Saturday, November 3, 2012

Doody the Goat Endorses

As the leader of the noble goat herd of Harrison Farm, Doody the Goat is viewed by his fellow goats as the wise elder.  Thus, it is time for Doody to issue his official political endorsements.  While I have had the opportunity to meet many political candidates, Doody limits his endorsements to those that he knows well -- or to those situations in which a goatherd would have a unique perspective.

For the state legislature, Doody the Goat is pleased to endorse Michael Stinziano(D) and Anne Gonzales(R).  While Representative Stinziano hails from a largely urban Columbus district, he has made a concerted effort to reach out to the farm community to better understand the connections between farmers & consumers.  Representative Stinziano has attended Farm Bureau events, supported Extension activities, and even went for a ride in a combine when he toured Weber Farms with our favorite Hay Farmer!  Likewise, Representative Gonzales has worked to educate herself on farm issues.  Her district is centered around Westerville, where she served on city council prior to winning election to the state legislature.  Representative Gonzales impressed me during her campaign for the legislature with her interest in the farm community, and we spent a fun day together at the Franklin County Fair discussing agriculture issues.  From my personal interactions with these two leaders, I am delighted to encourage their re-election!

For United States Congress, Doody the Goat is pleased to endorse Steve Stivers(R).  Congressman Stivers has served his country in the military, in the state legislature, and now in the U.S. House of Representatives.  I first met him through Farm Bureau events, and have found him to be an intelligent, dedicated, citizen-legislator.  Congressman Stivers & his staffers have worked hard to learn about agricultural issues and to form bonds with rural constituents.  Congressman Stivers is a quality person and dedicated family man.  I can attest that he truly cares about his constituents as people -- not just as potential voters.  It impresses me that Congressman Stivers remembers faces & names, and is glad to visit farms to learn the full impact of policy issues on agriculture.  For those voters in the new district that Steve Stivers is running to represent, I would strongly encourage supporting his re-election!

Doody the Goat is against Issue 2.  In Ohio, Issue 2 is a ballot proposal that would create a board charged with re-districting for representation. Issue 2 would take this power away from the state legislature, which has traditionally overseen re-districting.  While it is true that the current scenario allows the political party in power to draw lines that benefit their party, this party has been selected by voters of the state and thus charged with such a responsibility.  I do not believe that the proposal offered by Issue 2 meets the burden of responsible government that would justify altering the current method.  Thus, I encourage you to vote NO on Issue 2.

Several worthy candidates are running for the Ohio Supreme Court.  Doody the Goat would like to highlight the contributions of Justice Robert Cupp.  Raised on a farm, Justice Cupp is a thoughtful jurist and has been an excellent member of the Supreme Court.  When Justice Cupp visited with the Ohio Farm Bureau board, I was very impressed with his dedication to the court and his engaging discussion of the role of the court.  Ohio Farm Bureau has endorsed Justice Robert Cupp, and likewise Doody the Goat is pleased to endorse him.  When you vote for the Ohio Supreme Court, think Cupp -- like coffee cup!

For president, Doody the Goat endorses Governor Mitt Romney.  As I consider the last four years, I realize that in 2008 I had a full-time job, I had health insurance, and I was in a much more confident financial position.  When President Obama was elected, he took office with a great deal of goodwill.  It was a fortuitous moment when he could have capitalized on this bipartisan support to aid our economy.  I firmly believe that the emphasis placed on passing Obamacare instead did the country no good.  While the health insurance industry was ripe for thoughtful reform, the result only served to polarize our country.  Likewise, I have been very disappointed with the foreign policy positions of the Obama administration.  I have the pleasure of working with many individuals from different countries, and as I consider their perspectives on the world, I am further dismayed by current American policy.  As a farmer, I have been frustrated by the proposals issued by the Obama administration to increase numerous regulations on agriculture and small business.  An example of this was the misguided youth labor rules that were issued -- which would have effectively made the Harrison Farm student assistant program illegal.  I am very proud of the work I have done with 4-H members & FFA students, thus it was an affront to these efforts that the Obama administration suggested banning such opportunities.  While I commend President Obama for his efforts and his personal achievements, I will be supporting Governor Mitt Romney.  I am impressed by his energy plan -- especially after my opportunity to visit Germany last year and witness their energy struggles.  I like that Governor Romney is a businessman and can offer that perspective as chief executive.  I am optimistic that the experiences of running the Olympics and the state of Massachusetts will serve as good training for the President of the United States.  Thus, I am pleased to encourage my fellow Americans to vote for Governor Romney.

Finally, Doody the Goat is against Proposition 37 in California.  This is a state initiative that would require GMO products to be labelled.  Doody & I support niche markets in agriculture, and thus believe that it is far better for products that are NOT made with GMOs to have the opportunity to label them as such to show their distinctiveness.  This allows farmers and processors to uniquely position their products.  If, however, the converse is true -- where GMO products must be labelled -- this creates a new level of regulation and government oversight.  Having worked with an immense amount of regulation in the meat processing industry, I can affirm that far too often regulations take away the emphasis on a quality product and place the emphasis on paperwork.  Due to a support for farmers to be able to showcase unique products and a belief that increased regulations are disruptive to small farms & local food production, I urge you to oppose Proposition 37.

Most important of all, Doody the Goat encourages you to vote!  We are so blessed to live in this great country where we have the opportunity to choose the direction of our government!  Whether you agree or disagree with Doody & me, please embrace our belief that voting is truly a great thing!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall Update

It does not take a calendar to tell me that autumn has arrived on Harrison Farm, thanks to the current chilly mornings and cool nights.  It was quite brisk out this morning -- despite the sunshine -- as I chased three nefarious escapee goats.  Admittedly, my attire of pajamas, bathrobe, & muck boots were not the warmest or most functional clothes in which to be chasing goats through the bushes around the (currently dry) creek -- but the goatherd must respond to goat escapes immediately!  (And apologies to my neighbor who drove by as I was herding the goats back across the road while making such a glamorous fashion statement!)

My junior farmers Joseph & Eliza have been learning many lessons about goatherding lately, as they are now the proud owners of Jodie the Country Goat and Cute Face.  Joseph & Eliza have been working on my farm to earn their livestock.  Joseph picked out Jodie, and Eliza was determined to have Cute Face.  Joseph used some of the metal that the summer storm took off my barn roof, reconfigured it to create a goat shelter, and then put up fencing for a small pasture.  He is an extremely industrious young man!  Cute Face is a buck and Jodie is a doe, so in about a year their herd should expand.  Until then, Joseph is manfully learning the responsibilities that go with feeding goats, protecting goats, and attempting to corral goats . . . and every few days I respond to assist in goat wrangling when Cute Face finds a new spot to escape from the pen that Joseph built for him.

Last week, Joseph & Eliza got to ride Flirt the Horse for the first time and they were very, very excited!  Flirt struggled with some hoof issues which required regular treatment for much of the summer.  It also took her awhile to bond with me.  It seems as though just in the last few weeks, I have begun to notice a change in her interactions with me -- I have gone from "that person" to "her person".  I have been riding her a little bit around the farm bareback, and finally got to the point where I was comfortable having Joseph & Eliza each take a turn riding her.  It was Eliza's first time on a horse, and she grinned from ear to ear!  I feel very blessed to be able to share my love of farming with these two young people!  They are remarkable individuals, and add so much to my life!  It amazes me that it has only been a few months since they first began to visit the Farm, yet they have mastered so many new skills -- and are now learning to ride a horse!

I will admit that I gave Flirt plenty of time to adapt to me before I began climbing on her to ride.  I begin to think I have found a horse too much like me: she does NOT like change!  Flirt has had quite a bit of change in the last few months.  In December she left a large group of horses to come live with me.  At that point, my two visiting horses TG & Carson were here.  Flirt slowly adapted to living with them, but they soon moved closer to their owners on the west side of town.  After that Flirt lived with Baby V and D Calf for a few months, until they departed to be slaughtered.  Following her cow experience, Flirt moved in with a group of goats -- no wonder my horse is opposed to change!  Yesterday, my new sheep arrived, including a ram that is now living in the same group as Flirt . . . and she is NOT happy!  Flirt spent the first hour chasing him relentlessly, but I am confident she will soon accept his presence and carry on.

