Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Christmas, Happy New Year!

Season's Greetings from Harrison Farm! As the New Year approaches -- and I have finally finished my Christmas cards! -- I want to extend all my best wishes to those of you who support my efforts on the farm!

During the Christmas Season, we've had many new faces join us on the Farm, including the beautiful horse pictured with me! I am very grateful for the good friends who brought me Flirt the Horse on Christmas Eve! For the last several years, I had cared for Lassy the Horse and Abe the Mule. I grew up with these two equine, who had belonged to my mother. Lassy passed away in the fall of 2010, and Abraham passed just a few months later in the winter of 2011. Since losing these wonderful animals to old age, my friends Angie & Elliott had offered to help me find a new horse. I told them that I was only willing to spend up to double what I had given for the last horse I bought: Tewanna, who was nick-named "Old Dollar" for her purchase price! Despite that low price, Tewanna was the best horse I ever had. We had many wonderful adventures together when I was young!

Things happen in a special way on the farm. Shortly before I left for Germany, Angie & Elliott told me of friends who were looking to find a loving home for Flirt. She was raised at Honey Bear farm, had been a novice reining champion, and was the mother of a World Champion Paint Horse. Unfortunately, Flirt had developed uterine cysts and could no longer be bred. Her owners at Honey Bear Farm loved her very much and did not want to sell her, but they were willing to give her to individual who would take good care of her. After meeting Flirt, I could tell she was a very special horse. Angie & Elliott agreed to be the delivery service, and Flirt arrived on Christmas Eve. She is extraordinarily beautiful and very, very smart! I feel incredibly blessed to have this fantastic mare, and even more blessed that I have good friends who would make this possible for me!

Christmas weekend was very busy for us, with travels to Fairborn and multiple family gatherings. I got to see many members of my family -- family through blood, through marriage, and through adoption. It was a very hectic weekend, but well worth it. On Christmas Eve, I attended Mass with friends at my home parish, Holy Family. The first time I ever attended Mass there was on Christmas Eve in 2003, and then I made my confirmation there at Easter 2006. My confirmation name is Joseph, which was also my father's. It is a special name to me, since Joseph is the patron saint of workers and the model of a good family leader. Saint Joseph shows me the importance of loving the family that is sent to us . . . which may or may not be related to us by blood. During all the hectic travels over Christmas -- and the many events and places I wanted to go to -- I reminded myself how extraordinarily blessed I am to have so many family members that God has sent into my life!

My gift this year, from my step-father & his wife, was two sheep! I am very excited to have these lovely ewes joining the menagerie at Harrison Farm! Since Gabe passed away and I butchered Thunder, I have missed having sheep of my very own. A couple of times I have made inquiries about purchasing ewes, but nothing ever came together right. My new sheep are a blessing, and a happy reminder of all the wonderful memories I made working with my grandfather's and my mother's flocks of sheep. The older I get, the more I understand those two remarkable individuals. I am extremely grateful to have had them in my life, and I appreciate this gift that is making it possible for me to carry on the traditions they handed me. Family is a marvelous blessing!

The holidays have not been without sadness and struggles. Most vivid, of course, is the loss of my beloved Captain. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her and miss her. I detest waste, and one of my deepest fears was that her death was a total loss. A miserable accident that wasted a precious life. What I was given by The Captain, however, lingers large even after her passing. She was an animal of great spirit, full of affection & curiosity. What has truly amazed me, though, is the number of people she touched without even realizing. When I wrote my blog post about The Captain, it was with a heavy heart and with an unsure mind. I did not know whether to share those details, but I felt I was untrue to The Captain if I did not speak honestly. I was amazed by the way The Captain touched people: within 48 hours of me posting about her loss, 146 people had viewed that piece! Now, those are small numbers for many bloggers, but for Harrison Farm that was huge! The link to this piece was shared on Facebook by people I did not even know, and my hope is that people learned through reading about my beloved pup. In addition, a friend of mine contacted her cousin -- a vet -- who was able to offer some closure on what happened to The Captain. As best we can tell, it was still a terrible freak incident, but it helped me to say goodbye to my darling girl.

Augustus turned one year old on December 19th, and celebrated with a delicious hotdog! He was, however, very down after his sister died. It was a full week after The Captain passed before Gus acted at all like normal. Animals are creatures of instinct & sense, and Gus knew things were not right. As he mourned his companion, we debated how soon to get another dog. The loneliness I observed in Augustus and the loud howls of coyotes at night were signs that we should go ahead. Through friends, I learned about a litter of pups near Gambier. After speaking with the farmer, it turned out that I knew his wife and his father! On Boxing Day, we drove to see these Pyrenees dogs, and ended up coming home with a new pup! The farm where she grew up is in Harrison Township in Knox County, and just a few miles down the road from the cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried. I think it was meant to be!

The new pup is doing quite well! We are getting to know her and she is getting to know her new home. I was immediately struck by two things: she is very attuned to the livestock and she wants to please me. It is turning out to be MUCH easier to train one puppy than two! Augustus is a good role model for her. It took him a couple days of being afraid of this little dog -- only half his size! -- to overcome his anxiety. Now they are fast friends! The puppy is gradually getting more freedom and is responding well to training. While there is no replacing The Captain, I am grateful that God provided another dog that is fitting in so well to the farm. It is hard to lose the ones that we love, but life is about changes.

A new year is about new hopes, new expectations. If we live with regrets and sorrow, we will darken our own souls. On New Year's Day 2011, I watched the movie "Invictus". I was profoundly struck by the ability of Nelson Mandela to overcome the anger that must have been in his heart from the struggles he faced during Apartheid. As Mandela, actor Morgan Freedom explained this with the quote, "Forgiveness liberates." Everything in life is affected by how we choose to view it. The same thing, the same situation can be viewed by different individuals in radically different ways. Life has taught me that we must look forward, that we must learn lessons, and that we can choose our attitude toward what happens to us. I am excited for the new year, I am appreciative of those that support me, and I wish many blessings on you in 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Captain

Rarely do I remember the farm as quiet as it was while I buried The Captain. No goats cried, no roosters crowed, no dogs barked. Even the cow and the horse stopped bickering. It was as though all creatures on the farm realized my heart was far too full of sorrow to give any attention to them. This is not a happy story. It is traumatic and painful. I tell you not to extend my own sorrow, but rather to try to convey in some manner the relationship between farmers and our animals.

The amount of joy that The Captain brought into my life was profound. She was one of the most beautiful dogs I have ever seen. Her tail was constantly in the air, waving as she anticipated new adventures. Captain was my farm companion, following me everywhere. She was also a dog full of mischief: for the first 8 months of her life, I thought she was a boy! As she approached her first birthday, I was anxious to get Captain spayed. Augustus -- her brother -- had been neutered, but I did not want to risk any puppies from unknown fathers. Captain & Gus were absolutely inseparable. They were the last pups from my mother's Pyrenees bitch Dolly, thus they were truly special to me in so many ways!

The Captain was spayed on December 5th, and surgery went relatively well. She did have excessive bleeding, and required IV fluids, but this is not uncommon with large breeds. During her recovery period, Captain appeared to be doing exactly as expected. I had her on a chain in the barn, where she had access to the outside, but could sleep curled up with her brother in a bed of hay. Often if I was away from the farm for the day, I would tether either Captain or Gus. This helped to prevent any misadventures! On December 15th, I called my vet's office to let them know that I would cancel Captain's appointment for the next day. She was healing as expected, and I planned to take her stitches out myself. (Stitch removal is something I have done many times on the farm -- to animals and people!)

I awoke mid-morning on December 16th and fixed myself some oatmeal. I observed Gus standing outside the barn barking, but this was not highly unusual. He was looking toward our neighbors' home, and Gus does love to bark at their dogs! After pouring myself some coffee, I realized that Gus was continuing to bark and my other dog Jolie was now barking as well. Still in my pajamas, I left my coffee to stroll down to the barn and reassure Augustus. After petting him, I walked over to the corner where The Captain was tethered. I was excited to let her know that today was the day: stitch removal and release from the chain for a good run!

From a psychological perspective, there are times when the mind cannot process what the brain visually sees. In our human schemata, we can understand two separate concepts, but not when they are put together. "Green sky." "Summer snow." "Purple grass." Walking into the barn that morning, my brain could not immediately process what I saw. "Dog slaughterhouse." Captain was leaning against a bale of hay, and she raised her head & wagged her tail at me. This was perfectly normal. The pile of intestines laying in front of me and the blood all around was also normal -- but a normal from my past work at the slaughterhouse. I tried to think. Did Gus get intestines from something and bring them in here? Then my brain processed the blood that was covering the abdomen and legs of my beloved dog. I ran to her and fell on my knees in my pajamas. Captain was coherent. She knew me. She welcomed affection, but she was incredibly weak.

I turned and fled to the house. I threw off my fluffy white bathroom, and hurried to put my Carhartt overalls on to cover my pajamas and transfer to my muck boots instead of my slippers. I ran back to the barn again, still trying to understand what was happening. I gave the Captain some comfort and then gingerly lifted one of her rear legs to see what was going on. The intestines I saw told me that this was a very, very bad situation. In times of terrible trouble, we turn to those with whom we have travelled difficult roads before. I give all due credit to my step-father Joe that he managed to understand the incomprehensible goatherd who was crying on the phone telling him that she needed him to come NOW because something terrible had happened to her dog.

