Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Harrison Farm Intern Team

Several years ago, I was approached by a young lady who loved goats about the possibility of being my intern.  I had no idea that this request would allow me to use my passion for teaching to help young people in animal science, start an intern program that is the heart of Harrison Farm's teaching mission, and bring into my life remarkable individuals who are now family to me.  Abby was my very first intern -- and she set the standard high by being willing to engage in all my crazy adventures and becoming like a sister to me.  We have remained dear friends through several geographic moves thanks to her career and abundant changes in my own life . . . And we have even managed to attend two lectures by Dr. Temple Grandin in the years of our friendship!  The work that I do now with my intern team is all because of Abby's request to be my intern.

Prior to meeting Abby, I had worked with our local FFA chapter to offer a Student Assistant program.  This was an opportunity for an FFA member to complete hours for their Supervised Agricultural Experience by working at my farm.  My goal through that program is to provide work experience for a young person who is interested in farming.  The intern program, by contrast, focuses much more on education.  Most of my interns have been animal science students from the Ohio State University.  After Abby completed her internship, I had the good fortune to work with Mary Beth, and then Emma, and then Brittany.  These young ladies put up with my eccentricities (I literally interviewed one of them while wearing pajamas), embraced the opportunity to gain hands-on animal handling skills (aka wrestling belligerent animals), and joined in every adventure for which I recruited them (from a 4th of July Farm Bureau float to assisting with the Lamb Booth at the Ohio State Fair).  

In 2016, as my world changed exponentially, I found myself with the blessing of having three interns AND a student assistant!  Thanks to Marissa and Kristy and Elizabeth and Kaity, we became a real team at the farm.  Although Harrison Farm internships are unpaid, I try to provide as many educational opportunities as possible for the young people who are a party of my world.  Thus was born the concept of the now legendary Friday Fun Days: we would do something fun or educational on a Friday as my way of thanking them for their awesome efforts on the farm.  I am incredibly blessed to have an amazing group of friends, and so many of them opened their farms for tours or met us out to discuss their careers.  It filled my heart with joy to watch these young people as they learned new things and connected with people whom I respect in the world of food & farming.

This summer I am fortunate to have four remarkable young ladies as my interns: Julia, Jaclyn, Serina, and Kaylyn.  It has been a fantastic learning experience for them and for me.  We also recently had our first ever Executive Team retreat & farm tour for three graduates of the intern program who have remained a part of Harrison Farm: VP for Goat Snuggles Marissa, Assistant (to the) Chief Minion Lori, and Community Liaison for the Goats Julia.  I am so grateful for all the time that my friends spend visiting with my intern team, as we have once again enjoyed amazing adventures during summer 2017!

The greatest joy of working with my interns is the way they have become family to me.  I love that Abby & I still plan adventures to socialize, I adore that Emma & I have a weekly coffee date (which actually happens at least once a month with our crazy schedules), and I treasure that Britany's family views the farm as their "Ohio home" when they travel back.  It means the world to me that Elizabeth pitches in at the farm whenever I need someone from the "A Team", and I loved taking this summer's interns to visit Kristy's family business for one of our Fun Days.  I could not have been more touched or more honored than when Mary Beth asked me to serve as the officiant at her wedding this summer.  My heart was so full of joy to be a part of her wedding celebration to the man who is truly her best friend.  

These young ladies have given me more than I could ever give to them.  They are my friends, my family, and my favorite people.  I will always be indebted to Abby for asking to be my intern . . . And thus bringing to the farm and to my life some of the people whom I love the most!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Visit from My Adopted Niece; or, All the Lessons I Attempted to Impart to a 14 Year Old . . .

Working with young people is one of the greatest joys of my life.  Early in my career, I worked as a teacher.  Although I left the classroom to pursue my dream of farming, I never lost my love of teaching. It delights me when young people ask to be a part of our farm family.  I adore watching them as they gain new skills and mature -- as farmers, and as individuals.  I have worked with college students, FFA members, and even my neighbor children who wanted to "work on the farm".  These young people are a huge part of my heart.

