Sunday, May 29, 2016

Happy Memorial Day from Harrison Farm!

Memorial Day is a just time to honor those brave souls who gave their lives that our way of life might continue.  For each generation of Americans, we must re-define and refine what our way of life means.  My perception of the dream that is America will always be influenced by history.  But history -- for me -- is a collection of stories.  Especially those stories of my youth, shared to me by my grandparents.  As a child listening to my grandfather, it was easy for me to envision him as a child listening to his own grandfather.  And that grandfather did not seem so very distant from me, when I was told of his youthful walk at age twelve to the Ohio Statehouse to pay his respect to the assassinated President Lincoln.  As a child listening to my grandmother, I could imagine her as a child playing with her favorite cousin Ray, just as I played with my beloved cousin Jim.  Thus, I could easily sympathize with her lifelong sorrow that her cousin survived the landing on D-Day, only to give his life at the Battle of the Bulge.  History is a collection of stories, and these stories are much closer to us than we often realize.

I am constantly amazed by the caliber of the friends in my life.  Part of the human experience is self-doubt, which can lead to great melancholy.  Even on my most melancholy days, though, I cannot fail to acknowledge the vast riches I posses in my friends.  I am blessed that many of the people whom I admire most in this world are the individuals who are my friends.  I have likewise been truly fortunate that God has sent such amazing young people to me to work as my student assistants and my interns.  When I meet these young people for an interview, I share with them the mission of our farm to connect people with animals and with farming.  I tell them that I love celebrations, and animals, and teaching.  We discuss their dreams & goals, and how this farm can serve to enrich their life.  Somehow, in all those discussions, the young people with whom I have worked have ended up becoming many of my closest friends.  They are truly my farm family.

The young ladies, with whom I have the pleasure of working this summer, are a dynamic, intelligent, and beautiful group.  While I have the lofty goal of providing internships to help make their lives better, the reality is that they have enriched my life immensely.  I am constantly inspired by their honesty, their desire to learn, and their willingness to share their experiences with me.  I do not worry about the future of the world or our country when I am in the company of such resourceful, amazing young women!  

As part of our summer internship program, we have instituted Friday Fun Day.  Our first Friday Fun Day coincided perfectly with Memorial Day weekend.  We attended the wreath-laying ceremony at the Statehouse in honor of Memorial Day, and got to hear presentations by a truly inspiring woman who lost her husband in Afghanistan, as well as a speech by Lt. Governor Mary Taylor (one of my favorite women in politics).  Afterwards we walked through the Statehouse and I shared with them why it is one of my very favorite places: the paintings, the history, the architectural beauty.  Holly Golighty had Tiffany's, and I have the Statehouse.  We did a pop-in at the office of State Senator Kevin Bacon, and his aide kindly allowed my interns to see his office.  We even took advantage of a fortuitously placed podium to recognize Intern Marissa's two months of work at Harrison Farm, and her promotion to Senior Intern.  After a respite at Starbuck's and a stroll along the riverfront, our group had a remarkable private tour of the Ohio Supreme Court.  We all learned a significant amount about the building, and had a marvelous experience there!

I love teaching because it provides the opportunity to share so many wonderful things about life.  I hope that this experience was an opportunity for my interns to understand why patriotism is vastly important to my life, why I believe in our democratic republic, and how immediate history & politics can be in each of our lives if we embrace them.  In discussion after our adventures, it was clear that the tour of the Supreme Court was a huge hit, and that my random stories about history & politics were appreciated.  That being said, everyone's favorite moment was a brief & beautiful one that we witnessed by chance.  In my eternal quest for shade, we had grouped under a tree at the side of the Statehouse as our vantage point to watch the wreath-laying ceremony.  A grandfather & his grandson stood in front of us, each holding the American flag.  We were also standing behind two members of the Air Force who were helping to coordinate the plane that flew overhead after the wreath-laying.  One of my interns snapped this picture of the young boy talking intently to the patient gentleman representing the Air Force.  I know a couple of my interns had tears in their eyes watching this gentleman give a patch from his uniform as a memento to the boy.  

We live in an amazing country.  It is our duty to share our love of it with those who come after us, so they grow to appreciate the beauty of the dream that is America.  It is likewise our sacred duty to live our lives in a way that honors those who showed the greatest devotion to this dream by giving their own life.  My grandfather was touched by his grandfather's deep respect for the assassinated president who held the Union together.  I grew up knowing keenly what it meant for my grandmother to experience the loss of her beloved cousin in World War II.  I hope my interns will never forget the quiet moment they saw of a member of our military demonstrating dignity and love of country to a child.  May God bless you this Memorial Day, and may God bless our great country.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Double Tough

On my best day, I will never be even half the woman my mother was on her worst day.  This time of year always causes me to be reflective on her life and her loss.  My mother passed onward May 15th --  thus every year I experience her absence on the holiday of Mother's Day, followed just a few days later by the anniversary of her death.  Such a loss never gets easier, however, the passage of time does allow us more perspective.  I am profoundly grateful to have had a smart, strong, funny, talented woman for my parent.

