ewe and lamb by Kyle Fraaza

Monday, July 6, 2015

On Thunderstorms, Goats, and the Cultivation of Grief

Have you ever felt like you're spending more time than you'd like on the screen? Whether it's for work or just the addictive nature of internet-ing, there comes a time when we start to keen for the world outside our doorsteps, where it's summer and things are buzzing with life. Fortunately, the farm can be a great place to kick the habit of the internet, along with TV shows. Reason? Farm life has its own plot. No substitutions needed. 

I'm Kyla, visiting Sandhill for a few weeks to get a (farmer's) tan and some buff muscles. I mean, to learn about raising animals and vegetables. After growing up around these parts, I migrated to the comparatively huge metropolis of Minneapolis, MN, where I've survived four winters...and the rest of the seasons...living in community and doing organizing work. Now I'm back for a summer of family time and respite from the overwhelmingly eventful city. And from the Internet, which tends to suck me in further with each click, like an unrelenting black hole. I've been looking forward for a chance to unplug and pare down to a healthier rhythm.

So Sandhill has kindly been putting me up, and providing a four-star, offline plot. 

It started with a bang. Several bangs. Thunder and lightning, Batman! On Monday night when I arrived, storms rolled in along with the rumblings of potential tornadoes. I had already set up my tent next to the driveway, so when the sky stopped dumping buckets, I wisely decided to sleep under a sky so full of lightning it flickered constantly like a dying fluorescent bulb. Fireflies flashed at the same speed, a second layer of frenetic lightning. No problem, I told myself. If it gets too windy, I'll go inside. Eventually, the downpour began again, but the tent held fast and dry, so I rolled in and out of sleep in my waterproof cocoon. Until the silence. I woke up to stillness, the sky finished with its rock and roll performance. Slowly, I realized I was soaking up water. Obliging the elements their victory, I bundled up my sleeping bag and climbed out of the tent, stepping into four inches of water.

No one remembered to tell me that the front yard floods.

In the darkness gleamed a newly formed lake, fit for the finest five Sandhill ducks. My tent was positioned exactly in the center, like a tiny boat. If only it had been built to float. I sloshed through the lake into the house, where I joined Micah, Rosa, and Emma on the living room floor, waiting for tornadoes to kick up the dust of their dreams.

After that dramatic opening scene, the plot of the rest of my first week at Sandhill didn't lose any flair. On Wednesday, I emerged from my tent to see a flock of escaped male rabbits looking like they had just gleefully discovered Watership Down. Further up the hill, a passel of equally escaped goats was on the lam. One of the goat kids had climbed into the feed bucket and was helping himself to breakfast. Inside their pen, a plywood wall had been completely busted through. It seems true that idle horns are the devil's plaything! (I think that's how the saying goes.) What followed was a new kind of cowboy movie, with Rosa and Micah leading the roundup, me and Polly the Farm Dog close behind. Ever try to lasso a rabbit? They're slippery as Jenn's homemade soap. And goats just gloat in the face of imprisonment, losing their chains like Assata every two hours.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I weeded like an archaeologist, uncovering miraculously hearty rows of chard, lettuce, potatoes, and cabbage from an overgrown section of the garden. Micah pulled out sprawling sweet pea and lambs quarter plants his own height to reveal a neat patch of onions. After building a skyscraper of weeds, we offered them to the semi-imprisoned goats.

On Friday, we butchered chickens. My earliest memory, from age 2, is of chickens hanging from a barn after butchering in Eastern Kentucky, where my parents volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee. Since then, in the shrouded mystery of our corporate food system, I've never seen a chicken go from feathered to freezer. Micah and Co. had been tending the broilers for around eight weeks, and it was time for them to meet their destiny: first under a shining knife, then in a hot pot of water, and last, on a whirlwind ride in the chicken plucker. I met the birds on the cutting board, where Jenn taught me chicken anatomy with a kitchen knife instead of a scalpel. Emma showed me how to clean the birds to perfection, and then the broilers went for a swim in an icy bathtub to prepare for their new fridge climate. These are the skills for life! I agree with Scot that everyone who eats meat should become familiar with the process of raising and butchering it, at least to understand the time, energy, and care it takes. You can learn more about the how-to details in Scot's previous post on pastured poultry. 