The biggest change on the farm this summer, though, has been Grandmother's move to a retirement community.  This was a very big surprise for me (I literally found out when my aunts came to pick up Grandmother), but both Grandmother & I are learning to adapt to a new normal.  Grandmother moved to Sterling House in Urbana at the end of May.  I was travelling for much of June, then July was busy with visits from friends & family to the farm.  Grandmother had a difficult July, as she took a nasty fall that resulted in three separate trips for medical attention.  By August, she began to recover and I began to adjust to living on the farm solo.  Grandmother has recently been appointed as co-chair of the Resident Grievance Committee at Sterling House, and is enjoying wielding her new authority.  She maintains her feisty spirit, even as her memory struggles.  (Case in point, Cousin Eric asked during his visit with her how the food was at Sterling House.  Grandmother smiled sweetly and replied "crappy!")

Two nights ago it was very cold in the old farmhouse, and so I turned on the heat.  It was a liberating moment when I realized I could now leave the door open to the upstairs so my bedroom could have some heat (previously forbidden).  It was always a running joke that thanks to the "no heat upstairs" policy, I would wake up on winter mornings with frost on the INSIDE of my bedroom windows -- true story!  I never look forward to a change in temperatures, but I am optimistic that fall & winter may be easier now that heat is permitted in the farmhouse!  Alas, this probably will not change the inclination of the goats to escape their places of residence on cold mornings, but at least I will be able to return to a warm house after dealing with "livestock at large"!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why Water Quality Is Important To Me

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved water!  I have very happy memories of visiting the beaches of North Carolina with Auntie, of fishing on Lake Erie with our family friends Whitey & Nancy, and of sailing in the waters off the Florida Keys with my father.  Even though I detested Saturday morning swim lessons at the YMCA that kept me away from my beloved cartoons, my mother's insistence that I know how to swim was definitely beneficial.  My favorite waters, though, are the mountain streams that I have visited on trips out West.  I can recall watching my Grandfather bend down and trail his fingers through the cold, clear waters of numerous notable streams, and then lift a handful of water to his lips -- savoring it like the finest nectar.  I have adopted the same habit, and was delighted to be able to take some of girlfriends to visit those places during our trip this past summer: Two Ocean Pass (where Two Ocean Creek divides and eventually reaches both the Atlantic & the Pacific) and Lemhi Pass (where the headwaters of the Missouri River & the Columbia River start).

Places like Two Ocean Pass and Lemhi Pass appear in so many treasured memories for me, but water also has a very practical value in my life.  As a farmer, water is needed in so many ways for my operation.  I rely on our well to furnish the drinking water that the animals need.  We had a major storm at the end of June that knocked out the electric on the farm for a few days.  I was fortunate enough to be loaned a generator, otherwise I could not have run the electric pump that supplies our water.  Without a reliable water source, I could not raise livestock.  Even though I am a livestock farmer, the current drought is also impacting my operation.  Less rain results in a smaller hay crop, which in turn causes hay prices to climb.  Since I purchase the hay that I feed my animals through the winter, my expenses will increase.  In addition, the drought meant that the summer pastures I rely on had less forage for my animals.  Most summers I feed just a little bit of hay to the animals; this year I never stopped feeding hay.

I am not unique to the farm community -- water is a very important factor for all farmers!  Water quality issues are a prime topic of discussion within the farm community.  Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a symposium on livestock issues.  There was a panel discussion on water quality featuring the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Director of the Ohio EPA, and the Director of the Department of Agriculture.  These gentlemen are very knowledgeable on agricultural concerns and understand that for farms to flourish, the environment must be healthy.  Ohio has faced many water quality concerns in my lifetime -- from the difficulties in Lake Erie during my childhood to the current challenges with algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Mary's.

I was delighted to hear all three Directors discuss the importance of perspective and collaboration in solving water quality concerns.  The media and a variety of environmental activists have far too often labelled farmers as prime contributors to the problems.  As a farmer, I am actually rather proud of the response of the farm community to these challenges!  Farmers have voluntarily stepped up to create nutrient management plans to regulate the handling and application of manure.  Opportunities to protect waterways on farms have been embraced as farmers have created buffer strips, monitored the impact of grazing, and tested soil nutrient levels.  Through its policy development process, the Ohio Farm Bureau has encouraged farm families  to become engaged in protecting water quality through such initiatives.  Far too often, however, farms are easy to blame for water quality concerns -- without looking at the impact of all Ohioans.

During the panel discussion at yesterday's symposium, I was amazed to learn from the Director of the Ohio EPA that roughly 8 billion gallons of raw sewage is released by municipalities into the Western Basin of Lake Erie EVERY YEAR!  It can be quite expensive to update treatment facilities and drainage lines, thus municipalities often operate under the idea that it is more cost effective to treat the problem later than to prevent it now.  Along with older drainage lines, heavy rains can contribute to the problem by washing chemicals into sewers from lawns, golf courses, and other treated areas.  Listening to the Directors discuss these concerns, it illustrated that we are all a potential part of water quality problems, but we are all a potential part of the solution as well.

Farmers face many challenges that we cannot control: droughts, floods, animal and plant diseases, market instability.  We keenly understand the need to protect our natural resources, especially our waterways.  I want to be able to have a reliable water source for my animals, so that I can keep farming for the rest of my life.  I want to contribute to protecting our waters, so that I can enjoy a clean water source for my own use.  And I especially want to see all Americans embrace the opportunity to protects our waters, so that I can continue to enjoy their beauty and share my favorite riparian spots with more of my friends!

Monday, July 16, 2012

What a Baby Bird Taught Me About Mentoring

I have been thinking a great deal of late on mentoring.  This has been a prominent discussion item during my time as a member of the board of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.  How can young farmers be aided in their development as farm community leaders?  How can young people be encouraged to consider agriculture as a career?  What can we as farmers do to illustrate that agriculture is fun and engaging?  To me, the most important question addresses how we shape young people into the future men and women who will lead our communities and our nation.  

My perspective on mentorship is probably different than most, since I have had the opportunity to work with a bounty of young people.  I thoroughly enjoyed my years as a teacher, I adored teaching my brothers how to do things on the farm, and the time I spent working with my student assistants has allowed me the privilege of interacting with young farmers as they grow in their abilities.  I have had many FFA students work with me to complete their Supervised Agricultural Experience projects, I have had the pleasure of hosting OSU students for internships, and this summer will bring two different visiting students to stay & work on the farm.  Over the years, these young people have become extended members of my family.  I fondly think of them as my kids -- human variety -- and I love keeping up with their adventures!

This year, I have also been blessed with two new "junior farmers"!  My neighbors who live west of the farm are a wonderful family.  Their two youngest are Joseph and Eliza.  Joseph is a very intelligent & industrious young man of 13, and Eliza is adorable 7 year old with beautiful doe eyes & a gap-toothed grin.  If they see me working in the barn, one or both will often pop over to see if they can help out.  I thoroughly enjoy their company, and have been impressed with how much they have learned over the last few months.  Joseph was an indispensable aide to me while I was in Wyoming, by helping out with the morning chores.  I have been especially pleased to observe the manner in which Joseph will master a skill or learn something new, and then share it with his younger sister.

Last Friday was a busy day for me as I prepared for the weekend.  I had a planned three hour drive to Van Wert that afternoon, in order to attend the annual educational event "Sheep Day" on Saturday.  On Saturday evening, I was excited to attend a wedding in Lancaster, then I had a catering job scheduled for 6:30am on Sunday.  With all these fun items on my agenda, I was mindful of a short time period for preparation on Friday morning.  Joseph & Eliza arrived at 10:00am to help me with some basic tasks on the farm, which I anticipated would allow me time to pack and organize myself.