Two of my dearest friends own a grain & produce farm in western Ohio, and they have four beautiful children.  It is an amazing gift to me that they allow me to be an adopted auntie to their children.  Over the last few years, we have travelled together to annual Farm Bureau conferences and I love spending time with my three adopted nieces & my adopted nephew.  For the first time this year, Kacy (who is the oldest) came to spend a week of her summer vacation at Harrison Farm.  We had SO much fun!  Kacy reminds me a great deal of myself at age 14: loves to read, is an introvert, enjoys animals, is involved in 4-H and church activities, and cannot wait to be a grown up.  She is independent -- and thus was able to occupy herself with reading & 4-H work when I had to manage business items.  Kacy & I went to Farm Bureau meetings, ate out with friends, enjoyed horseback riding, had a shopping adventure, and watched a lot of Masterpiece Theatre.  It was a joy-filled week!

Since my friends are my family, I was excited to introduce Kacy to several wonderful people.  I suggested to her that she try to have a "take away" from every conversation.  Kacy lamented toward the end of the week that she should have written them down.  Here then is a collection of the lessons that my friends offered to Kacy during her visit to Harrison Farm over Independence Day . . .

The opioid epidemic is having a horrific impact on rural Ohio, and Amanda & I ended up in a deep conversation on this problem that weekend.  Fortunately, the show Tennison on Masterpiece Theatre also showed the ravages of drug addiction, which reinforced the message . . . "Don't ever do drugs."

Angie joined Kacy & I for brunch after church on Sunday, and we discussed her new job and her passion for horses.  Angie did a good job of conveying to Kacy how important it is to find something that inspires joy in your world . . . "Find your passion."

My new friend Rebekah is getting ready for a three year mission trip to Ethiopia, and we are planning a fundraiser at the farm to assist with her expenses.  On Monday, she shared with Kacy her story of wanting to become a missionary from a very young age . . . "No matter how young you are, you can have a positive impact on the world.  Never use your age as an excuse to limit the good you can do."

Angie kindly extended an invitation to Kacy & I to come horseback riding at her farm on Independence Day, and she taught Kacy the rules of her barn -- which we decided are also really good rules for life . . . "1) Don't be stupid.  2) Don't get hurt.  3) Have fun."

That night, we had the pleasure of watching fireworks with my friends Sarah & Amber & their families.  We had some great discussion on religion & culture, and I encouraged Kacy to remember that civil dialogue is so important on issues that can potentially divide people . . . "Even divisive discussions can be successful if civilized."

On Wednesday, I had the joy of introducing Kacy to my intern/adopted daughter Emma.  I asked Emma to share with Kacy the advice that Emma wished she would have had at age 14 . . . "Be true to yourself.  Do not change yourself because of what other people think."

On Thursday, we had to delay plans because new twin goats were born.  Kacy was a very willing helper with the new babies, and so had the privilege of naming them.  She chose her own name and her sister's, thus the new twins are Kacy & Natalie the Baby Goats.  After making sure that both babies were well, we dressed up to head out for an afternoon of lunch & shopping.  I hope the lesson that Kacy learned this day was that work must be done first, and then you can dress up and go visit Tiffany's!

On Friday, Kacy joined my intern team when we had our Friday Fun Day adventure of coffee & discussion with my friends Pat & Yvonne (who work in communications & policy).  When I quizzed Kacy afterward on the conversation, I found that she did not remember precise details on the actual discussion . . . But it definitely impacted her that if you are young, but you dress up and carry yourself like a lady, then you can be a part of a grown up discussion with professionals.

Saturday was Kacy's last day at the farm, and she got to meet my friend Michaela who is a senior at OSU.  I asked Michaela to share with Kacy the advice which she wished she would have had at age 14 . . . "Try new things.  Learn about everything."