We probably also should know what goes into factory farming and meat processing. Anyone who's heard of PETA knows that factory farms are bad for animals, but what about people? Meatpacking is extremely low-paid, dangerous work. Without labor protections, workers face both physical injury and PTSD. Many are immigrants, invisibilized and at risk because of their legal status and rural location. Remember Postville, the biggest immigration raid in US history? In 2008, nearly 400 beef and poultry workers were rounded up from a meatpacking plant in Iowa and held like cattle on the local fair grounds, where they were "processed" shackled together in groups. The documentary AbUSed:the Postville Raid, available at many libraries, is a good way to learn more about the hidden exploitation in our food system.

I guess it's this kind of disparity that's the most disorienting thing about farm life for me. While I'm immersed in the routine of garden and goats, tromping through oceans of tall grass, clearing despair out of my brain and blood - the world keeps churning out injustice. The first day I reentered the internet and looked through the news, I was struck by a video taken recently in a Grand Rapids park: three 12- and 13-year-old boys who have been playfighting are ordered to lie on the ground, while a police officer trains his Taser on them for several minutes. Bystanders from the Black community warn the boys not to speak. Some tell the officers, “They're just babies.”

It's a variation on the theme we've finally seen brought to the media for almost a year since Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson: our fear of Black bodies played out by police. Watching it happen just miles away, I am filled with rage and grief. And it's hard to know what to do with those feelings. While the internet is exploding with rainbows to celebrate some rudimentary legal rights for LGBTQ people, the perceived worth of Black lives hasn't really budged. And this is just as much an issue for my community, the queer community, while we can now legally marry but transgender women of color continue to be killed. In the city, I'd be channeling my grief and anger into Doing: attending actions, going to meetings, talking to people in my community. But here, I am faced with the prospect of just holding it. Sitting with grief.

And I think that's for the best. Sometimes the most necessary “work” is to sit deeply with grief and let it work on us. Grief asks us to dig our hands into it and get them dirty. Grief builds soul-soil, in which we can cultivate hope. Sturdy hope: not based on our ability to Do or to Fix. That kind of hope withers easily when the ground dries up: when friends aren't there to help, when things don't seem to change, when farming doesn't pay the bills, when we are burned out by the enormity of injustice. Sturdy hope, the kind cultivated by grieving, is rooted in the practice of staying present. The practice of Being With. This practice calls us to grieve deeply, to stay with the reality of how bad things are, to come together with others to mourn. And it calls us simultaneously to notice the resilience of plants, the sly humor of goats, the gentleness of ocean-grass. To look deep into the Wicked Witch eyes of Fox the cat and wonder just what kind of magic exists beneath the world's gritty surface. To reach out to the people around us and call upon their strengths. To widen ourselves to hold both Grief and Light, and to care for both, letting them prepare us for the many seasons of work ahead.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The worst day working on a truck is better than…