From across the farm, I could hear Joe fire up his Dodge truck almost immediately. I told Captain that I was there and Joe would be there momentarily. When he arrived, I held Captain's head as Joe positioned her to get a better look at her abdomen. With a clear view, it was much worse than I had realized. Captain's entire abdomen was opened up, with intestines gaping out. The complication was that she had been laying in a barn. Yes, doctors expose internal organs all the time during surgery -- but that is in a sterile, controlled environment. Captain was in a barn. Dirt, hay, manure . . . this is exactly why sheep producers fear prolapses in animals so much. It isn't that the internal items leave the body; it is that they are exposed to so many things that are dangerous for the inside of the body.

Having another human there helped my brain to comprehend the enormity of this tragedy: my beloved dog had to be put down, and soon. I asked Joe if he would do it for me. As I held The Captain's head, I knew exactly what our timeline was. Joe would drive down Berger Road, turn onto Oregon Road, proceed up his driveway, enter the house, go to the guncase, pull out the needed bullets, pick up the gun, return to his truck, and drive back to my barn. I told The Captain how much I loved her, how much joy she had brought to my life, how grateful I was for her. I wanted Joe to hurry so her pain would end. I never wanted him to arrive so I would lose her. Again, I heard his truck fire up in the distance as he headed our way.

I am a farm kid. Too often as a child did I see my grandfather pick up a gun and place it in the crook of his arm, knowing he was headed to put down an animal. It was always the right decision, but it was never an easy choice. The thing you have to understand about farm kids is that we eat our pets. Every child must go through that first experience of loving a sheep or a lamb or a cow -- and then realizing that animal ends up on the dinner table. Every child on a farm must learn that there is a circle of life . . . which includes animals and humans. We are farmers and we must be responsible enough to make the humane choices for all creatures. We learn which creatures are safer to love, and which are meant for human consumption. It is not desensitization. Rather, it is because we are so sensitive that we accept the profound nature of God's creation. We accept our role in the circle of life, and we learn to make the tough decisions. But it never makes them easier.

The memory of my grandfather might have toughened me for the reality of being a human that loves an animal that must be put down, but it has never made it easier. As Joe walked up with his gun in the crook of his arm, I looked straight into Captain's eyes and allowed my tears to cascade freely on her face. I kissed her, stood up, and walked outside. I threw my arms around Gus, and waited for the sound of a gun firing. The sound that meant I would never see Captain & Gus run together again, the sound that meant I would never hold my dog again, the sound that meant we were being cruelly denied a future together.

I am a butcher. I know how long it takes an animal to die. I know this because I have held my knife to slaughter hundreds of animals. I returned to the barn when I knew Captain would have bled out. It did not take long; she had lost a great deal of blood all ready. Joe opened his arms, and I went into his hug, crying freely for my beautiful girl. An hour before, I was fixing my breakfast, looking forward to a relaxing morning before a big catering job. Now I was standing before my dead dog, with her blood on me, barely understanding what had transpired.

Joe & I began searching the barn. Every possible scenario went through my head. The Captain had been fine when I checked her at 9:30pm the previous night. I called my vet. None of us could come up with a good answer. She knew this barn. There was nothing we could find that would have caused massive trauma if she impaled herself. Gus was clean; it was not a dog fight. It was unlikely a wild animal would come in the barn. Captain wasn't anywhere near the cows or horse or goats. Did something happen internally and she began pulling at her stitches? Did she catch a stitch on something and she began tearing at them? Her abdomen was completely opened. There were two separate piles of intestines in different areas of the barn. There was no clear answer. Which really didn't matter in the long run, because it would not bring her back.

Joe offered to help me dig her grave before he departed, but I knew I needed to do this for The Captain. I chose a spot next to the wood fence, by the goats. Never have I dug a grave in my life that I haven't had some difficulty. That day it was tree roots, and a large metal object that I ended up pulling out of the ground. Grandmother wanted to help, and she bravely made a solid effort on a corner of the grave. I had shut up the barn so Gus would not go in, and was glad this prevented Grandmother from seeing the body. I did not want her left with that memory, nor did I elaborate beyond the fact that something terrible happened and Captain was dead.

After the grave was dug, I walked Grandmother back to the house. I made her promise to stay inside, and then I hunted down some fabric with which to wrap Captain. After my grandfather passed away, I often wore his pajamas. They were big and baggy on me, but comfortable and comforting. I found two pajama bottoms of his that I had worn out with years of use. I carried the blue & white striped fabric to the barn. There, I wrapped Captain's abdomen with one pair to prevent her intestines from falling out as I carried her. I laid her body in the grave and wrapped it with more fabric. I said goodbye to my forever friend, and began shoveling the dirt back onto the grave.

It seems as though moments are sharply clear from that day, and yet everything runs together. I remember the complete silence as I threw the dirt onto the grave. I remember the blood that soaked through my Carhartts and covered my baby blue pajamas. I remember that Gus wouldn't come near the barn. I remember the pain of the blister that was forming on my hand. I remember trying to see clearly through the tears that flooded my eyes. My girl was gone. I didn't know why. And this didn't stop the world. I still had to feed the goats. I still had to go to work. And the worst part was that I had to tell Christopher.

Farmers aren't like other people. We choose lives that are difficult, because we believe they are better. We delight in work that most Americans couldn't endure. We may disagree, we may aggravate each other, but we support our farm community in ways that are unique. And we are a deeply religious bunch. I don't know a single farmer that claims to be an atheist or an agnostic. It would certainly be easy for some to say we are a simple bunch, and thus follow religion blindly like sheep. But sheep know their Master's voice, and we have cared for the earth & God's creatures for far too long to be oblivious to His hand. Perhaps this is why we adapt to the realities of life and death in ways that others cannot comprehend. We rejoice at every animal born, we cry at losses, and yet we raise animals specifically for the purpose of meat. There is a greater power that teaches us the lessons of the circle of life, and allows us to do our work.

My Christopher has adapted admirably to dating a farm girl, but he was not born to this life. His family had one dog as a pet during his childhood, and that was the sum of his animal experience prior to knowing me. Losing Captain was further painful to have to tell Christopher about what happened. He has no reference for dealing with the painful losses that are a part of farming. After all, this was not a goat raised for food . . . this was our puppy that we expected to love and work with for at least a decade. As cruel as life can be, Chris did not get my messages to call me before he went to the farm. He discovered an empty chain, blood still soaked into hay bales in the barn, and a new grave. And when he called me for an answer, I was already at work trying to set up for a holiday party. As traumatic as my day was, I did get to go through the journey of discovery, death, and burial -- Chris did not have this.

If any part of me would have thought it was humane in any way, I would have kept The Captain alive for Chris to say goodbye. I am a farmer; I know animals. She needed to be put down. As much as I hate the memory of that day, I know I made the choices that I had to make. If I had tried to take Captain to the vet, it would have been the wrong choice. I would have loaded up a dying dog, driven her a long distance to an emergency clinic, spent thousands on an unlikely surgery which would have risked massive infection, and even if she survived she would never have been the same. And I doubt any dog could have survived that. It was the choice I had to make, but it was not easy.

This is a terrible story. I cried many, many times just trying to put down the words. Words save memory and convey understanding. And I want you to understand. I want you to understand why I love animals. I want you to understand why I can love something that I raise for food. I want you to understand why the same hands that deliver babies can also raise a knife to slaughter. I want you to understand why I hate coyotes so much for eating my goats, when I intend to do the same thing. I want you to understand how I can calmly make life & death decisions, and yet angrily condemn the animal "rights" organizations that claim farms desensitize children to death. I want you to understand why I could cry while I butchered Thunder the Sheep, and then feed him to my dogs. I want you to understand why we Harrisons love our dogs so much, and then put them down ourselves. Because maybe if I tell you, and you understand, then I have some hope of other people beyond you understanding. Then we farmers can farm without constant fear of being misunderstood by the public. And then The Captain will not have given her life in vain.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Big News! The Goatherd Wins the Election!

The picture at the left was taken on Friday 2 December 2011, when the newly elected state trustees for Ohio Farm Bureau were sworn in. That is me, standing on the far right. I am very, very excited to represent Delaware, Franklin, Madison, and Union counties on the state board for Ohio Farm Bureau! Of note, I am the first woman to hold this position. This picture was taken at one of the most exciting moments of my life, as the state president swore us in and the executive vice president gave us our official state trustee pins! The official press release from Ohio Farm Bureau follows. I owe a note of thanks to Mr. Bill Lowe, who previously held this seat. He is a most gracious and supportive gentleman, and I sincerely appreciated his kind sentiments when introducing me to the current board. I look forward to working with all four counties in my district!

Harrison Elected to Ohio Farm Bureau Board

COLUMBUS, Ohio (OFBF) – Katherine Harrison of Canal Winchester has been elected to the board of trustees for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF). She will represent Farm Bureau members from District 11, which consists of Delaware, Franklin, Madison and Union counties. As trustee she will help govern the state’s largest general farm organization.

Harrison fills the seat formerly held by Bill Lowe, who has retired from the board. Harrison produces commercial meat goats and raises other livestock. She is a 10-year member of the Franklin County Farm Bureau and is its current president. She also has been active in its public policy work. She is a graduate of OFBF’s AgriPOWER leadership development program. Harrison received a bachelor’s degree in history and world religions from the University of Richmond.

