Stitchdown Farm

Stoked to continue the farming & family guest posts with longtime farm crush Rita Champion of Stitchdown Farm in Vermont.


I was planning on writing my experience of farming with a baby months ago. But perhaps lesson one in parenting is that you no longer abide by your schedule at all. baby owns you and every which way you go about your day. This makes farming hard, and near impossible if you do not have help. 


My husband is a graphic designer who works from home which is excellent because he is around and can be flexible and share in the baby duties. He also manages the pastures and animals on the farm and was frustratingly strict about me doing any heavy lifting during my pregnancy and postpartum. I had a healthy pregnancy, I had a natural birth. I was lucky. The real hard part was when I came home and tried to assimilate my new reality as baby mom with the farm I was already a mother to. I was and am still torn because farming is what I love, it is a part of my identity and what fills me. Baby love fills you in all new ways and now sometimes I feel like I am exploding. Babies demand so much of you, your energy, your time, your every last ounce of patience, and did you know they actually eat some of your brain in utero? No wonder they come out so heartbreakingly lovable, perfect and innocent, otherwise I might fear for the human race.

Francis was born mid season, and without trying to make things sound dramatic, it was fucked up. I was the row crop farmer, I was the only one that knew what was going on and growing in the fields.  Other than one part time helper, I was the only one out there sowing and weeding and transplanting, and I was the only one who knew what and when to harvest. I was also the only one who did any of the arranging and correspondence and event flowers and after the baby arrived it was a total disaster. I was naive to not set up systems and ask for help. I suffered, the baby suffered and the farm suffered for it. 


I learned my lesson this year. I hired a field manager and two other part time crew to keep the flowers alive while I answered emails and took care of Francis. They were a total dream team and as a farm it was our most successful year yet. Hiring people is awesome. We also had help from Andrews parents who while they were in town would take him for a couple hours a day AND we even hired a nanny for the whole month of September cause I had multiple weddings per weekend and knew we needed the extra support. It was new and humbling and difficult but asking for help was really a tremendous thing we learned to do after having a baby. 


My day is split into two different categories. What I can get done with baby and what I cannot get done with baby. For example, Tractor work, he loves it. Harvesting hit or miss. computer work a definite no. So, nap times are strictly spent doing things he would not tolerate me doing while awake. Once he wakes up I strap him on and we go do some brush hogging or Andrew takes him to set up the horse fence. Productivity always needs to be maximized on a farm and this is the way we have tried to make that continue to be the case. This persistent need to keep moving has also led to a constant low level anxiety that I am just now thinking I might need therapy for. If every moment spent while he is napping isn't productive I feel myself boiling up, stressing out and an unfair amount of resentful envy of the people around me who are able to relax. hashtag self care might be a legitimate goal to stay sane as a parent. 


So yes, like many before us, we are making it work. We are successfully running a farm and another business, we are still able to get a lot accomplished, its just so very much harder not being able to work whenever you want and at the pace you are accustomed to. The key to success with a kid is low expectations and seeking help in all the ways. It is fall now, actually winter because I'm in Vermont, and we are just now coming up for air and thinking about next years goals. Right now it feels devastating to keep saying "no" to new farm ventures and growth in attempts to streamline our operation so we don't spin out. But it also feels like the smart, caring, responsible thing to do, which is exactly what you have to be as a parent. 


Stitch down Farm is owned and operated by Rita Champion, Andrew Plotsky and part time help Francis.

Rough Draft Farmstead

This week we're featuring Rough Draft Farmstead - Jesse, Hannah, Fuller and baby number two on the way. We love following this farm family on Instagram.


Farming and Pregnant 

I was very lucky during my pregnancy, as it was a rather uneventful experience and I was able to continue to work up until the very end - milking the cow the very morning I went into labor! This is NOT the case with everyone - every pregnancy, every birth, every baby is different. Still, I think if you are feeling good and able to work through your pregnancy - you should! Labor is a lot of work, and being strong and active throughout your pregnancy is good practice!  I was also lucky that my pregnancy was timed well. Our son, Further, was born in late December, so I didn’t have to suffer the busiest, hottest parts of the summer as a very-pregnant-person. Plus, once he was born, we were in our “off” season, and able to spend lots of time resting indoors without feeling guilty or pressed to rush back to work. Obviously, pregnancies aren’t always planned - but if you can time it right, I definitely recommend a winter (or whatever your off-season is) baby!