I am incredibly grateful for all the memories that Kacy & I made during her visit.  I am blessed to have friends who would so kindly let me be a part of their daughter's life.  I am very appreciative of all my friends who welcomed Kacy as a part of our meetings and our adventures and our conversations.  It made my heart smile to have Kacy be a part of the farm -- and my world -- for a week!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

RIP, Mustard E. Goat

She died on May 15th, with her head in my lap.  The matriarch of the herd, Mustard E. Goat was eleven years old, and her bloodline dominates the Harrison Farm herd of goats.  She was even-tempered and independent.  I always imagined that if she spoke, she would do so with a Scottish accent, inevitably complaining about the youthful shenanigans of others' kids.  The farm has lost one of its greatest characters.

My heart had told me during her pregnancy that this would be Mustard's last kidding.  We moved her to the special needs pen a few weeks ago to ensure she was getting plenty of the best possible grain & hay.  During the winter, Mustard had battled hoof issues and skin issues, but had bounced back from both.  On the Wednesday before her death, Mustard successfully kidded.  I was super excited that one of the twins was a girl . . . One more female to join the others who shared the bloodline of Mustard!  Autumn the Goat (boss of the herd) is her daughter, as is Becky Braune.  Mustard's granddaughters include Kaity Cupcake, Miss Barthol, The Loges, Kief, Black Jack, and Garden Goat.  Maggie (the newest goat yoga superstar) is a great-granddaughter to Mustard.

On Saturday morning, Mustard was grumpy, but I chalked it up to being an ancient mother with two active twins who were needing constant attention.  On Sunday all was status quo.  On Monday, I intended to do as little farmwork as needed.  May 15th is the one day of the year that I try not to work, as it is the anniversary of when my mother passed onward.  When I went down to the barn for the morning check, I was shocked to discover that Mustard's little girl was completely dead.  I took her to the compost pile and buried her, absolutely baffled as to what could have happened to her.   When I returned to Mustard, she did not want to get on her feet . . . And then I realized she was letting flies sit on her ears.  When a goat no longer cares enough to shake the flies off, they have lost their will to live.  With one baby left, I had to focus on his well-being.  I always keep some powdered milk onsite, should a situation like this arise.  Thankfully, the baby boy was quite willing to drink on a bottle.  

Unfortunately, Mustard kept going downhill all that afternoon.  I stayed fairly close to the barn, and frequently checked on her.  As the afternoon got late, I knew that her end was imminent and I found myself unable to leave her.  Her head was at an awkward angle, even with the pillow of straw I had given her, so I sat down next to her and placed her head in my lap.  I told her what a remarkable goat she was, and let her know that she could go peacefully having earned her reward.  I stroked her neck, and kept an eye on her baby.  I doubt that Mustard had any comprehension of my words, but I do think she perceived that she was in the barn where she had spent most of her life, surrounded by the other goats of her herd, and hearing the voice & feeling the touch of the human that had provided care for her.  

Despite my tendency to develop elaborate back stories for the animals, I know their true natures as beasts.  I know the place we each hold in the circle of life.  I hope that somehow there was a sense of peace for Mustard as she ended her time in this world.   I could not bring myself to bury this great matriarch in the general compost pile, and so I took her to the west pasture -- where general population of goats resides, and where Flirt the Horse is buried.  I went back to the compost pile and dug up Mustard's daughter, so they could be buried together.  This was purely for my own comfort, but it was the right thing for me to do.  

I have shared with some of my friends that we received a couple cancellations to Goats & Yoga when attendees learned that I raise meat goats.  It has weighed on me, and I have struggled to identify precisely why it bothers me so.  Both of the attendees who cancelled said they were meat eaters, they believed I was farming in a manner which they supported, but they did not want to interact with an animal who could become meat someday.  Another person did not even sign up for the class, but reached out to ask if the rumors were true that I raised animals for meat.  I am proud of the work that I do, and love talking about it with others.  When I am asked what I do with my animals, I usually explain that every creature on the farm -- including me -- has to contribute.  Some contribute by being parents, some by being guardians, some by being companions, and some by being meat.  The reality of the animal kingdom is that creatures are different.  A goat is not a dog, which is not an elephant, which is not a cat, which is not a chicken, which is not a human.  I believe in valuing each creature for what it is and for what it can contribute.  In some cases, this contribution is meat  . . . which then allows for income to be made to fund the farm, or nourishment to be provided for those humans who care for the animals.

