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Independent, feisty ...

getting it done



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Portrait of Bambi Freeman by photographer Glenn Callahan on last winter’s sheep shearing day at Freeman’s farm in Sterling Valley, above.

M eet Bambi Freeman: hard-work-

ing farmer, experienced entre-
preneur, multiple sclerosis sur-
vivor and—but don’t tell her I
told you—octogenarian.
First, her smile. It’s one of
those bright, high wattage smiles that lights up a room, invites
you in and makes you feel welcome. It’s almost always on. And
there are her iridescent blue eyes that sparkle, especially when
she lets out her quick, high-pitched laugh that is as frequent as
It’s sheep shearing day on Freeman’s Sterling Brook Farm
and Bambi is on her way to oversee Vermont sheepshearer Peter
Brandt and his crew shear her flock of 35 home-bred sheep.
Once in the barn she exchanges her “Ferrari” for a battered
walker that’s more suitable for navigating over the barn’s
uneven floors. The always-on barn radio is blaring away, tuned
to the local station, and the air is filled with the baaing and
bleating of sheep about to be shorn. Freeman’s whip-smart
sheepdog Fergus dashes around her, clamoring for her attention,
as she watches Brandt’s helpers corral her sheep.
retired—or been put out to pasture—and you’ll get a variety
of answers. “She’s full of spunk, works so hard and never
complains. That’s just her nature,” says Sam Guy, owner of
Guy’s Farm and Yard and a decades-long friend. Photographer
Peter Miller, who has written about her in his book “A Lifetime
of Vermont People,” says simply, “Bambi is a Vermonter; she
loves hard work as much as she loves that farm and her ani-
mals.” Tom Younkman, a Hyde Park farmer who has helped
Freeman obtain some handicapped-related aids for her farm,
explains, “She’s been up, she’s been down, but she just keeps
“I’d put on my dress, then a pair of pants,” she says with a
laugh. “My mother would object but I wouldn’t listen and I
wore both to school. Why? I don’t know. It was just something
I wanted to do. I liked them. And my mother didn’t want to
fight me. I just did things my way.”
Later in life, when her mother reminded her of those days,
she told Bambi, “You just had a mind of your own.” Says
Freeman today, “And I still do!”
One day she’d need every bit of that feistiness. And that
independence. And that commitment to hard work. Indeed, these
it is infectious. After conferring with Brandt, she joins a visitor who is going. She’s an inspiration.” Says her son Scott, 50, who lives qualities would help save her life.
On this wickedly cold March morning Bambi, all five feet, watching the shearing. With a broad smile she confesses, with her and helps run the farm, “Mom’s always been indepen-
one inch of her, is wrapped in a cozy Carhartt winter coat, wool- “These guys are my life. Don’tcha just love them?” dent. I suppose it’s in her DNA.” ••••
lined canvas pants, wool gloves, sturdy boots, and a knit white Bambi is soon handed a baby lamb that has had a hard time Bambi laughs when she hears about her son’s DNA quote. On a snowy December morning in 1984 Bambi woke up in the
brimless wool toque, and is carefully pushing her Nitro walker standing erect on its misshapen legs since birth. “Poor thing,” says “Well, I come from Scotch, Irish, and German folks. I suppose snug second-story bedroom she shared with her husband of 23
down the path from her 171-year-old farmhouse to the nearby Freeman as she cuddles it against her chest. “Look at her little legs. he’s right. My dad taught me to work hard; there were no hand- years, Dave Freeman. He was away, working a part-time job in
barn. She’s bent slightly at the waist as she carefully maneuvers She has rickets. But we’ll take care of her. Hope she’s a fighter.” outs. Maybe that’s where I got this Type A personality. I like to Alaska. It was close to six o’clock, still dark outside, and the win-
the flashy red walker, “my Ferrari” she calls it, along the curv- get things done and if no one else will do it, I do it.” dows were lightly frosted with snow. The couple married in 1961
ing, icy path. She’s recently healed from a knee replacement— •••• She pauses, smiles and admits, “I’ve been called feisty.” and had two children, Laura and Scott. Bambi and Dave, both for-
her other knee and both hips were replaced earlier—and she Ask anyone who knows Bambi Freeman what makes her run, Sitting at her maple dining room table in her cozy, albeit a bit mer self-confessed ski bums, held various jobs but also raised some
moves slowly and deliberately, favoring her right shoulder a bit, what makes her continue to put in eight-hour days, seven days a tumbledown, 1848 farmhouse, she recalls how her mother used 160 breeding ewes on their 25-acre farm and prospered by selling
which she admits has been giving her “some problems” recently. week on her 25-acre farm when far younger farmers have to watch her dress for school as a first grader in Westfield, N.J. their much-in-demand meat to restaurants and eager customers.

S T O R Y : Robert Kiener | P H O T O G R A P H Y : Glenn Callahan | OPENING P A G E : Gordon Miller

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Bambi brings in a crew to help shear the sheep. From top, next page: Sheep patiently wait to be shorn.
Matt Desrochers compresses the wool. Peter Brandt shears a sheep. Below: Sporting a new coat.