The worst day working on a truck is better than…
So three days and a few hundred dollars later, the truck may or may not be “fixed.” It has been running all along, but the Chevy wouldn’t hold coolant. This meant that, in addition to the costs of driving a vehicle that apparently delivers a mileage ratio of 3.4 miles per gallon, I was having to purchase radiator stop leak and anti-freeze every 100 miles. The last straw was having to ask someone in the self-check-out line for 18 cents to finish paying for just those two items – feeling someone like the alcoholic who has grown to prefer anti-freeze to bottom-shelf liquor.
At any rate, because I am now a full-time farmer who is motivated to save money and fix things like engines and plumbing on my own, I decided to put an end to the great anti-freeze debacle of 2014 by replacing a few hoses. I replaced one hose with the help of a young man at the local parts store, and it was fixed – for about 100 miles. So, I looked around the engine with a flashlight after returning home from a drive to the lumber yard and recognized fluid on a hose just centimeters from the hose I had just replaced. “Ahhh – that hose obviously needs replacing” I thought to myself, and I’m just the farmer who can do it.
There are significant differences in the skill sets of farmers and auto mechanics when it comes to auto mechanicking, but a farmer fix is as good as any. As such, I set my face toward the challenge at hand and began to move the “other” radiator hose. The truck was already in the “I’m working on the truck” mode when I decided to go back to the parts store, so I took the Prizm (our other Chevy – I’m partial to Chevys built before the turn of the century) to the parts store and told them I had a leak at end of the radiator hose that runs “from” the engine to somewhere…
They showed me the part I needed, and it looked just like one the parts on the “other” radiator hose so I went right home and set about to fixin’ stuff n’ stuff. I began to remove the hose where I had spied another fluid leak. Wow – what a process that was. Most of you may know that standard wrench sets only come with wrenches up to 7/8”. I needed a 15/16”, and incredibly, 1” and 1 1/16” wrenches as well. Because I am not a mechanic, it never occurred to me that I would need three more wrenches than I already had to work on this truck, so of course, I went to the hardware store three different times.
I struggled to remove the part in question from the truck, but after a few more trips to the parts store for some Q and A time and camaraderie with the real mechanics, I finally removed the item and took it up to show them the cooling system part. You see, during my many visits to the parts store, We all came to a realization that someone had been jerry-rigging this truck because its seems that some of the tools that I needed were not necessary to the job I was trying to perform.
I walked in and triumphantly laid the part onto the counter and said “that part you gave me isn’t even necessary for this. I’m not sure what this is.”
“Well,” said a wise woman behind the counter, “that is an EGR pipe. There’s no coolant in there, that’s exhaust.”
Then I added, ‘I ruined part, so I need a replacement. Also, I broke a few things on the truck trying to get to that part.”
Conversation continued between myself, the employees, and various customers who happened to wander in during the cumulative hours that I spent at the store trying to communicate with others who know what they are doing. Finally, it all came together. This morning, I replaced a $240 part that I broke by snapping to plastic pieces off while trying to bend over it to get to something else. This required only two trips to the store. Now, I have ignition, and the truck is running. I just need to get it out on the road to see if there is a coolant leak. And what did we decide about the continuing fact of coolant leakage? It seems that the clamps for the hose may have lost tension, thus allowing coolant to be sprayed out due to a less-than-snug seal between the radiator hose and the nozzle. I’m about to take it for a spin and test everything out. Better I write about it now when my mind is not full of the kind of language that gets me in trouble around Quaker meetings and home-school groups.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pastured poultry can give everyone an opportunity to farm

When Jenn and I started raising livestock, we started with laying hens like a lot of other folks do. Our next step turned out to be hogs. That was in Ohio, and it wasn’t until we moved back to Michigan that we began to raise broilers. We found that broilers were a good investment because so many folks love chicken, and, every aspect of getting the bird onto your dinner table (other than hatching the chicks) is accomplished at home.

We drive to Zeeland to buy our broiler chicks, finding the Cornish White Cross breed to work well. Unless you are interested in dual purpose birds, those birds that are bred to grow quickly are best suited for a model intended to feed more than a few families. I’ll talk about the drawbacks of this breed below.

After the drive to Zeeland, we bring the chicks home, usually 50 of them, and introduce them to water as we place them in a brooder. The brooder is a place that will hold warmth from heat lamps, keep out predators (especially barn cats), and serve as a safe place until the birds are ready for pasture in about two weeks. We have placed chicks in a variety of items intended to serve as brooders, including plastic children’s swimming pools in our living room at the house in Ohio. Some of my seminary friends might remember that. About five years passed before I finally built a more permanent outdoor brooder. At the new farm, we have an already constructed outbuilding that will serve as a chicken house, and there is space for a brooder already sectioned off.

After the chicks have feathered out and are ready to handle cooler temps (you should decrease the brooder temps a little at a time) they are ready to go outside and munch on your grass in addition to their feed rations. The construction of a pasture pen, or, chicken tractors as they are called, are rather simple, and if you are not handy with a power drill, you will most likely have a friend who would love to trade handiwork for a few broilers. The pens are generally 8’ x 8’ x 2’, or 8’ x 10’. Some folks will put as many as 50 birds in these, but we stick to 25 to allow the birds more space. It is recommended that bird enjoy at least one-and-a-half square feet, but that doesn’t seem like enough to us.

The birds are fed non-medicated grains to supplement the grass and bugs that they can access while outdoors, and after eight weeks, they should be large enough to butcher. In some cases, we have raised birds that dressed out at over six pounds. The pens they are held in are moved to new grass every day at the first feeding, though sometimes if the grass is really long they might do well for a day and a half.

