Upstate New York to West Cork: why we travel
By Karma Glos
I believe our urge to travel was inspired by French interns. Early in our farming, we hosted several French agricultural students. These students were required to spend a season in an English-speaking country working on a farm, and for us, it was a good introduction to sharing our budding farm knowledge with aspiring farmers. Our final French intern, Sophie, hailed from Toulouse and invited us to visit if we ever managed to cross the pond. In 2009 we decided to attempt a winter vacation while leaving our farm in the hands of a capable intern. Sophie was still game to host our visit, so we arranged for ten days: starting in Toulouse and extending down into Languedoc. This magical and very successful trip triggered a love for travel that we have endeavored to indulge in every winter since then.
Escaping the farm for a couple of weeks each winter became a bit of an obsession, with me in particular. Many pieces needed to fall into place to make these trips a reality. First, we needed to find a trustworthy and reliable farm sitter -- no mean feat when you have large numbers of livestock and a wood stove to keep burning. In addition, funds had to be saved throughout the year to pay the farm sitter, book flights, and rent a cottage. We were able to fund most of our travel through credit card points, a game we discovered worked quite well for us due to large feed bills. Once we had enough points to cover the flights to Europe, I hunted down weekly rental self-catering cottages that were a steal during the off-season. So, while we liked to travel around, we saved on accommodation by mostly staying in one place and cooking for ourselves. Besides, staying in one place enabled us to absorb the culture and get to know people, albeit briefly.
At the time of our first trips, we were a much more diverse and complicated farm operation. Even though there wasn’t too much to be done on our vegetable operation in the winter, we also had farrowing sows, flocks of laying hens, workhorses, and a beef herd. Streamlining the chores so we can hand them over to a sitter is always a challenge. The best option is always to leave the work to a former intern or employee who already knows the ropes and has a vested interest in the happiness of the farm. Only someone who loves the farm and cares for the stock can instill a sense of security when we are thousands of miles away. In addition, we pay them fairly well, emphasizing that this is a job and a responsibility, not just a farm holiday.
The cost of the farm sitter is built into our travel budget; we cut costs wherever we can in order to fund the farm care. We cannot relax if we’re worried about the livestock, pipes freezing, or driveway plowing. We must have a skilled, knowledgeable caretaker and we must release that responsibility to them. I believe letting go of that awesome responsibility for a little while each year helps us keep a sane relationship with the farm. The travel releases us, albeit momentarily, from that connection, allowing us to renew.
After France, we also visited England, Wales, and Trinidad & Tobago in the following years. But of all the places we explored, Ireland truly settled in our bones. For me, particularly, Ireland felt like home. Early on we traveled through County Clare and County Kerry, finally settling in West Cork as our winter retreat. For several years now we have made our way to the same house, in the same village in West Cork. Ballydehob lies at the head of Roaring Water Bay and the base of the Mizen Head Peninsula. It’s a quiet village in the winter, but the pubs are open, the charity shops are good, and there’s a little natural foods store just a few houses down. The village has such a pull on me now that when I’m not there I’m covering canvases with portraits of the buildings and following village life through social media. I miss it so much when we leave that I cry when we return.
To me, it’s such a strange feeling to be so in love with a place where I only spend two weeks a year. But the pull is real. Over the farming season, I keep pushing forward, knowing that for two weeks in January, I'll be back in “our” village, hearing the jackdaws call, wandering the boreens in the rain, and cozying up to pint at Rosie’s Bar in the evenings. Over the years we have made friends with other small farmers digging for a living in the hills around Bantry, Dunmanway, and Skibbereen. We’ve followed real estate signs and poked around cottages, dreaming of moving someday. Though moving to Ireland is virtually impossible (immigration being prohibitive if you’re not of EU or recent Irish descent), I still keep current on all real estate in West Cork. I know what cottages are for sale and how long they’ve been on the market, and I keep them saved in a file. Silly, I know, but a girl can dream.
No matter where we have traveled, these experiences have been a key part of our mental health and well-being. We have developed and maintained connections with people throughout the world which gives us a broader, more empathetic view. And they have introduced our daughter Rosy to other cultures, languages, and landscapes. She has continued her passion for travel to Patagonia, Suriname, and throughout the US. And even as the flights become more and more environmentally problematic, we still struggle to make it happen. Maybe we can save all our “flight budget” for just one trip across the Atlantic each year. Or maybe we will need to give up most air travel altogether and find places to explore closer to home. I’m sure that time is upon us. However, after missing two winters in Ireland due to Covid, we are currently all booked for January 2023. We are going to the same house, in the same village and we will settle into the same pub each evening. We don’t yet have a farm sitter arranged, but the responsibilities are fewer these days and I’m hoping we can find someone to keep the home fires burning for two weeks in January.
Karma farms with her husband Michael in Berkshire, NY and can be reached at email@example.com