Wednesday, August 1, 2018

First Thursdays at Harrison Farm

Shock is the usual response whenever I share with non-farmers the statistic that suicide rates for farmers are rivaled only by suicide rates for the military.  I am fortunate to get to visit with a lot of people who come to Harrison Farm, and from time to time I share that information to give perspective on the struggles of the farm community.  Inevitably, those outside of agriculture have absolutely no idea about the current mental health crisis within the farm community.  As a farmer and as someone who has struggled with depression, I am heartbroken to see the struggles that are affecting my fellow farmers.

The factors that play into this mental health crisis are complex.  Since 2013, farm income has continued to drop.  According to USDA, net farm income has dropped 52% since that year.  Imagine if your pay continually dropped over the last five years, and you were trying to live on 48% of what you made in 2013.  This creates economic uncertainty for farmers & their families.  Markets fluctuate based on consumer choice, and dairy farming is a perfect example of how this can negatively spiral.  American consumers are drinking less milk, so milk processors need less — which means families that are heavily invested in their farm, their animals, and their equipment can suddenly receive a notice that their milk will no longer be bought.  Imagine have a family to feed, a hundred cows to feed, a job that is demanding as it is, and then finding out you have nowhere to send your product.  Now add in the current “trade wars” that are resulting in tariffs on farm products.   If your dairy was already facing a decrease in profit, but you planted soybeans to help weather the economic storm, you might have thought you could struggle through.  In the last couple months, due to international trade issues, the market on soybeans has absolutely collapsed.  This is impacting me personally, as I rely on our acres of crops to pay the annual tax bill.  Taxes are rather expensive in an urban county, even as a farm. I was fairly confident about our ability to pay the next tax bill by selling soybeans this fall.  Now, I am hoarding every penny I can as I worry about the thousands of dollars that will be due come January.  

Beyond these economic factors, I believe isolation is one the key issues that we face as farmers.  Isolation can come in many forms.  Farms are usually located in rural areas.  Farmers by nature are independent individuals who come from a culture that prizes resourcefulness & strength.  It can be very isolating to bear the burden solo of making the appropriate decisions for every living being on a farm, while carrying the responsibility of ensuring finances are strong, in an area far from many urban resources, and in a community that esteems individual strength.  Isolation comes in many forms.  You can be surrounded by other people, and still feel the isolation from weight of the burdens that sit solely on you.  For me, isolation can be very physical as a single person who runs a farm solo.

As the mental health crisis has affected agriculture, Aubry & I have discussed what we can do to help this situation.  With her studies in public health, Aubry is keenly aware of how depression & suicide can impact a community.  The topic touches me personally, as I have had my own battles with depression & suicidal tendencies.  I was incredibly fortunate to have a good support network when I was grappling with suicide, but not everyone does.  As Aubry & I analyzed what we could offer, the resounding theme was the importance of community.  It means a great deal to me that so many people who visit the farm continue to be connected to it, and I perceive that they value the community that we are trying to build around the farm.  Thus, we decided to launch a monthly community dinner.

In July, we invited many of our friends to join us for a casual potluck dinner as we shared our ideas.  We were delighted by the positive feedback, and so we are launching our First Thursday series of community dinners.  This is a casual, low-key event so guests can connect and learn.  No RSVP is necessary, just show up with a dish to share.  Every month we will ask someone who has a unique story to share it with the group, and then engage in conversation.  I always find speakers to be the most interesting after they leave the podium, when they directly engage in conversations.  This is designed to be a relaxed situation where speakers are interacting with attendees.

The schedule for First Thursday: 
6:00-6:30 arrival at the Farm & self-serve goat snuggles
6:30-7:00 potluck dinner — bring a dish to share & BYOB
7:00-7:30 our speaker shares their story & takes questions
If you are not yet departed by 8:00pm, you will be pressed into labor for night chores

Aubry & I hope that this event will be an opportunity for guests to meet other amazing individuals, and walk away having gained a new perspective from someone else’s story.  We are hopeful that by building connections & community, that we can nurture a forum where people feel welcome & valued.  Our farm mission is to connect people with animals and farming, but my vision is to create a community where every human & animal life is valued.  I want each person who comes to the farm to feel welcome and to feel appreciated, and I am optimistic that this will nurture the mental well-being of those who are a part of the farm.  I recognize just how fortunate I was to have good people around me during my own mental health struggles, and so I want the farm to be  a place where others find comfort & support.  

I hope you can join us for First Thursday!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"People will hate you."

