Thursday, September 15, 2016

Some Thoughts on a Visit to a Slaughterhouse, on a Long & Trying Day as a Farmer

Right is right, even if everyone is against it.  Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.  This thought greatly influences my actions in divisive situations.  I keenly dislike being involved in disagreements, but I have become more comfortable speaking out when someone's words or actions are unacceptable.  I detest when others make judgements without accurate knowledge or understanding.  I have been in several uncomfortable situations where my own family members have turned on me when I would not join their bandwagon to hate on someone.  Because I try to judge individuals with accuracy based on both their good qualities and their poor qualities, I refuse to jump to a judgement of any form without knowledge.  This has led to strained relationships with some of my extended family, when I would not wholesale condemn those they disliked. In turn, it has made me more willing to stand by my instincts & analysis, and has eventually led me to understand that people who judge without reason are not people I need in my world.  I am at peace with that, even if it creates difficulty to some extent for me.

I share that personal reflection to offer some understanding of how I recently became involved in a social media firestorm over a slaughterhouse in Hilliard.  The Columbus media has recently covered the story of a gentleman who has purchased 5.136 acres (the figure which I found on the County Auditor's website), and has started an on-farm slaughter facility.  This gentleman is residing in the home on the front of the property (per the Columbus Dispatch), and has animals and a small custom slaughter facility on the back part of the property.  From interviews conducted by the local broadcast news & print media with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the regulations have been met for this custom on-farm facility, and the owner is also in compliance with necessary codes for Division of Meat Inspection and Ohio EPA.  As the property is over five acres, it meets the land requirement for a business to be classified as agricultural exempt -- meaning that it is regulated by agricultural codes. 

A few days ago, one of my best friends posted an article on social media related to this business -- and many people commented on it in a manner that was derogatory toward livestock production and meat processing.  I replied to comments asserting that slaughterhouses are a key part of the farm community, that they provide jobs & pay taxes, and that they offer food to our community.  I consistently maintained that if this business has met the needed regulations & codes, that I would encourage the neighbors to simply give it a chance -- knowing that the Department of Agriculture would absolutely shut it down if it was not meeting legal standards.  This led to some negativity directed toward me in further comments, despite my efforts to provide perspective and keep asking that people simply give this business a chance.  Beyond that, those who were opposed to the business kept saying it was unethical, without giving any factual information on how it was unethical.  

I raise livestock, I ran a slaughterhouse, and I care about the farm community.  I also strongly dislike seeing people judged based on speculation and not fact.  Thus, I reached out to the new slaughterhouse, and yesterday I went for a visit.  Considering that I was simply interjecting myself into their business day, the workers were very polite.  There were three with whom I spoke, two of whom were just part-time help for a busy week.  I talked shop with the third gentleman (whom I understand assists with managing the operation), and he shared with me how sales had been lately.  I visited briefly with a couple who had gotten an animal processed and were departing.  I also visited with a gentleman who was getting ready to purchase a lamb.  I did not get to speak in depth with the owner, as he was interfacing with the Meat Inspector onsite.  

It is funny how I still have an immediate reaction when I pull up to a processing facility and see that state car that indicates a meat inspector is onsite.  I shift into the perspective of looking at the location thinking how an inspector would see it.  When I managed a slaughterhouse, I tried to keep myself educated on regulations and learned to perceive the business as the inspector in charge would.  Oddly enough, I immediately slipped into this perspective again yesterday as I viewed this business.  I started observing scents and sights and sounds, formulating how this business would be reviewed.  There was an aroma of livestock and processing -- much as any agricultural endeavor has an aroma.  There was a dumpster onsite for waste, just as there had been for the slaughterhouse I ran.  Animals were housed under cover, and seemed content.  There were other animals in the field behind the facility.  Nothing was untoward from my initial observations.  I did not see the carcasses laying about of which neighbors have spoken, nor did I see entrails strewn across the back pasture.  The absence of buzzards indicated that there had not been entrails strewn there in the last few days at minimum.  There was no river of blood, there were no distressed animals visible, and there was nothing from my initial observation that was alarming.

I am sorry that this new business has been so distressing to some of its neighbors.  It is never good to experience change you cannot control in your neighborhood.  I would not want to live on that road myself, but for a far different reason: across the road a new subdivision with many, many houses is being built.  I would much rather live next to a slaughterhouse than next to a subdivision.  I recognize that nothing I am sharing will likely change the minds of the neighbors who are residing next to this slaughterhouse.  I would once again simply ask that they give this business a chance.  If the owner violates codes, it will be shut down.  From my work experiences, I have a great deal of confidence in the Department of Agriculture -- and particularly after all the media attention on this slaughterhouse, the Division of Meat Inspection would certainly not let issues slide at this establishment.

So . . . If the business is following all necessary codes, if the landowner has more than the minimum acreage needed for this operation, if we advocate for personal property rights, and if everything appeared copacetic from my own observations . . . why is this such a controversial issue?  I would point to two reasons.  First -- and my biggest concern relative to local foods -- as a society we have become very disconnected from agriculture, and particularly from meat processing.  It used to be that there was a small slaughterhouse in every community, and being a butcher was a skilled trade.  Now, these neighbors are a case in point that many people find a slaughterhouse to be somehow offensive.  This concerns me greatly.  Farming livestock is a noble endeavor and meat processing is a legitimate manner of providing food to our community.  Without local foods, we undermine America's food security.  I am very proud of the years I spent running a slaughterhouse, I am proud of the butchering skills that I have mastered, and I am proud that animals I have raised have fed so many people.