Ohio Farm Bureau’s mission is to forge a partnership between producers and consumers. To learn more visit

The American Embassy in Berlin

27 September 2011

While in Berlin, we had the pleasure of meeting with Frau Sabine Lieberz and Mr. Paul Spencer of the Foreign Agriculture Service at the American Embassy. There was extremely high security at this location. Our passports were checked twice, we went through a metal detector, and we had to surrender our cameras, phones, and passports before entering. The building itself was constructed between 2004 and 2008. It is in an excellent location on the Pariser Platz, nearly next to the Brandenburg Gate. The Embassy was dedicated by President George H.W. Bush in 2008.

Mr. Spencer explained that the primary role of the Foreign Ag Service in Germany is to handle trade issues. Germans have concerns over many scientific advances in agriculture. Biotechnology which is commonly used in the United States can be quite controversial with Germans. It is not popular to discuss things which make people "uncomfortable", so there is no open discussion on benefits or drawbacks to genetically modified organisms, cloning, etc -- there is simply no discussion at all on these topics. The European Union tends to approach trade issues from a mindset of "social concerns".

There are, however, many nuances to European concerns over biotechnology. For example, in the EU, scientists are conducting research using biotechnology on crops -- but the EU will not allow these crops to be planted as part of commercial production. An entire generation of Germans has grown up simply accepting that "biotech is bad", without having any open discussion of the merits or the concerns. This restrictive view, combined with a shrinking German population, is impacting Germany's prominence as a trade partner with the United States. China is rapidly consuming resources -- both commodities & Foreign Ag Service man hours -- that the European Union once dominated.

Energy issues continue to dominate German trade concerns. 1/3 of the corn raised in Germany goes to biofuel production -- but this creates only 3% of the energy that Germans use! To obtain more organic materials for increased biofuel production, Germans are looking toward South American trade partners . . . countries such as Brazil that utilize GMOs aggressively. So there is the conundrum: in trying to encourage green fuels, Germans are raising corn for biofuel, but cannot get enough crop yield since they are banned from utilizing GMO crops, thus they buy product that must be shipped from far away -- which is a GMO product that they were seeking to prohibit in the first place!

Mr. Spencer shared with us that he observes that German farmers face many of the same challenges that American farmers do. Education of consumers is a challenge, just as it is in America. There is a popular chocolate sold in Germany called "Milka" -- one of my personal favorites! It has a purple wrapper and includes an image of a "Holstein" cow with purple spots. Milka has been so popular with German children for so long that their is now a misperception amongst these children that cows actually are purple & white!

As we departed the Embassy, Mr. Spencer accompanied us to retrieve our personal items. Bidding us farewell, he wished us a good trip and reminded us that if we were arrested, we would be visited by a representative of our Embassy . . . I'm not sure if this was reassuring or terrifying!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Visit to the American Embassy

From the website of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin . . .

Sept. 27: U.S. farmers visit the Embassy

Four U.S. farmers visited the Embassy to meet with USDA Staff to discuss U.S.-German agricultural issues such as trade, biotechnology and animal welfare. The four are part of the McCloy Fellows in Agriculture program and will be touring German agriculture for the next several weeks on a program organized by the German Farmer's Union. The 2011 McCloy fellows are Tracy Grondine of Virginia, Katherine Harrison of Ohio, Chad Vorthman of Colorado, and Shane Otley of Oregon. This marks the 35th year this program has been running.

Tourists are Easily Amused

27 September 2011

This is a seven-person bicycle: one person steers and six others pedal. We saw several of these in the tourist area around the Brandenburg Gate. I had never seen anything like this and was highly amused!

Conundrums of International Travel . . .

27 September 2011

This amused me: I flew all the way to Germany to eat Australian lamb in a Mexican restaurant . . . and it was excellent! Yay for Berlin!

Happy Election Day from the Goats!

It's Election Day in America, and I am inspired to address two of my favorite things: food & politics! Thanks to my training in the social sciences, I am very much an observer of life around me. Unfortunately, this can serve to anger me at times. I had one of those moments at the grocery store on Friday . . .

I firmly believe that we each make the decisions that form our lives as adults. While there are situations that we cannot control -- disease, unexpected job loss, natural disasters -- we are responsible for the lives we create for ourselves. Like any human, I have had struggles, but I view them as no more profound than any other person's troubles. It is simply part of the human condition. That being said, there are certainly things I would like: more money, my own land, health insurance, etc, etc. I recognize, however, that I have chosen my life. I could have a better paying job, but the trade-off would take me away from the farm & alter my schedule. I could find a career that provided health insurance, but then I might have to drive downtown during rush hour every day. There are trade-offs to every situation -- and we are all responsible for the situation we choose.

That being said, I am glad to have the life that I do, although it comes with certain limitations. One of these is financial. This limitation, however, has made me into quite the bargain shopper! (There is an upside to everything!) On Friday, when I decided that groceries were definitely needed before the weekend, I knew exactly how much cash I could possibly spend. I went through the aisles of my local Kroger making purchases that were on sale and fit my strict budget. Anything that was not a necessity was postponed. I selected food items that I would cook -- no prepared/boxed food items. I was most delighted that my basket full of foods was a total of only $16.00 at the cash register! What was unsettling was the contrast I observed with the customer ahead of me in line . . .

As aforementioned, I like to observe human behavior. The indidvidual in front of me was dressed casually, but in nice clothes. The two children with them were likewise neatly attired, and appeared alert & healthy. I knew they must have a certain level of income to possess a car to bring them to this suburban grocery store. I noticed that the individual ahead of me had a handful of purchases, including a large bag of Doritos and a box of pre-packaged Hostess cupcakes. When the lady at the register rang up this individual's purchases, the total was $16 and change. The individual then paid for it with an electronic benefit card, or EBT -- the modern day name for Food Stamps.

I do not believe the government should dictate what we are able to choose to feed our families. I also believe there is a need for assistance to individuals who need short-term help to aid them during difficult times. I am offended, however, that my tax dollars are being used to subsidize the purchase of Doritos and hostess cupcakes! For the price of a large bag of Doritos, this person could have purchased a bag of potatoes to feed their family for days. For the price of a box of packaged Hostess cupcakes, this individual could have bought a bag of flour and baked bread for their family for weeks. The argument that some individuals have to purchase food of this nature while on Food Stamps due to the fact that they reside in "food deserts" is absolutely unacceptable -- the person I happened to observe was shopping at a major grocery in our community. And they were shopping with MY TAX DOLLARS!

I work hard. I scrimp and save. I do not take, nor do I want, any government payments. I simply want to keep the money that I endeavor to earn by the sweat of my brow & the labor of my hands. The ultimate question here is whether it is acceptable under Constitutional law -- or under God's law -- that one class of citizen should be expected to subsidize another. I argue strongly that it is not only unjust, it is sinful. By taking MY tax dollars and YOUR tax dollars to subsidize government payments for others, we in fact are penalizing ALL of us. Yes, I lose out on the money I have legitimately earned, but even more profound is the enslavement to the government that is created when citizens come to rely on government handouts. As Americans, we cannot financially afford, we cannot ethically afford, and we cannot politically afford to force our own people into servitude to the government.

Today is Election Day. Please go out and vote. Please vote to create an America that is prosperous and free. May God bless you and may God bless our great country!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thanks, German Animal "Rights" Activists!

27 September 2011

One of the highlights of my trip to Deutschland was definitely the animal "rights" demonstration! Yes, that's Chad, Shane, and me pictured at an animal "rights" display in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate!

The large pig atop the trailer read "Eat Vegetarian: Good for Health, Good for Animals, Good for the Earth" and it had a video screen inside showing the "horrors" of farming. To a farm girl like me, however, it was fairly standard & reasonable images of good management. Yes, there are times when pigs are in stalls: it is for their health & safety, as well as for the farmer's. Yes, chickens do get the beaks clipped: it is no fun to have your fellow chicken peck you to death! Yes, animals are slaughtered: this is a part of the circle of life created by our world that allows herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores to flourish. Outside of the trailer, a human was wearing a colorful chicken suit and sitting in a cage. Much like other chickens I have seen in cages, the human-as-a-chicken seemed quite calm! Alas, it laid no eggs while I was there!

I spoke very briefly with a lady passing out fliers. When I accepted her materials, she complimented my blue coat. With that opening, I engaged her very briefly in conversation -- a mix of German & English. We spoke for just a moment, but she seemed pleased to find an American so interested in her fliers. She probably had no idea she had just provided me with excellent research materials for my Fellowship paper! Thank you, animal "rights" activist lady!

Is That Chancellor Merkel's Seat?!?

27 September 2011

This picture was taken from the top of the glass cupola that graces the Reichstag. The original dome was removed in the 1950s. Following reunification, when the Reichstag was renovated to serve as the seat of the Bundestag (the German Parliament), this cupola was added. It allows natural light all the way through the building, down to the chamber where the parliament meets. The glass is constructed in such a way that the striking color of the purple chairs in the chamber is visible when looking down from the top of the cupola. I was very impressed with the manner in which the new & the old sit comfortably together in the Reichstag. It is a beautiful, historic building!