I suspect my comfort with the circle of life comes from being immersed so deeply in it. When new babies are born, I help to make sure they are standing & nursing.  I assist with deliveries if necessary.  I feed the animals, and trim their hooves, and provide their health care, and extract them from bad situations.  I have splinted broken legs, dug maggots out of wounds, and tended to broken horns.  When an emergency happens, it is my responsibility to manage it.  The burden sits on me to decide if an animal must complete its journey of life -- whether by being slaughtered or by being euthanized.  I birth them, I feed them, I heal them, and I bury them.  I serve these animals, and we all serve this farm.  Through the lifetime I have spent doing this work, I have come to peace with my own mortality and with my own place in the circle of life. 

My interns laugh about how often I joke that someday I will just fall down in the barn and the chickens will eat my face off.  I tease the interns to just drag me to the compost pile when that happens, as we do with the livestock.  I work every day to care for the animals, who eat the grass so they become big enough to slaughter, so that I can have nourishment to provide their care.  And someday my time in this world will end, and my body will be buried and will nourish the soil that grows the grass that the animals eat.  My existence is deeply vested in this circle of life every day.

I wish that those who question my work would come to visit the farm.  I wish somehow I could share with them how my heart cried as Mustard took her last breaths with her head in my lap.  I wish I could convey the sorrow I felt as I looked at her orphan baby, and thought about my own experience of losing my parents.  I wish I could share the joy in my heart every time a baby is born, the sweet sound of a newborn nursing successfully, the fear that grips me every time an animal is injured, the courage it takes to know that life & death decisions sit solely on me, and the nights I spend awake second guessing my efforts whenever I lose an animal.  I wish I could convey to others my firm belief that every animal should be valued for what it is, but should also be given the kindness it deserves for its time in this world.  

Some of my animals will serve by becoming meat; all of them will eventually die.  And so will I.  For the time they are here, they deserve respect -- as does every human life.  I wish I could somehow share this perspective on the circle of life with everyone who questions the legitimacy of raising animals for meat.  And I also really wish I could introduce them to Bad Hombre the Goat, so they could understand that a belligerent male goat is very, very different from the adorable babies in Facebook videos.  I hope that by telling the stories of the farm that I will be able to share with others the daily reality of a farm.  And I also hope that these stories will explain why I believe that there is no endeavor more noble than a farmer's calling to care for the earth and God's creatures.

Friday, April 7, 2017

What is Open Farm?

I love talking about the farm and about my animals.  When I have the pleasure of meeting new people and they learn that I am a farmer, they usually ask how many animals are on they farm and how many acres comprise the farm.  I will never stop marveling that I can now blissfully answer that I own 76 acres.  As I quantify the farm into acreage and number of animals (70+ goats, 30+ sheep, a hundred chickens, a donkey, ten barn cats, two amazing dogs), I am often told "Wow, you are a REAL farmer!"  That phrase brings me great amusement, as farms in Ohio are extremely rich in diversity of production & crops.  There are so many kinds of farmers and farms in our state.  I hope that Harrison Farm is a place where people in my own metropolitan area can visit to learn more about animal agriculture.

