these loving animals.
“Every day is a party for the goats!” she said.
Current farm inhabitants include Heritage mixed-breed turkeys (including Royal Palm, Spanish, and Narragansett), geese, goats (Boer and Nubian Cross), sheep (Shetland Cross and Northland), and an Icelandic ram, There’s also a farm cat and Great Pyrenees dog, a livestock guardian who Spoon wryly noted “does her best.”
One of the hardest aspects of farming for Spoon has been recognizing when it’s time to change what isn’t working. Sheep have been selling quite well, so she plans to increase the herd next year, while decreasing the number of goats on the farm. Ducks have been discontinued, though Spoon still has a few frozen ones for sale, along with holiday turkeys and geese. The ducks were originally purchased to eradicate slugs and deal with pasture parasites. However Spoon soon discovered that raising them was time consuming, especially in terms of changing their water.
This is where she found the holistic and permaculture principles she’d studied to be invaluable. Stepping back, she examined her problem, and determined that the water was always dirty because she had too many ducks and no duck processor. She’d have to either adapt to her surroundings or change the surroundings. She chose the latter.
“It was an ‘aha!’ moment. I didn’t need the ducks that badly,” Spoon said. “I realized that someone else can raise ducks. I don’t have to do everything.
“A big part of permaculture is asking ‘Does it make you happy?’” she added. “You are part of the ‘whole’ in holistic!”
Spoon also needed to reconcile her vegetarian tendencies with running a meat-producing farm. She said she only allows herself to become emotionally invested in her breeding stock animals, keeping in mind that the others will be delicious and healthy meat for someone in the near future.
“It’s not realistic for them all to be pets,” she admitted. “I eat meat-lamb and goat and turkey. It’s part of the circle.”
Like many local farmers, Spoon has a variety of income streams. She runs a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with meat, goose eggs, and vegetables, rents out rooms in her farmhouse, and runs an Airbnb (with the help of her son and his fiancée). Additionally, she’s the director of the Cortland Free Library. She sometimes manages to creatively combine her programming there with her farm by organizing activities like the grant-funded, intergenerational Pysanky Egg Decorating and bringing her friendly animals to visit with library patrons.
Spoon’s real passion is recruiting individuals for farm workshare. In between balancing her duties at the library and the farm, she keeps an eye out for people who are interested in helping her grow her homestead.
It’s ironic, she noted, but “You can’t be independent and self-sufficient without the help of others.”
The experience won’t just be about petting animals, she asserted. For example, one woman came out and planted the garden for Spoon this spring, receiving a sheep, a goat, and some vegetables and eggs in return. What’s more, there are fences to fix, debris to be picked out of wool, hooves to trim and, plenty of manure to deal with.
In other words, it’s a great experience for anyone interested in learning what it takes to produce the food we eat and issues like food justice. For those who aren’t interested, or able to, in working on a farm, she recommends buying all products locally.
“When you buy at a big box store, you reduce the viability of local farms,” Spoon said. “Support your neighbors, lower your carbon footprint, and increase food security in your area.”
Spoon looked around her pasture filled with animals contentedly going about their daily routines.
“This barn looks just like the [toy] barn I had as a kid,” she said. “My dream came true – with a few nightmares thrown in!
“I love to share this dream with other people so,” Spoon added, “if you want to come out and farm with me, get in touch!”