Farming with a Baby

Anyone who has ever been around an infant knows that the months before they start to crawl are magical—being able to set the baby somewhere and know they won’t move makes for a wonderful farming experience. When Further was an infant we could simply wheel him out to a shady place in the garden and he would watch us or sleep or play with something while we worked. Of the years we’ve had a kid, the infant years were the easiest, although the long trips to market could be difficult. At the time, I was driving an hour plus to market, often solo. When I had a screaming baby in the car, my choices were either stopping every 3 seconds to nurse, or just letting him cry, which often led to me crying as well as wanting to smash my head through the windshield. But we mostly look back on these baby days fondly.  Of course, everything changes when they start to move!


 Farming with a 1 Year Old

Our son learned to crawl and walk more or less when the growing season was over. But the next year was by far the most challenging. Before children grasp “dangerous” or “sharp” they require constant monitoring. And though you can keep them out of dangerous and sharp things relatively easily in the house... the garden is a bit more challenging. We could wear him when he was young but he only tolerated that for so long. And once it got hot, he had to be in the shade or house. Essentially, on the warmest summer days, one of us was completely out of the picture as far as working in the field went, and that was definitely hard on our two person farm. 



 Farming with a Two Year Old

The difference between a baby and a toddler is that they actually start behaving a little—they can understand you and you can tell them to or not to do something. They are slightly more independent. Though still in need of regular attention, the season where Further was two was a good season for independence as we were more able to work together again in the garden for extended periods. He had his own interests and could play for sometimes hours on his own—climbing the compost or chasing the dog, et cetera—without needing our attention. Being able to watch our son play in the dirt or create little worlds at the edge of the garden while we work is a joy. It reminds us why we started farming in the first place - to spend as much time as possible in nature, surrounded by healthy soil and food, and to be able to live and work at home, alongside our children.


Farming with a Three Year Old 

So far, three has been easier but slightly riskier than two. Further is definitely more independent and has his own projects, but sometimes that comes at a cost... like 24 holes punched in the side of the high tunnel with a pair of scissors he found! Like all three year olds, he is a bit sneakier, but he’s also occasionally very helpful. He can pull row cover or drip tape out across the garden. He can fetch tools. He can even pull weeds when he’s in the mood! It gives us glimpses of how the next few years will go—how he will become increasingly more helpful and more independent (which, honestly, is the most helpful thing). We look forward to having more of his help but also to be able to teach him more about gardening. Every day, farming with a kid becomes a little we figured to reward ourselves this year, we would start the whole cycle over again and have another one! He or she is due in late September, so very soon we will know what it’s like to farm with two kids.

To read more, visit their website. 

Getting Back to Work

Getting back to work.

Starting to farm again has not been anything like I had expected. While I was pregnant I had this fantastical idea that I would be back on the farm a few weeks after giving birth, wearing the baby and cruising along like any other season. Luckily we hired help, incase my plans didn’t pan out - which they haven’t, because duh I just had a baby.

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After 8ish weeks I got the okay from the doctor to be more active, as long as it wasnt painful, which I took to mean that I could begin farming again ASAP. Well my body went along with my minds foolish over ambition; I planted my heart out one day, only to wake up the next day and realize I am definitely not in farm shape. All that repetitive squatting and standing felt great while I was doing it, but the next day my legs and lower back let me know how they really felt - they were upset with my life choices.