Shortly after I turned 16, my grandfather bought me my first vehicle.  I was extraordinarily excited.  When it was time for its first oil change, my grandfather told me that I would be doing it.  I was quite reticent to spend an afternoon doing this, but it was important to him that I knew how -- even if I never did it again.  As Daddy talked me through the oil change, he told me a story which contained a lesson that stays with me.  He shared with me his excitement over purchasing his airplane, and how much he adored flying.  One day shortly after he bought it, he was working on it in the newly constructed Hangar, and Dr. Stradley stopped to visit.  Dr. Stradley was Vice President of the Ohio State University, and his daughter Eliza was a classmate of my grandfather's.  Dr. Stradley became a mentor to my grandfather, and helped him to get the scholarship which allowed him to attend OSU.

Wearing old clothes & attempting a task which was rapidly proving my skills inferior, I half-listened that day as Daddy talked about Dr. Stradley examining what was then a new Aeronca Chief airplane so many years ago.  Virgil Harrison succeeded, though, in impressing upon me the key part of the story: as he visited with his mentor that day some fifty years before, Dr. Stradley said to him, "People will hate you because you have that plane."  It was my grandfather's way of telling me that even a hard-won acquisition can inspire jealousy in others.  The lesson quickly proved true when my grandmother shared with me that some of my family members did not approve of Daddy buying me a new vehicle.  All they saw was a new & expensive gift.  They did not see the years I had spent during my childhood working on the farm: baling hay in the hot sun, unloading hay early in the morning & late at night, feeding the sheep, gathering eggs, docking & castrating lambs, loading sheep for market.  My grandfather did not have any hired help in my childhood, so I was his extra set of hands when needed.  He never paid me, but he provided in other ways.  I knew that -- and he knew that -- but there were some who just saw the new car.

My grandfather was often wont to let a story make his point.  I never had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Stradley, but his words stay with me: "People will hate you because you have that plane."  It is far too easy to judge another person without understanding their story, to be envious of what they have, and to hate them for who they are.  I am grateful for this lesson, as it has sustained me when I was judged harshly, and it has served as a reminder to never judge others when we lack understanding of their situation.  This judgement & hatred has been exacerbated by the presence of social media, a realm in which it is far too easy to promulgate negativity.

I am so grateful for the amazing people who have helped to make the Winter Bones art exhibit possible.  I have put so much of my heart & soul into this endeavor, and I am humbled at the positive response we have received.  Unkind words still hurt, no matter the situation.  I found it rather unpleasant today to be called a "barbarian" by someone who found the art to be "terrible" and "sad".  Social media allows people to rapidly offer negativity with no accountability.  This individual does not know me, chooses not to learn my values, has no idea of the struggles which I have faced on the farm, and obviously does not recognize that I spend every day of my life working to ensure these animals have the best quality of life possible.  Understanding others & being understood is incredibly important to me, so it is unpleasant to be judged negatively.  Virgil Harrison, in his way, prepared me for all the people who would judge harshly based on perception, and not on the real story.

The opinions of my friends mean more to me than comments on social media.  Knowing how those comments still hurt my feelings, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for sincere individuals in leadership roles to deal with even greater negativity on a continual basis.  It saddens me when I see my friends -- people in whom I am deeply vested -- share memes & comments on social media that attack others.  It makes me all the more committed to ensuring the farm (and everything that comes from it) is centered around our values of honesty, integrity, and loyalty.  I want the farm to be a place where people find love & respect, and are empowered to be the best version of themselves.  

I am proud of my work on the farm, and I am proud of what is being build there thanks to the amazing people who are a part of my farm family.  I am proud of my work as a butcher, and proud that I raise the meat & eggs we eat on the farm.  I am tremendously proud that I have worked to find ways to use all parts of an animal, as part of my effort to show my appreciation for that life.  It is important to me to be transparent about my work as a farmer & butcher, and I am extremely proud to say that the animals of Harrison Farm are respected in life & in death.  My friends know all of these things, and have supported me in making such things possible.  Their opinions matter to me much more than the opinion of someone who chooses not to know my life's story.  I hope I can honor the lessons my grandfather taught me by being the best steward of this farm that I can be, no matter who may judge me.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Happy One Year Anniversary of Goats & Yoga!

Today is the one year anniversary of the first ever yoga session at Harrison Farm, and I am incredibly grateful for the support which our community has offered to our yoga classes.  When Dana & I began planning the 2017 yoga season at Harrison Farm, we initially envisioned five classes -- which then became ten -- which jumped to seventeen -- and we now look to finish the season at more than forty classes.  It is humbling to realize how this endeavor has allowed both Dana & I to move forward in our businesses, and we are both full of gratitude for the goats & the yogis.