Shortly after starting the morning chores, my junior farmers came back to the house.  I was in the midst of a telephone call, but could tell from Joseph's serious expression as he stood at the door that he needed me.  After finishing the conversation, I stepped out to meet him . . . and discovered he was holding in his hands a baby bird.  Joseph explained that he had found it on the ground in the box stall.  The barn swallow's nest (that we had first observed just the afternoon before) had fallen to the ground and was in shambles.  This one baby bird lay all alone.  As I looked at the poor little thing with only tiny feathers, I knew the reality that it would probably starve or be eaten by a cat.  I knew it was simply the way of the world.  I also knew I had to focus on the tasks at hand if I was going to be on time to my meeting later that day.  Then I looked at Eliza's big brown eyes -- so worried for the bird, so full of hope that I would know what to do -- and I realized that there would always be another meeting.  There would never be another chance to capitalize on this opportunity to teach two precious young people.

As luck would have it, I had recently come across some information on handling baby birds -- although at the time I had no idea I would need it so soon!  We searched through the recycling for a suitable plastic container, drilled holes in it so we could use baling twine to hang it, and then carried it to the barn.  We placed some hay in the new "nest".  As Eliza held the bird, I explained to her that we would try to put the replacement nest as close to the previous nest as possible.  Even though we could not feed & teach the baby bird ourselves, we could at least try to put in a position where its mama bird could find it.  We discussed that all animals are different, and since this was a wild animal, it was best that we help it stay wild.  Joseph manfully helped prepare the nest for hanging, and then steadied the ladder as I tied it up and placed the bird in it.  Just as we vacated the box stall, a swallow flew through.  Eliza was delighted that this could be mama returning!

I was -- of course! -- late for everything that day, but the baby bird was only the first item that delayed my schedule.  I love being a farmer, and I believe that it is my responsibility to contribute to our farm community by supporting organizations that look after the best interests of farmers . . . and part of that responsibility is going to meetings.  But more important than that is my responsibility to help teach boys and girls who are interested in farming.  While I am proud to raise livestock, I am much more proud to help raise the young men & women who will be the future of our country.  Those of us who farm are so incredibly blessed to be involved in a truly noble endeavor.  We were fortunate enough to have someone teach us how to farm, how to be a contributing citizen, how to be a good human -- and now it is our responsibility and our great opportunity to help those who follow us learn these same things!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Farm Adventures with Emma & Aubry!

The Harrison Farm Blog is now proudly back after a summer break!  There have been many changes -- both joyful and sorrowful -- in that time, and there are numerous new stories to share!  Grandmother has embraced some new changes in her life, I had an amazing experience traveling to Wyoming for 17 days with my girlfriends, and I had the pleasure of attending my first annual summer retreat for the Ohio Farm Bureau board.  It has been a busy and delightful summer thus far!

Most recently, I had the wonderful experience of hosting a student from Brown University for a week.  Emma is a biology major, who plans to continue on to vet school.  In an effort to gain more knowledge about farming and livestock, Emma traveled to Ohio for some on-farm experience.  By the time Emma arrived at Harrison Farm, she had already visited two of my favorite local operations: Pleasantview Farm (an organic dairy near Circleville owned by the awesome Perry Clutts) and Jorgensen Farm (a diverse organic farm and event venue owned by one of my personal heroes Val Jorgensen).  From there, Emma braved the world of the goats and the Goatherd at Harrison Farm!

Emma's arrival managed to coincide with a powerful storm and the return of my student assistant Aubry -- both of which are remarkable forces of nature!  Aubry worked for me for two years while she was in high school, and has worked as-available with her college schedule since then.  She is a beautiful & remarkable young woman, and I am flattered every time someone asks if she is my daughter!  Emma and Aubry got along wonderfully!  This was a good thing considering the conditions they had to survive during their visit . . . trees toppled over from the storm, no electricity (thus no running water or air conditioning), and 100 degree temperatures.  All of this was in addition to the usual craziness of life with the Goatherd!  Fortunately, Emma was absolutely charming: intelligent & kind, with a thoughtful inner beauty!  Midway through Emma's visit, we did regain power.  We were most grateful, however, for the loan of a generator from Blystone Farm -- which had given us just enough power to water the livestock and take showers!

During my week with Emma & Aubry, I was incredibly appreciative of all that my friends did to welcome them and help them to learn!  We had fantastic meetings with Beth Vanderkooi (Director of State Policy for Ohio Farm Bureau), Dr. Leah Dorman of Farm Bureau's Center for Food & Animal Issues, Jody Carney (Organization Director for Delaware, Franklin, Madison, and Union County Farm Bureaus), Janelle Teeters Mead (Deputy Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture), and Angela Ottman of the State Auditor's Office.  These women illuminated Emma & Aubry on their work in agriculture, discussed how it is related to what I do as a livestock farmer, and shared their perspectives on being a professional woman in their field.  For two biology majors, it was a great opportunity to understand the diversity of careers in agriculture -- and I learned a great deal as well!  We also had fun adventures like having dinner with Auntie, meeting the Meat Inspectors at Blystone Farm, riding in the Hilliard Independence Day Parade, working a morning at the slaughterhouse, watching the movie Elf, touring the Animal Diagnostic Lab at the Department of Agriculture, and trying kayaking!

I sincerely hope that Emma & Aubry enjoyed their time at the farm as much as I enjoyed having them!  Despite our "frontier" lifestyle -- thanks to the storm -- it was wonderful to have houseguests!  I felt so blessed to have the house filled with laughter and happiness!  I am constantly amazed by the good people that God puts in my life: my friends & family who welcomed my visitors, my dear Aubry who is the best personal assistant a Goatherd could want, and the lovely Emma who is now a treasured part of our circle!  I truly believe there is an intrinsic noble quality to farming that inspires people, and a beauty to the food it produces -- which in turn serves to bring people together over nourishing meals.  I feel most fortunate to have shared such a special time with these two remarkable young ladies, and am reminded yet again that -- while I may not have biological children of my own -- God has gifted me with wonderful kids . . . human and caprine varieties!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


This is a beautiful morning on the farm, full of sunshine -- much as it was four years ago on 15 May 2008.  It was dark out that morning at 5:15am, but by 6:00am the sun's rays were starting to show on the horizon.  By 8:45am, I was setting up the slaughterhouse for the day, and we opened promptly at 9:00am as we did every morning.  The first customer was a grump, and he complained a great deal about having to wait for his sheep to be processed.  He then proceeded to accuse me of stealing some of his meat.  Under normal circumstances, I probably would have laughed: I am not a fan of mutton and my Somali workers were dedicated goat consumers . . . we had no interest in stealing the meat of a fatty, old cull ewe!  Unfortunately, I reacted poorly that morning, and severely reprimanded the customer for his accusation.  Once I calmed down, I apologized to him.  He could not have known that he chose a very poor day to make such an outlandish insinuation.  That morning I had lost my best friend, my business partner, my mother.

My mother is still so much a part of my life and my heart that it is difficult to believe it has been four years since she passed on.  Four years that seem like decades; four years that passed like a whispered breath.  My memories of my mother are so entangled with my childhood on the farm, and these memories still surround me -- much as the farm does -- like a living testimony to her existence.  I live in the house where she grew up, I ride my horse in the fields where her ponies lived during her youth, and as the days pass by I see her face more and more often in the bathroom mirror that she also used.  Every inch of this farm holds memories of our life: baling hay on hot summer days, working the sheep in the barns, harvesting produce from the garden.

My mother taught me to read, to cook, to sew, but most of my memories revolve around outside activities.  I cannot say at what point I began to recognize that the existence of our family was so enmeshed with our lives as farmers, but even from my youth I had the innate understanding that our farm was virtually a living part of our family.  We were Harrisons; we were farmers.  Many of the hardest lessons I learned from life on the farm were accompanied by adages from my mother.  I recall being thrown by Abraham the Mule when I was nine; he managed to step on my ankle as he ran off.  Through my tears, I protested as my mother led him back to me so I could ride him on the return to the barn.  "If you get thrown, you get back on."  It was a hard lesson that day, but as I matured I grew to understand that it was not simply an instruction for horseback riding.  So many of my mother's sayings that I heard over and over have proven to be such.