The next step is butchering. Chickens are small enough that one can spend a bit of time learning the process until perfected. Usually, after culling the bird, you will remove the head and scald the carcass in hot water. We prefer the water to be 155 degrees, but the recommended range is between 150 and 160 degrees. After scalding, you pluck the bird. For the first few birds that you try, learn to pluck with your fingers. Every person should have to pluck one chicken in their life in order to appreciate the commitment that luddites have to the “simple” life. After plucking, it is time to dress the bird.

We wash and then freeze our dressed birds. Jenn wants them to age a day in the fridge before freezing, however. If you don’t have that kind of refrigerator space, make sure to leave the bird in the fridge for 24 hours after thawing, and the same purpose will be served. Then, it’s time to eat!

I mentioned a few drawbacks to the broilers that we buy. These broiler breeds are bred specifically for quick transition between chick and the table. As such, they are considered to be quite unnatural by some. Due to the genetics of the birds, if not properly cared for they can get heat stroke, and a prone to heart attacks due to overeating. Some young birds develop leg problems due to the rate of weight increase. I don’t mean to spoil your appetite, but everyone should know what they are eating, and what sort of lives the animal has before it meets its planned demise. A great alternative to the broiler breeds are large dual-purpose breeds such as Buff Orpingtons or Barred Plymouth Rocks. The Plymouth Rock breed is a really pretty bird if you are interested in that aspect. The dual-purpose birds are so named because they will begin to lay eggs at nine months or so, and are culled for the dinner table as needed, not en-mass. It will take a year or so to get these birds up to broiler weight, and because they are more mobile and get chased by roosters, the meat can be less tender. One benefit is that these birds are entirely cage and pen free, meaning they are free to roam anywhere in the barnyard as opposed to being limited by cage space.

Broiler breeds are preferable to many because the taste is superior, and the pasture access makes them taste much better than store bought anything, even the so-called pastured/organic models at the local stores. The cages are preferable because the birds are protected from predators, and they won’t get stranded too far away from water. Broilers are interested in eating non-stop, and will never go more than three feet from a food source, but I have witnessed birds that eat so much that they will not get up and go to water on the hottest days. This has catastrophic results for the bird. The size of the broiler birds makes them easier to butcher, and with a chicken-plucker and the help of a few friends, you will soon be processing six to ten birds an hour. Another benefit to broilers and the pens. The “Chicken Tractor” model requires the moving of the pen on a daily basis. The tractor part is the result of the manner in which the soil and pasture is cultivated by the birds as they scratch for bugs, and then manure the pasture where the cage is. I can tell you that the benefit to your back yard will be so remarkable that, if you have a certain kind of neighbor, they will be jealous of your green grass. You can see an extraordinary difference in the grass where the birds have been and grass that has been left alone. This is certainly true of pasture.

Finally, I’d like to pass on a little information about the commercially raised organic/pastured birds you buy at stores. There are federal regulations that benefit corporations, but mislead consumers and may be considered detrimental to the health of the bird. Federal specs state that each bird must have one-and-a-half feet of space, but they are placed in a warehouse that houses thousands of birds. Not only is the buildup of waste remarkable, but that many birds in one place heaps enormous stress upon the birds. Organic feed is hardly a benefit when the context of commercial farming is considered. Also, “free-range” poultry is not pastured. The birds simply have to have to have “access” to the outdoors. For most commercial farms, this space is about the size of a large old-fashioned chicken run that contains no grass or bugs, and cannot accommodate every bird. Many birds may never find get to the exit door due to pecking-order issues. As for pecking order, the birds or most often de-beaked to prevent cannibalism and sever damage that can result from so many birds attempting to establish hierarchy.

I hope you will visit the farm and observe how we raise our broilers. We invite everyone who is interested to butcher with us, as we are confident in our cleanliness and attention to detail, and also, hope folks will want to experience what kind of sacrifice is necessary to put meat on the table. Not only is butchering your own meat a way to make the meal even more satisfying, but it can be an eye-opener to the way that human beings interact, or don’t interact, with creation and our fellow animals.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Creating Habits of Community

