“He’s coming!” someone said, and the room quieted. We were all waiting in the event hall of the community barn, around thirty people looking expectantly at the door. In the bathroom the real surprise waited: John’s brother and sister-in-law from Arizona, and almost twenty former exchange-students and their families, who had spent between three weeks and three months at Applecheek Farm during the years when John and Judy hosted students from around the world as part of an agricultural exchange program. When John, Sr. opened the door to the hall and stepped in, we all began singing happy birthday to you! and when the song was over, the bathroom door opened and everyone filed out with big smiles.
John, Sr. stood staring, a mix of disbelief and awe spread across his face as he took it all in. Most of the former exchange-students came from Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and they brought a gift of traditional clothing for John, Sr. to wear. Once he changed, the party really started!
Throughout the afternoon and evening, friends and family from near and far got up and shared stories of John, Sr. and Applecheek Farm. Listening to the stories and hearing the incredible emotion in each person’s voice, I was struck with how incredible a place and a family this is. John, Sr. and Judy, and then Johnny and Rocio, Jason and Sara, have tied their families to this land, and in turn have reached out to so many people in Vermont and around the world, creating the physical and emotional connections that make up a family farm, and I saw again how a family goes far beyond blood ties.
Being that we celebrated on the farm, we had a delicious and seemingly endless buffet of duck, ham, potato salad, greens, local cheese, coleslaw, and more. When it came time for cake, we sang once more, and John, Sr. blew out his candles.
That farming is hard work is an understatement, but what that hard work brings equals out to more than food. It brings a life rich in soil, fields, and fresh air; a life rich in relationships between people, animals, and the land; and it brings a life worth celebrating, because there is so much to be thankful for.