My mother was vibrant, she was fiery, she stated her opinion clearly, and was more than a little stubborn.  We could exasperate each other, but we loved each other fiercely.  Undoubtedly, the bond of a mother to her only child is unique.  For us, it was unbreakable despite any tests.  That stubbornness served my mother well when she was diagnosed with cancer.  A routine mammogram revealed a spot, and a further biopsy proved that it was not breast cancer, but rather metastisized melanoma.  Easter 2007 was a difficult holiday as we awaited the results of a full body scan.  The following week, we learned that the melanoma was throughout my mother's system, including a brain tumor.  Despite no symptoms, my mother was given the devastating news that she probably had only six months.  Her response was classic Becky, as she informed the doctor that six months was not even Christmas and so it simply was not enough time.

My mother had always loved being outdoors, and eventually that lifetime spent outside in the sun resulted in this horrific illness.  Those who have lost a loved one to cancer understand the terrible progression of watching someone fight and fail: the overnights at the hospital, the chemo, the blood draws, the prayers, the frustration, the anger, the tubes, the weight loss, the fear.  It is a time of my life that is so burned into my memory.  When I see pictures of myself from that year, it is as though I do not know that girl.  But I can feel the extraordinary fear and exhaustion that haunted her, and I pity her because I know what is yet to come.  In December 2007, the cancer spread to Mother's intestines, but she rallied and survived a risky surgery to remove part of her intestines.  That was the first time I rushed my brother Joshua to the hospital to say goodbye, but it would not be the last.  Before she went into surgery she made it clear that despite the small chance for survival she had no intention of missing Christmas.  And she didn't.

The challenges kept coming though, and my step-father & I were helpless witnesses as the person we loved the most bravely endured this illness.  While I adore pictures of me & my mother taken during the adventures of my childhood, I am convinced that she was never more beautiful than in those last months of her life.  My mother lost her hair and lost an astounding amount of weight.  But as those physical things fell away, it was as though her soul radiated through such temporal barriers.  Her smile and her heart only grew more profoundly and breathtakingly gorgeous.  All she wanted was to spend her last days with her family, on the farm that she loved, in the house she had painstakingly restored.  She wanted to be surrounded by her friends and her books and her dogs.  I am grateful that she had this.

In 2008, May the 15th fell on a Thursday.  My mother died at 5:15am on 5/15.  It does not matter how old you are when it happens, the moment you become an orphan changes you forever.  There will never again be someone to parent you through life's challenges, to protect you from the pains of the world, to stand in your corner whether you are right or wrong with a parent's love.  I called Auntie at 6am, I called the hospice nurse, I called the funeral home, I called my mother's friends.  And then at 9:00am, I opened the slaughterhouse and I worked.  My mother was the toughest human being I ever knew and she was a worker -- I had a legacy to live up to.  On Friday, Joe & I planned the funeral, and on Saturday we endured the calling hours.  I had a migraine, and I wore my favorite black hat that my mother loved.  We buried my mother on a Sunday.  The funeral home had lost power, but the staff had lit hurricane candles throughout the chapel.  I have never seen so many flowers, and I was grateful for the people who overflowed the chapel.  My mother's friends, her fellow teachers, her former students, farmers, local business people, my friends, our customers from the slaughterhouse.  The outpouring of support was sincerely appreciated, and will never be forgotten.

I miss my mother every moment of every day.  I doubt a human ever heals from such a profound experience, and I do not know that I would want to.  My mother was a character, and was one of a kind.  I am eternally grateful that I had her for a parent.  As her illness progressed, my mother lost her ability to speak.  My mother died on a Thursday; the last time she was able to speak was on the previous Monday.  As I did every night, I told her I loved her before I fell asleep on the couch next to her hospital bed.  That night, my mother was able to respond.  Her last words to me were "I love you".  In retrospect -- whatever words she used -- that was all my mother ever said to me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mary Beth, Goat of Destiny

As I write this, I am cooking Oreo the Goat.  Oreo the Goat was the mother of Mary Beth, my bottle baby.  While I was sorry to reach the conclusion that Oreo needed to meet a quick death, it actually ended up being in Mary Beth's best interest that she was already being fed on a bottle.  Mary Beth and her brother Timmy were born on a cold January day.  She was named after my current intern from Ohio State, and almost mirrors her sunny disposition.  Oreo made it clear from the start that she had no problems with her daughter, but there was no way in the world that she would feed her.  In contrast, Oreo allowed Timmy to nurse without problem, but was deadset that Mary Beth would not be allowed the same nutrition.  Thus, I became Mary Beth's surrogate mother . . . and Mary Beth learned to drink her milk from a recycled Yuengling bottle!

If a new mother rejects a baby, I have found that this typically means the goat lacks proper maternal instinct.  In that case, the goat has no place on a working farm.  It will be sold, for the betterment of the rest of the herd and of the human.  Every creature on this farm must contribute.  If an experienced mother, however, rejects a baby, I have found that there is usually a reason why this happens.  God has gifted humans with brains that cause us to analyze our behavior, but animals are blessed with the simplicity of acting with an instinct that involves no need for reason.  Oreo was an older goat, and was thinner than I would have liked.  Her instinct must have told her that she could only raise one baby.  Timmy was the baby she chose, and Mary Beth became my baby.

Mary Beth has become a superstar visitor to local schools.  Her first visit was to a pre-school near Ashville, where she entertained numerous little children . . . who all wanted a turn to pet the baby goat!  This was a quick trip, where she was able to stay outside.  Although Mary Beth was not a fan of riding in the Goatmobile, she gradually adjusted.  Her second event was an educational day at Plain City Elementary sponsored by Madison County Farm Bureau.  To my surprise, the school chose to place a Goatherd and a goat in a classroom!  Mary Beth was quite a professional: she relieved herself outside the school after we arrived, and then calmly followed me right through the front door of the building!  We got our fair share of double-takes as students and teachers observed me taking "my kid" to school!  The picture at the top of this post shows Mary Beth entertaining a classroom of students.  Although I could tell she was tired by the end of the day, I was impressed with the calm manner with which Mary Beth handled a public appearance.  Truly, she was made for the limelight!

Sadly, Oreo began to go downhill quickly when Mary Beth & Timmy were almost 3 months old.  I found her in the barn one day, unable to get up.  The other goats were out grazing, but Mary Beth & Timmy had remained inside with their ill mother.  As I examined Oreo, I realized that at her advanced age this was not an illness she would recover from.  I could treat her -- with an antibiotic and with a de-wormer -- but more than likely, she would still pass.  I decided the most humane thing to do would be to end her suffering and give value to her body.  I moved Mary Beth & Timmy to live in a small pen in the front of the barn with my new calf E. Shackelton and Mop & Fuller the Goats.

Once a friend was able to arrive to help me, we moved Oreo from the barn.  I typically butcher animals by the hydrant so I have plenty of water available.  Oreo's blood pressure was very low, and she passed quickly when I bled her.  I was once told by a vet that there are two things that can kill an animal: the one big hammer or the fourteen little hammers.  Sometimes death is triggered by a major thing, but other times it is a number of small items that combine to cause illness.  In Oreo's case, she was elderly and was dealing with a heavy case of parasites.  This was combined with lungs that were not in the best condition and a swollen gall bladder . . . and these were just the things that a simple goatherd & butcher immediately detected.  While I hated to say goodbye to this longtime member of the herd, it was my responsibility to show her the respect of a quick death.  When humans were given dominion over animals, we were also given the profound responsibility to treat them with love and respect.  This dominion is a great power, and thus requires great responsibility in our human behavior.