“God comes to us in the midst of human need, and the most pressing needs of our time demand community in response. How can I participate in a fairer distribution of resources unless I live in a community, which makes it possible to consume less? How can I learn accountability unless I live in a community where my acts and their consequences are visible to all? How can I learn to share power unless I live in a community where hierarchy is unnatural? How can I take the risks which right action demands, unless I belong to a community which gives support? How can I learn the sanctity of each life unless I live in a community where we can be persons not roles to one another?
(Parker Palmer, 1977; as quoted in Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk Through The Quaker Tradition)

I was in Lansing last spring waiting for a workshop on structural inequality to begin. Several people were running late and so those of us that were there sat in the circle waiting. I turned to the lady next to me and said ‘hi’ and we began chatting. I had just had a conversation on facebook with another friend that is working in Kenya. That morning she had invited me to come and join her in her work. I was very pleased and excited about that and it had been on my mind for the last couple of hours. As I continued talking with the lady in the circle next to me, I was pleasantly and curiously surprised that she was from Kenya and had been living here for 10 years. I am very intrigued with different cultures and especially about how “community” looks in different countries. So I asked her what she sees as the differences in cultures between America and Kenya. She said, “Oh”... and then sat there shaking her head, trying to find the words to answer that question. Finally, she turned to me and said in her strong and beautiful Kenyan accent something that sounded to me like, “da wawd aye”. I was on the edge of my seat by that time, listening with all my heart. With a puzzled look, I asked her to repeat it. As I listened more intently, I heard it. “The word ‘I’”. THAT is the difference. In America, everything is about “I”, “me”, and “mine”. In Kenya, nothing is about that, it is about “we”, “us”, and “ours”. Suddenly, she went silent again, running out of words to continue to express this way of life. Then she looked at me and said, “You HAVE to visit. That is the only way you will understand… Well, you don’t HAVE to, but if you don’t, you’ll miss it!”

I have long been intrigue by community and frustrated with the lack of community that exists in my life and work. When I worked in the school systems, I used to ask special education students and at risk students this question: If your house was burning down and you were in your front yard with a cell phone, who would you call? So many of them had no answer. The list of allies, people that have their back through the thick and thin was a very short list. Then I started noticing the number of those very same students that were disappearing from the school system. Between the 9th grade and the 12th grade, more than half of them were gone. These were very important people to me… and they were just gone! When I began studying the research on this, I found that the main reason, according to the dropouts themselves, was that they had no one to turn to when they were in a bind or failing their classes.

Later in my career, I began working at Hope Network and noticed that there were hundreds of adults with disabilities that were living it segregated homes and attending segregated day programs. I was struck with the level of loneliness so many experience on a daily basis. We also worked with prisoner re-entry. The research I found on recidivism (returning to prison) stated that one of the top reasons they ended up back in prison was that, when their back was against a wall and temptation was high to break the law; they had no one to turn to.

I have been pondering these things for many years. I have experienced “hitting the ground” and ending up in a Dark Night of the Soul without anyone else even knowing about it. What would a “we” society look like, feel like, be like? I can’t imagine. What would it feel like to know that when I hit the ground again, barely able to stand back up, there would be people already there, helping me up? Not people that I see once or twice a month, but people that are involved with each other daily. I can’t imagine. Then I realized that for us to sustain the good things in our lives, there must be intention, there must be actions, and the actions that are most meaningful must become habits. What are the “habits of community” that exist in places that really are connected, like Roseto, the village in the link at the bottom, or Kenya? Someday, I plan to see this and write more about it.

But why do I need to go somewhere else to begin experiencing this in my life? I have the exciting opportunity to be a partner in expanding Sandhill Farms CSA; to create intentional community and to use our gifts and talents to impact a greater community. How can we join our community in Hastings MI and beyond, to strengthen it?

There are myriad problems in each and every community, organization, family, etc. Interestingly, wherever people are (and they are everywhere), there are problems that need to be solved. The mistake that is often made is that we don’t come together as a community to solve those problems first. We hand them over the “professionals” (systems, governments, organizations) to take charge and take over; washing our hands of getting involved in what might be messy; washing our hands or our family member, our neighbor, our colleague.

In the book, Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block, there are three questions that must be asked and answered in this same order if we want thriving, connected, and abundant communities:

1. What can ‘we the people’ do (what are our assets within our community)?
2. What can we do with a little help from professionals (and systems)?
3. What do professionals have to do?

If we can learn to solve our problems by working through these questions together, finding and creating the best possible roles as citizens and professionals, we may be surprised at the possibilities!!!

