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Blue Heron Farm in 2003

Norma's injuries/illness

The year started out on a bad note when Norma was injured during sugaring. She had been out in the woods on a sunny February day tapping trees and had just taken off her sunglasses since the sun was going down. Amazingly, when setting the last tap of the day, a small piece of the plastic spout chipped off and flew into her eye, causing a serious corneal abrasion. Scratches such as these are very painful, so we took her to the ER where they gave her meds to kill the pain. Fortunately, there was no permanent injury, and she healed just fine.

Later that year, on June 16, she was not so "lucky". She had been in the sugarhouse packaging syrup with our water jacket packager. The very next day we were expecting delivery of a new, larger packager, and the old one had been disconnected from its electrical source in preparation for trading it in. As she had done hundreds of times before, when done packaging, she rinsed out the inner tank with clean water, and tipped the packager forward slightly to drain out the water. Unfortunately, with the wiring disconnected, the whole packager, still filled with VERY HOT water, came over on her, seriously scalding her right arm and right leg. The worst injury (deep 3rd degree burns) occurred to her right ankle when the hot water got down inside her insulated lace-up boots. Before she could get the boot off, the water effectively cooked her upper foot and ankle.

Not surprisingly, we rushed her to the ER again. She had a very long and difficult recovery period, being confined to bed rest and use of a wheelchair for over a month and then on crutches for another month and a half. She describes the worst part of the healing as the water-bath therapy that was needed to reduce scarring. This was about as painful as the original burns. She also couldn't go near any of the animals for fear of contracting an infection that Doctors told us could cost her her foot. Fortunately in addition to being very tough when it comes to pain, she also has great healing powers, and she eventually got back to 100%. Although she had some scarring on her arm and ankle, she did not need skin grafts, a process that would have extended this difficult time in her life. We are thankful that we had just hired a great young man named Eric Colbeck who was essential to helping me (Bill) manage the farm and my UMass job while Norma was laid up. We also can't give enough thanks to our dear friend Pam Hazlett who helped above and beyond the call by turning over the vacation rentals until Norma could get back on her feet.

As if the burn accident wasn't bad enough, just before Christmas, she was kept up one night with severe abdominal pain. As tough as she is, she didn't want to go to the hospital, thinking that things would get better. However, I insisted, and we were told that she had an infected gall bladder. Unfortunately, she had to spend Christmas week in the hospital on antibiotics before they could do the laproscopic removal of her gall bladder. The good news on this is that she healed very well, and we were able to go on vacation only 2 weeks later. (See 2004) As you can imagine, we were VERY HAPPY to see the end of 2003.

Sugaring season

This was quite a year to be out in the woods tapping trees. Among others, there was an incredible snow storm on President's Day that buried Western Mass. Even on snowshoes, you would sink in to your knees, and breaking trail was a lot of work. The season turned out to be pretty good in spite of (or maybe because of) all the snow.

Farmland Viability program

We were pleased to be selected in 2002 to participate in the Farmland Viability Program (FVP) of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Participants in this program agree to put a ten-year Conservation Restriction (CR) on their property. The CR is a legal covenant that states that we will not develop any portion of the farm for 10 years. In exchange, participants receive help with creating/updating a business plan for the farm, and up to $40,000 to carry out priority elements of that business plan.

In our case, in 2003 we used the FVP funds and some of our own resources to upgrade our maple sugaring operation (adding new stainless steel pans, a new syrup packaging unit and a Reverse Osmosis machine), and to purchase newer used equipment to improve our haying operations (4-wheel drive John Deere 2355 tractor, JD disk mower, hay wagons). We also were able to buy a variable angle snow plow that mounts of the front of the new tractor so that we can plow out our properties on our schedule rather than on that of an outside contractor.

One foal was born

We were blessed with a fine stud colt out of Gita. His name is Conner and he was sold as a yearling to Ruth Price of Eastern Mass. Ruth has decided to keep him on the farm for us to train him over the next 3-4 years. Conner was shown by Kiley Turner and took Youngstock Champion at the 2004 Woodstock Fjord Show.

Round Pen

To help with training and conditioning horses, we set up a 50 foot round pen next to the farmhouse. This pen enables us to work horses in a controlled environment to get them in good physical shape, improve their balance, trot and canter readily in both directions, and teach them to bend on the move. Unfortunately, we have had to more or less constantly repair the round pen which is prone to wash outs during heavy rains.