The other facet?  The owner of this business is an immigrant and a Muslim.  I do not want to believe that people are judging him based on those facts.  Alas, with the lack of clear evidence of regulatory violation, I cannot help but wonder if this gentleman is facing greater scrutiny due to his religion and his culture being different than the majority of the community.  It depresses me that logical objective analysis of this business has been replaced by subjective prejudice.  If the business is improperly run, it should be shut down, but not as influenced by prejudiced perceptions.  I worked too hard for too long at a legal slaughterhouse to have any patience for those who are outside of code.  Conversely, knowing how difficult it can be, I want to support others who approach this business legally.

I started this blog pieces hours ago as I waited on my SUV to be repaired.  I finish it having come into the house to sit down for lunch at 9:30pm.  That is my reality as a farmer.  When a day is difficult on the farm, it is my responsibility to manage it.  My day started when I responded to my neighbor Joseph's request for assistance with a goat.  I headed to his family's home to attend to the goat with the injured hoof.  As I drove back to my farm, I realized a ewe was down in the field.  As I tried to move this very pregnant sheep, my neighbor David drove by and offered his help.  He was obviously on an errand, but immediately pulled in to offer help when he saw me struggling.  I nursed the ewe all day, thinking that she would feel much better after delivering her lambs -- only to lose her late afternoon.  This triggered an emergency c-section in the hope of saving her babies.  They were big & they were beautiful, and alas they were already dead.  

I like days that bring healthy new babies.  I detest days that involve painful losses.  After the loss of the ewe and her lambs, I still needed to bury them.  I managed to drag the huge mother sheep only a few feet when I realized I could not get her out to the compost area by myself.  There in the yard, I managed the easiest solution, which was to remove her internal organs & front legs and carry them separately.  I am very honest about the work which I do, and the reality of the difficult parts of farming -- but you never know how someone could judge you if they do not take time to learn about what you are doing.  If someone photographed me dismembering a sheep in the barnyard, it would have looked quite questionable, even though it was a situation that is easily explained.  

Farming is life, and it is death.  Farmers work long hours, in difficult conditions, for little pay.  I have given my life for this farm.  I work every day to look after the animals in my care.  It is not easy, in any way.  There are beautiful moments that keep me going, and struggles that are overwhelming.  No one can prepare you for what it is like when you yourself have to end the life of an animal you love because it is suffering.  It is only through life experience that a farmer comes to understand their own ethics in raising animals for meat, and finding peace with the circle of life.  There is no text book and no professor that can teach this.  And there is no training for a farmer to find the strength to go without their own medical care and groceries, because they have put the needs of their animals first and exhausted their financial resources.  This is the reality of farming.  It is tough, especially for someone who does it alone.  Most farmers I know work with their spouse, or their parents, or their siblings, or their children.  I do not have those options, and thus I have even more appreciation for the help of my neighbors.  

I could not operate this farm without the kindness of my neighbors, and I try to reciprocate.  They are not perfect -- and I am certainly not perfect in any way, not as a neighbor or a farmer or a Christian -- but we help each other as we can.  I am absolutely sure I have done things which they have questioned.  As if butchering sheep on the lawn is not crazy enough, I am notorious for doing the morning chores in my bathrobe & pajamas.  Despite such eccentricities, my neighbors have been supportive of me and my farm.  We have different faiths, we have different families, we came to this community at different times.  And we support each other despite such differences.  I cannot imagine if my neighbor Joseph had told me this morning of his goat's injury, and I did not respond because we are of different faiths.  I cannot imagine if my neighbor David had watched me struggling with the mama sheep in the field, and immediately jumped to conclusions that I was an unethical farmer.  When you are a farmer -- when you live in the farm community -- you will be much more successful if you learn to work with and support your neighbors.

Friends, judging others without trying to understand them is unacceptable.  When you see something that concerns you, ask about it.  Learn.  Expand your horizons so that you can better discern a situation.  Value those around you.  My farm would not exist -- I could not exist -- without the good people who help and support me.  They have taken time to learn who I am and what I value.  I owe it to these friends to offer the same to the others in my world.  Complaining is an easy route that takes no effort.  Learning does take effort, but makes life more worthwhile.  It took time out of my schedule for me to actually go and interact with the people at the new slaughterhouse, but I am glad that I investigated the situation myself to be able to better understand it.  I want to be a person who offers this courtesy to others -- not someone who judges a situation without trying to better understand it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Finding Meaning on this Anniversary

I have been deeply affected today by the emotions of the anniversary of 9/11 -- much more so than I would have anticipated.  Perhaps it comes from the reflective mood of turning forty this year, and recognizing the changes in my world since 2001.  This summer, at the World Food Prize Hall of Fame, I saw a photographic exhibit called Forty Chances.  These were international images centered around the concept that a farmer has approximately forty seasons farming in their life.  If we start around the age of twenty and have the ability to farm full-time until we are around sixty, we get forty chances.  And thus, I am realistically half-way through those chances.  Based on my grandmother's genetics, I might get a few more.  Based on my mother's experience, I am well beyond halfway.  I can recall my grandfather looking at me as a young person, and saying, "It goes so fast.  It goes SO fast."  Virgil Harrison was -- as always -- correct.