Learn more by linking to these articles from Living with Open Hands by Ron Irvine

There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.” (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, p. 7)

“Loneliness is lethal not only to the human spirit and emotions but also to the human body and brain… Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.”

”'I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.’ I still believe this. I still believe that if we turn to one another, if we begin talking with each other – especially with those we call stranger or enemy – then this world can reverse its darkening direction and change for the good.” (Margaret Wheatley)

”Since our earliest ancestors gathered in circles around the warmth of a fire, conversation has been our primary means for discovering what we care about, sharing knowledge, imagining the future, and acting together to both survive and thrive.” (Juanita Brown, The World Cafe)

Winter "events" and getting the farming done

I lost time over the weekend working in the calving barn. I worked 12 hour shifts over the past four days, and today Jenn and I got caught up. During our time together, she indicated that we had received between 18 and 22 inches of snow over the weekend. I knew we had received a lot of snow, but I had no idea we experienced a three-foot dump. After getting my truck wedged into a drift across a local road, I suppose I should have known, but when you are preoccupied with working at getting a dairy farm through a snow storm, you often don’t realize the full extent of the events that occurring in all around you.

I was staying pretty busy at the farm, and between calvings, assisting in the milkhouse, constant fixes to the truck, and treating a load of ill cows over the past four days, my time was also filled with a steady moving of snow from one place to another, I never bothered to add up the number of times that I cleared five inches of snow from this place or that. I also didn’t have time to read or listen to weather reports while breaking through at least three inches of ice in some of the water troughs or de-icing DeLaval parts in the unheated barn. In fact, the necessity of getting things done and keeping things going on the farm and the surrounding roads meant that the folks working on the farm had very little time to talk about the weather. Of course, if anyone asked me, I simply said it was the “best day ever” – my stock answer for most any inquiry about the nature of my day.

Yet, after working through a weekend like that, then finding out that you bested three feet of snow, I considered the nuances of the past days and how it seemed like less than a nuisance to navigate the various obstacles presented by working outdoors in sometimes sub-zero temps. I have concluded the following:

Working on a farm often means working at or pretty close to home. That means a hot meal with family in the middle of each day.

The pleasure of the celebratory nature of family meals when work is done for the day. Our family mealtime is often filled with laughter as well as good food that we have grown ourselves. There is a satisfaction to enjoying the fruits of one’s labor so directly.

Employers that value your work and that don’t micro-manage.

The satisfaction of laboring for an hour to pull a backwards and upside down calf, and finding it alive and well, followed by a twin that birthed easily and is just as healthy as the first.

Doing the job right.

Just one of the many reasons that the hardest day on a farm is better than the easiest day at the office.

Just a few more thoughts on this season’s weather. This winter, and much of last winter, are reminiscent of the winters of the 1970’s that set the standard for my winter experiences. I was a between the ages of 3 and 13 during that decade, and Michigan experienced its share of blizzards, cold temps, and multiple snow days. Also, that decade was filled with hockey in the street, driveway basketball that required chipping the ice of the cement an inch at a time, and dreams of baseball season marking the official end of Michigan winter, even when opening day was snowed out one or two years. During the seventies, Michigan had four distinct seasons. I wonder if we might return to that weather pattern for a few years. A strong winter makes the Tigers’ home opener that much sweeter.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This ain't farmin'... Is it?

Though we haven’t began the farming season yet, the farm related tasks are building up and I am expending some energy, as well as having some fun and generating some excitement, getting things done. An old friend, Melanie Ragsdale, has just provided a new logo for the farm. I met Melanie when I first moved to West Michigan with Jenn. We met each other through the practices of a garage band that practiced in the basement of her Rockford home. We lost contact for a few months, and then I met her again working through a small newspaper that I was hired to write for. She put the whole paper together.

Through the wonders of Facebook, we caught up with each other, and now our families are in-touch, and, working together. Sandhill has sought out Mel’s talents as a design professional and is looking to her to provide us with business cards and promotional materials. She has provided the farm with its first “official” logo. We look forward to doing more with her. Go to our facebook link to look up her business info.