The Reichstag: History & Modernity

27 September 2011

I am very passionate about history and have always adored anything antique. I wanted to include this picture because it saddened me to see the historic parts of the Reichstag that had been destroyed in the name of modernity. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was an effort to renovate the Reichstag building. Following World War II, the German people were very sensitive to the legacy of the war. This had been a conflict that deeply impacted the country & its people, and caused massive suffering. Renovating the Reichstag was an effort to move beyond the destructive war-time era. It was a movement to restore this emblem of Germany in the face of the communist-controlled German Democratic Republic that surrounded West Berlin. Unfortunately, that sentiment created an attitude that supported destruction of the historic aspects of the building. When the Reichstag was built in the 19th century, it had beautiful stone work throughout the building. During the reovation, these pieces were basically destroyed with hammers and plastered over. Following reunification, when the Bundestag decided to move to the Reichstag building, one hallway was opened to tourists with the plaster removed for viewing. This picture gives some sense of how ornate those stone carvings were, and the force that was used to destroy them. As a history geek, it made me very sad to think of this. I cannot fault those who wanted to take the Reichstag in a new direction after such a difficult era, yet I was quite sorry to see the loss of such brilliant stone work.

Reichstag History

27 September 2011

In an effort to preserve the historic elements of the Reichstag, several items remain from the era prior to renovation. This includes a stretch where Soviet soldiers left graffiti. During the time period after World War II, the Reichstag was in the British sector of influence, except for one corner that stood in the Soviet sector. Part of this corner is preserved to show what the Soviet soldiers wrote on the wall. The tour guide noted that most of the statements expressed relief at surviving the war, and a desire to return home. In addition to the writings, bullet holes can also be seen along this stretch of wall. I was continually impressed and amazed by the impact of division upon Berlin. The Reichstag sits geographically very close to the Brandenburg Gate, but they were once in separate countries. I was able to walk freely from one to the other, yet as recently as my own youth, that would have been impossible.

How Sheep Influence the German Government

27 September 2011

This is a photo of the interior of the Reichstag, where the Bundestag meets. It is a very open and airy space. The architect designed the interior of the building specifically to convey the importance of transparency: visitors can easily see members of Parliament -- and members of Parliament can easily see the citizens to whom they are responsible! The contrast between the modern interior and historic exterior is striking, yet not stark. Like the country itself, the building is a blend of old and new. In fact, the foundations of the Reichstag still rest on the original oak piles that were driven when construction began in the 1890s. Now, 12 massive concrete pillars also serve to support the new glass cupola (which weighs 1200 tons!). This cupola is the crowning modern addition to the Reichstag, that allows light in to shine upon the meeting room of the Bundestag!

The parties are seated from most conservative on the right, to the communists on the far left. The Liberals (conservative) have 93 seats, the Christian Democrats (the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel) have 239 seats, the Greens have 68 seats, the Socialists have 146 seats, and Die Linke (the communists) have 76 seats. Voting is typically done by a show of hands or by standing up. With so many members, however, this can sometimes be difficult to count quickly to reach a conclusion. Thus, a traditional method called "Hammelsprung" is used.

Hammelsprung means "wethers leap" and it appeals to my love of sheep! In the old Reichstag, there was a painting of the Greek mythological being Cyclops counting his sheep as they head to pasture. This painting hung above the doorway, and its name came to refer to the style of voting by which members of Parliament would all exit the chamber and then re-enter to vote. In the Bundestag, there are three doors: one for ayes, one for nos, and one for abstentions. As members re-enter the chamber, secretaries count the exit number that pass through each door. Thus, if it wasn't for sheep, the German parliament wouldn't function! (Maybe a slight exaggeration, but a compliment from this farm girl!)

The Reichstag

27 September 2011

This is a picture of the Reichstag taken during our boat cruise on the River Spree. It was such a sunny day, and I liked the way this phenomenal symbol of German history looked with the sunshine upon it. The Reichstag is home to the German Parliament, the Bundestag. From 1894-1933, this building was the venue for sessions of the actual Reichstag, the Parliament of the German Empire and then the Weimar Republic. It is still commonly referred to as the Reichstag, although the "Reich" has long since ended. Its history, however, helps to make it the most visited parliamentary building in the world.

The Bundestag chose to make the Reichstag its home for a very particular reason: not only is it a historic emblem of Germany, but it was never used by the Third Reich. Hitler never gave a public speech or appearance at the Reichstag, and his minions were behind the burning of the building in the 1930s (an act which was blamed by Hitler on dissidents and used to unjustly arrest them). After World War II, the Reichstag sat on the line between East and West Berlin. While the vast majority of the building was in the British sector, a corner actually sat in what became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Following the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990, the newly reunited Bundestag decided to renovate the building to be the seat of the German Parliament. It is a breath-taking modern building inside, cloaked in a majestic historical exterior!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Visit to the German Ministry for Agriculture

27 September 2011

The German equivalent of the USDA is the BMELV: Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection. While agriculture was obviously the main focus of my study in Germany, it was fascinating to learn how much of a role consumer protection plays in the daily functioning of the BMELV -- particularly in regard to the internet. The BMELV serves as the entity that monitors the impact of the internet and questions on privacy. Despite the technological advancements of Germany and its industries, the German people are rather wary of the impact of the internet. During our time in Germany, we heard over and over that people were suspicious of social media. VERY few businesses and individuals (that we met) were embracing social media. Thus, the BMELV has come to the forefront as a monitoring agency for the security of German citizens in the age of the internet, thanks to its role as the consumer protection entity.

At the BMELV office in Berlin, we met with Birgit Risch, who shared with us the organization structure of the BMELV and its functions. The headquarters for this agency remains in Bonn, the old West German capitol. The Federal Minister who leads the department is Ilse Aigner, who recently was in Washington DC for meetings with the USDA. From Frau Risch, we learned that about 5% of arable land and 5% of German farm products are organic. 2/3 of Germany is considered rural, but 70% of its people live in cities. In 1950, the average German farmer fed 10 people; today that number is 150 people! Half of all German land is managed or controlled by farmers, and 94% of German farms are family owned. (Despite the fact that some Europeans view American agriculture as "industrial & corporate", 98% of American farms are family-owned . . . a higher number than in Germany!) Unfortunately, German farmland continues to decrease, an issue that America shares.

The Food Policy for the BMELV focuses on such themes as awareness, quality, research, and prevention. The Agriculture Policy deals with farming, markets & trade, forestry/hunting, fishing, and rural development. Consumer Policy handles food safety and consumer protection, including social security for German farmers (which is 67% of the total budget for BMELV!) Imagine if the USDA handled social security for American farmers! This was a very educational meeting for all of us, and served to provide us important background for our visits to the countryside!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The DBV, the EU, and the CAP: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Farm Policy!

This picture was taken during our luncheon with Dr. Born, General Secretary of the Deutscher Bauernverband. We had an excellent discussion on issues that face the DBV, in comparison to those that face the American Farm Bureau. In the photo, from the left: Shane Otley of Oregon, Tracy Grondine of Washington DC, Chad Vorthmann of Colorado, Dr. Helmut Born of the DBV, and Katherine Harrison.

In Germany, more than 90% of its farmers are members of the DBV. This is an amazing membership rate! Total membership is around 325,000. The DBV has offices in Berlin and in Brussells. Much like the Amercian Farm Bureau Federation, the DBV is composed of 18 State organizations (there are 16 German states, and certain states have dual organizations). Farmer members direct the work of the organization, and professional staff carry out the duties of the association. The DBV was founded in 1948 and exists to represent the agricultural, economical, legal, fiscal, environmental, social, educational, and socio-political interests of farmers. Germany is a leading producer in the EU of canola, potatoes, milk, pork, beef, and eggs.

The DBV is, in turn, a member of COPA, which is the agricultural organization for the EU. COPA has 85 members from the 27 EU states and non-member European countries. Some of these countries have multiple national farm associations, such as Italy which has 4. The Green Party has initiated an effort to start a rival organization to the DBV in Germany. (As you can imagine, I was not surprised to learn it was the Greens!) Thus, while Germany as a nation has influence at the EU on agricultural policy, it is important to remember that policy decisions that impact farmers are made primarily at the EU level. The German department of agriculture serves to implement these decisions.

The European Union was created in 1957 with six nations: Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Italy. There are now 27 member states, 500 million citizens, and 22(!) official languages. This means all official documents of the EU must be translated 22 times -- amazing! There is one single market amongst these 27 states for the free movement of goods and services. Only 16 of the member states, however, use the common currency of the Euro. Beyond this, while those 16 members are part of the Euro zone, their individual national governments set their own financial policy . . . thus leading to the current situation where Germany is faced with bailing out the Greek government in its financial debacle to maintain the stability of the Euro.

The three key institutions of the EU are the Council of Ministers (which represent the member states), the European Parliament (designed as the voice of the people), and the Commission (which carries out the work of the EU). EU policies largely are crafted as the result of huge compromises between member states to achieve action. Even with these pieces of legislation, there are still major difference in how nations implement them. For example, the EU set an end date for the use of hen cages in Europe. German implemented this several years early, but other countries (such as Poland) are delaying the implementation. Polish farmers purchased a lot of those German hen cages, and are now able to produce eggs at a lesser price . . . and then sell them in Germany!