My life was in a state of transition in 2001.  My father had passed away that June of 2001, and was buried in the family plot in Brooklyn.  I could never have conceived of how the city of his birth would change so much so soon.  That summer I was trying to make some decisions on my next steps in life, as I considered returning to school to study education.  After university and a year in Washington, I had moved back to the farm in the hopes of being a help to my grandmother.  My grandmother was aging, but was still in good form.  I suggested to her that we take a road trip that September to visit friends of hers in Wyoming, and see again many of the favorite places we had visited on trips during my childhood.  And so began a three week trip westward.

On the tenth of September, we stayed overnight in Valentine NE.  It was one of the traditions of a Harrison trip out West, that we would visit Young's Western Wear in Valentine.  On the morning of September eleventh, I awoke fairly early, made coffee in the room, and then turned on CNN for the morning news.  The first tower had just been hit, and Grandmother & I watched in shock thinking it was a dreadful accident.  Then the second tower was hit.  I jumped in the shower, and by the time I was out of it, the news was breaking of the plane which hit the Pentagon.  It was profoundly clear that we were under attack as a nation.  I tried to reach my mother on the new cell phone I had gotten that summer, but could not reach her.  How terrible to not be able to reach one's mother and hear her voice!  It is a painful emotion to which I have had to become accustomed in the last decade.

Grandmother wanted to turn back home from our trip, but I encouraged her that the safest place to be was likely in the middle of nowhere . . . and the open roads of Nebraska fit that bill.  We stopped by Young's Western Wear, which had radios playing the news as visitors somberly perused the merchandise.  We continued west, and then cut north to the Pine Ridge Reservation to pay our respects at Wounded Knee.  At the cemetery there, atop a high hill, I finally had cell reception again -- and that was the moment when my mother called.  She had received my panicked message on her answering machine, but had been outside with the sheep all morning.  I ended up being the one to tell her that our country was under attack.  

Grandmother & I travelled onward through Nebraska, and arrived in Torrington WY that evening to visit her friends Marion & Connie.  Throughout the trip, the attacks were pre-eminent in our minds.  Grandmother spent much time reminiscing about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and how that had impacted her world as a young woman.  We saw CNN's coverage of a rescue from the tower rubble several days later while having lunch at a tiny diner in South Pass City.  We watched the national memorial service from a hotel room in Idaho Falls.  We visited my friends Conny & Don in Idaho, who were still trying to learn if one of Don's friends had survived.  I will always associate that trip and the attacks so closely.

Fifteen years later, what makes a deep impression on me is how my life has changed since those days.  My grandmother -- my travel companion, the woman who helped to raise me -- has passed onward.  My mother, who should have had so many more years, passed long before her.  My mother's husband, who was working with her in the barn on 9/11, has chosen not to be a part of my life.  At the age of 25, life seemed so full of possibilities, even at the most dismal times.  At 40, life seems a frustrating & beautiful struggle to overcome the chaotic nature of this world.  I no longer believe that everything happens for a reason.  Man was given free will, and thus the freedom to make horrific mistakes and commit terrible acts.  Yet, within each of us is deep reserves of strength that we do not even fully know until we are tested.  These reserves of emotional iron allow us to overcome terrible struggles & atrocities.  The human spirit can and will triumph.

This morning at church, we ended the service with prayers for those lost from the attacks of that terrible day.  I found myself crying while reflecting on those lives, in particular those first responders who bravely turned toward the trouble.  I did not lose anyone I knew personally, but as I age I understand better such loss.  Life is so short, and as we mature we know more keenly the stakes and we are gifted with the ability to reflect.  At the age of 25, I would have asserted that by now I would be married with a big family.  I always thought marriage & family were my calling.  Life is unpredictable, though, and that was not the path I was given to walk.  At nearly 40, I can assert that while this was not the life I wanted, it is the life which I have -- and I want it to have value.  None of us know how long we might have, or what day may be our last.  And thus it becomes all the more important that we live each day in a way that makes our life represent something worthwhile, that helps to improve the world around us for those we love.

In reflecting on this anniversary, I do not want those who committed the atrocities or the sense of fear that arose from such acts to be our lasting impression of 9/11.  Rather, I want the memory of those who gave their lives to be our lasting recollection.  Their lives were all cut too short.  Many of them lost their lives protecting others -- from the first responders who ran into the scenes of terror to the brave souls who brought down United 93.  We must honor them by being people of character who strive to make our country a better place.  All of our lives turn out different than we expected, and so many of them end far too soon.  I try to use the opportunities I have with the young people around me to teach them perspective on life, an understanding of history, an appreciation for hard work, and a love of their fellow man.  I want them to be people of character, people who are ready to face the challenges that life will throw their way, people who would be brave enough to sacrifice when called upon.  We must prepare our young people for the reality of the struggles they will face, while equipping them with the courage they will need in this life.  For we need young people who will be like those first responders who saw people in trouble and ran to them to help . . . Not reluctant individuals who merely pull out their cell phones to record such trouble.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seizures, Memes, and Society

I experienced my first diagnosed seizure when I was 15.  It was a Friday afternoon, and I was incredibly excited for the home football game that night.  I rushed home after school, and Grandmother kindly offered to fix me a snack before I headed out.  She was a master at making amazing breakfast foods at any hour of the day, and amongst my favorite meals was her scrambled eggs, bacon, and chocolate chip pancakes.  As a young person, I always felt a sense of peace when I was in Grandmother's kitchen.  It was a place where a person was given hugs, good meals, and encouragement.  I recall being tired that afternoon, but that was not unusual at the end of a busy week for an over-achieving teenager.  It was a stressful time in my life.  My mother was in the midst of the unwinding of her toxic second marriage, and my grandparents had kindly taken me in when things became too unstable in my home life.  Thus, being in my Grandmother's kitchen to enjoy a meal before a teenage adventure was a welcome respite from the turbulence I had experienced in my young life.

