The Ghost Farmer

Jody Cothey (Courtesy of Pleasure Boat Studio)

Jody Cothey scribbles bits of poetry on little pieces of paper as she goes about her daily chores.
A farmer as well as a writer, the poet lives and works in the hills of East Hawley, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Edward run Tregellys Fiber Farm. There they raise yaks, Icelandic sheep, Bactrian camels, and several dogs as well as other exotic and non-exotic animals.
Jody, whose pen name is Pamela Stewart, is attuned to the seasons and the cycles of nature. Her farm, animals, and companions appear in her new collection of poetry, Ghost Farm, released by Pleasure Boat Studio.
So do feelings about love and loss, the aging process, and the joys of literature and music. 

I recently talked to Jody about her life and her poetry—and of course I asked her for a recipe! 

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I was curious about the origins of the fiber farm. She explained that she met her husband in Cornwall, where she was working on a poetry project. The two spent seven years in the U.K. before returning to the U.S.
They lived in Montague, Massachusetts, for several years until he suggested a change in lifestyle. “Ed, who used to work on a dairy farm, said, ‘I miss animals. Let’s get a farm,’” recalled his wife. Tregellys Fiber Farm grew out of that longing.
Jody laughed in retrospect at the potential folly of the project. “We got this farm and made it too big. But if I hadn’t gone along, I would never have experienced the stuff I have.
“I would never have learned to spin. I would never have met a camel. I would never have met the Tibetan people that we love,” she said. She added, “I think the farm is the center for the poet in me.”

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Nevertheless, she admitted that sometimes the farm overwhelms her poetry. She explained that she loves to run errands in her car. “That’s when I have time for me.”
When she has enough scraps of paper with snippets of poetry saved up, she takes a break from farming and goes to Wellspring House, a writers’ retreat in nearby Ashfield, which she called “a godsend.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to write the poems [in Ghost Farm] without it,” she noted. “I recommend it to anyone who needs to get away.”
About her writing process, she stated, “I write before I think. I have to write and then think. My angle is just scribbling everything. Then later I follow through on my scribbling.”
She compared composing a poem to making a soup or a stew. “You can start with something and then add something else and so on but you can’t always take things out.”
Asked whether she thinks of herself primarily as a poet or a farmer, Jody laughed. “Mostly I think of myself as a person with a large streak of housemother right now.
“It involves taking care of dogs, our friend’s son who’s about to turn 17, and my husband; and having my mother live with us,” she explained. “I feel that I think as a poet but it doesn’t often come out in daily life….
“I do what I want to do. I know other people for whom poetry is their all-consuming life. It’s not my all consuming thing. It’s a part of me.”
Jody agreed that poetry is not our culture’s most popular or most celebrated art form. Nevertheless, she clearly values it highly herself.
“I think poetry itself has a spiritual life of its own. It will always be there no matter what the culture or the society or the age is busy doing…. If you catch into it at any age, it becomes a part of you,” she said.
“When I’m doing it, I’m in touch with something that’s bigger than me and causes me joy–and sometimes agony, but mostly joy.”
Jody Cothey (and/or Pamela Stewart) will read from Ghost Farm and sign copies of her new book this afternoon at 2 pm at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls. Massachusetts.
If you can’t make the signing, you may get her book from Boswell’s or from the publisher, Pleasure Boat Studio.
While you’re reading it you might like try nibble on one of Jody’s Ghost Farm Cookies.
When I asked for a recipe, Jody happily gave me these simple brown cookies. Their plain exterior belies their richness. “They are brown cookies—my forte,” she told me, “but lovely and crumbly/buttery.” 

I liked them so much I’m adding them to my Twelve Cookies of Christmas collection.

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
1/2 cup dark (or light!) brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cream together the butter, brown sugar, and soda. Stir in 1 cup of the flour. Transfer the dough to a board (on which you have sprinkled part of the second cup of flour!) and knead it.
Knead in the remaining flour. The dough will be quite stiff by the time you finish incorporating all the flour.
Jody suggests a number of ways in which to shape her cookies, including rolling them out and cutting them. Here’s what I did: I rolled my dough into three logs and cut each log into little cylinders. I then pressed the cylinders into little flat circles.
Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake them for 15 to 20 minutes. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling. 

Makes about 24 cookies (depending on how big you cut/roll them).

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8 Responses to “The Ghost Farmer”

  1. I don’t know which I like more – the cookies or the camel!! A very interesting post – it just shows you don’t have to be a sensitive soul locking yourself away to write poetry!

  2. Linda Duplessis says:

    I have to check out your blog to see your yarns -looks really interesting!

  3. Diana says:

    I am constantly reminded of the richness of the world around you there in Hawley! Enjoyed the Ghost Farmer as I have other notes on your neighbors and friends. Glad you are there to enjoy it all!

  4. Loyce Cofer says:

    You are such a sweetheart and I love all your recipes and snippets about family and loved ones. I’m 70 and cannot get out much but it sure encourages me to get out and about after reading your message.
    Loyce Cofer Tyler, TX

  5. Love the story , and the recipe for the brown sugar cookies. Could you add some cinnamon or other spices to it. I am going to try. Thank you so very much. I am 80, but, most times I do not feel it, just cannot get around as well. Hugs, Bettie

  6. tinkyweisblat says:

    Frayed, what a wonderful point about poets–a great tribute to Jody.

    Thanks, Linda; do please come back.

    Diana, thanks for reminding me of my blessings.

    Loyce, I’m so happy to hear from you; your comment really touched me. I hope you get out A LOT more, especially at this time of year when it’s so lovely.

    Bettie, I should think you could definitely add some spices, but to tell you the truth the cookies are pretty yummy as they are. They’re basically shortbread so they taste like butter, which is (for my sins) one of my favorite flavors. Eighty is one of my favorite ages (so is 70, Loyce!), even though I’ll be 39 officially until I’m at least 90 in real life. I hope you continue to feel great for many years to come.

  7. You have such interesting friends. Tinky…a camel-raising poet who can bake! And the cookies look amazing.

  8. tinkyweisblat says:

    True, Abigail: both Jody and the cookies are pretty amazing.

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