With the founding of the EU in 1957, the Common Agricultural Policy was also inaugurated. The CAP focused on three areas: self-suffiency for main commodities, sustainable economic development in rural areas, and compensation to farmers for respecting high production standards. Currently, there are 19 provisions in place that farmers must follow in order to receive EU dollars. One example is the animal identification system, which requires that each animal have a passport and a specific form of tagging. Cattle must maintain matching tags in each ear. There is a 40 Euro fine if a cow does not have this, and there is no tolerance, no matter the reason. (I can't imagine keeping two ear tags in my goats' ears -- they lose them constantly!) These 19 standards are theroretically voluntary, but virtually all farmers participate under pressure to receive EU dollars. Between 2005 and 2009, 30-40% of the average farmers annual income was made up of subsidy payments!!!

The European Union member states view agriculture as crucial for their culture, economy, environment, and self-sufficiency. Thus, they are willing to dedicate public funds to achieve this. In return, farmers must agree to abide by the 19 standards identified in response to consumer discussion and public mandate. By keeping farmers prosperous, the goal is to keep rural communities prosperous. It ensures the presence of jobs & services for rural dwellers: such as postmasters, doctors, and teachers. Sustainability is regarded as a 3-legged stool: environmental, social, and economical. In the United States, there is a great deal of ambiguity regarding the word "sustainable". While I have always personally taken pride that I do not receive government payments -- and thus am not responsible to the government for my production -- I will openly applaud the EU for clarifying that if the government is to espouse certain practices, it must be able to define them!

The Goatherd Meets the Greens; The Goatherd is NOT Impressed

26 September 2011

Our first "business" day in Berlin was full of meetings at the DBV: Deutscher Bauernverband. The DBV is the German equivalent of AFBF: American Farm Bureau Federation. Much like AFBF, the DBV is organized into county associations that make up state organizations, which in turn form the national farm group. We were welcomed to the DBV by Dr. Helmut Born, the General Secretary of the DBV. After coffee with Dr. Born, we sat in on the start of the DBV's weekly staff meeting. It was -- of course -- in German and I quickly realized that I was not understanding nearly as much as I wanted to! Oh, Rosetta Stone -- you should have taught me more agriculture & political terms! I really did not need to know "Der Kaffee schmeckt schleckt": The coffee tastes bad!

A highlight of the day was our morning session with representatives from several political parties. It was an excellent introduction to the German political system. In Germany there are several parties which influence politics. This diversity results in a need for parties to work together to create policy and pass legislation. It also forces organizations like DBV to be responsive to interacting with multiples parties so as to ensure their voice is heard. Laws are written by the parliament only, but can be requested by the government (similar to our executive branch) or the Landers (which are the states of Germany). When a German votes in a parliamentary election, he votes twice: once for the chosen candidate and once for the party of choice. These votes result in a complex equation that dictates who will serve in the parliament.

The political party representatives that we met with were from the CDU (largest party, conservative, and party of the Chancellor Angela Merkel), the Liberals (a party which harkens to the original meaning of the word "liberal" and is thus now considered conservative), and the Greens. Oh, the Greens. The party that loves organics and fear! The Greens reached a new level of popularity with Lander (state) elections in the spring . . . that happened to occur shortly after the nuclear issues caused by the tsunami in Japan. Fears over nuclear accidents led to a popular movement to ban nuclear power in Germany. The Greens led this effort, which will force renewable energy to the forefront. While this is a good thing for farmers (thanks to solar power on farms, windmills in the countryside, and the agricultural popularity of biogas), it creates a situation where less power will be produced within Germany, but the level of demand will probably stay the same. This may force the Germans to purchase more power from Russia and France -- both of which rely heavily on nuclear!

The woman from the Green Party was very well-spoken in sharing her views on agriculture. She was opposed to nuclear power due to the potential for accidents. She was opposed to windmills since they ruin the view of the countryside. She was opposed to biogas that operates from corn, as her constituents complain that corn is abhorrent in the landscape of Germany. She was opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as one study from Argentina hypothesized that they were negative to humans. She would only acquiese to the usefulness of biotechnology in medicine -- never food or farming. She believed that 3rd World nations did not need the advances of science through GMOs, but could feed their people if they wasted less and had more local farms. I would personally have a hard time telling my friends from Somalia -- whose countrymen are dying by the thousands from starvation -- that they just need to waste less food.

I will absolutely give credit to the Green Party representative that she was firm in her beliefs and dedicated to them. She was quite pleasant and had a charming personality. We simply had very different beliefs. Her view of American agriculture as being "industrial" was based on the notion that American farmers specialize and hope for a profit . . . two things that I see as excellent attributes of agriculture! Diversity is a good thing, just as specialization is a good thing, and profit is always a good thing! If a farmer has no interest in profit, that is certainly acceptable -- but then it is a hobby, not a true career.

The Palace of Tears

Berlin is a modern, fascinating city, but one that will always carry its heritage with it. I was continually amazed by the vestiges of Berlin's history of division that remain. Although the Soviets reached Berlin first in 1945, the British & American military leadership made a concerted effort to prevent the city from falling under complete Soviet domination post-war. As World War II concluded, the Allies agreed to a system of "spheres of influence" in Germany, where each of the Allies would administer a region.

Noting the prime importance of the city of Berlin, it was also divided. While Berlin sat deep within the Soviet sphere of Germany, it had sectors administered by the Americans, the British, and the French. Eventually, as years passed and communism became entrenched in East Germany, West Berlin (the former American, British, and French sectors) became an island of freedom & democracy surrounded by the repression of a communist state.

During our first day in Berlin, we visited the newly-opened "Palace of Tears" Museum. This site was an entry to East Germany along the rail line. Very few East Germans were granted permission to leave, but the East German government did permit West Germans to visit the eastern side. At this train station in Berlin, Westerners would pass through government control to be admitted to and exit from East German. The name "Palace of Tears" came to refer to the sadness that surrounded the hearts of the German people as the visitors from the West said farewell to their family in the East and prepared to board the train.

The new museum focuses on the impact that the division of Germany had on its people and the celebrations when the Berlin Wall fell. This museum made quite an impression on me. What creates the slippery slope that allows citizens of a nation to watch as their rights are continually and more aggressively revoked? How do good people react when faced with oppression? Would you and I know when our country was being systematically absorbed by an oppressive regime? What would we risk for freedom . . . our farms, our fortunes, our lives?

Beautiful Berlin

Before my trip, I had a very inaccurate perception of Berlin: gray, cold, and full of skyscrapers. The city was quite a contrast to that idea! This is a picture of the River Spree, which curves through Berlin. On our first day in Berlin, we took a boat cruise along the river. It was a sunny, beautiful afternoon . . . and perfect for a catnap on a tour boat! Thus began my reputation amongst my fellow travelers for constant sleeping! Berlin is a city rich in history, and East Berlin has been rebuilt in such a way to embrace modernity while preserving its heritage. Berlin lacks skyscrapers due to a building code that limits the height of buildings. This makes for a very open and appealing atmosphere. With such a lovely city to gaze upon, nearly every apartment in Berlin offers a balcony. I was extremely impressed with Germany's largest city!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome to Berlin!

25 September 2011

Things I learned about Berliners today:

Virtually every Berlin apartment building has a balcony. Germans are very connected to the outside, despite living predominantly in “people coops”. They "move" a lot: walking, bike riding, etc.

Children have much more freedom of movement here than in America. Parents send their kids out to play in the city of Berlin without qualms, confident that the children have been instructed in appropriate and safe behavior.

Pets are treated much the same way. Dogs are often seen running about unleashed and following their owners through the public areas of Berlin. The animals are well-trained and responsive, but allowed to manage their own behavior.

When we landed we made it through the Passport Kontroller, then we picked up our baggage. We were met at Tegel Airport by Brigitte of the DBV (the German equivalent of the American Farm Bureau). Brigitte was a McCloy Fellow last year and served as our host in Berlin. She informed us that the Berlin Marathon was being run today, and thus we would alter our schedule a bit. We took the bus to Brigitte’s part of town, and then staked out a location to watch the start of the marathon as it made its way by her corner. We took some pictures of the first runners, many of whom appeared to be African. Next we ducked around the corner to a baker to buy fresh breads. Yay for bruchen!

We were welcomed to Brigitte’s apartment by her 10 year old daughter Marta. She was a charming young lady. We had a very typical German breakfast, which reminded me a great deal of what Frau Bricker would serve at home: fresh breads, cheeses, meats, coffee. After eating, we watched part of the Marathon on television and saw the first gentleman cross the line. I will be forever certain that he appears in one of the pictures I took early that morning!

We spent the afternoon walking EVERYWHERE around Berlin . . . or at least it certainly seemed like it when I was hot & tired. (I was prepared for Germany to be cold; Germany decided to trick me!) We walked by the Brandenburg Gate, the Adlon Hotel, the Resichstag. We saw the end point of the Marathon, took a cruise on the River Spree, and toured the Palace of Tears. It was with relief that we all finally returned to Brigitte’s for a delicious dinner. Martha helped to cook an amazing meal of pork, potatoes, peas, and carrots. Shane, Chad, and Tracy enjoyed the Bitburger Beer -- a favourite of my Christopher -- and I had some lovely wine. We eventually headed to our hotel (in a Mercedes-Benz taxi, no less!), and I was ready to shower and SLEEP!