I can clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table in my tee shirt & shorts that warm afternoon as Grandmother cooked.  I recall sitting down in her chair, instead of my usual spot on the opposite side of the table.  I was hungry and could hardly wait for her delicious cooking.  I was laying on a gurney and they were telling me that I had to go to the hospital.  I did not want to go to the hospital, I wanted to go to the football game!  My mother was suddenly there and she & Grandmother were staring at me with fear in their eyes.  I kept begging the men to leave me alone; I pleaded with my mother not to let them take me away.  I could not understand what was happening, or why I could not form the words I needed, or where the time had disappeared.  I began crying helplessly out of profound fear.  I was so scared, and so weak.

The preceding paragraph is an accurate representation of the disjointed experience for me of having a seizure.  Life seems normal, and then it is altered forever.  It has always amused me that I recall little things up until the start of a brain seizure, and then I simply lose time.  As horrifying as it is to realize one's body can fail without warning, the hardest part for me was always the memory loss.  I pride myself on recalling precise details and having a good vocabulary.  My experiences with brain seizures is that they rob me of both of these things.  A seizure renders me alone, scared, without words, and outside of the normal human experience of those around me.  It has taken me a very long time to have any kind of acceptance or peace with this reality of my world. 

As a teenager, I had another diagnosed seizure at 16, and then went on a medication which I detested.  I took it faithfully for two years, and then blissfully went off of it as my neurologist said those two experiences were likely anomalies.  I went off to university, sure that these experiences were just terrible memories.  When I filled out my college medical paperwork, one of the questions was "do you have epilepsy?"  I checked the box labelled NO without hesitation.  After all, society made fun of epileptics.  They were oddities who could not control themselves.  I was certainly not going to be ridiculed as a weak person.  Then, at the end of my freshman year of college, I had a major seizure which caused me to stop breathing.  I was incredibly fortunate that my college roommate was with me, and she knew CPR.  I can recall that we went to brunch at the dining hall that Sunday morning, and then returned to our room to study.  She later told me that I suddenly sat up on my bed where I was reading and looked at her strangely, and then fell back and began turning blue.  

After this experience, I was put on Depakote, which became a wonder drug for me.  It allowed me to go through life without worrying about having a seizure, worrying about my body failing me, worrying about people ridiculing me.  Society can be very judgmental on those of us with physical disorders -- which is funny since every single one of us has something.  After seventeen years of being on Depakote, however, my life changed and it became clear that I needed to transition.  Thanks to the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, I was able to stop taking the Depakote.  I had no idea that when I stopped taking medication, that was the start of a new journey of learning how my neurological system operated.  For my whole adult life, the drug had worked the wonder of masking all my symptoms.  Without it, I encountered an array of physical issues and I experienced more seizures.  

I slowly learned that what I thought were annoying tics and muscle issues and painful migraines were actually the warning signs that my body used to tell me when my neurological system was struggling.  It is my new normal, and I have learned to take comfort that my body tells me when something is wrong.  Since I have brain seizures, they do not manifest as typical seizures.  Instead, it appears that I simply faint.  As a child, I often fainted.  I now suspect that these were brief seizures.  My grandmother's younger sister had epilepsy, but Grandmother had no idea I was experiencing a seizure on that Friday night so long ago when I was 15, because I simply fell off my chair and became unresponsive.  Now I know that it is my body giving off warning signs when I begin to experience tics in my face, when my muscles feel so heavy it is hard to function, and when the inside of my head becomes a painful maze of fog.  I understand now that my body has not failed -- rather, my body & my mind are trying to function together to the best of their ability despite any & all challenges.

My last recent seizures were on my birthday and on Thanksgiving in 2015.  Since then I have successfully been able to care for myself so that I do not reach the point where my body experiences a seizure.  I have stopped hating my body for failing me, and started accepting that everybody has something.  I have stopped detesting the warning signs my body experiences, and started embracing that my body tells me when it needs more care.  But the most important part of this is that I have stopped hiding the reality of my experience, and telling more people that I have epilepsy.  That I am fortunate enough to have epilepsy.  How tremendously boring it must be for those of you who wake up every morning without wondering what level of functionality your body will have that day!  For me and for others with neurological conditions, it is a surprise every day.  And I am now at peace with that.

I still do not find it easy to discuss my neurological condition with others.  The reason I am doing so now is not for my own benefit, but because of a meme.  A silly, inaccurate meme that really has no impact on me -- but could impact others.  Recently I saw a shared meme that was attempting to portray Hilary Clinton as weak, and mocked her for taking a weekend off to rest because she "has seizures and wears diapers".  I have some policy disagreements with Secretary Clinton, thus this is not an endorsement of her as a candidate.  It is, however, a powerful indictment of anyone who wants to portray a woman as weak because she might have seizures.  I like to think of myself as quite a badass in most situations, yet there are many times that I have to force myself to rest in an effort to care for my mind & my body.  I do not know if Secretary Clinton actually has seizures, but if she does then she has become a much stronger & more interesting person in my mind.  And I want to correct the perception that seizures equal weakness.