I love sharing the farm with others, and thus I frequently invite people to visit the farm.  Many of my friends would ask about a good time to visit, so their kids (human variety) could meet my kids (goat variety.  My schedule is quite erratic, due to the needs of the farm.  This led to "Open Farm": a time when we will be onsite and guests are welcome to pop in.  No RSVP is necessary.  The work of the farm will be carrying on, and visitors are welcome to see what we do.  It is a low key opportunity to see what our farm is like, snuggle a baby goat, pick up some fresh eggs, and take in the beauty of agriculture.  Most of the creatures who live at Harrison Farm have been given very elaborate back stories, and their adventures create a recurring animal soap opera . . . So come prepared to catch up on the shenanigans of the goats, the star-crossed love stories of the chickens, and the routine complaints of Finn Lambkins!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Good Day at Harrison Farm

Today was a good day at Harrison Farm.  It was cold, it was muddy, it was productive, and it was deeply fulfilling.  Best of all, it was a day full of people visiting the farm and animals engaged in their usual antics.

My new Assistant Zach has survived four weeks of being a minion at Harrison Farm, and he fits in very well to our farm family.  Zach is active in FFA, is passionate about playing football, is a very good conversationalist, and has a positive attitude.  Thus far, this intrepid sixteen year old is managing to tolerate my eccentricities as a farmer quite well.  He has been a most welcome addition to our team!  My former interns Elizabeth & Marissa were both out to the farm today, along with Student Assistant Zach.  Elizabeth is a beacon of so much goodness & laughter, and the work load somehow seems much lighter just by the virtue of her company.  Marissa is preparing to transition from intern to assistant at Harrison Farm as she wraps up her college career.  I am markedly impressed with the manner in which Marissa is embracing more opportunity & responsibility at the farm.  She has a strong intellectual curiosity and a heart for animals.  Neither Elizabeth nor Marissa grew up on a farm, yet one would never think that to see how competently they have learned to manage the work of Harrison Farm.  They are both strong, caring women.

Today I was onsite all day with my awesome team.  I gave them each individual tasks & group projects to accomplish -- and then unleashed them.  I am full of pride for the leadership & work ethic that they displayed in carrying out their assignments.  At our designated time for lunch break, my team returned and settled in around the kitchen table.  I finished making lunch, while they read over three articles I had saved for them as our weekly "Harrison Farm Required Reading": an interview with the Executive Vice President of Ohio Farm Bureau, the obituary for the amazing physicist Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus, and a personal reflection by the President of the University of Richmond on the value of listening.  

As I prepped our lunch -- and watched those three remarkable young people sitting at the kitchen table reading -- my heart was so full.  They finished their reading, we prayed, and then we dined.  Our menu was Harrison Farm scrambled eggs, Red Beans & Rice with Harrison Farm Goat Sausage, and Harrison Farm Lamb Brats.  We like protein.  For dessert, we enjoyed a batch of Grandmother Harrison's Chocolate Chip Cookies.  During the meal we discussed the "required reading", laughed about our misadventures with the day's farmwork, and made plans for the future of the farm.  I cannot imagine a more fabulous lunch than what I enjoyed today.

I love this farm with all my heart, and I believe it deserves the opportunity to serve a purpose for our community.  My heart is full of joy as I watch these phenomenal young people gain skills, embrace animal agriculture, and become mature citizens of integrity.  Our afternoon brought more farm work, a "traveling goatherd" expedition to a neighbor who needed help with a goat, and a wonderful visit from one of my very favorite families.  It was a good day.  My grandfather had a plaque in his office with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln: "I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him."  These days it seems that this farm looks a bit prouder, stands up a bit taller.  Harrison Farm is finding its purpose.  And it seems that Katherine Harrison is, too.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Testimony on Farm Taxes

I truly appreciate the support that my community offers to Harrison Farm, and I want to make sure this land in turn serves the community around me.  Recently, I had the opportunity to testify before the Ways & Means Committee of the State Senate on farmland taxation.  The formula for taxation on farm land currently includes certain factors which have created a very difficult burden on farmers.  Senate Bill 36 would help by refining the formula to make it more accurate for how farmland is used.  I share this in the hope that my friends who care about the work of Harrison Farm will also be advocates for policies that keep farms in operation!  Garden Goat & Finn Lambkins thank you!