My mother soloed a plane on her 16th birthday, and had her pilot's license before her driver's license.  She could drive a truck, a motor home, a motorcycle, a tractor, and a skid steer.  She baked beautiful wedding cakes -- and only did so as gifts for the people she loved.  She learned to make baskets and to throw pots.  She sewed and crocheted and embroidered.  Her pies and breads were legendary.  She could butcher a goat, deliver a lamb, and repair a haybine.  Babies loved her -- of all species.  She could quiet any fussy human baby and heal any struggling orphan lamb.  She could run a bandsaw and a meat grinder.  She had a beautiful smile, a wicked sense of humor, and the ability to make a sailor blush with her predilection for colorful cursing.

She was a tough parent to have when I was a child.  My mother expected me to be independent and resourceful; she required me to have integrity and endurance.  When I signed up for a 4-H project, I was required to finish it.  When a horse bucked me off, I had to get back on.  Birthday presents & Christmas presents were not to be enjoyed until notes of thanks were written to the giver.  My mother believed that challenges made a person stronger, and children only learned through responsibility.  She never helped with homework; it was my responsibility to succeed or fail based on my own resources.  But she arranged her own schedule day after day to make sure I could take advantage of any opportunity I had in life.  She expected a lot of me, but she was always in my corner.

My relationship with my mother suffered during my teenage years.  She was struggling greatly with life, and had to face those challenges.  This was very hard for me as a young woman grappling to find my own place in the world.  I learned many powerful lessons, however, from my observations of what my mother experienced.  Do not be afraid to fail, but always learn from your mistakes.  If you hurt someone, make it right.  Never give up that things can get better.  Never stop believing in the healing power of love.  Surround yourself with good friends who will support you & love you -- and let them be your role models as you master the journey that is life.

I was very fortunate that as an adult my mother was truly my best friend.  We took wonderful trips together as adults.  (Although, I will always maintain that my childhood "vacations" on the wagon train were some of her worst ideas ever.)  We laughed a lot, we went to church together, we drank margaritas, and we planned all the wonderful adventures we would have together in the future.  My mother loved my friends, willingly accompanied me to ballets and goat shows and bull riding competitions, and supported me completely when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church.  It was hard for my mother to ask for forgiveness, but she spent my adult life making sure that our relationship was everything we both wanted it to be.  It was awesome.

Watching my mother at the end of her life was inspiring.  When she was told she had six months to live, she made it clear to the doctors that was not enough -- that was not even to Christmas.  And she did make it to Christmas, and to her birthday, and to Valentine's Day, and to Easter, and finally to Mother's Day.  As the cancer ravaged her physical self, her spirit seemed to shine without any temporal barriers limiting it.  Some of the most beautiful photographs of my mother were taken right at the end of her life; it was as though the camera somehow physically captured her internal light free of any worries of hair or weight or makeup.  There will never be a tougher woman than my mother facing the end of her days with love and grace and fierce rebellion against the reaper who was stalker her.

When my mother passed onward, my cousin (of the Dominican order) reminded me that death was the conduit by which Jesus was able to always be with His disciples.  By this freedom from the constrictions of the temporal realm, our spirits can also likewise be freed through death -- and thus my mother would always be with me.  I miss her every day.  There are so many times I wish I could tell her something exciting, make her laugh with my misadventures, ask her advice when I have a conundrum on the farm, or receive a hug from her when I simply want to cry.  I am grateful, though, for all the wonderful things I have to remember about her.  Her toughness and her resourcefulness.  Her beautiful smile.  Her pear pie and her lasagna made with goat sausage.  Her fearlessness in the face of a flat tire, or a divorce, or a diagnosis of cancer.  I was uniquely blessed to have this amazing woman for a mother.  I hope I can live up to the standard she set for me.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Tough Realities of Farming

As I walked up from the compost pile, with a stomach in one hand and a knife in the other, while covered in so much blood it had soaked through my overalls to my pajama pants underneath, it occurred to me that with my luck this would be the moment when a visitor would stop by Harrison Farm.  It was not even ten seconds later that I saw Auntie's big white Cadillac pulling into the barnyard.  She kindly inquired if I was trying to save an animal or if I had lost one.  I gently shared with her the reality of my difficult day as a farmer.  Unfortunately, the carcass lying a few feet away was proof positive that I had failed in my efforts to save this goat -- and the chickens were fighting over the lungs just a few feet from the driver's side door of the Cadillac as I spoke with my aunt.

I love to share the joys of farming.  There is nothing that makes me happier than welcoming friends to my farm and introducing them to my beloved animals.  Alas, sometimes the realities of farming catch up with me.  Not every day is a blissful one with adorable babies and healthy mothers.  Most days are rife with the usual frustrations of my world: sheep that waste feed, goats that knock me over, chickens that break eggs, water lines that do not work, old buildings that desperately need repair.  Some days, though, are particularly tough ones.  These days force me to acknowledge the reality of farming.