Mary Beth & Timmy are adapting to their new location.  When I examined Oreo, I realized that she had stopped producing milk, and therefore Timmy is not struggling due to a quick loss of dairy nutrients . . . he had already been forced to stop drinking much milk.  Mary Beth is quite used to humans, and her relaxed attitude is helping Timmy to adjust to being around me more.  Oreo's meat is going to feed the Pyrenees pups.  She is keeping them strong, and has left a legacy in her daughter -- a goat that is educating many young people on the wonders of farming!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Goatherd at the Statehouse

Some days, Sheba looks at me when I get ready to depart the farm and gives me her "sad puppy eyes".  I know that I will be home soon, but at the same time I always wish I was staying on the farm with her.  I am happiest when I simply have a quiet day to work with my animals.  It seems as though those days are more rare, and more treasured.  I sometimes wonder if I like meetings, since I seem to attend so many.  In truth, I do not -- but I believe so strongly in agriculture that I am more than willing to participate in sessions that better our farm community.  Along the way, I've had some amazing experiences and great adventures.  And I hope that these have made me a more fun dog owner for Sheba . . . even if I have had to be away from the farm!

Yesterday, I had the fantastic opportunity to offer testimony to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Senate Bill 281, which expands Ag-Link.  Ag-Link is a linked deposit program which offers low-interest loans for farmers.  It has been in existence for over 25 years, and has helped more than 40,000 farmers.  I was quite honored when I was asked to represent Ohio Farm Bureau to speak out in support of legislation to expand Ag-Link.  One of the greatest attributes of Ohio Farm Bureau -- in my opinion -- is that it is truly a grassroots organization.  Its policies are directly established by its 60,000 farmer members.  Ohio Farm Bureau members support the Ag-Link program and support its expansion.

When I was first asked to offer testimony on behalf of Ohio Farm Bureau, I will admit I was a bit hesitant due to my lack of experience with the program.  I have not been a participant in Ag-Link.  I have, however, known many farmers who have benefited from it.  I also know firsthand the challenges that young farmers face in starting agricultural endeavors . . . and one of the greatest is having access to enough capital.  My friend Beth, the Policy Princess, offered me great support in learning about the proposed legislation to expand Ag-Link, and I found that I personally supported the ideas.  Senate Bill 281 raises the maximum loan amount from $100,000 to $150,000.  While $100,000 might initially seem like a large amount, when it comes to funding land, equipment, livestock, seed, etc, this dollar figure can be exceeded very quickly.  Raising this amount keeps the program useful for farmers.  Senate Bill 281 also directs the State Treasurer to increase annual funding from $125 million to $165 million.  This increase is a reflection of growth in the state's treasury, and allows for the increase in individual loans without decreasing the number of farmers that can participate.  Finally, updates were made in calculations of the lending rates for farmers that keep the program in line with current financial practices.  It is important to keep such a program fiscally responsible.

As usual, I was running around like crazy to be on time for my testimony.  Plus, I needed to make a special delivery after I finished at the Statehouse.  I actually awoke on time, and managed to do what immediately needed to be done in the barn.  (How do you know you're a farm girl?  You find yourself hustling out to the henhouse to let the chickens out while wearing a bathrobe and muck boots!  Apologies to my neighbors . . .)  The Policy Princess was an excellent guide in preparing me for the day.  I had my notes all ready on the technical aspects of the bill so I could answer difficult questions, and I had studied up on each of the committee members so I could tailor my answers to their interests.  I did acceptably for my first time offering testimony, and I sincerely enjoyed it.  Much to my sadness, not a single question was asked to test my knowledge!  It was, however, a great experience and I was so grateful to have the Policy Princess & my Sister-in-Slaughter Angie both there to support me!

As I departed the Statehouse, I called my friend Chef Seth to let him know I was ready to make my delivery.  What had I taken to the Statehouse with me?  Well, Seth is working on a garden and needed some horse manure.  I agreed to a trade in exchange for his delicious Lamb Bacon recipe.  Thus it was that I had a container full of horse manure in the back of the Goatmobile.  While it might be said that some people bring a load of "crap" when they come to lobby at the Statehouse, I literally did!  And I like to think that my animals would be proud that -- no matter what I may be doing -- my heart is never far from the farm!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Springtime Update with Jodie the Baby Goat

This has been a very blessed spring on the farm!  With winter kidding season now over, we have a final tally of 61 surviving -- and thriving -- baby goats!  Amazing!  They are loving the sunshine and green grass.  The "Kid Creepers" have returned in full force . . . these are the drivers who inevitably stop to watch my kids playing in our yard, which completely aggravates the Pyrenees Pups!  Mary Beth, my intern from OSU, has been a huge help with kidding this year.  She even has a baby goat named after her!  That is Mary Beth the bottle baby and star of elementary school visits, and inevitably there are funny moments when I tell Mary Beth to go feed Mary Beth!

The grass has turned lush and green early this year, thanks to a short winter.  That helps to save expenses on hay, which is very good.  Unfortunately, this has also meant that ticks were out early.  Thanks to Frontline, the Pyrenees are managing tick season fairly well.  I am looking forward to completing numerous projects on the farm this spring & summer, and am especially looking forward to my student assistant Aubry returning to work with me this summer.  It is incredibly rewarding to work with young people as they gain hands-on skills in agriculture!

The last baby born this year is the adorable little girl that I am holding in the above picture.  Her name is Jodie (after one of my dearest friends) and she is full of adventure!  Although Jodie the Goat is younger than all the other kids, she manages to keep up with them during playtime.  I am optimistic that Jodie will grow up healthy & strong and be a good addition to the herd.  In the meantime, the does that did not have babies in the winter are now living with the young buck, Draco Dynamite.  Here's hoping Draco has much success as a father!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cousin Johnny's Royal Wedding

This has been a busy spring on the farm with lots of new additions: goats, chicks, sheep.  Besides all these wonderful animals, we have had the pleasure of our "human family" expanding as well!  Cousin Johnny was married this past week to the very lovely Sara!  It was a delightful, intimate celebration that was very much a reflection of their personalities and their love for each other.  John wore full Scottish dress, with the traditional MacDhai family kilt.  I borrowed a Royal Stuart tartan that had been made in the 1950s in Edinburgh.  It is a blessing to see my cousin so happily married to a charming young lady!  John and Sara became friends while studying in Europe, and returned there to spend their honeymoon.

The Grandmother was in her realm with lots of attention during the wedding celebration!  She created an impressive wedding gift: a handwritten cookbook.  Grandmother wrote out many of her favorite recipes, and also included recipes from other family members.  Along with these items, she added family history about different cooks from the Harrisons and the Rostorfers.  It was a thoughtful gift, and one she will soon get to duplicate: Cousin Jim is engaged to be married next April!  What a blessing to see our family grow!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why I LOVE My Catering Job!

Sometimes, I just get overwhelmed by the generosity of people around me! This was definitely one of those mornings! After several crazy busy days of wonderfulness, I finally had a relaxing morning to sleep in. I had warned the goats last night that they should eat plenty of hay, as they would not be seeing me very early this morning (and, as usual, they completely ignored me!) Thus, my lazy morning started with coffee, play time with my pups, and then an email check. Imagine my delight to find the following article on the website of Two Caterers!

I have had the pleasure of working for Two Caterers since September 2010. I never imagined myself catering -- much like I never imagined myself as a butcher -- but I absolutely adore it! The people with whom I work are amazing, and the food is unbelievable! It is a pleasure to serve a product of which you truly believe in the quality. I started out as a server with Two Caterers, then began bartending, and now work as an Event Supervisor. This company is a good fit for me, because it shares my values: stewardship of the environment, connecting people with food, and supporting local businesses. It has been an exciting evolution for me to raise food, market meats, and now be involved in serving high quality meals. Two Caterers is an awesome company and I am very proud to be one of their employees!

Picture Caption: The photo above is of me with Angela Petro, prepping salads for the Girasole Dinner at Jorgensen Farm. Two Caterers is the caterer of choice for events at Jorgensen Farm, which is owned by my friend (and heroine) Val Jorgensen. Jorgensen Farm raises organic herbs, honey, and lamb. In addition, the restored barn serves as an event space. The Girasole Dinner is an annual event that celebrates sunflowers in late summer. I had the pleasure of assisting with the 2011 event, and working with the amazing Angela -- who owns Two Caterers.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Friend Who Wore Purple

Life goes fast. It is so important to remember that, and to rejoice in every day. Life should be lived to the fullest, friends should be treasured, and every day should be celebrated. Good people help to make our journey through life all the better.