My first impression of Berlin: beautiful, green, and friendly!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Overseas Travel Adventures

24 September 2011

The days before my departure were a whirlwind of catering, packing, and working in the barns. The day before I left, Chris & I did a full afternoon of trimming goat hooves. Then it was a long night of trying to stuff 3 weeks of clothes in 2 bags. I am the type who takes 2-3 bags for a weekend trip. I once took 9 pairs of shoes for a 3 day Farm Bureau conference. Packing for this trip was quite overwhelming as I tried to imagine every possible scenario. Shortly after 3am I went to bed, as packed and as ready as I could be . . . and quite exhausted! Preparing a farm, a Farm Bureau, and this farmer for a trip is not an easy task (and one I underestimated).

Goatherd Facebook status: “For all visitors to Harrison Farm, please be alerted that The Grandmother will be unsupervised while I am in Germany. This means she will be highly medicated, her guns will be fully loaded, and she is threatening to bring my death dog into the house while I am gone. We will know perpetrators by their DNA . . . since half their face will be in my dog's jaws!

My alarm woke me at 7:30am, in time for a quick power shower. I dressed in my airline glamour ensemble and gave my old-old-old cowboy boots a good polish, just in time to panic that I could not find some of my Euros. (I should not be trusted with anything.) Thankfully, Christopher arrived early to motivate me to get moving AND made the excellent suggestion of looking in my (unlocked) Goatmobile for the Euros . . . great success!

I woke up Grandmother, hugged the dogs, and waved to the chickens. There is nothing like a long impending absence to remind one of how dearly they love the life they have built. Dear Lord, please bring me home safe to my family & farm. Chris took me to Starbucks for my pre-flight coffee. We arrived to the airport and he held my hand – literally and figuratively – through the check-in process. I got my first passport when I was 16, and FINALLY for the first time ever, I actually had to show someone my passport. Lovely! The TSA agents were super nice; I especially liked the gentleman who checked my ID, and then completed me on my manners. From my brief conversation with him, it sounded as though manners were rare. Two thoughts: Americans are losing respect for manners and individual TSA agents have been de-humanized due to the public’s perception that they are the TSA conglomerate. Americans, wake up! Take back your society and your government!

My flight to Newark went smooth. Thanks to my wonderful Grandfather for passing down the Harrison “ability-to-sleep-anywhere” gene! A nice nap definitely helped me.

Message From Lauren (one of my peeps from UF) “Have a great trip!!!! Don't get sold for any less than 50 goats. Know what you're worth!”

Goatherd Facebook Status: For my loyal followers eagerly awaiting travel updates (that's both of you!): I have made it safely to Newark! I am attempting to lay low in Jersey, so The Goatherd's star power & bulging biceps don't make The Situation jealous . . . GTL: Goats, Travel, Liquor.

In Newark, I met up with my fellow Fellows. Tracy works for American Farm Bureau out of Washington DC. She has the kind of naturally beautiful face that looks good even after sleeping on a plane all night. Chad is with Colorado Farm Bureau and raises cattle. He is tall, funny, and intelligent . . . a more-refined Sean Haley of the farm world. Shane operates a ranch in Colorado. He is warm, straightforward, and looks like a roughstock rider (which he was!). They are all super nice . . . and they are all married parents!

The flight . . . my first overseas flight! It would have been better with Chris to look after me. I lucked out and got my favorite seat on the plane: back row on the aisle, near the bathroom. Luckily, the couple which was sitting in my aisle with me was young, slender, quiet, and stayed seated. I slept on and off. I also did some reading from a new book I bought on Quanah Parker and the end of the Comanche war nation. I did not find the change in time to be difficult, but I did dislike sitting upright for 8 hours and trying to sleep.

It was worth it, however, when I landed in Berlin!

The Goatherd Goes to Deutschland

This is the story of a goatherd who went across the ocean in the hope of seeing German goats.

In late winter of 2011, I learned of the McCloy Fellowship. This is an educational opportunity for young professionals to travel overseas sponsored by the American Council on Germany. Fellowships are offered each year in journalism, urban planning, environmental issues, and agriculture. Farming + education + travel = a very intrigued Goatherd! The American Farm Bureau works with the American Council on Germany to source the four individuals selected each year for the fellowships in agriculture. I was very excited to be named my state’s nominee, but there were 49 other states that had the opportunity to nominate someone as well and only four would be the winners.

My personal philosophy is “big packet good, small letter bad”. This stems from my college application days. I eagerly watched the mailbox for days after the supposed selection date . . . and days, and days. Eventually, hearing nothing, I realized that I wasn’t chosen. One day, while at Starbucks, I was checking my email when I found a message with the subject heading of “McCloy Fellowship” from a staff member at American Farm Bureau. Ugh. If a big packet is good news, and a small letter is bad news, then an email is dismissive! I opened the email, already reading in my mind “Dear Katherine Harrison, Thank you for applying for the McCloy Fellowship. Although we have selected different Fellows for 2011, we hope you will re-apply next year.”

I waited for the email to load . . . the first sentence was absolutely as I expected. But that second sentence . . . I re-read and re-read and re-read again. And then, in the middle of Starbucks, I put my hands over my eyes and started to cry. For those who know me personally, the last few years have been full of some struggles for me. It was a true opportunity to test my mettle and my integrity and my faith. I cried that day sitting in front of my laptop because something that was good -- something that was earned -- was being offered to me. I was profoundly humbled, and exceedingly grateful that God saw me through difficulty so that I could enjoy a monumental blessing. Then, I called my Christopher and tried to tell him the good news without crying some more . . .

Time went on, our travel dates were selected, I became Facebook friends with my fellow Fellows (ha!), and I worked to master my German (in so many ways!) in preparation for the trip. My first overseas trip would also be the longest trip I had taken away from the farm as an adult responsible for goats, and chickens, and cows, and dogs, etc, etc. Thankfully, I have a wonderful gentleman friend and amazing student assistants, not to mention the best farmer friends ever! Chris did his best to prepare me for my time in his ancestral homeland. This included emailing me news articles, giving me helpful hints on travel, and practicing the language with me.

Goatherd Facebook Status: Yet another reason to love Germany: the Pirate Party has won seats in the Berlin state parliament with 8.9% of the local vote! "Pirate Party leader Sebastian Nerz told Deutschlandfunk Radio that his party is prepared to prove it is up to serious politics." ARRR!

My stipend check for my fellowship arrived on a Friday afternoon. And in true Katherine fashion, on Monday I blew it on goats. Honest to God. Personal motto: “I spent all my money on liquor and goats. The rest I just wasted.” They are really nice goats, though!

The Cover Goat!

Great news! Harrison Farm was featured in our local culture & arts newspaper! Thanks to Shelley & Jodie of Columbus Alive for featuring Katherine the Goatherd & Harrison the Goat in the most recent edition! Local foods are winning a following . . . and goats are winning the world!

Local foods: Harrison Farm

Friday, September 23, 2011

Delicious Pork Chops!

I am definitely a spur-of-the-moment cook: whatever is available tends to be what I concoct! Last night's pork chops turned out particularly well, so I wanted to share how simple they were. I used a package of chops from "Man Pig", so there was plenty of fat for flavoring thanks to his lazy lifestyle & penchant for eating! These were thick chops, probably cut an inch and a quarter thick. Thinner chops would cook much quicker.

The chops were thawed to room temperature, then I covered them in garlic salt, pepper, and oregano. I let this sit in the refrigerator for about 5 hours, until I was ready to cook. At that point, I placed the chops in the oven at 350 degrees. They cooked for about 20 minutes just like that. In the meantime, I sliced some fresh mushrooms and dried apricots that I had on hand. I pulled the chops from the oven, added half a can of chicken broth to keep them moist, and then covered them in mushrooms & apricots. The chops cooked for another 40 minutes. I served them with fresh green beans sauteed with ham, local potatoes that I baked and covered with cheese & bacon, and a green salad with items from our local farm market.

Christopher said these were some of the best chops I had made! I hope they inspire you!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Woo Hoo! My First Speech "Walk Out"!

I am pleased to announce that I have had my very first "walk out" during a speech! Actually, I am a bit surprised that it took this many years of public speaking to very diverse audiences for this to happen! After all, my first memory of giving a presentation was my inspiring demonstration on making Thousand Island Dressing during my initial year as a 4-H member when I was only 8 . . . that means I am well into my third decade of public speaking!

As my close friends know, my hearing is not what it should be for an individual of my age, particularly in noisy situations. This was apparent to me during the Franklin County Fair, when I met a most pleasant gentleman who asked if I would be willing to speak to his organization. He had observed me during the Franklin Fun & Learn event at the fair. Franklin County Farm Bureau is a sponsor of this event, which focuses on educating youth on agriculture, science, nutrition, and history. In the midst of the heat of an oppressive July day, the noise of a livestock barn, and the swarm of small children I was attempting to teach . . . I didn't catch all the details, but I knew I had agreed to speak on Farm Bureau & agriculture to this gentleman's organization on August 29th!

On Monday the 29th -- still not sure to whom or where I was speaking -- I hunted down the MCL Cafeteria in Upper Arlington. The secretaries at the local Farm Bureau office had assisted me in preparing some take home items for the attendees: a copy of Buckeye Farm News, a recent issue of Our Ohio magazine, a coupon for Velvet Ice Cream, a Farm Bureau/Nationwide pen, and a membership application, all tucked inside a lovely blue bag with the Franklin County Farm Bureau logo. Upon my arrival at the MCL Cafeteria, I soon ascertained that I would be speaking to the Upper Arlington High Twelve Club. This is a Masonic fraternity group. Most of the attendees were between 65 and 80, and several were accompanied by their wife. Over my first-ever MCL lunch, I learned from my host that this group meets to socialize every Monday and they invite speakers from all walks of life.

