Keith Wallace was the fifth of seven children who lost their father at the start of the historic influenza epidemic in 1917. They were the fourth generation to farm on a beautiful ridge called Blush Hill in central Vermont where the Wallaces had settled in 1866. The family, with kids aged 7 to 17, forged on, the two eldest “broad-shouldered sons” doing the bulk of the work, recounted two of Keith’s children, Rosina and Wally during a recent afternoon conversation. “Grandmother knew how to milk a cow but she never told anybody she did,” Rosina said with a chuckle.The Wallaces settled in central #Vermont in 1866. They've been farming there ever since. #FarmerFriday Click To Tweet
Rosina runs the farm now with the help of her brother, milking 16 Jerseys and “one silly Holstein who doesn’t know her way to the barn,” she said after herding the renegade cow in for afternoon milking with the “help” of her rescue Border Collie, Bodhi. “That’s Buddhist for enlightenment, but it’s not a good name for him,” she remarked drily.
The Wallace siblings will most likely be the last of the family to farm on Blush Hill. To commemorate the farm’s 150th anniversary this year, they are hosting an open farm on Saturday, July 2 to honor its deep history and the generations who came before, including their father. Rosina, a former teacher, has hosted many youngsters from local schools and community groups throughout the years. “This is just a different world,” she said. “Even for kids who grow up right next door, if they don’t come visit the farm, they don’t make the connections.” She believes there are many lessons to be shared through well-managed farmland, which makes space for wildlife along with the cows and supports a variety of ecosystems. “I think it’s important that we all kind of coexist,” Rosina explained. “That was the stuff that was important to my father and the generations that have been on the farm.”
Rosina’s father, Keith Wallace, was a slight man with dark curly hair. In a photo of him and his six siblings as children, he hugs a cat and is the only one smiling. Despite the odds, all seven fatherless Wallace kids earned college degrees becoming a teacher, minister, theologian, ornithologist and accountant. Along with one brother, Keith studied animal husbandry and he always wanted to farm. Their father loved the farm deeply, recalled Rosina and Wally. From when he was a tiny boy, Rosina recounts with a grin, “whenever his mother couldn’t find him, she knew to look for him working his way towards the barn.”
The siblings have warm memories of their father and childhood on the farm. “Dad might be gone all day and when he’d come home, he’d open the door and we’d run at him and he’d catch all three of us at once,” Rosina recalled with a smile. Her brother Wally added, “I remember surprising him by jumping on him from the wood box next to the stove.” They worked hard together as a family but also had fun, the siblings recalled. “We all helped do what we could. If the hay had to come in, we were out in the hayfield. If the woodpile had to be sawed, we did that. If the cows got out, we fixed the fence,” said Rosina. “If there was a job we didn’t want to do, he always had a way to make it fun.” On Sundays, there was always church in the morning, a big noon dinner and then afternoon “surprise” car rides with a picnic basket in tow when their father would drive them somewhere to visit friends or explore. Father’s Day, the siblings recalled, would not have been much different except there would probably have been cake and ice cream.
While their father was very family-oriented, he also devoted a lot of time to public service and traveled quite a bit for speaking engagements: he was president of the Vermont Farm Bureau for 21 years and on the local school board for 27 years. Occasionally, he’d take his three children with him, like when he scheduled a talk to Long Island duck farmers during the 1964 World’s Fair, an excursion that Rosina and Wally still remember with delight. “Dad was quite a storyteller,” Rosina said. “When he and his siblings were growing up on the farm, they didn’t have TV or radio. As senior citizens, they’d get together and see who could tell the best stories. They were quite competitive.” Keith Wallace was also elected as both a state representative and then senator. In fact, his political aspirations paved the way for Rosina to come back to the farm.
Like her father, Rosina had always loved the farm. “You just grow into it. It’s just a part of who you are,” she said. But she never imagined being a farmer: “I guess I always thought it was a man’s job.” After earning her degree in education, she taught for 12 years but grew unhappy during the last year and by mid-Spring told them that she didn’t wish to return for the next school year. “I was really scared to tell my parents. I thought I’d get a big lecture,” she said. “I waited until Dad was down under a cow to tell him and then he knocked my socks off. He said he wanted to run for office again. He said, ‘If you want to farm, I need the help.’” Rosina came back to the farm in the fall of 1980. “I had 15 years farming with Dad and that was quality time,” she recalled with satisfaction. “He shared so many stories of the land, the farm and family.” A highlight, she said, was accompanying him to the National Farm Bureau meeting at which he received a lifetime achievement award. “Being onstage with him while he received a standing ovation from 5,000 people after his acceptance speech,” she said, beaming at the memory, “was just the best.”
Although losing their father was hard, Rosina was very glad that they were able to keep him at home until the end. His funeral was held on Father’s Day in 1995. “I’m convinced he died happier knowing that I was going to keep the farm going—and I’ve been able to do that because my brother has been here to help despite the fact that he doesn’t like cows,” she added with a fond nod over to Wally.
150th Anniversary Open Farm!
Where: Wallace Farm: 1903 Blush Hill Road, Waterbury VT
When: Saturday, July 2 10 am-2 pm
Come celebrate the 150th birthday of a Vermont farm. Visit with the cows, hear storytellers and music, birdwatch and learn about diverse habitats and wildlife on the farm. Sample Cabot cheese and chocolate milk.
Cooking for Dad on Father’s Day
Keith Wallace was a pretty straightforward meat and potatoes man, but he loved apple pie and his wife’s cake donuts fried in lard with applesauce that was kept warm on the back of the wood stove. One dish he rarely ate was baked beans, recalled his daughter Rosina: “When he was a boy, he and his brothers took turns sleeping in the fields to keep the deer away from the beans. They’d had their fill of beans.”
These moist baked chocolate donuts will make Dad very happy.
Good old from-scratch apple pie is always a winner.
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).