This picture was taken at the Field to Table Dinner at Franklin Park Conservatory last September. 2011 was the third year for this event that celebrates agriculture in our community. Franklin County Farm Bureau serves as a sponsor for the dinner, and I had the pleasure of attending the event with several of my fellow board members from the county. The gardens were beautiful, the food was delicious, and the company was wonderful as we dined under the stars! In particular, I remember the moment this photo was taken. On the right is Angie, my "sister-in-slaughter". In the middle is our friend Jeff. Jeff was his usual convivial and fun-loving self that night! Jeff & Angie both happened to be wearing purple, and as we proceeded to the dinner tables after cocktail hour, he cavalierly offered his arm to Angie so they could walk to dinner together in all their purple glory! Our group was seated next to several executives from Battelle that evening, and I recall fondly what a great adventure we had! This night has been at the forefront of my mind for the past ten days, since my friend Jeff passed on. It was such a happy, lighthearted evening of celebration -- and I was blessed to share it with people I care so much about.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff during the time we served together on the Franklin County Farm Bureau board. He was a hard worker, with firm opinions, but ready to learn new things. Jeff was dedicated to assisting young people through his efforts to promote the county fair and the state fair. He was ever-present during 4-H events at our county fair, helping his own children and others. Jeff was full of life, with a hearty laugh. He was the senior member of our young farmer group, and always added to our discussions. I had a great deal of respect for the fact that you always knew where you stood with Jeff, and especially that -- even when he disagreed with me on a principle or questioned a decision I made as county president -- he could state his opinion clearly without ever compromising our friendship. Jeff's greatest achievement is his family: he has three amazing children. They are intelligent and hard-working like their father, and are a true credit to him.

Jeff's family indicated that he did not care for flowers at funerals. They asked that donations be made to the Franklin County Farm Bureau on his behalf. That board recently met, and is discussing ways to honor Jeff. At the last board meeting that Jeff attended, his final action as a board member was to move to make a donation of $1000 to help build a tilapia pond at an orphanage in Kenya that Franklin County Farm Bureau has supported over the years. It is the hope of the board members to have a plaque placed at this pond, naming it in honor of Jeff. In addition, the board members are considering ways to honor Jeff at the county fair. I hope this will include bidding on the market animals of his children during the livestock auction. And bidding. And bidding.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Of late, I have been thinking a great deal on bad relationships. What would you do if you were in a bad relationship? What would you do if that person belittled you day after day, mocking things that are important to you? What would you do if that person threatened to evict you, but also threatened to ruin the business you had built if you did leave your home? What if that person hid your medication from you? What if you caught them kicking your sleeping dog, or if they made numerous threats to shoot your dogs? What if they picked up the other line while you were on the telephone and yelled at you, while you were in the midst of a conversation? What if they took neighbors into your bedroom -- without your permission -- to join them in mocking how you lived? And what if this person was your grandmother?

I have considered whether to post anything on my Grandmother's continuing decline. I do not wish to hurt her or members of my family in any way. Everything I write, however, is truth -- and this blog is about the realities of my life as a farmer. One of the most difficult aspects of that life is managing my relationship with my grandmother, who is the legal owner of the house where I reside and the land where I farm. Caring for Grandmother does become increasingly difficult, and I know it impacts me. I do not find anything shameful about the mental changes that my grandmother is experiencing; we all experience mental & physical challenges. This is a part of being human.

During my childhood, my grandmother did a great deal to provide care for me. As a child, I spent the days with my grandparents while my mother taught school. I could usually be found tagging along after my grandfather in the barn. If my grandfather was working in the fields, Grandmother would sometimes pack a picnic lunch and we would meet him for a lunch break. In the summers, I would help Grandmother plant her vegetable garden. Grandmother was always a very skilled homemaker: she would can items from her garden, she was an amazing cook, and she was a skilled seamstress. She worked very hard to raise her children and assist her husband with his family's farm. My happiest memories of my grandparents are from our trips together. The picture above was taken circa 1981 on a hike in Wyoming.

I want to keep these happy impressions of my grandmother from my youth. I recognize that mental decline has dramatically altered the personality of Grandmother. One can observe that Grandmother knows on a certain level that her mind -- as well as her body -- no longer functions as she wishes. This has to be scary. We all must grapple with the knowledge that life is a terminal condition, however, this sense must be even more amplified as one ages. I endeavor to remind myself of these things, and show patience. It is a struggle, though, when Grandmother's frustration manifests itself with anger directed toward the individual she sees the most: me. It is a struggle to remind myself not to engage when she yells at me with painful, angry words.

I recognize that what I experience is no different than the stress that other caregivers feel. Angry outbursts, obsession with the past, disregard for personal privacy . . . these are merely manifestations of age-related changes to Grandmother's mind. I also know that the mischaracterizations and confabulated stories that Grandmother tells are not due to malice, but to changes in her brain that she cannot control. While it can be difficult to be an on-site caregiver, I do believe that my presence allows Grandmother to stay in the home that she loves. I am the member of my family who can most easily fulfill that role, and I want to do what I can to assist my family despite any difficulties.

Please do not take this post as a request for sympathy. I have made all the decisions that took me to this point and I own that responsibility. If anything I am asking for patience with me and consideration with Grandmother. Please recognize that things she says are often not completely factual, that she doesn't mean to get confused or repeat things, and that her memory is progressively failing. Please do not hold this against her, as she cannot help the physical & mental changes that are transpiring. And please have patience with me. I recognize the mounting frustrations and insecurities that are piling up on my psyche. I realize that the stress I carry impacts my attitude, and I sincerely apologize if I ever seem short without meaning to be.

I feel extraordinarily blessed that I have such a wonderful group of friends that support me through life's difficulties. Often, I am amazed by how small gestures can mean so much when a person is struggling. Receiving an upbeat text from a friend, feeling welcomed when I arrive at work, being appreciated for my participation in a meeting -- all these things keep me going when I am at a low point and I am most grateful for them! I sincerely appreciate the support that I receive from those around me!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cat Tales

Last night, for the first time in 25 years, I did not have a cat to curl up with me when I went to bed. I have always been a cat person. Despite my affection for the dogs I have owned, I am much more drawn to cats. Since I was ten years old, when I begged and begged my mother for a cat, I have always had at least one "inside cat". Yesterday, I had to make the decision that it was time to put down my dear Ernesto, due to profound illness. While I had known this time was coming for several weeks, it was still a sad choice. And it made me reflect on the five cats that were my companions over a quarter century.

Louie was a tiny yellow kitten when my mother finally agreed that I could have a cat. He rapidly grew from a little ball of fluff to an imposing 20(!) pound beast! Louie never found a morsel of food he did not enjoy, and his idea of exercise was walking to the food bowl. Unfortunately, for an inside cat in the 1980s, Frontline was not yet an option. Every summer, fleas would plague Louie. After one season of battling them as best we could (combing, shampoos, etc), my mother decreed that Louie was receiving a new hairstyle . . . and out came the clippers! I think my mother got a secret joy out of what became Louie's annual spring shearing -- and quite honestly, the fat cat seemed to like the removal of his winter coat! Over the years, this endeavor began to show Mum's creativity: Louie kept a handsome lion's mane, had little fur booties over his feet, and maintained a sleek tail with a tuft on the end. For the fat cat, it was pure bliss that he no longer had to waste energy grooming himself in the summer!

The calm demeanor that Louie always exhibited -- even in the face of clippers -- did not prepare me whatsoever for the cat that became his partner-in-crime: Laura. I found a little, sick kitten in the barn, when Louie was about two years old. She was pure black, and her tiny eyes were infected. My mother's patience was undoubtedly tested, but she hauled her daughter and this kitten to the vet for care. I became a cat-nurse, adding drops to the kitten's eyes. With proper nutrition, Laura began to flourish, and one of her eyes healed. The other eye, however, remained matted and nasty . . . until the day I found something lying on the kitchen floor, and realized Laura's eye had fallen out! Even with one eye, Laura was a terror! She could jump anywhere and get into anything. She particularly enjoyed terrorizing our annual Christmas trees. Her energy was twice that of a normal cat -- and far beyond Louie's! Louie, Laura, and I were companions all through my school years.

