New Paltz, NY
Sanctuary Stewards: Halyna Shepko & Richard Hamilton
Shawangunk (pronounced Shongum in Algonquin), a mountain range 90 miles north of New York City, translates to "near and high place where you go south",
directed Native Americans traveling between the Appalachian Mountains to the Hudson River Valley. We decided to use the directions of the earth and these mountains behind our farm as our guide as well. Enveloped by the Shawangunk Ridge on the north and the Hudson Highlands on the south, we have created a small family farm where we raise our three (soon to be four) homeschooled children, Icelandic sheep, Toggenburg goats, ducks, chickens, a horse and angora rabbits. Even though farms in our area are being sold and developed quicker than any of us ever imagined, I feel a strong calling for a lifestyle that is connected to the earth, seasons, the sun, the circles of life, family, animals, wildlife, community and plants. We have been able to fulfill that dream and my Ukrainian mother who lives across the street with her Russian husband help make it a cross-cultural, three-generational haven.
Some of the work that we have done is to put in nesting boxes for bluebirds, and they have been a success. The goats and sheep have cleared fields of purple loosestrife thus giving room to native plant species and grasses. Ponds provide homes for muskrats, migrating geese, many frogs and toads, wild turkeys roost up in the woods at night. We offer herbal, soap/cheesemaking, and fiber classes on our land for both children and adults. Families from our homeschooling group and community have come out to prepare and seed large areas of echinacea, ginseng, and black cohosh and will continue to join us for planting slippery elm, trillium, goldenseal, bloodroot and other endangered plants this year. Children are an important part of our farm and we provide different activities and welcome them to visit the animals, learn about the earth and help with planting.
Wild growing gifts that we have found here are ragwort, agrimony, poke, honeysuckle, edible mushrooms, goldenrod, elm, hickory, dogwood, lichens, grapes and wild yam. I am also an herbalist and make herbal products together with the children to sell at local farm markets and at our farmstand. The herbal creams are made from oils infused from plants that grow here. This is our first year living on the land after completing our log home containing a studio/workshop where we make goatmilk soaps, herbal products, dye wool, and hold classes. Our farmhouse also includes a 900 sq ft. community room for gatherings, recitals, drum circles, dance and fiber events. Coming from a Ukrainian background I feel best barefoot and living close to the land picking fruit from trees and gathering eggs from our own hens. I feel my kids are lucky to still have a life that is some ways considered simple even though we all have to work hard as a family. They help as I shear the sheep to make clothing for them, they train, milk, and take care of the animals. Spending 10 years of my childhood living in Europe, I was able to travel to remote villages and realize what is important for me. I actually longed for the connectedness the people had with the land and realized how lost I was living in a city. I finally feel I have that in my own life and I hope my children agree. Plants help me root myself on this planet.