A year ago when Dana & I decided to give on-farm yoga a try, we had no idea how the goats would behave or how the classes would be received.  Our sessions in 2016 were lighthearted events with small groups of fantastic yogis.  We were truly in the right place at the right time when "goat yoga" appeared in social media clips over the winter & spring: we already had a business model, we had great pictures from our 2016 classes, and we had dates for 2017 ready to go.  Neither one of us could have imagined how our lives would change thanks to these yoga classes!

I have met so many wonderful people who have supported the farm by participating in yoga.  Essentially, it is just a fun yoga experience on a goat farm -- but it is so much more for me.  The yogis are participating in our mission of connecting people with animals & farming, they are supporting keeping local farms in our metropolitan area, and they are directly making it possible for me to pay the feed bill, cover the expenses of the farm, and pay the taxes.  The yoga classes literally happened at the right time for me as a new landowner, and I am profoundly grateful.

Last year, I did the first yoga class as a goat wrangler without any assistance.  Now that we are fortunate enough to be doing four yoga classes in a weekend, I realize how blessed I am to have such a great team.  My OSU team has been outstanding: Marissa, Julia, Jaclyn, Serina, Kaylyn, Lori, Michaela, and Elizabeth have all assisted with yoga.  My amazing friends Kathryn & Amanda have helped at so many yoga classes with registration.  Kellie, Amy, Libby, and Will have all jumped in to help with goat wrangling when I needed assistance.  My talented friend Heidi has repeatedly taken pictures for us to use in publicity.  Stephanie and Aubry and Brenda have not only attended our yoga sessions, but also set up private parties to celebrate birthdays with us.  My amazing friends turned out in full force for our practice session in April (when I knew the goats needed to get acclimated), and they have continued their support by attending classes throughout the season.  With the current busy nature of our yoga schedule, it could never have happened without all the wonderful people who support me.

The best part of the yoga experience has been my growing friendship with Dana & her dashing husband Jon.  They are two sincere, creative people of great integrity.  It fills me with so much joy to reflect on how our friendship has evolved from our professional relationship (when I coordinated their wedding), to our current heartfelt friendship & partnership.  I literally cannot say enough good things about Dana.  I never cease to be impressed by her talents, and I cannot believe someone as cool as Dana is friends with me.  Jon has been abundantly generous with his time by helping us at yoga, and he is one of the most intelligent & charismatic gentlemen whom I know.

As I reflect on the last year in my life, I know how blessed I am.  The farm is growing in ways I never could have imagined.  So many fantastic people have come into my world thanks to the yoga classes.  I have an awesome team around me on the farm, and I could not do this without them.  The animals are thriving, and my health is blissfully good.  Even more amazing: we are actually paying our bills.  A year ago today, I was running around trying to do all the setup myself to make our first-ever yoga class possible.  Today, I signed the contract to renovate my grandfather's airplane hangar into our event space, and I have a fabulous team in place to support our future endeavors.  I am extraordinarily grateful for all the phenomenal things that have happened in my world in the last year.

Last week at yoga, there was a beautiful moment toward the end of one of the yoga classes.  During savasana, when the yogis were stretched out on their mats, Tree the Goat laid down next to one of the yogis.  She stretched out with her body against the yogi, and laid her head on their thigh.  As I stood by watching this moment, my heart was so full.  It felt like we were really doing something amazing on the farm.  We were truly achieving the mission I had designed for the farm of connecting people with animals.  I spent so many years believing in this farm & these animals when the future was not so bright, and thus it is the most remarkable experience to see the farm steadily growing into what my heart always dreamed it could be.  I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Summer 2017 at the Harrison Farm

Summer always goes by too quickly.  When I was a child, I knew to expect my grandfather's annual pronouncement as soon as school ended: "Well, summer break has started, and 4th of July is just around the corner, and then it will be Labor Day before you know it, and you will be back in school, and then it will be winter, and it will be cold."  Virgil Harrison was correct -- the summer always passes by far too quickly, and every moment should be treasured.

This summer I had the pleasure of working with four lovely young ladies as my interns: Julia, Jaclyn, Serina, and Kaylyn.  Each one is a rising senior in the department of animal science at the Ohio State University, and they each have a very bright future.  They are now back to school and back to their academic routines, but we made a LOT of memories this summer.  Our Friday Fun Day adventures included visits to a horse farm, the Ohio Statehouse, the Ohio Supreme Court, a pig farm, an alpaca farm, a row crop operation, an urban restaurant serving local foods, a business focused on embryo work in cattle, COSI's Farm Days, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture.  I am sincerely appreciative of all my friends who opened their farms & businesses for us to tour.  It brings me a great deal of joy to work with these young people as they develop their skills.  Thanks to their excellent help, we were able to move our farm forward a great deal this year, as we expanded the herd and hosted more events.