Memes can be funny things, and are far too easy to share.  I know the person who shared the meme that has stuck in my craw did not share it to hurt me in any way.  In fact, that person is one of my all-time favorite & most supportive friends -- which illustrates to me that as a society we have a problem censoring ourselves when appropriate.  I have no doubt that if this friend had considered how such a meme could impact me, the "share" button would never have been hit.  So I am asking you, my friends, to truly think before sharing a meme . . . Have you verified the "facts" contained?  Does it make you a better person to disparage another human being?  Could you be inadvertently hurting through this meme someone who truly loves you?  I wish I could restrict all memes to feature only adorable cats, funny goats, Downton Abbey, and Ron Swanson.  In lieu of this, I am asking you to be my missionaries for a polite society, for a kind world -- only share in any circumstance what you know to be true, and only put into this world what will truly make it better.

You see, this does not so much matter for me.  I have spent many years on my journey with seizures.  I know how to care for my body, and I am far too stubborn & independent to be hurt by a silly meme.  But there are many young people who are just starting down their road with seizures, and such a silly meme could hurt their young hearts.  It could make them feel they are less of a person because they have epilepsy. It could set them up for the same experience I had as a teenager of always feeling ashamed when jokes were made about epileptics.  I could not bear for such a thing to happen to a young person, and so I wanted to share my story.  Even more important, there are many young people who do not have epilepsy who could see such a meme -- and view it as justification to make fun of those who do.  After all, if it is okay for an adult to make fun of someone with seizures, a young person can easily make the leap that it is okay for them to make fun of someone with epilepsy as well . . . Or cancer, or diabetes, or a mental illness, or a physical handicap.  This is not okay, and only the adults have the capacity to stop this.

If you have made it all the way through my post, you are a good friend, and I know you will be a guardian of the young minds around you and a missionary for a better society.  My request of you is that when you meet a person who has seizures -- whether from epilepsy or from a brain tumor or from another situation -- that you be ready to say to them, "You have seizures?  Wow, that is a really interesting fact about you.  You must be a tremendously strong and fascinating person from experiencing those.  A goatherd I know once told me on great authority that seizures are the result of a brain that is far too powerful for a normal body and thus needs to re-boot from time to time like a supercomputer."  Those words could change the life of a person you meet who struggles to accept their own physical challenges -- whether it is a young person or even Hilary Clinton.  And I will always maintain that having a physical challenge makes you far stronger and far more of a badass than anyone who creates memes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August Update from the Farm

Happy August from Harrison Farm!  This has been a busy summer at the farm -- and the animals have contributed to that by being especially unruly!  BeyoncĂ© the Chicken continues to recover from injuries sustained during a raccoon attack in June, Pajamas the Goat maintains her role as most loving goat on the farm, and we are currently saving up for some veterinary treatments for our beloved donkey Cecilia.  Finn Lambkins is settling into his role as herd bellwether, and I continue to work on ideas for the children's book which I would love to write about him.  We recently had another baby goat join the herd . . . Meet the adorable Kaity Cupcake!

We are very excited for our upcoming on-farm dinner!  It will take place on Saturday 8/13/16 at Harrison Farm, 5278 Berger Road 43125.  Tickets for the dinner are $60, and can be reserved by responding to this email.  Guests are welcome for tours of the farm & appetizers starting at 5:00pm.  Dinner will be served at 6:00pm, and guests can bring their own wine or beer to enjoy with their dinner.  We recommend a full-bodied red wine to accompany the delicious Harrison Farm lamb chops!  We hope to dine outside, but should it rain we will gather around the farmhouse table inside.  We will be enjoying an amazing menu by Chef Kristin Root Reese, that will highlight summer flavors.  Since we had to close ticket sales last month before some of our friends were able to reserve their spot, we are again offering delicious Harrison Farm lamb chops for the entree so more people can try them.  Please join us!  

If you cannot attend this month's dinner, but you would like to try some delicious lamb chops (or goat chops!), we have both lamb & goat available for sale.  My interns have tried lamb and goat during dinners at the farm, and they have given very favorable responses!  Our available options include rib chops, loin chops, roasts, shoulder chops, kabob meat, and ground.  We also have organ meats for the truly adventurous cooks!  Our animals are pasture-raised, and grain-finished.  We welcome visitors to the farm who would like to see the atmosphere in which they are raised.  I truly believe they provide delicious meats!

Our animal-inspired jewelry business is starting to take off!  Thus far, dogs have definitely been the most popular animal for the etched crystal jewelry . . . There is now a dachshund, a Maltese, and a Labrador retriever gracing the necks of three of the most stylish women in our area!  We are starting to book shows for the upcoming months, and I can hardly wait for the first one.  Looking for a beautiful necklace, eye-catching earrings, or a really cool prism for someone who loves animals?  Keep in mind that we can deliver to those in the Columbus area!  

The summer is moving too quickly, and I am treasuring my final weeks with my amazing group of interns!  We had some truly outstanding adventures in July, and I am extremely grateful to all of my friends who offered their time for our educational adventures on our "Friday Fun Days".  Our recent adventures have included a trip to Western Ohio to visit a hog operation and an alpaca farm, as well as a trip to Northeast Ohio to see a dairy and a hay operation.  I am very blessed to have such phenomenal young ladies interning on my farm, and I appreciate so much how all of my former interns (and student assistants) have become like family to me.  In fact, I am excited to have the pleasure of officiating at TWO weddings in 2017 for young women who worked for me during their school days!  My interns receive a diverse experience as they learn about my work with celebrations and animals and teaching, and I am most grateful for what they contribute to Harrison Farm.

