April 24, 2018

UVM team trades playing field for farm field

Mike Isham (right) addresses the UVM men’s lacrosse team, which spend a recent day working on his Williston farm instead of practicing on the lacrosse field. (Observer courtesy photo)

Mike Isham (right) addresses the UVM men’s lacrosse team, which spend a recent day working on his Williston farm instead of practicing on the lacrosse field. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Matt Sutkoski

Observer correspondent

Every athlete knows it’s a good idea to cross train, to do some exercises that aren’t part of the usual routine.

With that in mind, the 41 members of the University of Vermont men’s lacrosse team and their three coaches recently spent part of a day toiling on the Isham farm in Williston.

Instead of the usual routine of finessing their moves on the lacrosse field, the men prepared the greenhouse for winter, stacked four cords of wood, cleaned up and prepared the blackberry patch for winter, built a fire pit, moved heavy equipment in the sugarhouse and landscape boulders on the property.

The work at the Isham farm was a new twist on the lacrosse team’s tradition of community service, said coach Ryan Curtis of Williston. Team members have long raised money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute through activities such as exhibition games, but Curtis said he thought it would be nice to do something different.

“We are always looking to do things locally,” he said.

The team approach to Isham farm work had its genesis when, earlier this autumn, Curtis helped chaperone his son Dylan’s preschool class trip to the Isham farm.

Curtis said he got to talking with farm owner Mike Isham and it dawned on him a work day would be a perfect community service activity for his lacrosse team.

So he canceled practice one mid-October day and had the team “work out” at the Isham farm.

The unconventional team “practice” at the Isham farm turned out to be a good idea, Curtis said. “It was a nice change of pace,” he said. “I heard a lot of comments that ‘I could do this every day,’” he said.

Farm co-owner Mike Isham said he appreciated the help. Autumn is a busy time of year, as the farm is buttoning up for the winter. The iconic former dairy farm on Oak Hill Road has been in the Isham family for five generations, ever since Jarius David Isham bought the property in 1871.

It’s more economical for many farmers nowadays to diversify, so Isham is putting the finishing touches on a barn renovation that has become a venue for weddings, parties and gatherings rather than a place to stash feed or shelter cattle.

It’s also a place for people to pick berries, buy produce, check out the sugarhouse in early spring and explore the nature trails. All that stuff needs maintenance, and preparation for the changing seasons.

The invasion of young, fit lacrosse players at the farm was perfect, said Isham, 53. He particularly appreciated the heavy lifting, because Isham said it’s a little harder for him to move things around than it used to be. “It was nice having strong backs around,” he said.

Isham said the lacrosse team pretty much acted as, well, a team, seeming to instinctively know who needed help when, and which task needed to be completed first. “They were all really enthusiastic,” Isham said.

After two hours of work, the lacrosse team was finished, and Isham, who had been behind in his fall chores, found himself caught up. “I work 100 hours a week and they saved me more than 80 hours of work, just about a week’s worth,” Isham said.

Andrew Buckanavage, a member of the lacrosse team said he liked the sense of accomplishment he got out of the day.

“The most rewarding part of the experience was when we realized how long it would have taken Farmer Isham to do all this alone, if he could even manage that,” Buckanavage said. “My group was tasked with moving an evaporator and sugaring bin. Not only did it take five of us to move this bin, but we had to re-adjust railings and move other equipment to make it fit, something that seemed impossible at first, even with the five of us.”

Buckanavage said he also liked the exposure to farm life, such as the moment Isham explained how the maple sugaring operation worked and the bedlam when the roosters came running at feeding time.

Curtis said the whole experience was so much fun the lacrosse team might do it again next year. Isham said he’d be ready to welcome them with open arms.

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