So I told myself that I would have to slowly get back into farm shape, slowly being both the keyword and something I’ve never been good at - easing into things isn’t my forte -  so I started with some morning harvests, while August napped, moved into some half days and eventually turned those into 2 full days of farm work a week plus markets on the weekends. I am so tired at the end of the day, but it's the good tired, the accomplished tired, the I worked my butt off and loved it tired; what I didn’t expect was how tired I would be when Im not on the farm, when I’m with August all day. It's a different type of exhausting, combination mental and physical, especially when he protests naptime, which he currently is. But just like a good harvest makes long hard farm days worth it, seeing him change and grow is amazing, hearing him laugh for the first time or watching him roll over makes those sometimes endless days a little more fuzzy and unmemorable.


I’m not sure if it was hoping for the best, trusting things would work out or just being blissfully ignorant - maybe a stellar combination, but what’s been the hardest for us to figure out are market harvest days. We’re harvesting for 2-3 markets and restaurants, there’s alot going on in the fields and in the packing shed, and while we didn’t budget for childcare and would like to integrate August into our schedule as much as possible, we’re still figuring it all out. Does it make sense to hire someone to watch him for a few hours at the farm or at our house just for harvest days? We’re in a pretty rural area and the closest daycare is a solid half hour drive. For the meantime I lead the crew through harvest and Matthews on double duty with August and packing up the harvest and putting it into the cooler.

We’re new to this whole world of farming with kids, and I know there are many who do it - with great success. So I started reaching out to some farm families to get their experiences and words of wisdom and I’ll be featuring them here every so often.

Third Trimester

I wasn't sure how long I would be working, but I wound up working into the third trimester and then some. I still had energy, I was feeling extremely large - that cute belly phase was long gone - and I just wanted to stay active. 

When I was 35-ish weeks we built a new green house - not really recommended, but it had to be done. We figured it would be done in a weekend but it wound up taking the two of us longer; with the final phase - the pulling over the green house plastic - being done during a storm. I was climbing up and down ladders and pulling plastic tied to a rope, things that would make my mother cringe, but the midwife told me 'you're pregnant, not sick' and told me as long as I felt comfortable I could continue to work. 

Once it was up I started seeding onions, figuring it would be my last seeding for a while. But my due date came and passed, so I took it as a blessing in disguise and started seeding our spring crops - and finished seeding them and there was still no baby. Once I was done seeding and the field was still cover cropped, there was really nothing I could do to keep my mind off of the fact that there was still no labor no baby, but I needed to find something. I was getting messages and calls every day from people asking if the baby was here yet - which, incase you dont know, is not something you should ask someone who is past their due date. They will let you know when the baby comes.


 I told family and friends that I was taking a break from everything and going 'off line' until the baby came, simply because I couldn't take it any more. I spent too much time researching how to induce labor naturally and tried all the things - long walks, bouncing on a ball, spicy food, visualization, sex, you name it - I tried it. And nothing was working. People I knew were going in to labor, having babies before their due date and it was all getting to me.

I felt like this baby was never going to come out, I told my husband that I was going to be the first person in history who just stayed pregnant and never went into labor. 

At some point I just couldn't take it any more and I just stopped; I stopped reading about it, stopped thinking about it and tried to enjoy this weird in-between time. I did some things for myself, binge watched netflix, went swimming and ate lots of cookies. In the end August was 2 weeks late and the labor and birth were a doozie - but thats a story for another time. 

Looking back, the last few weeks felt longer than the entire pregnancy. Time seemed to go slower and I only got bigger and bigger. If you're in this phase right now, know that I FEEL YOU, it will be over soon. Try to have a sense of humor and treat yo self. 

Second Trimester

The second trimester was supposed to be the “sweet spot”.


Since I didn’t have morning sickness in the first trimester, the sweet spot I was looking forward to was having more energy. And I did, but it wasn’t the incredibly high amounts that I had been looking forward to; or maybe it was - but the difference was me - I was moving slower. I noticed it would take me longer to complete the same tasks I had been performing for over 6 seasons. On the long hot harvest days of summer, I started to get these strange crampy feelings, which to me was my body telling me that I needed to go sit down in the shade and drink some water; I later realized they were braxton hicks contractions.

The Thursday to Sunday harvest to market grind was tough, and by the end of the day on Sundays my legs and feet would be swollen from all the standing.


