BY STEVEN JUPITER
SALISBURY—It began with a forgotten lamb, a rejected baby from a flock of 30 sheep that Hannah Sessions and her husband, Greg Bernhardt, had sold to focus their attention on the goats that have since become their trademark and livelihood on Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury. The little lamb somehow evaded detection when all of its fellows had been shuttled off. Sessions and Bernhardt kept the critter and raised it with their goats. Before long, surrounded by its caprine cousins, it came to believe that it, too, was a goat.
“We tried introducing it to other sheep,” said Bernhardt in one of Blue Ledge’s barns, “but she didn’t relate. She just wanted to be with the goats.”
“And that was the inspiration for Rosalyn,” added Sessions.
Rosalyn Thought She Was a Goat is Sessions’s first children’s book, a based-on-real-events story of a little lamb, Rosalyn, who grew up thinking she was a goat. When given the opportunity to reunite with her “kind,” Rosalyn comes to appreciate the beauty of her individuality and rejects the easy comfort of conformity.
Sessions wrote the story and created the spare-yet-sophisticated illustrations over 10 years ago, but the demands of children and the farm left the manuscript languishing in a drawer until she and Bernhardt made the decision to publish it now that their kids—Livia and Hayden—are both off at Bates College, Sessions’s and Bernhardt’s own alma mater in Maine.
“We’re empty nesters now,” said Bernhardt. “I took a class in graphic design at CCV and was able to put the book together from Hannah’s loose sheets.”
For Sessions, the allure of children’s books is the multiple levels on which they can be understood.
“Children’s books are amazing in that they often have two stories in them: a surface story and an underlying story,” she said. “On the surface this is a story of a sheep leaving a goat farm and finding her way back, but the understory is about realizing that as an individual, there is real value and opportunity in being unique, and as a community we need diversity to function.”
Sessions grew up in Cornwall and went to Middlebury Union High School. Bernhardt is from the suburbs of Philadelphia. They met at Bates College, where they both studied art, and bonded over a debate about the classic children’s book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
“We disagreed about the central premise of the book—that unconditional love is enough,” said Sessions.
“But we came away from that conversation understanding each other’s perspective,” added Bernhardt.
And from that conversation a relationship was born that took them back to Sessions’s native Vermont and into the cheese business for 23 years before coming full circle with this new venture as creators of their own children’s book.
As we discuss Rosalyn and the multilayered nature of children’s literature, Sessions and Bernhardt prepare their dairy goats for their afternoon milking. The milking parlor is a row of stations where the lactating animals are fed while relieved of the milk that’s been collecting in their udders.
Sessions and Bernhardt have 160 goats at Blue Ledge, of which 120 to 130 are in the lactation lineup at any given time. Theirs is solely a dairy operation. With a staff of 10 part-time employees, they collect about 800 lbs. of milk daily and transform it into a wide range of cheeses, ranging from fresh, spreadable chevre to hard, ripened cheeses, some of which are blended with cow and sheep milk.
“We try to sell as much as possible in Vermont,” said Sessions. “About 80% of our cheese is sold through Vermont distributors.”
Blue Ledge cheeses can be found locally at Hannaford in Middlebury and Rutland, at the Middlebury Food Co-op, and at their own farmstand.
“Every ounce of our cheese is spoken for,” stated Sessions. “We often sell out of our most popular cheese, like our Lake’s Edge ash cheese.”
Between the two, Sessions is more the goatherd and Bernhardt more the scientist.
“My passion is the animals. Greg is really the one making the cheese,” Sessions asserted and Bernhardt readily acknowledged.
“I love the laboratory aspect of cheese-making,” Bernhardt said. “There’s a very scientific approach to it that suits my personality.”
One of their newest flavors is a honey-orange chevre. “The honey-orange is amazing, but not all our experiments work out,” Sessions laughed, recounting a failed attempt several years ago to make feta.
As if the goats and cheese weren’t enough, both Sessions and Bernhardt are painters with gallery representation. Sessions currently has a show at Northern Daughters Gallery in Vergennes and Bernhardt is represented by the Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury.
Sessions’s paintings tend to feature farms and farm animals, rendered in a gestural yet realistic style that captures the personality of the animals and the atmosphere of Vermont farms.
But the process of creating and promoting Rosalyn has whetted Sessions’s appetite to continue with children’s books: “My next one will likely focus on music and how it affects both animals and humans in profound ways.”
Rosalyn Thought She Was a Goat is available at Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, The Bookstore in Brandon, Blue Seal in Brandon, The Vermont Bookshop in Middlebury, Triple K farmstand in Whiting, and Kamuda’s Market in Pittsford.