Other things are going on. Updating a website is something I never thought of as farming related, nor did I anticipate having to look high and low for a few folks to manage the vegetable shares. Of course, a move from one home to another is in the works, and yesterday we met with Ron to talk about some mundane things like whose furniture we will be using, and how we will keep up with all of the social media work. I never imagined farming would include so much computer work, but in fact, human relationships are being forged in very new and different ways these days, and computers will not only have a lot more to do with agriculture, but the relationships between food producers and consumers as well.

I hope to offer more info about shares in the next post. We are selling shares and taking individual poultry orders now, and that will become the primary work of February.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We're buying the farm!

Writing has never really facilitated cathartic activity in my soul. Many events in my life have taken apocalyptic shape or had supernatural aspects that have convince me – informed aneed to change perspective or to rededicate my faith in new ways. It is after the catharsis, or, as Quakers often say – convincement - that I might write. Quite often, the writing is about violence and the role of violence in our world. But today, I sit ready to update the regularly avoided farm blog.

We are purchasing a farm, not of our own or on our own, and ready to put our dreams into action. Farming is an action, and a creative one at that, yet the incredible amount of activity that surrounds the farmer is often betrayed by the pace of that activity. My favorite kind of farmer is the cattleman who saw that his steers had gone beyond the boundaries of his fencing. He noted with some smugness that the cows did not realize they were free to roam because, in fact, they were quite satisfied in the corn field that they had broken into. The farmer never bothered to lure them to safety behind fencing – the beef just stood, ever active in their feeding, but ever pastoral in the way they went about it.

When one purchases a farm and commits the self to full-time creativity, there is an understanding that the passive activity of day-to-day farm chores is simply 40 days away from the next crisis. I can tell you exactly when 300 lb. hogs will escape. It will be at dinnertime with guests over, and the hogs will simply trot by the dining room window on their way to the neighbors’. I can also tell you exactly when there will be a massive poultry catastrophe. It will occur when I am too tired to check up on the kids chores and realize turkeys have been fed pig mash for four days…

Yet other activity goes beyond simply startling the observer and seamlessly helps make the narratives of life ever true. On Easter two years ago, after a difficult loss of two lambs and a ewe in birth, an unexpected lamb was born while all were at an Easter dinner. And, everyone saw the birth through the dinning room window. Regardless of the stories that shape your life, an unexpected lamb born in spring is exactly what makes the stories of one’s life true. Life keeps truth credible. I think I have told the story of the resurrected chicks a few times too many, but the fact of 70 chicks being “resurrected “ from a catatonic condition through the use of a dollar store blow dryer is one that will stick with our family for quite some time. The story if 75 chilled to the bone chicks slowly warming back into an animated state exhibits the importance, if not unmitigated truth of hope.

The hope for us now has evolved from a hope that we will find a stable place to farm and raise our family to a hope that we can make an positive impact in the community that we are soon to be a part of. One of my critiques of my dear Quaker friends is that one will often say they are seeking community. The fact is, we are already in community, wherever we are, and do not feel like we belong, or that we want to belong. The first reality is difficult to navigate, but the second difficulty might be considered latent self-righteousness. I am a city boy by birth and standing, but have learned that, to love your neighbors, you have to be in relationship with them beyond the scope of talking about baseball and the weather. Indeed, you must respect and love your neighbor even when they talk about keeping their guns, tree-huggers, Jesus as the only way, and their distrust of creeping leftist threats against the best of the amendments and commandments. We live in Michigan folks, and you can only move so far in any direction before you sink or swim in a very big lake, or a very stinky state. You see, we are all already in community, yet some of us a marginalized or self-marginalizing. Worse, many of us simply marginalize others because we disagree with them. All of this seems contrary to the aspects of community we insist we are seeking for ourselves.

There is nothing to bring community together like meal-sharing and the provision of food. Many relationships have been cemented when a plowing favor is returned with a turkey or so many pounds of beef. A dozen eggs go a long way when a neighbor is hurt on the job, and pre-cooked meals from the farm a great as house warming gifts or baby-welcoming gestures. And, when the farm is supported by a community that love to eat the produce, the farm is a community-building enterprise. It is not creation ex nihlo,  however, but  building upon a foundation that has all of the pieces necessary to reflect the best of who we can be despite differences. Such a community should be a church, but over time, I have more faith that it can come through farming. Wish us luck, and buy lots of shares. We move over the month of February until we spend the night when the calendar turns to march. A new spring beginning.