As always, please know how much I appreciate the support that all of my friends offer! I write these email updates myself to share with you more of the adventures of the farm, and I send it specifically to those I know.  I have encouraged Finn Lambkins to take over some of our marketing efforts for the farm, but thus far he feels his full-time job is being adorable!  I am extraordinarily grateful for the kindness which our friends show.  This allows Harrison Farm to keep working to achieve its mission of enriching lives by connecting people with animals & farming!

Katherine Harrison & all the animal friends

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July Update from the Farm

Greetings from Harrison Farm!  I am profoundly grateful for the support which I have personally received to encourage all of our endeavors at Harrison Farm!  As one of the people who has been a part of supporting our farm, I hope you will enjoy this update on our summer activities.

We still have seats left at our first ever on-farm dinner this Saturday 7/16/16, and we would be honored to have you join us!  It brings me great joy to share this farm that I love with others, and it is extremely rewarding to be able to feed my community.  For our summer dinner series, our chef is Kristin Root Reese of Local Flavor Foods.  Kristin is a remarkable woman and an excellent chef!  We have known each other since we were both in 4-H as kids, and I am constantly inspired by her achievements as a mother, as a farmer, and as a businesswoman.  Her catering company focuses on local foods, and she has designed an impressive menu for our first collaboration . . .

Grilled Lamb Chops
Farmhouse Bread & Jams
Panzanella Salad
Pesto Pasta
Fresh Garden Greens, with Balsamic Dressing
Assorted Pies

Tickets for the dinner are $60, and can be reserved by responding to this email.  Guests are welcome for tours of the farm & appetizers starting at 5:00pm.  Dinner will be served at 6:00pm, and guests are welcome to bring their own wine or beer to enjoy with their dinner.  We recommend a full-bodied red wine to accompany the delicious Harrison Farm lamb chops!  We hope to dine outside, but should it rain we will gather around the farmhouse table inside.  Pajamas the Goat looks forward to many photo ops with our guests that night!

This summer we have the pleasure of working with three dynamic interns from the Ohio State University!  Elizabeth, Kristy, and Marissa are all animal science majors, and they are amazing young women.  The focus of their internship at Harrison Farm is to gain hands-on skills with livestock.  In addition to this, they get a full immersion in everything we do at Harrison Farm: celebrations and animals and teaching!  As thanks for all of their hard work at Harrison Farm, we do fun and educational activities on Fridays.  A recent highlight of our Friday Fun Day schedule was a tour of The Seasoned Farmhouse, which they LOVED!  Community service is very important to me, and my interns have volunteered with me at several events -- including Breakfast on the Farm, a free breakfast on a dairy farm that served 1500 people!  To learn more about our internship opportunities, please email

Another highlight of our summer at Harrison Farm has been our acquisition of the Chimeara Etching & Jewelry business.  For many years, I had the pleasure of working for my good friends Carl & Kathy Wilkinson at Quarter Horse Congress & the National Western Stock Show.  They recently made it possible for me to purchase their business and relocate it to Harrison Farm!  For more about Carl & Kathy and the great life lessons I learned from them, please check out the farm blog at  It is very exciting to be able to incorporate an etching business that focuses on animal images with my farm -- that focuses on connecting people with animals!

I remain extremely grateful for the encouragement & support I receive from all my friends!  I love this farm dearly, and it fills me with joy to connect people with animals and with farming.  Please feel free to reach out to schedule a time if you would like to visit and enjoy snuggle time with adorable goats.  Finn Lambkins would be delighted to meet you!  Thank you for being one of the individuals who helps to make Harrison Farm possible!

Katherine Harrison

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Beloved Horse, Flirt

Every horsewoman has that one horse in her life with whom she was completely in sync, the horse that was absolutely perfect for her.  When I was a teenager, I had a beautiful Paint horse named Tewanna.  I loved her dearly and felt completely at peace when I rode her.  Tewanna lived to the very ripe old age for a horse of 36 years.  When she passed onward, I was sure I would never again find a horse who suited me so perfectly.  I am blessed to say I was wrong, as Flirt the Horse was the perfect horse for me in my thirties, just as Tewanna was in my teenage years.

Flirt was buried last week, and my heart remains sad at her loss.  Despite this, the joy she brought to my life was so significant that my abundant tears still cannot wash away  the happiness that thoughts of her bring to me.  There is a unique symmetry that Flirt entered my world on the day that I first was given a piece of Chimeara crystal . . . And in the week after I purchased the Chimeara Crystal business, Flirt completed her time on this earth.  

In my last blog post, I wrote about the day that my friend Angie brought Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner.  Flirt had been a brood mare, and had much success as a mother.  Unfortunately, as she aged she developed cysts that prevented her from continuing her maternal role.  Flirt's owners loved her, and did not intend to sell her -- but they told Angie they would happily give Flirt to someone who would love her forever.  I was blessed to get to be that someone.  Flirt had a generous, patient nature.  It took her about a year to completely trust me, but our bond was very strong.  I spent time with Flirt almost every morning and every evening.  Just as she was calm and patient with the baby goats who ran under her and all around her, she was also calm with me.  In the last year as my life was a struggle, I always knew that if I needed to cheer myself that time with Flirt would do the trick.  I would wrap my arm around her, lay my head against her neck, and feel my heart rate steady as my emotions calmed.  Whenever I had a difficult day, time with Flirt would heal me.  I have had many friends who helped me to navigate the turmoil of the last year of my life, and chief amongst these was my horse friend.