Chair Eklund, Vice Chair Terhar, Ranking Member Williams, and members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee: thank you for the opportunity to provide proponent testimony on Senate Bill 36.  

I am Katherine Harrison, and I own & operate a small livestock farm near Canal Winchester, in southeastern Franklin County.  I am the fifth generation of my family to work this particular farm.  Nearly my entire life has been spent working on this land, and I love it with my whole heart.  I raise goats, sheep, and chickens.  In addition, I have a wonderful guardian donkey, ten unruly barn cats, and the best farm dog ever.  Harrison Farm focuses on celebrations and animals and teaching -- as those are my passions.  

The mission of Harrison Farm is to enrich lives by connecting people with animals and farming.  Besides raising meat & eggs, I use my farm as an opportunity for people to learn more about animal agriculture.  I work with the Ohio State University to provide internships for animal science students, and I am very proud of the eight young ladies who have interned with me.  I also work with my local high school FFA program, and have had ten amazing student assistants work on my farm over the last decade.  We host a number of events at Harrison Farm, including a quarterly Open Farm, on-farm dinners catered by a local chef, and the extraordinarily popular goat yoga.

Living near a metropolitan area provides many wonderful opportunities for me to connect with individuals who are curious about farming, but know very little about it.  Since my farm is only a thirty minute drive from downtown, it is a convenient location for urban & suburban residents to visit.  Admittedly, it is the opportunity to snuggle adorable baby goats that draws visitors to the farm.  I have found, however, that if you place a baby goat in someone's arms, they immediately light up and want to learn everything they can about animal agriculture.  Although my farm is a small one, it gives me the opportunity to answer a wide range of questions about farming.

I truly feel that farms like mine are important for metropolitan areas.  Farms provide green space, employ members of the community, and enhance food security.  Unfortunately, the reality is that there are great pressures placed upon my farm due to our close proximity to an urban center.  One of these realities is a higher tax burden, as I am quickly discovering as a new land owner.  As mentioned, I am the fifth generation of my family at my farm.  I grew up with my grandparents, who taught me so much about farming and about life.  I am the only one of their descendants who is a farmer, and my parents are deceased.  Unfortunately, the generation between my grandparents and myself did not view the farm with the same love that I do.  For them, it was a valuable real estate asset that could be sold.  

I recently had the opportunity to purchase at auction the 44 acres of my grandfather's farm which adjoin my home, out of the 323 acres which were auctioned off.  I would have loved to have purchased the whole thing, but my finances were not such to be able to do so.  I have the habit of following my heart even in business decisions, which was abundantly evident in my decision to purchase those 44 acres.  To break down the tax implications on this piece of property, allow me to share some details on the financials.  I have not yet finalized a rental agreement, but for a few years I will likely rent the land to a neighbor to farm.  I anticipate this can bring in about $180 per acre per year. The taxes run approximately $120 per acre per year.  That leaves a possible net of $60 per acre per year to pay down a loan for $300,000 to purchase the land.  That is a tough financial situation to navigate, yet it illustrates the difficulty of keeping land in farming when taxes take such a steep portion of any potential profit.

Farmers are deeply vested in our communities.  I love my farm, and I love sharing it with others.  Part of the responsibility of being a steward of the land, is paying appropriate levels of taxation.  The current tax situation on farmland, however, creates added pressures that make it more difficult for small farms to remain in metropolitan areas.  Farms like mine play a vital role in our community and I invite you to visit Harrison Farm whenever you would like to enjoy the antics of adorable baby goats!  Thank you sincerely for the opportunity to provide proponent testimony for SB 36!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Happy Birthday Laura Ingalls!

Despite appearances otherwise, this picture of a belligerent pioneer girl is from my own childhood and NOT the childhood of Laura Ingalls.  It was taken when I was four, on one of the re-enactment wagon trains which my mother so adored . . . and I was absolutely convinced was a level of hell which Dante forgot to include.  The only reason I tolerated these weeklong excursions on horseback across the Dakota Prairie was because I hoped it would bring me closer in spirit to Laura.  From an early age, I was completely in love with the stories of her life which she told in the Little House books.  Today is the 150th anniversary of her birth, and I am reflecting on the impact which Laura had on my life.