I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful people who have participated in our on-farm yoga sessions this year.  It is humbling to know that visitors want to come to experience the farm, and few things give me more joy than sharing the farm that I love with others.  I can quickly get emotional when I start to think about all the good people who helped to make our yoga classes possible.  When Dana & I decided to try this collaboration last year, we had no idea how fortunate we would be this year.  Initially, we anticipated hosting 5 sessions of yoga in 2017 (after 2 fun classes in 2016) . . . As of today, we have hosted 22 classes so far this year, we have 18 more scheduled, and we are still booking private parties!  I am terrifically appreciative of all my friends who have supported this venture through helping with the registration table, promoting us on social media, assisting as goat wranglers, and encouraging me every single time I got overwhelmed by the wonderful problem of hosting 40+ yoga classes at the farm!  

Over the years, most of my friends have met my neighbor & "junior farmer" Joseph.  My friendship with this young man has meant so much to me.  I can still vividly recall the day he walked up to the farm at age twelve -- with his dog Max in tow -- to ask about getting a job.  Since Joseph was home-schooled, he was able to spend a lot of time at my farm over the next several years.  He earned enough to be able to start his own herd with two bred does, and developed that to a herd of sixteen goats.  Joseph graduated in June, and departed in August to spend the next two years on his mission trip.  I purchased back his herd of goats, and they are now settled in at Harrison Farm.  I am so excited for the adventures that Joseph will have as he serves as a missionary, but it was hard to say goodbye to him.  I am incredibly grateful for our friendship, and I treasure all our memories of working together in the barn and visiting around the kitchen table in the farmhouse.  Joseph always enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies -- and we had so many great conversations about goats, and family, and politics, and life.

The day that I said goodbye to Joseph also happened to be the day that Marissa moved in to the farmhouse.  I could not be more excited that Marissa will be working with me over the next year!  Marissa was one of my interns, and she has decided that she wants farming to be her career.  As she finishes her degree at OSU this fall, she will be living & working on the farm with me.  My life is already exponentially better in the three weeks she has been at the farm: I was able to attend a board meeting for Ohio Farm Bureau without having to run back to the farm to do chores at night, I got to take a 24 hour mini-vacation to visit my new friend (and fellow goat farmer) Alissa in Cleveland, I have started attending yoga classes as a participant instead of a goat wrangler, and I have even been sleeping more than 6 hours a night!  And things are going to keep getting better: my former intern Lori will also be staying at the farm this fall as she pursues her teaching certification.  It is an incredible luxury to know that I will have others helping me at the farm, after having managed the work solo for a long time.

My grandfather was right that life goes too quickly.  I am filled with gratitude for everyone who has been a part of moving the farm forward this summer.  For so long I have believed in this farm and its animals, and I have had so many crazy dreams for what I thought the farm could do.  I do not lose sight of how blessed I am to now be surrounded by people who see the beauty in the farm and who are helping make those crazy dreams possible.  I am working harder than I ever have, and it is rewarding to see the opportunities that are arising for this farm that I love.  As Virgil Harrison would say, "this is living."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Winter Bones: an art exhibit inspired by Harrison Farm

Throughout my entire life, I have had a deep love of animals.  In my childhood, I felt much more comfortable with animals than with humans, and I learned to understand animal behavior.  As an only child, my playmates were the cats, dogs, horses, sheep, and goats who lived on our farm.  I created elaborate stories about them, and spent as much time with them as possible.  I played with worms & minnows in the creek that ran by the farm, and dreamed up adventures about being an explorer of waterways.  My grandfather indulged my love of animals by helping me heal & then release an injured owl and an orphan skunk.  I was also fascinated by what made an animal.  Whenever our dogs would bring home something they had hunted, I would look at the bones & the parts of these groundhogs & raccoons to understand their bodies.  When an animal passed away, I was curious to understand why it occurred, and would ask my grandfather to explain these mysteries.  I had no idea that these early traits would prepare me to be a farmer, and a butcher, and -- rather unexpectedly -- an art curator.