While I was in college, Laura began to age markedly. She passed away in her sleep at the age of about ten. Louie continued to chug along. After university, I accepted a position at the State of Ohio's Federal Office in Washington. My apartment search yielded one in Silver Spring, Maryland, that accepted cats. I decreed that Louie would join me, and he made the journey to my new home. Louie appeared to enjoy the vantage point of our 4th floor apartment, and spent a great deal of time observing the world. After a few months in Washington, Louie became ill. I spent more than I should have on vet treatments (lesson learned), and still lost Louie within a few days of illness. He was old, he was fat, he hated exercise. But he was still my beloved cat, and I wanted him buried on the farm. Unfortunately, I was not planning a return to Ohio for several weeks. When I called my mother to tell her of Louie's passing, she asked what I had done with him. I don't think she expected to hear, "Oh, he's in the freezer!" And a few weeks later he went in a cooler, and we undertook his funeral procession back to the farm!

By the time I buried Louie, I knew I wanted another cat. And actually, I wanted CATS. Louie and Laura had been playmates. With my "real job" that took me away from the apartment all day, I thought it best that a cat would have a companion. Thus, I made a visit to the local animal shelter in Silver Spring. I told the volunteer that I was looking for two cats, and preferably adult animals. I did not need a cute kitten; I could provide a home to an older animal that needed one. It turned out that two brothers had been dropped off at the shelter the previous day. They were seven years old, and black as coal. This is how Robey & BoBo came into my life. Jean Phillipe Robilliard carried on Louie's fat-cat tradition, while Behemoth Azazello Koroviev was just as hyper as Laura had been. When I moved back to the farm, Robey & BoBo came with me.

In 2001, my mother found a sick kitten in her barn. Being a complete sucker for needy kittens, I agreed to take it in. Thus, Ernest Austen McMurty came to join me, Robey, and BoBo. Ernesto was the most beautiful cat I ever owned. He had white fur with gray tips and eyes as blue as Bill Haley (I have never known a person with bluer eyes than my father!) Ernesto was a sweetheart. For several years, we were a happy feline clan. As the years passed, all the boys matured. In May 2010, Robey passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 17. I found him laying in a sunbeam. Last summer, I observed behavior in Behemoth that made me speculate he had suffered a stroke. He hung on steadily for several weeks, and then went downhill over a three day period in August.

At first, Ernesto flourished as an "only cat". He seemed to revel in the attention I gave him. After my return from Germany, I observed that he had lost weight. Despite adjusting his diet, Ernesto continued to fail. He was quite low over the holidays, bounced back a bit in January, but then began to decline rapidly. My amateur diagnosis was an internal cancer, possibly intestinal. I told myself I would provide him reasonable care for as long as I could. On Friday night, I was up with him four times during the night: he could not keep food down, nor control his bodily functions. I knew it was time, but it was still hard to look at those beautiful blue eyes and realize our time together was ending. I had Ernesto put down on Saturday afternoon. I brought him home, and as soon as the ground thaws, he will join his feline brothers buried under the shade tree.

After so many years, it is odd to open my door and not have a cat greet me. I continue to anticipate the leap of a cat onto my bed to curl up next to me. Times change, however, and there are enough barn cats at Harrison Farm to satisfy my need for affection. The barn cats have my respect for their work as hunters, ridding our barn of vermin. I will not replace Ernesto with another house cat, but I will always treasure my memories of the cat companions who have been in my life!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Visits to The Ohio State University

One of the things I enjoy the most is talking to people about farming. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the farm community and I love sharing stories about my adventures as a farmer. From time to time, I am invited to guest lecture at The Ohio State University, and I always look forward to these opportunities. I truly enjoyed the years that I spent teaching high school, and these lectures allow me to revisit memories of educating young people. Within the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit two of my favorite classes at OSU: Animal Science 597 and Animal Science 600. The students were great in both classes, and were kind enough to laugh at all of my terrible goat jokes!

On January 24th, I visited 597 with Dr. Hill and Dr. Moeller. This class focuses on human and animal interactions. I was most honored when Dr. Hill was teaching it a couple years ago and I was invited to lecture to the students on a farmer's perspective of human usage of animals. I always look forward to the dynamics of this class. Typically, about half the students are from the school of agriculture and half are from the general student population. This makes for varied approaches to animal care and diverse experiences with animals! During the quarter, students also hear from commodity organizations, animal "rights" groups, representatives from hunting and natural resources, etc. I approach this as an opportunity to simply share stories about my experiences as a farmer. While other lecturers may come in armed with facts and figures, I want to convey an understanding about my life with animals (and why I cannot imagine a life without them).

The 597 students usually hear stories ranging from caring for goats to working with the ethnic community. I address my understanding of the regard for animals by the world's religions (my religion degree finally pays off!) and the manner in which I approach the term "rights" (exactly what I taught my students in high school government class). This time in class, I also read the story of The Captain from my blog. That was a difficult decision. I had never read that piece aloud. As much as I cried while writing it, I was very unsure if I could make it through reading it to 100 students. I did make it through, although my voice nearly broke several times. I had to stop looking at the students, and just focus on the words: some of the ladies had tears in their eyes and I knew if I looked directly at them, I would never be able to finish reading it. As hard as it was to do so, I wanted the students to understand why I farm, and why I hold my beliefs. In her short, beautiful life and painful, tragic death, The Captain encapsulated everything about my life as a farmer. I suspect that she made a much more lasting impression on each of the students than I ever could have with statistics on food production or the science behind animal management.

On February 8th, I was back at OSU to lecture in the animal science capstone course, 600. Being with this group of students always makes me excited for the future of agriculture! These young people are preparing for careers working with animals, and I adore seeing their vibrancy and youthful enthusiasm! Also, I have the opportunity to "preach to the choir" . . . young people who understand animals and enjoy (or pretend to enjoy!) all my random goat facts! A good third of the students in 600 this quarter had listened to me lecture in a previous class -- that really forces me to try to remember what stories I have bored them with before! This was a very fun group that asked some excellent questions, and I enjoyed speaking with several students after class. I try to leave this class with two thoughts: pursue your passion and embrace education. When I was their age, I never could have imagined that a religion degree, graduate work in economics, and a love of farming would lead to the opportunity to run a business selling sheep & goats to a diverse religious community! A huge thanks to Dr. Boyles and Dr. Ottubre for welcoming me back to this course!

As fun as it is to stand in front of a group and tell goat stories, the best part is meeting the students. I love engaging in dialogue with them in class and hearing from some of them later. I always encourage the students to write down my email address . . . for those burning goat questions in the future! I had the pleasure of welcoming one of the students from 597 to visit my farm on February 10th -- she wanted to learn more about goats & I was delighted to have assistance with tagging babies and trimming their mama's hooves! Mary Beth can now assert the truth behind my ridiculous stories: she has met Red the Chicken (who really is 8 years old with a clipped beak!) and she has seen the spot near the water hydrant that offered such a clear view for the little elementary kids on the schoolbus to see me waving a knife and a goat leg! After Mary Beth heard the sad story of The Captain, I was glad she was able to meet the new puppy Sheba. It is always wonderful to have visitors to the farm!

Friday, February 3, 2012

I Want To Be A Farmer . . .