As a child, I read and re-read all the books in the Little House series.  Laura's adventures seemed so real to me.  I learned the lesson of always obeying one's mother when Laura's life was saved from a possible bear attack because she did exactly as her mother told her.  I knew Laura & I had to be kindred spirits with her love of her dog Jack, just as I loved our dogs Mop and Aaron and Sadie.  When Jack went missing during their wagon travels, I was heartbroken.  And when he found the family again, I was as joyful as Laura must have been.  I worried about Mary when she went blind, detested Nellie Olsen for being such a snob, and understood why Laura loved working with Pa on his farm.  As a child, my concept of true love was based on the courtship of Laura & Almanzo.  The life which Laura wrote about influenced so much of my perception of my own world.  Even the dresses I chose as a child tended to have a "prairie" influence!

Before I could read the books myself, my mother read Laura's stories to me.  These stories became something that strengthened the bond between us.  My mother knew she could "shorthand" any lesson she wanted to teach me by referencing something that Laura experienced.  We took many trips to visit Laura's homes.  As a child, my mother would let me pick out a doll or another memento when we visited one of those historic sites.  As an adult, I would buy any book about Laura, and then my mother would read it to me as I drove during our travels.  We saw the Little House in the Big Woods in Pepin WI, drove to the cemetery in Independence KS to pay our respects to Dr. Tan who saved the Ingalls family from Malaria, hiked to the site of the dugout on the Banks of Plum Creek, and visited the hotel at Burr Oak IA that Pa Ingalls briefly managed.  Many family trips were taken to DeSmet SD to tour the Surveyor's House, visit the replica of the Brewster School, see the still-standing Cottonwoods that Pa planted on his land claim and read the historic marker there (on which Bette the Poodle enjoyed posing), and pay our respects at the cemetery to Pa, Ma, Mary, and Carrie.  One of my favourite memories was the visit that my mother & I made to the home of Laura & Almanzo in Missouri.  We had an amazing time there, and I learned a great deal about Laura as a writer.  Even more important: I learned that Laura & Almanzo had a herd of goats at Rocky Ridge Farm!  

Through these travels, I learned that the Laura Ingalls Society sponsored an annual essay contest.  In 2007, I wrote an entry about my travels with my mother to Laura's homes, how these experiences drew us closer, and the lessons that Laura & I both learned from our mothers.  It was a humbling moment to be able to surprise my mother with the good news of the recognition I received for that essay.  She was in the last months of her battle with cancer, and I was tremendously excited to surprise her with the essay I wrote on our travels together and the award I received for it.  Laura Ingalls may have lived so long before me, but her words taught me lessons, exposed me to new ideas, and allowed me to experience her adventures.  Reading these stories with my mother deepened the bond between us and I am terrifically grateful for the happy memories which we shared through our love of Laura's books.

When I was a child, an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I can still vividly recall how she laughed at me when I said I wanted to be Laura Ingalls.  I was quite indignant as a five year old that this adult could not appreciate my life goals and told me dismissively that I could not be Laura Ingalls.  And now at age 40, I am a teacher, I am a farmer, I have travelled this country, I am a writer, and I own goats . . . Life goals achieved!  Laura's words still influence my life.  Frequently when I think of leaving the farm for a quick errand while looking an awful mess, I recall Laura's admonition that when you go to town you are always representing the farm community -- and then I get dressed up as Laura would to best represent farmers.  I am grateful that my mother inspired me to love reading and introduced me to Laura, I am fortunate that I found such a remarkable woman to inspire my mind as a child, and I am grateful that Laura Ingalls taught me that a person's life lived with dignity can impact others long after they have passed.  

Happy Birthday, Laura!