Over the last few years Bambi had been concerned about her health. Over the years she built up her herd of sheep again and, to boost her
She had suffered from bouts of double vision and various nagging aches income, added laying hens and meat birds. For years she was a regular at
and pains but these had dissipated over time. This morning however, she several weekly farmers markets, where she sold her much-admired lamb,
was alarmed to wake up and not be able to feel her legs. She tried to kick chicken, and free-range eggs. She also began selling spun wool yarn,
off her blankets but couldn’t move her legs. As she remembers, “It was wool, sheepskins, dog beds, and duvets, all produced from her flock. In
terrifying. Suddenly I realized I was paralyzed from the chest down.” 2000 she was voted Farmer of the Year by the local conservation district.
She grabbed the phone next to her bed and called a longtime friend. It was the first time a woman had ever received the award.
The diagnosis was devastating: multiple sclerosis. After less than a
week in the hospital, where she regained some of the feeling in her legs, ••••
she came back to the farm. But she still couldn’t walk. “I had to learn It’s nearly noon on a Sunday in early October and Bambi Freeman is
how to walk all over again,” she explains. manning her regular table at the Stowe Farmers Market, a spot she’s
Before she could walk, she had to learn to crawl. She exercised in her occupied ever since the market first opened 30-some years ago. Sitting
basement, crawling first along the floor on her belly, then on her hands in her director’s chair with “Bambi” embroidered on the seatback and
and knees. “Eventually, I progressed enough so I could walk with the aid her cane propped alongside, she smiles as she reports that sales have
of crutches. Then canes,” she says. “But I had little feeling in my hands been “going nicely” today. “So far I’ve sold a sheepskin, a dog bed, two
and feet. It was as if I blankets, lots of
had to will my hands chicken and three
and feet to move.” whole lambs.” She
Another blow: Dave has fresh and frozen
divorced her and sold lamb and chicken
their herd. But he left her in coolers.
the farm. She remained Between visits
slightly paralyzed on her from customers,
right side but worked some of whom come
hard at rehabilitation. up just to say hello,
How hard? As she she explains that she
explains today, “There now only sells at
were times when I two farmer’s mar-
couldn’t get my leg to kets, here in Stowe
move unless I looked at on Sundays and in
it, then touched it and Waitsfield on
willed my brain to move Saturdays. “I used to
it. Same with knitting. sell at more markets
I’d hold the needles in but I’ve cut back.
my hands and concen- You know, I’m get-
trate, telling my right ting older,” she says
hand what to do, then with a wry smile.
telling my left what to do One of Bambi’s
next.” It took her some regulars, Kate Chang
time but eventually she from Somerville,
recovered enough to buy nine sheep and, as she explains, “start over.” Mass., greets her and picks up the meat of three lambs she has ordered a
Remarkably, eventually getting back to work on the farm even in her few months ago for herself and her friends back home. The lamb has
limited capacity, helped her heal. “I was slower, weaker than I used to be been processed by Troy, Vt.-based Brault’s Meat Market &
before MS but I really think I grew stronger by taking full responsibility Slaughterhouse. “I’ve been buying from Bambi for at least 10 years,”
for myself, my farm, and my animals. Farming has kept me going,” she says Chang. “I often visit and ski here and I think it’s so important to
explains. Her blue eyes sparkling, she adds, “I guess it helps being a support local farmers. Besides, everyone I know raves about Bambi and
Type A personality.” her lamb.”
She was also helped by her children, friends, customers, and neigh- After the two chat and promise to swap recipes, Bambi admits that
bors. When she found it nearly impossible to climb up the rickety ladder she enjoys this socializing at markets as much as making sales. “It can
to her barn’s hayloft, the local Rotary Club, church friends, and others be lonely on the farm and sometimes I think I’d be a hermit if I didn’t
helped her get a stairway made to replace it. She also helped herself, have these markets as outlets.”
adding fold-up stairs to the tailgate of her battered Chevy pickup truck. After the market closes and she has packed up her pickup truck, she
When she realized it was too tiring to have to walk out to the barn to pauses for a beat after she’s asked if she ever thinks of retiring. “Retire?
continually check on her flock during lambing, she installed a baby mon- I don’t have any hobbies. What the heck would I ever do?” she answers.
itor in the barn. “Besides, working keeps me healthy.”
Eventually she even recovered enough to be able to work as a “Girl She walks slowly, using her cane to support her right side, and before
Friday” for Stowe dentist Dale Neil. She put in eight hour days at Neil’s opening the battered 18-year-old truck’s front door, says, “There’s a
office, then tended to her sheep at home. “It’s amazing how badly I quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I love. I liked it so much I printed it
wanted to pay off the mortgage on this place,” she says. “And how hard out and have hung it on my bathroom mirror so I can read it first thing
I worked to do that. I had a huge party when it was paid. I invited a every morning. He said, ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to
bunch of friends over, ordered a keg of Rock Art beer and we all cheered offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’
as I burned the mortgage papers.” “And you know what? He was right.” n

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