Editor’s note: In an effort to support local farmers the Charlotte Grange has volunteered to feature a new farm story each month in The Charlotte News. Here is the inaugural piece. Enjoy!
“Renaissance farmer” is what came to mind after talking with Tiny Sikkes, touring Windy Corners Farm and meeting her husband, Roel Boumans. They are truly well versed and skilled in multiple aspects of farming and in life in general, willing and offering to share their knowledge and skills with others, valuing the land and environment, Tiny and her husband, Roel, both natives of the Netherlands, embody the true meaning of being “renaissance farmers.”
Growing up in a large family, Tiny, the daughter of a tulip farmer, spent a lot of time gardening with her aunt who had a small dairy farm, so she was introduced, at an early age, to the wonders and joys of working with the earth. Living in Amsterdam as a young adult she met Roel, and they discovered they shared the dream of becoming organic farmers. When he left for Louisiana to pursue a Ph.D. at LSU, Tiny followed him, and they settled in Baton Rouge for what was going to be a seven-year stay in the States. That stay, which began in 1985, has stretched to now well over 30!
After completing his PH.D. program, Roel’s work as an ecologist brought them north, initially to New Hampshire, then to Maryland and finally to Vermont. Through those early years they continued to farm as best they could. Having established credit with their home purchase in Maryland, Roel and Tiny were able, in 2002, to purchase 14 acres and the homestead and barn of the LaBerge Farm on the corner of Greenbush and East Thompson’s Point Roads where they planned to begin to farm in earnest.
Goats and chickens soon were in residence, and Tiny was back working the soil with a vegetable garden, when, less than a year later, the house, a combination of the original 1795 home and a later addition built in 1835, burned to the ground. Relieved that they and the animals were all okay, they soon came to realize that their dream was not dead. Living in a trailer for six months while they converted the milk house and part of the barn into living quarters, Roel and Tiny then started rebuilding the main house on the original stone and brick foundation. As an ecologist, Roel places high value on the land and environment, thus their house, with the sole exception of the roof, contains no plastic but is instead insulated with straw.
In the years that followed, Windy Corners Farm became home at various times to goats, pigs, sheep and turkeys and currently is home to two adult Jersey cows along with a new-born heifer, Whimsy. Tiny feeds the heifer multiple times a day, drinking milk from Shadow, her mom. Feeding and handling the heifer gives Tiny the opportunity to convince Whimsy who’s “the boss” so that as an adult she will be as easy to handle as her mom, Shadow, and grandma, Cocoa. There are also 20 chickens, including a couple of roosters, and the plan is to add a couple of pigs to the farm. Tiny maintains a large vegetable and flower gardens along with black currant, apple, peach, cherry and pear trees, and raspberry bushes and grapevines, which provide her with fruit for the table and for juice and preserves.
As time went on, Roel and Tiny recognized that to rely on the farm for their entire income, they would need to focus on just one aspect of farming, like strictly growing vegetables, which would require them to use fossil fuels to run tractors. It would also mean they wouldn’t be able to raise animals or grow fruit trees. Their dream needed to be adjusted. They chose instead to become self-sustaining farmers, occasionally selling any “extras” they produce. Tiny’s main job—when she’s not teaching pottery or cheese-making classes, or yoga at the Senior Center or at Yoga Roots—is tending the farm, while Roel works as an ecological economist at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute. Thus, Windy Corners became what would have been commonplace in early Vermont, a farm raising a variety of animals to supply the family with milk, cheese, butter, eggs and meat, and growing a variety of vegetables and fruits for the table and for preserving and perhaps a few flowers to bring color into the home.
The barn still contains the living quarters they used for seven years after the fire and includes a living area with a wood stove where Tiny learned to lay brick, a kitchen and upstairs sleeping area along with a well-furnished wood shop containing the necessary equipment and tools so they could rebuild the house! Two freezers for food storage, a refrigerator for milk and eggs and an ample supply of canning jars take up one area of the dairy barn. One room was her “cheese room,” but that operation was moved into the basement of the house. Asked how she learned to make cheese, Tiny said, “By a book.” She made chevre when she had goats and now makes a hard cheese from Jersey milk. Twenty chickens and their nesting boxes have one section at the end of the barn, and the Jerseys have sleeping quarters in another. In the house, the basement contains a root cellar, a cheese room and Tiny’s potter’s wheel. Her greenhouse is attached to the kitchen with another hot house outside.
Truly a farm-to-table home, Roel and Tiny know they are protecting their corner of the environment, living in a home they built themselves, which gives them an exquisite view of Mt. Philo and occasionally, when they have a bumper crop of something, affords them a bit of income. They are totally self-sustaining, growing all their own food and raising all the meat they eat, though sometimes augmented with fish from the lake. They purchase only staples, spices and paper products.
To ensure the art of farming stays alive for future generations, young people come and go at the farm, learning about the various aspects of farming from Tiny. And Roel and Tiny keep their heritage alive in their home, speaking Dutch with each other and occasionally donning the traditional Dutch wooden shoes that hang in the barn. Tiny describes life on the farm as peaceful and serene—and gazing out at Philo from her house, this writer could feel the contentment present at Windy Corners Farm.