On the day in question, I took Bonnie Blue Pooch on her morning walk to the barn when we awoke, in order to turn off the night lights and check water buckets.  I observed that Mercy the Goat (in her first pregnancy) had a little hoof emerging from her.  I returned Bonnie to the house and pulled my overalls on over my pajamas -- expecting that this would be a quick exercise in helping a first time mother welcome her firstborn into the world.  Two hours later, Mercy & I were both exhausted from a failed labor.  It was becoming obvious to me that she would not -- she could not -- deliver this baby.  I called my neighbor, who kindly stopped by and confirmed what I feared: nature had completely screwed this one up.  The mother was small, it was her first time, and her baby was so giant that she could not pass it through her birth canal.  The day before she had been a beautiful goat awaiting her first offspring; now she was exhausted and in pain.  I could not rectify what nature had cruelly put upon her.

I am a farmer who raises animals for meat, and I have butchered hundreds of animals in my life.  I want my animals to have a pleasant life and a quick end.  I cannot bear to see them suffer.  I could not bear to see Mercy Goat in pain, and the only solution was to end her pain by putting her down.  The reality is that each animal has the value of what it can contribute to the farm, and that same standard applies to me as well.  If I had sold Mercy, she likely would have brought about $100.  To get a vet to come to the farm, it is a minimum $75 farm call fee just to get them there. To diagnose, medicate, and do surgery would have run a thousand dollars or more very quickly.  I do not have the funds to provide each animals with this type of medical care (even I receive very basic medical care myself!), and there are fewer and fewer vets who do this kind of work with livestock.  The last time I had a terrible labor and I asked a vet to come to the farm, the vet declined the opportunity.  That was the day that I realized that if I was to have livestock, that I had to be competent enough to provide all their care.  And when nature works against me, and I cannot save an animal, I have to be brave enough to provide it with a quick end.

I took my butchering knife, and ended Mercy's pain with a quick stroke of the knife to her carotid & jugular.  This immediately renders the animal senseless, and she bled out quickly.  As soon as reasonable, I performed a Caesarean section in the futile hope of saving the baby.  It had likely died, however, long before.  Perhaps if I had put Mercy down when I first found her, I might have saved the baby -- but I could not have known at that point what lay ahead and just how bad the situation was for Mercy.  The baby was giant.  It was absolutely unthinkable that this petite first time mother would have created such a baby.  In my pajamas & overalls, kneeling in the grass of the barnyard, with a dead mother and a dead baby in front of me, covered in their blood, I had a very significant crying jag.  Katherine before coffee is always a bit scary.  Katherine covered in blood all the way from her overalls to her glasses having a crying jag before coffee is an intensely scary experience.

I wanted Mercy's life to have value, so I then butchered her for my freezer.  She was a healthy animal, and her meat will nourish me so I have strength to work off-the-farm in order to earn money to buy more feed & hay to give to the animals that waste it and knock me down.  I will be sad to eat Mercy, but it is a reality of farming.  She was a good goat, and I will miss her.  I also wanted her child to have value, so I saved the baby to do a necropsy with my student assistant Kaity.  It is incredibly important to me to provide lessons to my interns and my student assistants on the reality & the value of the circle of life.  We are all a part of that circle of life, and learning the role of animals in it allows us to better understand our own role.  

I used the baby to share with Kaity some of the things that I see when a newborn arrives.  We discussed humane slaughter and I showed her how a proper ritual kill is done.  Then we opened up the baby so she could see the layout of the internal organs.  I taught her the trick to tell if a baby goat was born alive or dead: drop the lungs in a glass of water.  If it took breaths, the oxygen will cause the lungs to float.  Even in their death, we can learn things about animals.  Terrible losses weigh on me very heavy, and I was grateful to have Kaity's company after she got out of school that day.  I am incredibly fortunate to have amazing young people who work as my student assistants & interns.  Kaity knew my heart was sad, and she kindly kept my spirits up as we finished processing Mercy's meat.  

Several days prior to this, Kaity had given a presentation in her speech class on how to draw a goat using some pictures of our Harrison Farm goats.  I had asked her to make a picture herself that we could hang on the wall in the farmhouse.  It just happened that Kaity brought me her beautiful painting that day.  It was a tough day, it was a sad day, but it was a day that reminded me how fortunate I am to be at this farm.  To know one's place in the circle of life is a gift, and farming gives that to those who labor in service of the land and the animals.

I believe in my farm, and I believe in the animals and the humans who are a part of it.  I want to share with you that there are joys and frustrations and great struggles, but that this is the work to which I am called.  Through my efforts at this farm, I want to make the world a better place by enriching the lives of those around me through connecting them with animals and with farming.  I want to illustrate to you that farmers care deeply about their animals, that eating meat is an honorable part of the circle of life, that the hard work of farming bears great dividends to those who do the labor.  The reality is that farming is crucially hard work.  It is exhausting and it is physically back breaking.  I am usually tired, and in pain, and broke.  Yet I believe so deeply in farming, and I know I am living out my God-given purpose as a farmer.  I never fail to be filled with joy when my friends meet my baby animals, when my interns master new skills, and when I see myself carrying on the farming tradition of my family.  I hope that my writings allow you a window into the realities of farming, and I hope this encourages you to support the farmers in your own community.  It is the support of our communities -- and the love of our friends & families -- that allows us to keep farming.  And there is no endeavor as noble as the care of the earth and God's creatures.