Since my childhood, I have had a habit of picking up feathers and shoving them in my ponytail.  This has led to quite a collection, thanks to the beautiful roosters of Harrison Farm.  I have always been fascinated by skulls & bones, and have spent several years figuring out successful means of composting & sunbleaching them.  For the last year, I have worked to master hide preparation for tanning.  With my "Harrison hoarding tendencies", this has led to a large collection of bones & skulls & feathers & hides.

I have a habit of sharing with friends all my crazy random dreams for what the farm could do: "I bet we could have yoga classes on the farm", "I want to have open houses on the farm where people can bring their two-legged kids to meet my four-legged kids", "someday I want to write a children's book about Finn Lambkins", "I have this dream of an art exhibit where different artists interpret skulls", "I bet we could turn the old airplane hangar into an event space".  The amazing thing is that in the last few years, I have found myself surrounded by remarkable people who actually believe in my crazy goat-filled dreams and are helping to make them come true.

My friends Stephanie & Dana -- two of my very favourite people in this entire world -- are helping to make my dream of an art exhibit celebrating animal agriculture possible!  We are releasing the artist call information first to our friends.  Each of us believes deeply in community, and we are hopeful to fill the exhibit Winter Bones with pieces from our own creative friends.  Information on the artist call follows this blog piece, and I encourage my artistic friends to consider being a part of this show.  We are scheduled to open at Wild Goose Creative gallery on November 4th, and the exhibition will be up for much of November.  

If all runs according to the current schedule, the opening will fall one year & one day after the auction of my grandparents' farm.  It is super exciting to realize how far the farm has come in the space of just a year, thanks to the wonderful people who support the farm & believe in its potential.  As last winter crept up, I was so excited about finally being able to make decisions on our farm -- but I was also very worried that the depression which had consumed me the previous winter would return.  I have always struggled with winter, as it reminded me of death & despair & alienation.  I knew that if I was going to survive -- if I was going to be able to make the farm survive -- I had to find a sense of peace with the changing season.  

One day, I found a quote that gave me the perspective to re-evaluate my feelings toward the season of winter: "Winter lays bare the bone structure of the earth."  I began to look at the bare trees, the still pastures, and the worn ground as the bone structure of the farm.  I stopped looking at the stillness of my own solo life in winter as loneliness, but instead as the foundation of my existence.  The more I changed my perspective from winter being a time of death to winter revealing the bone structure of the world, I began to see the stream-lined beauty of the season and the possibilities to build creatively upon it.  As I am wont to do, one day I began pontificating with my friends about these lessons, and how they impacted my view of the farm, and all the ridiculous dreams I had for introducing my community to animal agriculture, including an art exhibit . . . And then, my two amazing friends Dana & Stephanie told me that they could make this dream come true!  It is humbling to have found my people who view all my eccentricities & crazy dreams as good things, and my heart is completely full of gratitude!

Winter Bones, the November gallery show at Wild Goose Creative, explores the seasonal transition from autumn to winter. Inspired by Harrison Farm, Winter Bones examines the way cold weather exposes the bare structure of nature. Leaves fall, harvests are completed, and the cycle of life continues. Winter lays bare the bone structure of the earth, and the circle of life leaves behind the bones of animals.

When Katherine Harrison's great-great-grandfather helped her great-grandparents to purchase the farm in 1927, it was a typical Midwestern farm of its era. They never could have imagined that ninety years later the farm would host yoga sessions with goats, serve as a location for students to gain hands-on animal handling skills, or be operated by one of their female descendants. Throughout her life, Katherine Harrison has forged a deep relationship with her animals, learning the need to respect life in all its cycles. As the fifth generation of the Harrison family at this particular farm, Katherine strives to honor the lessons which her grandparents & her mother instilled in her as she finds opportunities to share with others her love of animal agriculture.  One of the tenets of Harrison Farm is to value each creature of the farm for what it contributes, and thus using all parts of an animal to honor its life: skulls are bleached, hides are tanned, and feathers are re-purposed.

Wild Goose Creative is looking for artists who would like to contribute Winter Bones. The works will use Harrison Farm as inspiration, using a collection of bones, skulls, feathers, or tanned leather paired with a story about the farm or the animal itself. The bones themselves are treated as raw materials, and can be selected by the artist and bought for $15-40 ($150 for tanned leather and $1 per feather) per set from the farm's collection. If your project doesn't require physical materials (for example, photography of the farm), you can set up a time with Katherine to visit the farm.

Wild Goose is looking for artists in disciplines such as mixed media, painting, photography, assemblage or other. With your submission of interest, please include your website or 3-5 images of your past work and a 2-3 sentence description of what you intend to create.

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!