As I opened my presentation after the meal, I told the group (of about 25-30 retirees) that I would share with them some background on my experiences in farming, update them on the impact that agriculture has on our metropolitan area, discuss my volunteer efforts with Farm Bureau, and introduce them to some of the activities & benefits that are associated with Farm Bureau membership. As I spoke, I was delighted to see how engaged the group was with my stories. I soon learned, however, that one woman was not happy with the topic . . .

During the portion where I shared my experiences as a farmer, I arrived at the point where I gave a brief discussion of my 5 years as general manager of a local slaughterhouse. As soon as I used this word, a woman in the audience shouted out: "Slaughterhouse?!?" I affirmed for the audience that this was absolutely correct, and that it had been one of the best opportunities of my life. Bear in mind, that when I discuss meat processing, I always use appropriate terminology and I am not overly graphic. I keep my audience in mind (farmers get more in-depth discussion than non-farmers). I answer questions honestly, but I am always matter-of-fact and do not sensationalize the slaughter process.

Once I reached the conclusion of this speech, I opened the floor up for questions. One of the ladies in attendance asked some questions about Halal slaughter, how it varied from Kosher, and what the process actually was during slaughter. As I was just starting to answer this question, the irate woman in the audience stood up and announced "We don't have to listen to this!" As she grabbed her purse to storm out, she also began grabbing at her husband's shirt sleeve to pull him out with her. This gentleman -- bless his heart -- never made eye contact with her and stayed for the rest of my speech!

Reflecting on this event, I was quite amused! It takes a lot to offend me, and this woman definitely made her lunch companions much more uncomfortable than she could ever make me. I have wondered what was so offensive to her. She was of an age (at least 75) that would make me think she would be more receptive to tales of agriculture. Perhaps she was an animal rights activist or vegan, and thus found me completely disturbing. I was pleased, however, by the positive reactions from the other individuals there. Multiple gentlemen told me that I was one of the best speakers they had ever hosted, so I don't think the rest of the group was in any way upset by my presentation. Several of the wives actually came up afterwards to ask me even more questions!

All in all, this was a great experience for me! I am glad I had the opportunity. I was delighted to speak with a group that was so receptive to learning about farming and Farm Bureau. I am humbled to be able to share the stories of farmers in our great state. And most of all, I am glad to know that my love for talking about agriculture can keep my mind focused even with a difficult audience member! Meat processing rocks!

Final Thoughts on the Pigs . . .

I find it very rewarding to raise, slaughter, and process my own meats. I am especially proud of the fact that so little is wasted from the animals. After preparing the cuts of meat, grinding any small pieces for sausage, and saving bones & internal items to cook for my dogs . . . not much is left! In this picture, is the entire waste (plus the intestines & lungs which I had already composted) from a whole pig. For a 300 pound animal, I find it remarkable that there was such a small amount of waste. This is a reason that I have a great deal of respect for the customers that I worked with from the immigrant & refugee community: they were skilled at utilizing nearly every last inch of the animal. It is important for us as humans to remember that every animal slaughtered is a life. We should show respect to that creature -- and to our fellow humans that struggle with hunger -- by not disposing of meat carelessly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yes, I Link My Own Sausage!

In this tub is the extra meat I trimmed from the front legs of just one pig. This was destined to became ground pork. Much of the ground pork I made into sausage. This year I made four varieties of sausage: Mexican, Cajun, Italian, and Carpathian. I like to come up with clever mixtures of spices! After the meat is trimmed, it needs to be chilled down to a temperature that allows it to grind easily. I put it through the grinder twice to ensure that everything was well-mixed. Then, I mixed the spices in by hand. Some of this I kept as spiced sausage to make into patties. The rest I used to make brats. The sausage mixture was put through a stuffer which fed the ground meat into the casing. I then hand-linked the brats, and chilled them again so that they were easy to cut apart. I was fortunate that I had the assistance of my friend Angie in completing the sausage making! It is a very fun process when you are working with your sister-in-slaughter, laughing & telling stories!

Fresh Pork!

This is exciting for me! Seeing the cuts of meat starting to come together! The cuts still need to be wrapped in freezer paper & chilled, but this is the point where a butcher can begin dreaming of delicious meals! (Kroger, however, had a scary week as someone kept buying out their freezer paper as soon as they restocked!) In this photo, there are two lovely pork shanks on the left in the tub. This is the part just above the ankle. These are wonderful when they are slow-cooked in a crock pot. To the right are several boneless roasts that I trimmed from the shoulders. I particularly enjoying cooking these in the oven. Pork is a delicious meat for adding a variety of flavors!

Pork Cuts

These are the front legs of the hog. So what can you make from the front legs? First I carefully removed the meat from each leg. This process is referred to as "boning out" the meat. I learned how to do this from the first butcher we hired at the slaughterhouse, Rick. Rick was fondly known as "Convict Rick" -- heart of gold, but terrible propensity to spend overnights on the county's expense. Baby Mama drama, child support in arrears, an enjoyment of libations, and a tendency to get into fights . . . not a good combination! Rick, however, was a wonderfully skilled butcher and very patient as he trained me on skills that he had mastered long ago.

Most of our Ethiopian customers at the slaughterhouse chose to purchase adult sheep. To we Americans, these were "cull ewes": the older females that were being removed from herds for some reason. Maybe they were bad mothers, perhaps they had bad attitudes, but they were no longer desirable to the shepherd. To the Ethiopian comunity, these were highly desirable sources of meat! Although the age of the animal meant it had a stronger taste and was not as tender, the Ethiopian style of cooking corrected these impediments to enjoyment. The meat would be removed from the bones, so that the customer ended up with a bag of just meat and a bag of soup bones. The meat was then traditionally slow roasted for a long time with peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic -- whatever flavors were desired. This cooking process served to tenderize the meat and the wonderful spices enriched the flavor of the mutton.

I am incredibly fond of Ethiopian food, and wholeheartedly suggest the Blue Nile Restaurant on High Street in Columbus. It is owned by a lovely family and the food is outstanding! I am blessed that my years at the slaughterhouse brought me new skills, new friends, and new experiences!

Delicious Pork!

I spent three days processing the meat from my pigs into cuts. This is a picture of the primal cuts from the hog, after skinning & evisceration. I chilled the carcasses for 24 hours to help tenderize the meat, and then began cutting and packaging it. Many individuals are surprised when they see a hog carcass in its primal cuts: Pork may be known as the "other white meat", but the meat itself is actually quite red!

As you look at the picture, the front legs are in the far back, then the loin, neck & rib cage, and back legs. In the far right corner is the bandsaw that is used to cut the meat. Running a bandsaw is one of my great pleasures in life! I enjoy the process of breaking down the carcass into delicious cuts! Admittedly, I am much slower on the bandsaw than some butchers, but I have been very fortunate never to cut myself while operating it.

There is an old joke in the meat processing world: Hold up two fingers and ask "What's this?" It's a butcher ordering 4 beers! Slaughterhouse humor helps to alleviate the seriousness of the cycle of life & death colliding with the extreme potential for injury around dangerous equipment . . .

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I Learned from the Slaughterhouse

Here is my equivalent of a glamour shot: hair pulled back under a bandana, big yellow butcher apron covering my clothes, a knife in one hand, and an animal foot in the other!

When I first started working at the slaughterhouse, it took me some time to become used to the process. I have always been on the carnivorous side of the omnivore lifestyle, and I have always held a firm belief in the circle of life. Despite this, it does take an adjustment to be able to handle the reality of working in a slaughterhouse. For the first year that I was there, I observed the kill floor, but did not participate much in the process. Eventually, there was a day that our Christian employee was unexpectedly unable to be at work. We had both Muslim & Christian customers, and our goal was to serve their religious & cultural needs for their food products. Thus, I had to step up and perform the Christian kills to suit the needs of the Ethiopians & Eritreans that were purchasing animals that day.

I had observed the kill completed on an animal hundreds of times by that point, but I do vividly recall doing it myself for the first time. Mohamed held the sheep down to ensure the animal did not struggle, and to keep me safe as well (after all, a 200 pound ewe has the weight advantage on me!) I followed the procedure I had been taught: one stroke of the blade with a sure hand to sever both the carotid and the jugular as quickly as possible. I stepped back from the large sheep, as Mohamed held the animal to allow it to bleed out rapidly. I can remember with clarity standing there with the knife in my hand, and letting the impact sink in. For the first time, I felt that I was really taking ownership of my position at the slaughterhouse. If I was going to be the general manager, if I was going to be an advocate for local meats, if I was going to promote animal agriculture -- then I needed to be a part of EVERY step of the process.

From that day on, I made it my responsibility to learn every step of the process. I was already the "staff expert" on stomach cleaning, but I worked to learn the appropriate skinning process as well. Some things I was skilled at (bandsaw, you are mine!), and other things I struggled with (I can wrestle 120-140 pound lambs out of a pen . . . but I would rather not!) One part I always enjoyed was the evisceration process. I am fascinated by the anatomy of the animal and how each part of the body functions. In the picture above, the pig carcass has been skinned & washed. The next step was to open the mid-section, to remove the stomach, intestines, and internal items.