I want to be a farmer for the rest of my life. I want to start my mornings in the barn. I want be greeted by wet, new babies searching for the comfort of milk as their mothers gently lick them. I want to gather eggs from my hens and cook them for my breakfast. I want to feel the warmth of the sun and the crispness of the breeze on my face. I want to clean stalls and lift hay bales and move livestock -- and never have to go to the gym. I want to complain about the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter . . . happily knowing it means that I work outside. And not in a cubicle. And not for anyone else. I want to drive a vehicle that is always a mess, because it can haul feed and hay and goats and dogs and even a cow. I want to dress up and go to cocktail parties and answer the question of "What do you do?" by telling people I am a goatherd & a butcher. And then I want to laugh when they slowly realize that I am absolutely telling the truth. I want to cheer for 4-H kids at the county fair, because others once cheered for me. I want to laugh about the ruts in my yard from my friends' trucks and the goat skulls that my dogs leave lying on the driveway -- because it's a farm, not a country club. I want to get together with my farmer friends and complain about the weather & the government & non-farmers . . . beacuse as much as we might bemoan these things with each other, there is no other job we would rather do. I want to have working dogs that protect my livestock and cats that guard my barn from vermin; I can only respect animals that work just as I do. I want to volunteer to speak to college classes -- not because there is any financial benefit for me -- but because I love to share with young people why farming is so beautiful, and so painful, and so glorious. And if I do a good job, and they understand agriculture, eventually there will be a profound benefit to me. I want to cry over every loss, and rejoice over each success on the farm. I want to worry about the weather, and the planting, and the harvest, because this means that I get to live my life in the outdoors. I want my best friends to be farmers too, because they understand my world without explanation. I want to work and live in a community where even though there are other farmers that confound me, these same people would support my rights as a farmer no matter what. I want to cry everytime I watch the movie Babe, because the farmer is exactly like my grandfather. I want to sing country songs as I work in the barn, knowing my dogs will never tell what a bad singer I am. I want to serve meals to my guests that include meat from animals I raised, butchered, processed, and cooked. I want to endure the mud, and the droughts, and the ice storms, because they toughen me. I want to take naps on bales of hay in the mow on lazy summer days. I want to breathe in the aroma of saddle leather, after a good ride on a horse, when I put my tack away. I want to get excited about my bountiful garden -- because it is fertilized by my own livestock. I want to watch a sunset on a spring night, as baby goats play in the sinking rays of light. I want to spend the rest of my days on this land that my mother, and my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather did. As my grandfather always said, "I want to be carried out of here horizontal." I want to work this land long past the age of retirement for an office job. I want to wear out my body from the physical labor it takes to care for the earth and God's creatures. I want to know there is no pursuit more ancient or more noble than the one I have chosen. I want to be a farmer for the rest of my life.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Aloha and Maholo

Do you ever play that game where you try to figure out your friends' favorite characters from TV shows and movies? Who was your favorite Muppet? (Definitely Animal!) How about favorite Winnie the Pooh character? (Tigger, for sure!) When it came to Sesame Street, I was a dedicated fan of Mr. Snuffaluffagous as a child. This character resembled a friendly woolly mammoth. He had a steady smile, was both innocent & wise, and just looked like he would be fun to hug. Plus, even though Big Bird was his best friend, Mr. Snuffaluffagous had an independent streak.

Sesame Street dominated our household television when I was five (it's good to be an only child!). I can still sing many of the songs I learned on the show! And I clearly recall when Big Bird realized Mr. Snuffaluffagous was missing . . . I breathlessly followed along as Big Bird unearthed the clues Mr. Snuffaluffagous left behind. Finally, it was discovered that he had gone to Hawaii! The entire Sesame Street crew went with Big Bird to find their friend -- and engage in educational activities for their young viewers. Mr. Snuffaluffagous was -- of course -- found by his friends, and Hawaiian culture was presented to the watching children.

When Big Bird decided to follow Mr. Snuffaluffagous to Hawaii, I wanted to go as well. I can remember running and asking my mother if we could go to Hawaii to help find Mr. Snuffaluffagous. She readily agreed and went on with her day, expecting her five year old daughter would soon forget about that request . . . but I never did. It evolved into a running joke between us. Anytime I wanted to tease her, I would remind her that she had PROMISED to take me to Hawaii! As I became an adult, we talked about when we might take our trip, fully intending for it to be a fun mother-daughter jaunt. Humans make plans, and God laughs. He had a much better paradise in store for my mother, but Hawaii never lost its appeal to me as a place I wanted to see.

While not superstitious, I do believe in signs. In my childhood, my mother saved up Bicentennial Quarters for me. Those were the quarters from 1976 (the year of my birth) that had the special image of the Revolutionary drummer on the reverse of the picture of General George Washington. In my early years, they were fairly common. Of late, they are rarely seen. On the night before the election was to be held for Farm Bureau State Trustee from our district, I asked a friend of mine to run an errand to the store on my behalf. When he returned with my change, it included a Bicentennial Quarter. Seeing that quarter reminded me of my mum, which in turn helped to calm my nerves. I carried it in my pocket on the morning of the election . . . and it was still in my pocket later that day when I learned I would be representing Ohio Farm Bureau on a trip to the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting -- in HAWAII!

I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to this island paradise during a beautiful week on Waikiki Beach in January, which was a lovely break from wintertime in Ohio! The travel was long (3 flights there, with many unhappy infants & toddlers!), but it was well worth it. The weather was sunny and in the low 80s during my stay: perfect for visiting the beach! I had an amazing experience attending the convention! I met so many people, got to know my fellow state trustees better, and learned a LOT about policy making on the federal level for Farm Bureau. A highlight was the keynote address from humorist Dave Barry . . . one of my mother's personal favorites! I can remember her laughing uproariously when reading his books and then passing them on to me with high recommendations. I truly enjoyed his presentation; he has a gift for humor that is relevant without being offensive.

One of the best parts of the trip was that I got to see one of my dearest friends, Tonja. When we formed our Farm Bureau advisory council, Tonja was one of the original "Irish Pirates". We had fantastic adventures together before her work transferred her out of state. Tonja was my companion when the Pirates went to New Orleans for the American Farm Bureau convention in 2008, so I was delighted that she was able to coordinate some vacation time in Hawaii to coincide with the event this year. It was such a blessing to be able to celebrate this opportunity to represent Farm Bureau and fulfill a lifelong travel dream with one of my best girlfriends!

On a morning that I did not have any convention responsibilities, Tonja & I visited Pearl Harbor. For a history buff, this was a fantastic experience. Being there at 7am on a January morning had to be much like it was on 7 December 1941 prior to the Japanese planes hitting at 7:48am. We toured the museums, watched the National Park Service video, and took a boat out to the Arizona Memorial. As an American, it is hard to put into words the profound feelings in one's heart at seeing the USS Arizona. The sacrifice of the military members at Pearl Harbor that day directly inspired the victories achieved by America during World War II. Without those achievements, we would not enjoy the freedoms we do today in our country.

There was a Pearl Harbor survivor at the park that day, autographing copies of his memoir about the war. I was delighted to meet this gentleman and be able to personally express my gratitude! I am sincerely looking forward to reading his book. I should also mention that this gentleman had perfected the art of flirtation in his many years: in the short time we talked, he twice complimented my looks and didn't hesitate to throw his arm around me when we had our picture taken! I was grateful to have the opportunity to meet this gentleman, and I will always remember him!

The return trip from Hawaii was a bit tiring. I had breakfast on a patio over-looking the beach with my pirate sister, then headed to the airport. I left Honolulu at 2:20pm local time, flew to Los Angeles, took the red-eye to Cleveland, then transferred to Columbus . . . arriving at 9:30am the "next" day! I anticipated heading straight to bed after doing the chores, as I was working a catering job at Dr. Gee's Residence that evening. Alas, the goats decided I was needed in the barn: my two does that had been very pregnant for a couple weeks both decided to kid. Elizabeth of Hungary is fantastic: by the time I found her twins, they were standing and nursing. Angela Merkel the Goat proved to be incompetent: two of her triplets died & the third is now living in my kitchen. After working in the barn, I changed my clothes and went straight to work. While supervising the party at Dr. Gee's, a snowstorm started. At midnight, as I was driving home from the catering kitchen on very dangerous roads, it sank in just how tired I was! It was hard to believe I had started "that" day in Hawaii!

Before leaving the catering shop that night, I realized that I needed some fuel before the drive home. I stopped at the closest gas station and looked through my wallet to see how much cash was left from Hawaii. I don't normally carry coins, but I had received some in change from purchases in Honolulu. As I poured the change into my hand, there was a Bicentennial Quarter that had travelled with me all the way from Hawaii! I kept it as a wonderful reminder of Hawaii, of my adventures, of Mr. Snuffaluffagous, and of my most remarkable mother!