Just as Angie was with me on the day that Flirt came to Harrison Farm, she was with me as I said goodbye to Flirt.  Colic is a terrible, awful thing.  A horse can colic for any number of reasons -- most of which are never fully known.  When a horse gets a twisted gut, the illness proceeds rapidly and rarely has a good ending.  Flirt was in good spirits that morning when we visited, but when I checked her at night she was very, very ill.  I am grateful that Angie was with me that night.  It is one hell of a good friend who will get out of her bed and drive an hour to your farm to do everything she can to help you care for your sick horse in the middle of the night.  Unfortunately, Flirt could not recover, and so we made the decision that she needed to be put down.  

One of the most difficult parts of owning animals is the recognition that at times we have to put aside our own emotions to make the best decision for the animal.  I wanted to lay on the ground next to Flirt and hold her for as long as I could, but Flirt was telling us that she was ready for her journey to end.  The State of Ohio has provisions for acceptable means of euthanasia for animals, and for horses the quickest way in the face of such an issue is to put them down with a bullet.  I am not a fan of guns (I have always been much more comfortable with a knife), but I recognize that guns are necessary tools for the world in which I live.  Responsible animal ownership and responsible gun ownership both involve maturity and analytical decision making.  I am grateful my horse had a good life, I am grateful I had the privilege of being her human, and I am especially grateful that I had my best friend by my side to counsel me through this difficult situation.

The night that Flirt passed onward, it was 3am by the time I went to sleep.  The next morning I was physically exhausted, emotionally stressed, and mentally worn out -- and I then had to face the problem of a large deceased animal in my barn!  I am grateful for the good neighbors that we have at Harrison Farm.  My neighbor James took time out of his busy day to help lay Flirt to rest.  I am grateful that I have such an amazing farm family.  So many of my interns & student assistants reached out to offer sympathy.  This was a testament to the beautiful spirit that Flirt possessed.  After Flirt was buried, we held a benediction for her the next Friday.  The goats joined us as we stood at her grave, which was rightly fitting.  

My student assistant Kaity shared these thoughts about Flirt . . .

"All that I can say about Flirt is that she was and is truly special. She was one of my favorite parts about Harrison Farm. I am grateful that I got the chance to become friends with her. I am even more grateful that she helped me convince Cecelia that I am not too bad of a human. I always gave her a hug when I went to the West End. Now I will just have to give Cecelia two, whether she wants them or not :)"

My intern Elizabeth shared this story about Flirt . . .

"Flirt is a very gentle and lovable horse. My moment with Flirt began during the time I was assigned morning duties one weekend. After I was done checking on the goat population, I saw Flirt calmly standing around the corner. Flirt and I locked eyes as I slowly began to approach her. Once I reached out to her, she then began to move against the palm of my hand as if she wanted me to continue touching her. I began to adore her greatly after this moment. It was later on Facebook that I saw a post on the Harrison Farm page that Flirt had passed. It was very sudden to me, and I started to regret how I was unable to share more moments with Flirt since I only knew her for a short period of time. Overall, Flirt is such a wonderful horse, and it saddens me to know that she is no longer with us; however, when looking at the situation in a positive light, I am happy to know that Flirt is no longer in pain, and I believe that she is now in a better place."

My lasting memories of Flirt involve so much joy & gratitude.  She brought intense happiness to my heart, and her story reminds me of how much I have in my life for which I should be grateful.  I know there will eventually be another horse for me to love, but Flirt will always hold a special place in my heart.  I hope she is at peace.  I hope perhaps she is in a place where she gets to graze with Tewanna.  As my mother Rebecca was wont to say, God forbid I should go to a heaven without any horses.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life-Changing Opportunities; Amazing Friends

Like all truly great stories, this one begins with a goat.  In January of 2009, a woman named Angela placed a cold call to the butcher shop to ask about butchering a goat.  After speaking with me, she decided she would probably dislike me.  Once she met me in person, though, her opinion changed.  I must have done a decent job of butchering that goat, because she rapidly progressed from my customer to my friend to my adopted sister.  Apparently the mental image that was formed of me from the original phone call was that of an over-educated, possibly prissy woman who had married a farmer and was now doing the administration end of a business.  That image was blown out of the water by the reality of Katherine Harrison working a kill floor in a big yellow butcher apron.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

As time went on, we butchered more goats, we butchered pigs, we drank red wine, we shot guns, we shared our sorrows & our joys, and a deep kinship between us was formed.  On Christmas Eve 2010, Angie provided the transportation to bring my beautiful new horse Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner, and this amazing horse brought so much joy to my heart.  On the day that Angie delivered Flirt to the farm, she also gave me as a Christmas gift several horse-related items: a new halter, grooming equipment, treats for Flirt.  Amongst these items, there was also a beautiful etched crystal prism with an image of a goat.  Angie explained to me that this was a Chimeara crystal etching piece which was done by the couple who owned the booth for which she had worked at Quarter Horse Congress that year.  The prism was lovely, but I will admit that I was so fixated with joy at the arrival of my beautiful new horse, that I could never have dreamed that some day far in the future I would be the owner of that very etching business.