By working with the inside of the animal, I have learned a great deal about taking care of the outside of the animal. Intestines that split apart when you try to clean them? Parasite overload! That goat needed a good de-wormer. Lungs that are hard & purple? Pneumonia. Livers with hard spots? Possible parasites . . . must trim these off before releasing to the customer. We would even see bizarre things, like the goat that had testicles AND ovaries. The thousands of animals that I opened up taught me numerous lessons to make me a better farmer.

Slaughter isn't glamorous, but it is a part of the process of raising & enjoying food! The more we share with the public about what we do, the better educated they will be to make their own decisions on food. Besides, who doesn't enjoy a good slaughterhouse story?!?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

FCFB Annual Meeting

Last night was the Franklin County Farm Bureau Annual Meeting held at Villa Milano in Westerville. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our organization over last year. The following are my comments made to the audience at the conclusion of the meeting.

As we wrap up our 2011 Annual Meeting, it is a true blessing that Franklin County Farm Bureau has experienced so many achievements during our previous policy year. We’ve had a lot of adventures; we’ve had a lot of fun. And it has made for numerous good stories! Those of you that know me – or read my ever-self-promoting farm blog – know that I enjoy a good story! Of course, if you were acquainted with my grandfather, Virgil Harrison, you also know that I get my love of storytelling honestly . . . although my grandfather’s stories were told twice as slow and with far fewer goats than mine contain! I love telling stories primarily because tales of agriculture are so fascinating. Farmers ARE unique! We are unlike any other community in the world! I consider it a unique pleasure to be affiliated with Franklin County Farm Bureau, and a distinct honor to be entrusted with the leadership of this organization. I am humbled by your faith in me and I thank you.

The story behind the success of Franklin County Farm Bureau in the past year is largely driven by those on our board. I always marvel at the diversity of our board members, their dedication to agriculture, and their willingness to work together to promote our organization. This year, several of our board members are moving on from the board. These are members who have contributed a remarkable spirit of leadership to our organization. It is right and fitting to take time to applaud their efforts.

When I first met Glen King, I was charmed by his warmth of spirit and his dedication to animal agriculture. We soon discovered a mutual love of sheep . . . and then distant shared cousins! Glen has given so much to agriculture in Franklin County. He has served FCFB on its policy committee and nominating committee. Glen also has an eye to the future: he is on the vanguard of researching the emerging market for sheep cheese! And I would not be surprised if Glen mastered this over the next few decades – after all, his mother (who recently celebrated her 100th birthday!) was just honored last fall as the FCFB Woman of the Year! Glen gave us quite a scare last spring with his health issues. We will miss him on the board, but look forward to keeping him involved with volunteer activities. I also want to offer a distinct thanks to Rayma King, Glen’s amazing wife. FCFB sincerely appreciates the contributions that both of you have made!

One of the first board members that I got to know well at FCFB was Bill Johnson. Bill was serving as Membership Chair and was spinning a wheel with questions about membership benefits when we met! I was a na├»ve, new member (who had been invited by Neall Weber to attend a Farm Bureau “dinner” – not realizing he had signed me up to work membership). Bill & Denise made me feel incredibly welcome as a volunteer and encouraged me that my efforts were valued. Bill taught me the important lesson that volunteers must always feel appreciated. Bill is resourceful, creative, and a remarkable volunteer! This was illustrated by his efforts to spearhead our “Drive in the Country” Farm Tour last fall. Bill enlisted the farms, arranged volunteer efforts, spearheaded the marketing, and worked the entire day to ensure the success of the event. While we are losing Bill’s leadership on the board, we look forward to future Farm Tours! Save the date of September 18th for the 2011 event . . . be sure to read the flier about it, and contact Bill or Roger Genter to help volunteer!

Have you ever received a fabulous & life-changing door prize? Those of us on this year’s Membership Committee sure did! This was thanks to Jack Orum, who was an amazing leader for our annual membership campaign! Jack did an outstanding job of keeping our 2011 Membership Campaign focused, successful, and fun . . . and we were well-motivated by the possibility of the fabulous & life-changing door prizes! Jack is also an integral part of our Junior Fair Livestock Sale team. This year he worked with Neil Distelhorst & Angela Ottman to support our county 4-Hers by spending $16,250 on ducks, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, a goat, lambs, hogs, and feeder calves. After that long day at the fair, I owe a huge thanks to Jack and to Jill & John Hay for helping me tear down the baby animal display area at 11pm at night . . . this is an adventure I will always remember! I couldn’t have completed that task without Jack, John, and Jill – and I owe them a debt for not mocking me too much as I loaded chicken wire, posters, a table, hay, a heat lamp, Farm Bureau beach balls, etc, etc, and – of course – goats into my SUV. I believe Jack’s final words to me as I pulled out that night were, “Just don’t get pulled over!” Like Glen & Bill, Jack is concluding six years on our county board of trustees. We look forward to keeping him active for future membership campaigns, and we sincerely appreciate all the efforts of Jack & his wife Diana to support FCFB!

Finally, Janet Weber Pfeifer is also retiring from the board this year. Janet & Jack Orum helped to spear-head this year’s ice cream social at the fair. We have so many amazing volunteers that help to coordinate the Country Olympics led by Dwight Beougher and the tee shirt giveaway led by Monica Schemrich. After these activities in a hot livestock barn, the ice cream social was well-appreciated this year! Janet is currently in Florida, and she has decided her commitments there prevent a year-round availability for FCFB. Despite this, we intend to keep her very busy with the scholarship committee and the ice cream social!

These four individuals are outstanding representatives of the FCFB board of trustees! I look forward to our upcoming year as we welcome new board members. Each program year offers new opportunities to create achievements and build memories. And we always have so much fun along the way! In Franklin County, we are blessed with the opportunity to directly reach and educate our consumers on a daily basis. Franklin County is a major metropolitan area, a research community with a land-grant university, and a hub for communications and business. Every day we have the opportunity to come in contact with many individuals . . . and we have the opportunity to educate them about farming!

It is true that other counties have larger and more numerous farm businesses. Franklin County is unique, however. I have heard a well-respected commentator refer to our county as the last stand for agriculture in Ohio. This is absolutely accurate: if we do not effectively share our message with the urban & suburban consumers that surround us, agriculture will suffer a major setback. The wonderful thing is that we can accomplish this so easily! Everyone loves a good story about farming – even farmers! What we do is unique: no other field offers the opportunity to impact every single human. Everyone eats – everyone needs agriculture! We also should embrace the fact that the farm community is small by turning the “novelty” factor into an educational opportunity . . . Americans are interested in farms & food and we can capitalize on this!

I thoroughly enjoy the farm journal that I keep on my blog, and I was fascinated to track the numbers of readers following a post I did on hog slaughter. After feeding out two pigs, I slaughtered them for my family to enjoy. On my blog I put up a picture of me with one of the hogs after it had been bled out. I openly discussed the fact that this could be viewed as a “gross” picture of a dead pig. Then I offered MY perspective that this was the successful end of hours of labor spent feeding & caring for these pigs, and the exciting start to the processing of the park, which would guarantee that my family would eat well this winter. I discussed how I raised the pigs, the slaughter process, and my thoughts on raising my own food. I was amazed that this post tracked 131 American readers, 4 from India and Russia, 3 Germans, 2 from Italy and Ukraine, and one reader each from Australia, Belgium, and China. While I would like to think that it was the glamorous photo of me wearing a big yellow butcher apron that drew them, I believe it was more likely a curiosity about meat processing.

We are incredibly fortunate: we work in a field where we raise food (which everyone eats) and our consumers are extremely curious about what we do! As farmers, we have experiences that amaze individuals who are not blessed with our lifestyle and our community. My friends who work in cubicles and live in apartments have never raised nor butchered a pig . . . but they are very intrigued by the process of doing this and the chance to join me for dinner! With this opportunity to educate, however, comes a great responsibility. We are always farmers. We always represent the farm community. What we say about farming and the manner in which we act impacts the future of agriculture. We must take this responsibility seriously as we engage consumers. Our role as farmers makes us unique, but if we are condescending – toward our consumers or toward our fellow farmers – we will not present agriculture in the fullness of its blessings.

I am very proud to be a member of FCFB! I am extraordinarily proud of our efforts to support the future of agriculture through our scholarships, through our efforts at the county fair, and through the Farm Days event at COSI. I am extremely delighted by our efforts to educate consumers through events like our farm tour, and to promote agriculture through our policy process & engagement with local officials. Our county, like our chosen field, is unique. It is full of blessings and opportunities. Speak up and tell your story!

WHY do you farm? WHY are you a 4-H leader? WHY do you scoop ice cream at our ice cream social? WHY do you offer your limited time to volunteer for FCFB? Tell these stories, reach out to your community, take pride in being a farmer! Our country needs farmers. It needs the farm community. It needs those voices to step forward and speak up for our values. As a community we know that values must be a part of successful policies. Remember: it was farmers & skilled tradesmen that founded America, and these same groups are needed today to protect the future of our amazing country. And remember that the elected volunteers and staff members of FCFB and OFBF work for YOU! Give us your feedback so that we can help you make agriculture, farm bureau, and our country even greater!

In exchange for this feedback, we even offer fabulous & life-changing door prizes! I would like to ask Jack Orum to assist me in drawing the winners from our evaluation forms.

At this point, I will ask for a motion to adjourn our meeting. Second. All in favor of the motion? The motion carries. Thank you for attending our 2011 Annual Meeting! May God bless you and may God bless our great country!