Sarah Drew Reeves

Jay and Deb Van Arman
Photograph by Chad Finer, 2012

“How long is this kid going to last,”
uncles speculated,
standing round the swings after the funeral of Deb’s father,
six days? six weeks? six months?

“The only thing I ever knew was this farm,” said Deb.

“Neophytes” they called themselves in ’71,
A new field entirely for Jay, for Deb, a new role.
Holsteins were added to Jerseys,
a new L on the barn built.
They learned from neighbors:
A farmer’s corn was bogged down in rain and mud,
Jay “had time”;
he went over with his tractor; a friendship began.
Another lent his truck; it morphed into “a community effort.”

An opportunity, a crisis sixteen years
and three children later,
they seized by the horns
and sold all their cows.
Full time jobs they landed; yet farming still?

“custom haying” filled a niche for former dairy.
A farmer needed a place to air manure:
Composting a choice gardener’s blend began.
Sugaring, long discontinued, resumed
with their new neighbor from Massachusetts,
he built a beautiful sugar house;
they offered equipment. “It started a neighborhood thing.”

And now?
Hayseeds through and through, they appear,
Debbie with hoe in hand, her broad brimmed hat, her rubber boots,
Jay in his jeans with a smile as big as all outdoors,
standing in the garden’s orderly
rows of lettuce, squash, tomatoes, marigolds.

They’ve made it, so far
with short range/long range/ flexible–because you never know what tomorrow
day by day.

They’ve made it, so far,
because they’ve seen openings
and walked through.

They’ve made it, so far,
because of their happy steadfast spirits.

Uncles and cousins, take note:
A century of the farm in one family.
They’ve made it, so far.


The Van Arman Farm

Sarah Drew Reeves

The poem is in response to a photograph of Jay and Debbie Van Arman by Chad Finer, part of the Norwich Historical Society’s Exhibit, Cycles of Change: Farming in Norwich, which includes Chad Finer’s photographs, Gardeners of Norwich: Digging the Past, Sowing the Future,” Ben Silberfarb’s video and an audio interview with Greg Sharrow.

Title is quoted from an interview with Emily Myers, their younger daughter, speaking on behalf of her two siblings and herself on the occasion of the family’s celebration of 100 years of the farm in one family. Valley News (August 3, 2014) Quotations in the poem come from Greg Sharrow’s audio interview with Jay and Debbie Van Arman.

For the town:

The Meeting House Hill Farm is “… one of Norwich’s identifying landmarks, valued especially for its scenic and historic significance, as well as its continuing productivity. * Open Space Priorities, Informal Plan, 2004. p. 28.

. . . “the farm helps define the scenic, rural quality of Norwich” The Inventory of Scenic Resources, 2000, pp. 4 f.

A watercolor of the Meeting House Hill Farm by Ann Mellor is in Tracy Hall.

About Sarah: Sarah grew up in Westford, MA, running free in her father’s orchards of apples, peaches, and pears. After college and graduate school in the U.S. and Germany, she and Dave settled in Chicago for 13 years, then moved to Norwich, to a spring pond hilltop (near the Appalachian Trail) with their two children, their Chicago Alley cat and now their dog, Coco. Sarah’s engaged in ministry, sustainable landscape design, conservation, teaching for Osher@Dartmouth, singing choral music, and hiking. Passionate about poetry, she’s been trying her hand at writing for a few years, and is delighted to be a member of the Still Puddle Poets.