But the summer of 2012, Angie's friendship & loyalty had helped to see me through many life transitions.  She suggested that I consider working at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress that year.  This event is held every October at the Ohio Expo Center, and along with the horse shows & competitions, there is a large merchant fair.  I had many happy memories of Quarter Horse Congress from my youth.  Since it fell during my birthday month, my mother & I had a tradition that we would spend a day at Congress and I would get to pick out a birthday present.  Angie connected me with the couple for whom she had worked at the crystal etching business.  I showed up on my first day completely unsure of this endeavor to which I had committed myself for the next three weeks.  It took very little time for me to recognize that Kathy & Carl, the owners of Wilkinson Enterprises, were people of great integrity.  They were kind and caring and generous.  They set high expectations for their employees -- but it was always obvious that they themselves worked twice as hard as they expected of their employees.  Just as my acquaintance with Angie had quickly progressed, so my relationship with Kathy & Carl moved very quickly from seeing them as bosses, to seeing them as mentors, to seeing them as adopted parents.

By the time Quarter Horse Congress had ended in 2012, I had an offer to work for Wilkinson Enterprises the following January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  That was a true test of my endurance and abilities, and I loved it.  My vast respect and loyalty to the Wilkinsons was such that even once I had a new full-time job in 2013, I continued to work every day that I could at their booth at Quarter Horse Congress in 2013 and 2014.  I returned to Denver for the National Western, and even got to help with tear down for their booth at the National Finals Rodeo vendor show in Las Vegas.

Large scale events that go on for multiple weeks are exhausting.  I got to see the Wilkinsons in stressful situations -- dealing with difficult customers, managing employee issues, and working to keep up morale during long, tiring days.  My respect for them grew each and every day.  Kathy is the woman that I hope to grow up to be.  She is strong, and beautiful, and hard working.  She is completely dedicated to those she loves.  In her late 60s, she can still outwork me and look far better doing it!  Carl has given me paternal love & guidance that has shaped me in my adult life, as my grandfather's love & guidance shaped my youth.  Carl treats his wife with love, his employees with respect, and his customers as valued individuals.  I never saw him actively try to sell someone on a product; instead I saw a man who believed in his work and approached every customer as a possible new friend.  From how he carried himself to how he spoke, I learned the valuable lesson that if you act with integrity and carry a product in which you believe, you will be a very successful businessman.

During long hours working in their booth, we shared conversations that are dear to me.  We talked about our faith, we talked about politics, we talked about our families.  I learned big lessons and small ones.  Carl taught me how to size a ring, how to properly use a Swiffer, and how to use a business opportunity to support causes in which one believes.  Kathy patiently showed me how to make jewelry sets, and taught me that patience is a virtue that can improve almost any situation.  They both taught me that chocolate doughnuts are the most important for an event booth, that you should have fun even when you are working hard, that loyalty to your employees and to your customers is an important part of business, and that a business built on integrity & doing the right thing can be successful.  Most of all, they showed me that being a parent has much more to do with acting like a parent, than it does with either biology or marriage.  This lesson has resonated with me as I have worked with the young people in my world.  I may never be blessed with biological children of my own, but I have vast opportunities to use my skills & my guidance to assist the young people around me to grow into strong, successful individuals -- just as Kathy & Carl have done with me.

In the last year, as I have experienced even more transitions in my life, three of the people who stood by me resolutely every step of the way were Angie and Kathy and Carl.  I remember a particular phone conversation a year ago, when Carl had called me out of the blue saying he just felt that he needed to talk to me.  It happened to be during a very tough time for me, and he patiently let me tell him every detail of every tragedy in between my abundant tears.  It was humbling to have a wise gentleman listen to me, counsel me, and make it clear that he thought I was amazing -- and anyone who did not think so was obviously an idiot.  Shortly after that conversation, Kathy & Carl headed to Alaska for a long-planned amazing adventure.  Not long after their return home, Carl became ill, and it was discovered that he had a brain tumor.  The example of Kathy & Carl has shown me over the years what a loving partnership truly means, and their actions since Carl's diagnosis have shown me the strength & grace that is possible in the face of such an illness.

As I analyzed my next steps in life after the struggles of 2015, I knew that I wanted to work for myself.  I am a hard worker, I know how to build a business, and I know that I never want to work at a business without integrity as the founding principle to all business transactions.  In conversations with Kathy & Carl, they provided me with a truly life-changing opportunity: I could take over the Chimeara etching business.  The more I thought about it, the more I knew this was absolutely right for me.  And so I took a huge leap of faith, cleared out my retirement account, flew to their home in Nebraska, received a 48 hour crash course in everything Kathy had learned in 30 years, rented a U-Haul, and drove an etching business home to Harrison Farm.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  I have been touched and humbled by the support I have received from my friends who keep volunteering to help me along the way.  It is inspiring to realize that I am never alone in my struggles or my challenges, with such good friends around me.  And none more so than my amazing friend Angie who took her vacation days, flew out to meet me in Nebraska, and rode 1100 miles home with me in a 26' U-Haul.

This opportunity will allow me to diversify the income stream at Harrison Farm.  It will allow me to set my own schedule.  It will allow me to develop my abilities to create animal-inspired jewelry and etchings.  I have a huge challenge ahead of me to master the skills that Carl & Kathy spent a lifetime mastering.  With their support -- and the support of all my friends -- I know this will be a great success.  I recognize that I am a caretaker for this business, and I will look after it with the same standard of integrity that Kathy & Carl have always used in their dealings.  I will make sure to honor their work, and teach my future employees based on the same standards for excellence that they set.  I recognize that I have been given an opportunity that is life-changing.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  This is going to be a very fun adventure . . . And it all started with a goat!