And to top it off, I still didn’t really look pregnant, just big. I wanted people to know, but I felt super awkward bringing it up. “Yup, those are Early Girl tomatoes, sorry we sold out of Sungolds, oh, by the way I’m pregnant.”

I had to do some deep internal digging during the second trimester, and redefine “productive”. Pre-pregnancy, a productive day for me was getting everything on my list crossed off and then some, cruising through chores, plantings, harvest lists, deliveries and coming home and still having energy to make dinner. During pregnancy that wasn’t realistic.

I started to prioritize the daily and weekly tasks and decided what could be left undone. I had been the one who made the majority of our meals, and I suddenly had no desire to cook or inspiration in the kitchen beyond smoothies, so a lot of the cooking duties fell on my husbands shoulders. We’re lucky to have family so close, and when my mom found out how hard of a time I was having with meals, she would make three or four meals and bring them to us at markets to help us supplement our weeks dinners.


And all of this made me feel bad, like I was being lazy and not living up to my full potential, and it took my midwife reminding me over and over again that I was pregnant. I was building a human. Just because I couldn’t see what was going on inside of me, shouldn’t make me feel unproductive.


First Trimester

My first trimester farming was exhausting.

All I had heard about from friends and seen in movies and on tv was morning sickness. You know, so and so gets sick and someone asks her when her last period was and she gets this crazy realization that she's pregnant, and then she has the baby; no one ever talked about fatigue. I'm grateful my first trimester wasn't during peak season because I was so tired. I would be harvesting and - boom! - it would hit me. That, I need to go lay down now because I’m about to pass out feeling. I would spend anywhere from half an hour to a few hours some days sleeping in my car or somewhere on the farm (we don’t live on the farm, and I didnt think Id make it home).


Aside from the fatigue, it was pretty smooth sailing. My sense of smell increased exponentially - I could not bare to smell the compost - and it felt like a super power. I was turned off of certain foods, other normal things.

Since we were already in the harvest portion of the season, I looked at our harvest list and decided what could be harvested a day before our official harvest day, and would try to tackle it in bits and pieces instead of all at once because that worked better for me. 

What I learned from this period:

  • Don't fight the need to nap, give in. I was so much more efficient when I was well rested than I was when I was working through the fatigue.
  • If you have the ability, change your tasks to fit what you're currently capable of completing. Don't try to do too much.
  • Also, it helps to have a partner in business and in life who understands - I would get down on myself and my productivity or lack of productivity and Matthew was the one telling me that it was fine, reminding me that I was pregnant and that I was being productive - I was growing a human. 
  • Have a sense of humor, it makes everything easier. 


Pregnant & Farming

When I first found out I was pregnant, I started searching the internet for experiences - words of wisdom - from other women farmers who had successfully maintained their businesses while navigating this whole being pregnant thing.


I wanted to know what I was getting into.  I had so many questions that just didn’t apply to women who sit down for the majority of their work day, in front of a computer in offices. How long did they work in the field? What were they harvesting? How did their tasks change through the months and trimesters? What effects did they feel? What the heck did they wear for maternity clothes? Did their feet swell up after working markets or tromping around the field all day? Did they need better shoes?

But after countless hours of searching online - I say countless, because I did not count - I wound up with only 1 relevant blog post. The majority of advice pertaining to farming pregnant was in regards to dairy farming - which is fantastic if you’re a pregnant dairy farmer, but not so much if you grow vegetables. 


This seemed crazy to me, because I see a lot of successful female farmers with children, and I know that the knowledge was out there.

I eventually found the answers to my questions, both through talking to farm moms about their experiences and through personal trial and error. Yes, your feet do swell up if you’re standing while working at a market all day and 25 weeks pregnant. But the biggest support network I found was through Instagram, this community has so much knowledge and it was a fantastic place to ask questions and get a plethora of answers.

So I’m here to share my journey. Everyone is different, this isn’t the right or wrong way to do anything, I’m just speaking to what I know from my personal experiences - incase someone else is in the situation I was in, looking for experiences from a pregnant farmer.